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Muslims reflect on how their lives have changed
By Ken Maguire, Associated Press
QUINCY, Mass. — Mohammed Saadat prefers talking about the prayer rugs hanging from the ceiling of his convenience store or quotes from the Koran to discussing life since Sept. 11.
Saadat is a Muslim. And for some people, that was reason enough to throw bricks through the front windows of his Almaeedah Market in Quincy in the early hours of Sept. 12.
"That was a long time ago," said Saadat, a 50-year-old native of Iran. "I was very upset, but what can you do?"
Majed Baddai, on the other hand, wants to talk. Baddai claims he lost his job due to prejudice in the days after the attacks, and that he had to stay in at night out of fear for his safety.
"For a long time I didn't go out. I heard people on the street yelling when I drove by," said Baddai, 32, who is from Iraq. "People are wary when you walk in a building."
As the anniversary of the terror attacks approaches, Muslims in Massachusetts -- where terrorists hijacked the two planes flown into the World Trade Center -- are evaluating how their lives have changed.
Authorities say Islamic extremists committed the terror attacks. And while their views aren't representative of the overwhelming majority of Muslims, assumptions and profiling led to innocent people coming under suspicion in the days after the attacks.
On Sept. 12, when a Boston hotel reported suspicious Middle Eastern guests, the FBI and local police kicked in doors and dragged a man out for questioning. The media captured the frantic moments, as did thousands of people who flooded the streets and talked of arrests of terrorists. The man who was detained, it was later learned, had no connection to the terrorists.
Today, some Muslims still avoid walking alone at night, and some opt not to talk politics at work.
"We still have to be careful," said Imam Talal Eid, religious director of the Islamic Center of New England. "We had double concern here. We were affected by this tragedy. But we were and still are subject to profiling and discrimination."
Eid's schedule only now is returning to normal. After Sept 11., he put aside his regular work to participate in public discussions about Islam and terrorism. He spoke at events sponsored by schools, law enforcement and interfaith groups.
"I explain the teachings of Islam. According to Islamic teachings, these things (terrorist acts) do not exist," he said. "It's like the Crusades. There's nothing in the Bible that says kill, kill, kill. You can search the gospel and you don't find such things."
Still, he said, the media influences people by tying Islam to the terrorists.
"In America, people never blame Christianity if a Christian did a wrong act," he said.
Eid credits local law enforcement for quickly announcing after the attacks that hate crimes would not be tolerated.
"People are reluctant now before they do anything," he said of would-be vandals and attackers. "They are aware now that the police and government are not going to tolerate that."
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly's office has brought four civil rights cases related to post-Sept. 11 incidents. Among them: three Fall River and Somerset teenagers were accused of hurling a Molotov cocktail onto a Somerset convenience store on Sept. 12. The store is owned by an Indian man whom the teens though was Arab. Similarly, an Arlington man was accused of threatening to run over a Greek convenience store owner Sept. 29 in Belmont whom he believed was Muslim.
And in June, a Hanover man pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations for threatening to kill James J. Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab-American Institute, and Zogby's family on Sept. 12.
In addition, 20 people have filed Sept. 11-related complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging discrimination based on religion and national origin.
Dorca Gomez, the commission's chairwoman, said that figure was about the average annually for complaints. Law enforcement, government agencies and independent organizations reacted immediately to warn people against retaliation, she said.
"We won't allow any scapegoating of our citizens," said Gomez, adding that she won't discuss any of the 20 cases because they remain under investigation.
Amel Baghdad, a Georgetown resident who filed a MCAD complaint claiming wrongful termination, no longer says his last name when he introduces himself.
"I used to get compliments before I came here," said Baghdad, a 45-yea-old native of Algeria whose last name is the same as the Iraqi capital. "Now, I only give my first name."
Baghdad, who is married with three kids, believes the anti-Muslim sentiment after Sept. 11 should be framed in a larger picture of racism in the United States.
"When I came to America, I didn't see the differences -- black or white. In Algeria, we don't see the difference. We don't judge people based on that," said Baghdad, who moved here about 17 years ago. "Racism still exists in America, I don't care what anybody says."
Baghdad claims in his MCAD complaint that he was fired because he's a Muslim. He worked as a service technician, delivering oxygen tanks to clients for a Danvers company. He says after Sept. 11 his boss regularly sent him to the farthest locations, and in a truck in need of repairs, while co-workers used new trucks.
"In any religion you find fanatics -- they go against the rules and do heinous acts," he said. "Some people can't see the difference and they generalize."
Baddai, the Iraqi-born Quincy resident, says he no longer avoids venturing out at night.
"I can't sit home all my life," said Baddai, who also has a pending complaint with the MCAD, claiming he was fired for making one mistake on his timesheet.
Saadat, the Quincy store owner, said residents and fellow business people offered support after vandals smashed his windows, causing $3,000 in damage. The perpetrators were never caught.
Eid, of the Islamic Center, planned to participate in an event at Boston City Hall on the anniversary. And his centers in Quincy and Sharon have scheduled open houses.
Even with a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq looming, Eid said he's hopeful for the future.
"I have no other choice," he said. "I have to be optimistic."