Rizwan Awan says things were different for Muslims before 9/11.
“You could say you’re a Muslim without being stereotyped as a group of people who do terrorist activities,” said Awan, 31.
Ten years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people still misunderstand Islam, said Awan, who has lived in Tacoma for eight years.
“They’re scared of Islam, because they don’t know what it’s about,” he said.
Tacoma-area Muslims have varied opinions about how their lives have changed over the decade. They often point to a contrast between life pre- and post-9/11.
“Right after 9/11, I got a lot of flak because I was a Muslim,” said Anas Holifield, 30, of Tacoma. “There was a lot more propaganda and misleading information about Muslims. People were on edge.”
Things have improved during the past decade, he said.
“People are a little more open,” Holifield said. “It’s definitely better.”
The more people do their own research about Islam, the more they come to accept Islam as a peaceful religion, he said.
But Holifield added that “the overall effect of the anniversary has really been diluted by the missteps America and its allies chose to make in response to 9/11.”
He cited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what he said was the mistreatment of innocent Muslims labeled as terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
“When the response was to kill more innocent people, it took away from the tragedy that happened on 9/11,” Holifield said. “The anniversary of 9/11 doesn’t have the effect on me that it should have and would have.”
Awan and Holifield were among the more than 300 men who overflowed the Islamic Center of Tacoma last month for weekly Friday prayers, called Jumah.
The community that prays at the mosque, located in University Place, has grown since 9/11 and needs more space. Before the start of prayers that Friday, center leaders asked for donations to pursue buying property in the Tacoma area to locate a new mosque.
Ziad Abusamha, 54, a trustee for the Islamic Center of Tacoma, said 9/11 “has created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust of Muslims.”
He criticized terrorists for their acts of violence and the U.S. government for going to war against Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Countless men, women and children have fallen victim to extremists on both sides,” said Abusamha of Tacoma. Referring to the war in Iraq, he said, “When you destroy a whole country, that is very extreme.”
Terrorist acts don’t reflect Islam’s teachings or practices, he said.
In the United States – from economic problems to airport security – Muslims and non-Muslims “suffer the repercussion of what has been inflicted on people around the world in the name of the war on terrorism,” he said.
“In the pursuit of justice we have really neglected the innocent people,” said Abusamha, citing the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Caldoon Farrah, 20, was a fourth-grader in Wainwright Elementary School in Tacoma when the terror of 9/11 hit. “I don’t remember anything,” Farrah said.
He said he never experienced discrimination growing up in Tacoma, but he finds many people still don’t know what Islam teaches.
“Islam’s actually a peaceful religion,” he said.
When it comes to al-Qaida and their terrorist attacks, Awan said, “I have nothing good to say about them. They put us in a bad situation.”
But the media made the situation worse for Muslims living in the United States, he said.
“The media should do a better job explaining the true meaning of Islam and not associate it with the few terrorist groups that are using Islam as the reason behind their terrorist activities,” he said. “Islam is against terrorism.”
Awan said people still view him and other Muslims with suspicion because of the stereotype associating Islam with terrorism. That results in what he called Islamophobia.
“I don’t think people come up to you and say it to your face,” Awan said. “You can tell by the way they look at you or the way they stand away from you.”
Awan said Islam is about peace, worshiping God and respecting one another.