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Putting faith to the test

Terror attacks bring adversity to local Muslim community

For the estimated 250,000 Muslims living in the Bay Area, these are the times when faith is put to the test.

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino by radicalized Islamic extremists, a pall of suspicion has been cast on the Islamic community that reminds some of the dark days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

On a day-to-day basis, local Muslims say this backlash can play out through glares, derogatory slurs or cold treatment from strangers. And the animosity is fueled by politicians calling for surveillance on mosques and a ban on Syrian refugees, and by other public statements such as Donald Trump's extreme proposal to totally bar Muslims from entering the country.

Even in the Bay Area, a region that prides itself on tolerance and diversity, there are plenty of examples of anti-Muslim hostility. Earlier this month, a group of Muslims picnicking at Lake Chabot in Alameda County were berated and had hot coffee thrown at them by a woman who saw them praying. Also recently, the Santa Clara offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) received an envelope containing white powder resembling anthrax. The powder wasn't hazardous, but the incident resulted in a full evacuation of the building, and three employees were sent to the hospital as a precaution.

Under this backdrop, the Islamic community in the Bay Area is coping with how to respond in the face of many misunderstandings from the public at large.

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Mountain View office

Leaders of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) say they have a renewed focus on the Bay Area, and earlier this year the organization opened its main West Coast office in Mountain View.

Until recently, ISNA had operated out of its main offices in Indiana and Washington, D.C. Opening a new Mountain View office should allow the group to address local cases of so-called Islamaphobia and coordinate the network of mosques and schools in the area, said Manzoor Ghori, an ISNA board member and Palo Alto resident. Along with its advocacy role, the new office also offers a prayer space.

Mountain View's new ISNA offices will also spearhead interfaith efforts. The most ardent allies Muslims may have during precarious times are the religious leaders from other faiths, said Ustadh Faraz Khan, an Islamic teacher with the Zaytuna College. He recounted how Jewish and Christian clergy had rallied with the Islamic community to deter crowds threatening to burn down mosques after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In turn, it is just as important that Muslims show support for other faiths when they face persecution, Khan said.

This type of adversity brings out both the worst and the best in people, said Hazem Bata, ISNA secretary general.

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"What we're going through is nothing new -- just ask the African-Americans, ask the Jews, ask the Japanese, ask the Chinese," he said. "We're another cog in the wheel."

Facing the challenges

The questions surrounding being both Muslim and American took center stage on a recent Saturday at an ISNA conference, titled "What Did Muhammad Do: The Challenges of Being a Minority," held in Santa Clara at the Muslim Community Association. During the all-day event, local imams and Islamic leaders urged the congregation of hundreds to remain engaged citizens of their communities, even if they face adversity or blatant bigotry.

Suspicions among the wider U.S. public about Islam are based on ignorance, and the best remedy is for average Muslims to openly show others who they are, urged Zahra Billoo, who directs the Santa Clara CAIR offices where the powder-filled letter was sent.

"If we're afraid to talk about our faith, people are going to get their information from Fox News," she said. "We're going to get through this. It's certainly more tense now than it previously was."

On Saturday, Billoo talked to a small group of about 20 teens for an afternoon session discussing the contemporary challenges of being Muslim. The young audience was evenly split between boys and girls, many of whom wore headscarves or skullcaps. Asked if they had been bullied at school about their religion, many hands went up in the air.

Billoo urged the teens not to shy away from expressing their experiences as Muslims, whether through face-to-face interaction or social media.

Still, the current U.S. political climate presents real fears, especially for Muslim parents and their children. Farha Andrabi, an Islamic Society coordinator, described getting texts from her daughter who was feeling scared following the San Bernardino shooting. On a daily basis, peaceful Muslims are reminded through media coverage that they are lumped together with violent terrorists.

"This bombardment of negatively on the screen, how do you escape it?" Andrabi said. "How do you show grief? How do you show that we're just as much grieving as everyone else?"

This is the 15th year the Muslim association has organized a South Bay speaker series. While this year's event had been planned for months, it took on new significance in light of the recent attacks.

For American Muslims, the aftermath of an extremist attack prompts a barrage of many of the questions they have come to expect and dread: Does the Muslim community condone acts of terror? How can the community allow violent extremists into their ranks? Shouldn't they apologize to the victims for their losses?

These questions are loaded with biases, Billoo and other speakers said. More than one speaker pointed out that other religious groups don't face similar scrutiny following atrocities. A Planned Parenthood clinic shooting, for example, generally doesn't prompt questions on violence in Christian doctrine.

In cases where Muslim radicals did commit mass violence, such as the attacks in San Bernardino, groups like the Islamic Society of North America are left walking a fine line between feeling no obligation to respond and not wanting to sound insensitive. Following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, ISNA issued a press statement condemning the carnage and noting that violence was antithetical to the tenets of Islam. Mosques throughout the Bay Area organized prayer circles after the San Bernardino shooting.

Muslim advocates blame media organizations for instilling the idea that regular Muslims owe the public some kind of apology after violent acts perpetrated by others. Billoo urged her audience not to give credence to that line of thought.

"I don't have to apologize for San Bernardino or Paris because I had nothing to do with it, but I'll still condemn it," Billoo said. "I'll condemn these acts, but I'll also condemn when Israeli air strikes kill Palestinian children or when U.S. drones kill Pakistanis."

