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Fargo Muslims say climate worse now than in wake of 9/11

FARGO -- Donald Trump's call for banning Muslims from entering the country plays into the hands of Islamic terrorists and ratchets up greater worries about hostility against followers of Islam than occurred after the 9/11 attacks, local Muslims say.

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Fauzia A. Haider, seen Thursday in her Fargo home, says that Donald Trump’s call to bar foreign Muslims from entering into the United States plays into the hands of Islamic terrorists. Michael Vosburg/Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - Donald Trump’s call for banning Muslims from entering the country plays into the hands of Islamic terrorists and ratchets up greater worries about hostility against followers of Islam than occurred after the 9/11 attacks, local Muslims say.

Trump, a leading Republican contender in the presidential race, repeatedly defended his call last week for barring foreign Muslims from entering the country, comparing it to President Roosevelt’s decision to detain as “enemy aliens” Japanese Americans living in the United States during World War II.
“It’s not helpful to have comments like this,” Ahmed Kamel, a computer scientist at Concordia College, said of Trump’s widely publicized comments.
That proposal and other inflammatory public remarks in the aftermath of this month’s mass murder in San Bernardino, Calif., by a Muslim couple have increased tension within the Fargo-Moorhead Muslim community.
The tension level went up a notch after reports that a coffee shop in Grand Forks owned by a Somali native was torched Tuesday in an arson fire, a crime police are investigating as a possible hate crime.
“The public is a little on the edge,” Kamel said.
As Americans, Muslims are as outraged as everyone else over the shootings, he added.
“People are, of course, disgusted and scared, just like anybody else,” Kamel said.
Despite comments by Trump and some others GOP candidates, Kamel said he still feels welcome in Fargo-Moorhead, where he has lived for 16 years after immigrating to the U.S. 11 years earlier from his native Egypt.
Mohammed Sanaullah, a physician who immigrated from India, said ISIS, also called the Islamic State, gains when bigoted speech divides Muslim Americans from the rest of society. The extremists want Western Muslims to feel alienated and to join in violent attacks, he said.
“This is exactly what they want,” Sanaullah said, adding that the vast majority of Muslims, in the U.S. and abroad, want peace and reject groups like the Islamic State. “You always have some misguided people.”
But Trump, by seeking to exclude all Muslims from entering the country, ignores the vast majority who are peaceful and can contribute to society, Sanaullah said. “Our leaders should show more common sense than that.”
Like Kamel, Sanaullah has been encouraged by the support from Fargo-Moorhead residents.
“I cannot express in words how much support is pouring in,” he said. “What I am saying is there is overwhelming support.”
Shire Mohamed said many Muslims have chosen to live in Fargo-Moorhead because it is a safe and peaceful place.
“We here in Fargo-Moorhead are people committed to this peace,” he said. “The discussion is along the lines of how we can cooperate.”
He said the police and the Muslim community can and do work together. Teachers, in particular, have reached out to be welcoming of Muslims, he said.
Fauzia A. Haider, a native of Pakistan who has lived in Fargo for 20 years, said some Muslims are feeling insecure because of “inflammatory” comments like those made by Trump.
Women who dress traditionally with head scarves are more apt to be subjected to taunts or rude comments, said Haider, who does not wear a scarf.
“I’m concerned for their safety,” she said.
Recently, a plumber came to Haider’s house. Before he arrived, she took down a framed Islamic text because she did not want to advertise her religious affiliation in light of tensions.
“I’ve never felt threatened,” Haider added. “I’m an American. I live here, too. We’re as American as anybody can be. ISIS is my enemy as much as it is the enemy of anybody else. What they do is not Islam.”
In fact, she and others said, most of the Islamic State’s victims are other Muslims in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s comments appeal to a “fringe element,” she said. “I’m hoping this is transient, and I’m pretty hopeful that it is.”
Haider and several others agreed that they feel more tense now than after the 9/11 attacks. One reason is that after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, President Bush was careful to say that the conflict was with Islamic terrorists, not Islam, Kamel said.

Now, a prominent presidential candidate is singling out all Muslims, he said.
“My take on this is we all of us have to stand united in order to withstand these types of terrorist threats,” Kamel said. “It’s against all of us.”
On Friday, the three metro area chiefs of police and Cass County sheriff stopped by for an impromptu visit at the Islamic Society. They attended the afternoon prayer session and visited with worshippers.
“We had a very good session,” Sanaullah said. “It was very reassuring.”
The chiefs delivered a welcome message - “We are all together in this,” he said.
The Islamic Society has scheduled a public dialogue on Dec. 20 at the mosque in Fargo in the hope of building trust and understanding.
“We are trying to build bridges here,” Sanaullah said.
Where: Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, 601 28th St. S., Fargo

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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