As Americans reacted in grief, shock and horror to the terrible events that took the lives of so many innocent people, Muslims around the nation and around the world also felt a great sense of sorrow. Governments from all over the Muslim and Arab worlds quickly condemned the acts and many offered their cooperation with US authorities.
Organizations representing the estimated 7 million Muslims across North America offered their prayers and condolences to the victims' families of the September 11 tragedy. Muslim Americans also expressed anger at those responsible for such ghastly terrorist acts and joined the chorus of calls for swift justice. Several Muslim-run charities, including the Holy Land Foundation, immediately began blood drives and fundraisers for the victims.
This quick call to action came because Muslims are aware that when the dust finally settles and more information is learned about the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, it will become apparent that no faith, no ethnic group, no race was spared from this unspeakable act of terror.
And while Muslims grieved for their fellow Americans, they also feared for the inevitable backlash. In the hours following the Oklahoma City bombing, in which the homegrown monster Timothy McVeigh was eventually found responsible, more than two hundred incidents of hate attacks against Muslim and Arab Americans were reported.
Muslims should certainly appreciate the public officials, including New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, Secretary of State Colin Powell and even President Bush himself who urged Americans not to jump to the false assumption that all Muslims and all Arabs could be responsible for the acts that took place on that ill-fated day.
But unfortunately those warnings went unheeded by some who saw fit to take out their anger on other Americans.
In California, a red substance labeled as pig's blood was thrown at the door of an Islamic Center and police in Irving, Texas a drive by shooting at an area mosque.
In Chicago, police had to turn back 300 demonstrators, some waving American flags and shouting "USA! USA!", as they tried to march on a mosque in a southwest suburb Wednesday. The same day, a Molotov cocktail was tossed at an Arab American community center in Chicago.
And the Associated Press reported that a 75 year-old man tried to run over a Pakistani woman in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Huntington, New York. The man then proceeded to follow the woman into a store and threatened to kill her for "destroying my country."
And as recent as Thursday evening, a man in Seattle, Washington was taken into custody after shooting at and attempting to set fire to an Islamic Center.
These events prompted man Muslim leaders to shut down mosques and urge women and children to avoid Friday Jummah prayers. Many full-time Islamic schools sent children home for the week and numerous weekend religious classes were cancelled.
Some had even spread around the ridiculous suggestion that women who wear the hijab should take it off and replace it with something less conspicuous, like a hat.
As well meaning as many of our community leaders were, such advice was just plain wrong. At a time when we were in need to seek comfort in our centers and leaders, we were instead hiding in our homes. At a time when we should have been opening our doors to our non-Muslim friends and neighbors, we locked our doors. At a time when we should be publicly holding our heads high (for we've done nothing wrong), we held it down in shame.
The Muslim community has undoubtedly suffered a serious public relations blow from the ensuing days of September 11. And undoubtedly in the coming weeks, possibly years, our civil liberties may be curtailed. So instead of going into hiding, we must come together and put aside the petty differences that often divide our communities. We have a great deal of work ahead of us for it is only us who are capable of reversing this growing trend of Islamophobia.