Muslims find revival in US amid hostility

The Boston Globe, May 26, 2003
By Geneive Abdo, Globe Correspondent, 5/26/2003

BALTIMORE — For Muzzaffar Sheikh, a technology consultant who was born in Pakistan, the mosque used to be a place he visited on occasion as he went about building his life as a new immigrant. But since the hostility toward Muslims began escalating nearly two years ago, the Baltimore Islamic Society has become a refuge for him more often.

”More people are coming to the mosques more than ever,” said Sheikh, dressed in a traditional tunic on the grounds of the Al Rahmah mosque. ”Even if they were progressive Muslims in their own countries and not so observant, now they are sending their kids to Islamic schools.”

Islamic organizations and Muslim leaders say a revival has increased attendance at the 1,300 mosques and at the 300 to 400 Islamic schools in the country. This renewal is also accelerating demands for political power to defend the community’s interests. There are said to be more than 2 million Muslims in the United States, and possibly as many as 7 million.

The number of Friday prayer services has increased to accommodate the influx of worshipers, plans are underway to build more Islamic schools, and some Islamic societies have secured permission for students to pray on Fridays in public schools. Magazines and newspapers for Muslims are also flourishing. Participation at US mosques increased greatly during the 1990s, a 2001

”From the beginning, we wanted a well-defined identity in this country. Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq have accelerated this process and have shaken all of us,” said Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, an advocacy group based in Plainfield, Ind. ”The attacks on Islam are unfounded and have been an eye-opener for Muslims here.”

Community activists, who worked quietly behind the scenes for two decades, now are hopeful that Muslims can attain the same degree of social and political power the followers of other religions enjoy in the United States.

In addition to religious centers, civic organizations are emerging throughout the country, from urban neighborhoods to rural communities.

Part of the drive for a more defined Islamic identity stems from the anxiety some Muslims feel. The FBI has reported a surge in hate crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans.

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