Muslims wary of closeness between holiday and 9/11

(RNS) For this year's Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday that concludes
the holy month of Ramadan, Nakia Jackson received an unusual present
from a Jewish friend: cab fare.

"She doesn't want me taking the bus," said Jackson, of Wichita,
Kan., whose headscarf clearly identifies her as a Muslim. "She recalls
not only violence against black churches during the civil rights era,
but the security that synagogues have needed for decades."

While most American Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr on Friday
(Sept. 10), in this time of inflamed tensions and rampant anti-Muslim
sentiment, some are worried that outsiders might mistake the holiday
festivities for celebrations of the 9/11 attacks, and see it as a

In most Muslim-majority countries, Eid al-Fitr lasts a few days and
virtually consumes society.

In America, Islam's minority status means festivities are less
pronounced, with work and school responsibilities limiting time for

Still, in many cities, Eid observances are easy to spot. Muslims don
their best clothes, from traditional ethnic garb to three-piece suits,
and fill mosques and rented ballrooms beyond capacity. To contend with
traffic, many municipalities dispatch extra police officers to direct.
Prayers are followed by visits with friends and families.

While this is the first time that a major Muslim holiday and 9/11
have overlapped since the 2001 terrorist attacks, similar
misunderstandings have occurred. Last year, Sajid Master, a perfume
store owner in Houston, posted a flier on his door announcing he would
be closed on Sept. 11 to observe the death of Imam Ali, a revered figure
in Shia Islam.

Someone took a picture of the flier and sent it around the Internet
claiming that Imam Ali was one of the 9/11 terrorists. In fact, none of
the 9/11 terrorists was named Ali, but Master received angry phone calls
and death threats.

More recently, the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural
center two blocks north of Ground Zero has sparked vitriolic opposition,
drawing mosques -- and Muslims -- around the country into similar

Indeed, the list of Islamophobic acts is long and getting longer. In
August, a mosque construction site in Tennessee was torched and shot at,
as was a small-town mosque in western New York. Also in August, a Muslim
New York City cab driver was knifed in what police are calling a hate
crime. A Florida church plans to burn Qurans on Sept. 11.

It's no surprise, then, that Muslim American advocacy groups are
urging caution this year.

"I don't think anybody is suggesting prayers be moved, but social
gatherings and other community events probably shouldn't be held on
9/11," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council has alerted police departments and
the FBI about the overlap.

"The recent spike in hate crimes against Muslims has underscored the
dangers," said Alejandro Beutel, the council's government affairs
officer, adding that law enforcement is taking seriously the potential
for violence.

The Islamic Society of North America is urging Muslims to clean up
parks, volunteer at soup kitchens, and do similar charitable acts on

"On Sept. 11, let's show that we can rise above prejudice and hatred
and be the kind of conscientious citizens who give back to our country
through a national `Muslim Serve' campaign," the organization said in an

And the New York-based Islamic Circle of America is telling local
chapters not to schedule annual "Muslim Family Days," traditionally held
at Six Flags Amusement Parks on Eid weekends, on 9/11. Instead, Muslim
Family Day will be held later.

Muslims are divided on whether to make the adjustments.

On ICNA's website, many Muslims accused the group of being weak and
encouraging people to mute Eid celebrations. Some observed that many
Americans will be at weddings, birthday parties, and college football
games on the ninth memorial of the attacks.

"Do you think Americans will be absent from Six Flags on 9/11?"
asked one commentator, who called himself "Asif."

But "Suzanne" disagreed: "9/11 represents the worst
misinterpretation of Islam imaginable. If you agree, then we have to act
in ways in the U.S. that separate us from the terrorists," she wrote.

"Pray, enjoy your family ... but public amusement-park festivals on
9/11? Are you nuts?"

Omar Sacirbey

Omar Sacirbey writes for Religion News Service.

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