The attacks of Sept. 11 caused some people who knew little about Islam and America’s Muslims to turn their attention to this community. While there was suspicion and hostility from some, there was also solidarity and a desire for knowledge about Islam.
“I’m very pleased that people showed their support,” said Rashed Nizam, president of the Islamic Center. On the day of the attacks, several Columbia church leaders expressed their support for Columbia’s Muslims.
“As I’ve always said, Islam doesn’t condone or support any killing,” Nizam said.
The mosque held many programs and seminars designed to educate non-Muslims about the basic tenets and values of the religion.
“Tolerance, respect, responsibility towards the community,” Nizam said. “These are all parts of the Muslim faith.”
The shock and reawakening of faith that many felt after the Sept. 11 attacks was also relevant for Muslims, Nizam said.
“People after Sept. 11 realized that they need to be Muslims first, and their worldly identity second,” Nizam said. “People wanted to learn more about their religion.”
Three years later, Americans continue to feel the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks. Dan Spencer, who converted to Islam in 1999, said that the attacks had polarized Americans in their attitudes to Muslims.
“More open-minded people are curious about Islam,” Spencer said. “They want to find out what it’s really about.”
However, there has also been hostility, he said, particularly toward Muslim women, who are often distinctive with their headscarves, called hijabs .
“I personally didn’t think that the government did a good enough job of alleviating people’s fears,” Spencer said. “It’s gotten pretty xenophobic, which is ridiculous, especially considering the background and history of this nation — it’s mostly immigrants. A very small minority is actually from America.”
Taking action to educate non-Muslims about the faith has become an important priority for Columbia’s mosque, Spencer said.
“Ignorance is what really breeds the hatred,” he said. “I found that when I sit down and talk to people and explain Islam, they really have a completely different attitude.”