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Putting faith to the test

Terror attacks bring adversity to local Muslim community

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 18, 2015, 12:10 pm

For the estimated 250,000 Muslims living in the Bay Area, these are the times when faith is put to the test.

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino by radicalized Islamic extremists, a pall of suspicion has been cast on the Islamic community that reminds some of the dark days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

On a day-to-day basis, local Muslims say this backlash can play out through glares, derogatory slurs or cold treatment from strangers. And the animosity is fueled by politicians calling for surveillance on mosques and a ban on Syrian refugees, and by other public statements such as Donald Trump's extreme proposal to totally bar Muslims from entering the country.

Even in the Bay Area, a region that prides itself on tolerance and diversity, there are plenty of examples of anti-Muslim hostility. Earlier this month, a group of Muslims picnicking at Lake Chabot in Alameda County were berated and had hot coffee thrown at them by a woman who saw them praying. Also recently, the Santa Clara offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) received an envelope containing white powder resembling anthrax. The powder wasn't hazardous, but the incident resulted in a full evacuation of the building, and three employees were sent to the hospital as a precaution.

Under this backdrop, the Islamic community in the Bay Area is coping with how to respond in the face of many misunderstandings from the public at large.

Mountain View office

Leaders of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) say they have a renewed focus on the Bay Area, and earlier this year the organization opened its main West Coast office in Mountain View.

Until recently, ISNA had operated out of its main offices in Indiana and Washington, D.C. Opening a new Mountain View office should allow the group to address local cases of so-called Islamaphobia and coordinate the network of mosques and schools in the area, said Manzoor Ghori, an ISNA board member and Palo Alto resident. Along with its advocacy role, the new office also offers a prayer space.

Mountain View's new ISNA offices will also spearhead interfaith efforts. The most ardent allies Muslims may have during precarious times are the religious leaders from other faiths, said Ustadh Faraz Khan, an Islamic teacher with the Zaytuna College. He recounted how Jewish and Christian clergy had rallied with the Islamic community to deter crowds threatening to burn down mosques after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In turn, it is just as important that Muslims show support for other faiths when they face persecution, Khan said.

This type of adversity brings out both the worst and the best in people, said Hazem Bata, ISNA secretary general.

"What we're going through is nothing new -- just ask the African-Americans, ask the Jews, ask the Japanese, ask the Chinese," he said. "We're another cog in the wheel."

Facing the challenges

The questions surrounding being both Muslim and American took center stage on a recent Saturday at an ISNA conference, titled "What Did Muhammad Do: The Challenges of Being a Minority," held in Santa Clara at the Muslim Community Association. During the all-day event, local imams and Islamic leaders urged the congregation of hundreds to remain engaged citizens of their communities, even if they face adversity or blatant bigotry.

Suspicions among the wider U.S. public about Islam are based on ignorance, and the best remedy is for average Muslims to openly show others who they are, urged Zahra Billoo, who directs the Santa Clara CAIR offices where the powder-filled letter was sent.

"If we're afraid to talk about our faith, people are going to get their information from Fox News," she said. "We're going to get through this. It's certainly more tense now than it previously was."

On Saturday, Billoo talked to a small group of about 20 teens for an afternoon session discussing the contemporary challenges of being Muslim. The young audience was evenly split between boys and girls, many of whom wore headscarves or skullcaps. Asked if they had been bullied at school about their religion, many hands went up in the air.

Billoo urged the teens not to shy away from expressing their experiences as Muslims, whether through face-to-face interaction or social media.

Still, the current U.S. political climate presents real fears, especially for Muslim parents and their children. Farha Andrabi, an Islamic Society coordinator, described getting texts from her daughter who was feeling scared following the San Bernardino shooting. On a daily basis, peaceful Muslims are reminded through media coverage that they are lumped together with violent terrorists.

"This bombardment of negatively on the screen, how do you escape it?" Andrabi said. "How do you show grief? How do you show that we're just as much grieving as everyone else?"

This is the 15th year the Muslim association has organized a South Bay speaker series. While this year's event had been planned for months, it took on new significance in light of the recent attacks.

For American Muslims, the aftermath of an extremist attack prompts a barrage of many of the questions they have come to expect and dread: Does the Muslim community condone acts of terror? How can the community allow violent extremists into their ranks? Shouldn't they apologize to the victims for their losses?

These questions are loaded with biases, Billoo and other speakers said. More than one speaker pointed out that other religious groups don't face similar scrutiny following atrocities. A Planned Parenthood clinic shooting, for example, generally doesn't prompt questions on violence in Christian doctrine.

In cases where Muslim radicals did commit mass violence, such as the attacks in San Bernardino, groups like the Islamic Society of North America are left walking a fine line between feeling no obligation to respond and not wanting to sound insensitive. Following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, ISNA issued a press statement condemning the carnage and noting that violence was antithetical to the tenets of Islam. Mosques throughout the Bay Area organized prayer circles after the San Bernardino shooting.

Muslim advocates blame media organizations for instilling the idea that regular Muslims owe the public some kind of apology after violent acts perpetrated by others. Billoo urged her audience not to give credence to that line of thought.

"I don't have to apologize for San Bernardino or Paris because I had nothing to do with it, but I'll still condemn it," Billoo said. "I'll condemn these acts, but I'll also condemn when Israeli air strikes kill Palestinian children or when U.S. drones kill Pakistanis."

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