American Muslims Face Suspicion When Mideast Crises Erupt

November 27, 2000

Source: The Washington Post

On November 27, 2000, The Washington Post reported that "Muslims in the Washington area and across the country begin observing the holy month of Ramadan today amid signs of Islam's growing acceptance in the United States--but also persistent examples of how Muslims here sometimes face mistrust and unusual legal problems because of suspicions about their Mideast ties. Muslim chaplains now serve in the U.S. armed forces and on many college campuses, and women in head scarves are not an unusual sight in the workplace. The Clinton White House has hosted Muslims on several Islamic holidays, and for the first time, a Muslim gave the benediction at the opening session of this year's Republican Party convention. In public schools, rooms have been set aside during Ramadan for fasting Muslim students to study while their non-Muslim peers eat lunch. The U.S. Postal Service is releasing a stamp next year that commemorates the two most important Islamic holidays. And banks are creating new kinds of transactions for Muslims, whose religion forbids them from accepting interest on deposits. But when violence flares in the Middle East or when Islamic extremists target Americans, as in the recent USS Cole attack, Muslims in the area say they face increased scrutiny by U.S. law enforcement agencies, suspicions about their faith and accusations that they support terrorism...For the next month, Washington area Muslims, who number between 100,000 and 200,000, will observe Ramadan, abstaining from food, drink and other sensual pleasures during the day to learn discipline, self-restraint and generosity. They make up a racially diverse community that includes people of Arab descent, American-born converts, Pakistanis, Afghans, Indians and Africans, and they worship in nearly 40 sites and support five Islamic schools. In 1996, the country's first school for training imams, or prayer leaders, opened in Leesburg. Local politicians are noticing. Virginia Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D) and Thomas M. Davis III (R) regularly visit Dar Al Hijra, a mosque in Falls Church, members said. And Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) helped Afghan Muslims overcome neighborhood opposition when building their Annandale mosque, Mustafa Center.

"Muslims also have tossed aside an earlier generation's reluctance to be politically active, forming several organizations to promote their interests and starting voter registration drives. For the first time, Muslim advocacy groups endorsed a U.S. presidential candidate, backing Texas Gov. George W. Bush... These efforts to form what they call "a Muslim voting bloc" have begun to bear fruit, activists said. The D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a post-election questionnaire to mosques across the country. Of the 1,774 respondents--10 percent of whom live in Virginia--72 percent reported voting for Bush. Of those, 85 percent said their decision was influenced by the endorsement of the Muslim groups. Yet despite efforts to move into mainstream America, Muslims say violence overseas often leads to a backlash...Ashqar arrived in the United States from Gaza in 1989 on a U.S.-financed Thomas Jefferson Fellowship to get his doctorate in business. But in February 1998 he was jailed for civil contempt after refusing to testify before a New York grand jury investigating the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas. Calling the probe a 'witch hunt' against Palestinian political activists, Ashqar told a judge that testifying would violate his religious, political and personal beliefs and betray friends, relatives and colleagues in the Palestinian liberation movement... In jail, Ashqar began a hunger strike, and a federal judge ordered that he be force-fed. After Ashqar went from 180 pounds to 120 pounds during his six-month confinement, the judge concluded that Ashqar would never testify and ordered him released...A former spokesman for Islamic University of Gaza, Ashqar said he has been an activist since college and is 'sympathetic to the Islamic movement in general.' But, he said, he was never a member of Hamas and deplores terrorism...In other examples of what they say is guilt by association, Muslims here have complained about being unfairly singled out by airport security officers using racial profiling. And they object to a 1996 anti-terrorist law that permits immigrants to be deported on classified evidence that is withheld from the immigrants and their attorneys. Critics say that such 'secret evidence' has been used disproportionately against Muslims and Arabs, some of whom have been jailed for years while they seek access to the evidence in order to refute it. In at least three cases, Muslim immigrants held for more than a year were released after courts let them see and challenge such evidence...Muslims also say that outspoken critics of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians are sometimes accused of supporting terrorism. Last year, the nomination of a prominent Muslim activist to the advisory National Commission on Terrorism was rescinded after Jewish leaders complained that the nominee had said Israeli policies helped cause Palestinian terrorism."