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Valley Muslims find Sept. 11 offers
opportunity for understanding

By Allen Essex
Valley Morning Star
September 10, 2002

In the wake of Sept. 11, many Rio Grande Valley Muslims worried that they would become targets of hatred and reprisals because the accused hijackers in the attacks were reported to share their faith.

Except for a handful of isolated incidents, that backlash never materialized in South Texas. Instead, the past year has offered the Valley's Islamic community opportunities to promote understanding of its faith.

"Actually, we had very good response and concern from Christians and other people in the Valley as soon as they heard this (Sept. 11) news," said Mohammed Farooqui, a Muslim who is professor and chairman of the University of Texas-Pan American biology department. "The faculty in my department actually contacted me to offer any kind of protection they could."

As president of the Islamic Society of South Texas, Farooqui found himself in a good position to gauge the Valley's sentiment toward Muslims in the wake of the terrorist attacks. He visited numerous churches and civic groups across the Valley to talk about Islam.

"There were about 30 presentations I did on Islam and (audiences) were very positive," he said. "They wanted to learn about Islam and the kind of backlashes people had up north."

Farooqui said Valley Muslims did not experience the level of negative and sometimes violent reactions reported elsewhere in America.

"There were a couple of incidents (in the Valley) that were isolated, no more than that," he said.

While Valley Muslims tend to feel more secure here than they might in big cities, the year following the terrorist attacks has not passed without concerns.

"We are being broadly labeled," said Alim Ansari, a Muslim from Pakistan who is superintendent of Tech Ed Charter High School in Weslaco. "The 1.3 billion Muslims living in the United States are often blamed for the crimes of a few terrorists.

"It's been happening for some time. If only one person does something, the media is going for the whole religion."

Most Valley Muslims are educated professionals, Ansari said. "The majority of them are either medical doctors or university or college professors."

Ansari credits his children's teachers for helping educate others about Islam and protect his offspring against abuse from other children. He also said there has been a general increase in learning about the teachings of Islam.

"The educated class of the United States, they are reading more about it," he said, and that they are discovering that the religion does not promote violence.

"The Almighty has never given us the right to harm anybody, and we are accountable for it," Ansari said. "We have no right to take the life of anybody under any circumstances."

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