Muslim Americans assert patriotism on Sept. 11 anniversary

Muslim Americans assert patriotism on Sept. 11 anniversary

CHICAGO — Like many of his faith, Yousif Marei has been feeling particularly emotional about being a Muslim these days.


For one thing, the holy month of Ramadan is in full swing. It”s a time when Muslims worldwide take stock of their spiritual selves, fasting from sunrise to sunset as they meditate on the period when the first verses of the Quran are believed to have been revealed.


Then there is Thursday”s dreaded anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The day is sure to be marked by replayed news footage of hijacked airplanes — painful reminders of attacks by Islamic extremists in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people and forever changed what it means to be Muslim in the U.S.


That negative image of Islam — reflected in the Internet rumors casting doubt on the Christian faith of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama as well as his denials of being a Muslim — bores into the psyche of many Muslim immigrants, said Marei, 53, a Palestinian who moved to Chicago in 1979.


Spurred by Ramadan and the Sept. 11 anniversary, community leaders are encouraging Muslim-Americans to assert their patriotic and civic identities by registering to vote, taking part in neighborhood block meetings and becoming active in their schools and other local institutions. Mosques, meanwhile, have been inviting non-Muslims to participate in evening iftar meals to foster understanding about Ramadan.


“It is our duty to show that we are good neighbors,” said Marei, a volunteer leader for Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy in his Albany Park neighborhood, where many Arab immigrants have moved. “All we hear about Islam — and we are listening with tears in our eyes — is Islam and terrorism. We must control our own image.”


During a recent call-in radio show that Marei hosts daily during Ramadan on WCEV, other Muslim leaders in Chicago, Washington and California echoed that sentiment.


Yet during a close presidential race where national security is again a prime concern, the specter of Sept. 11 has overshadowed all other Muslim efforts.


That was shown last week, when Mazen Asbahi resigned from the Obama campaign. The Chicago attorney had been assigned to repair ties with Muslim voters who were offended by the Illinois senator”s handling of the rumors about his faith. Asbahi, who couldn”t be reached Wednesday, stepped down after news surfaced that he briefly served on the board of an investment fund with the fundamentalist imam of a Bridgeview, Ill., mosque. The Obama campaign issued a statement saying Asbahi resigned to keep from being a distraction.


Ahmed Rehab, the Chicago director of the Council of Islamic-American Relations, called the episode symptomatic of the “Islamophobia” in the U.S., where, after seven years, many are still unwilling to distinguish between law-abiding Muslims and criminal extremists.


“We are not out to bring about Sharia (Islamic law) in the United States,” Rehab said. “We are your average Americans who happen to be of Muslim faith.”


Proving so will be an uphill campaign measured in small steps as the community spreads through the region, said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, former president of the Muslim Community Center.


“Our presence and our involvement should be sufficient to say that, well, these are Muslims and these are not terrorists and these are people who are fully participating in civic issues,” Kaiseruddin said. He cited Muslim groups that work against violence on the Southwest Side and offer free health care on the North Side.


Marei is a one-man publicity machine in that regard. When he”s not helping to organize Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings, his staccato voice can be heard “spreading the spirit of Ramadan over the skies of Chicago.”


Between recorded Arabic calls to prayer, Marei explained his Muslim faith to the English-speaking world, urging listeners to do the same.


“Isn”t it time to tell others who we are?” he asked, soliciting donations to establish a Muslim-owned radio station. “Otherwise we”ll keep shedding tears and blaming others, and that is not the way of the Prophet Muhammad.”