September 9, 2011

On 9/11, 'we became the outsiders'

Many who had found refuge in Maine and America remember the day 'all those ghosts came back,' reshaping their world into one of lingering suspicion and even open hostility.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Reza Jalali

John Patriquin Staff Photographer

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Jirde Mohamed walks past the front of the Maine Muslims Community Center on Anderson Street in Portland where graffiti had been sprayed shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in May. "Bin Laden and Islam are different," said Mohamed, a member of the mosque who has lived in Portland 10 years.

Gregory Rec Staff Photographer

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To avoid conflict, Barre used his last name on his badge instead.

The experience demonstrated that many people in Portland know little about the peaceful underpinnings of Islam and make assumptions about its followers, said Barre, secretary of the Islamic Society of Maine.

He has tried to be as helpful as he can to counteract the false assumptions people may have about Muslims after Sept. 11.

Barre said he offers to help shovel walkways at Kennedy Park where he lives, and is known as someone who keeps a copy of the bus schedule and is quick with jumper cables if a car doesn't start.

"Because of helping them, some of them they told me, Muslims are very helpful," he said. "As soon as you work with other groups, American people, the bulk will like you if they know you by name. If they don't understand my religion, just work with them, or talk to them."

Barre said he is now comfortable using his first name without fear of conflict.

In the 10 years since the attacks, many of the Somali Muslims have become citizens and so feel more secure, more a part of America, Barre said. Some still fear that the inability to find a job may be based on discrimination, but the difficult economy is making it hard for many people, regardless of religion.

There are now more Muslims in Portland and in others parts of Maine than 10 years ago, and it is an extremely diverse demographic, said Jalali.

"Now I run into people from Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria, so many countries," said Jalali, who is writing a book titled "God Speaks with Many Accents."

"I finally met Muslim Cambodians in Maine," he said.

Adilah Muhammad is an American-born Muslim who does strategic planning and runs a real estate investment company in the Lewiston-Auburn area. She said people seem more cautious toward her since Sept. 11, 2001, and she has come to expect that her head scarf will lead to being singled out for extra screening when she flies, which is often.

But the negative comments and looks she gets today may not be directly related to Sept. 11 or her religion.

"I think the impact (of Sept. 11) on me is not dramatically different than the impact on everyone else," she said. "I don't know if the interactions post-Sept. 11 come from just being confused, thinking I'm an immigrant or refugee in the Lewiston-Auburn area."

Many Muslim immigrants who were teenagers when the attacks occurred now have graduated from high school and gone on to college.

"They are already in the mainstream," Osman said.

Somali Muslims have run for the Legislature and Hamza Haadoow, chairman of the Somali Community Resource Center, is a mayoral candidate in Portland.

"When Sept. 11 happened, I had just lived in this country for a year," Haadoow said. Afterward, many in the Muslim community felt they were regarded as an enemy. "So the only solution I thought was participate, they need to engage in the civic life."

At the same time, he believes it is his duty as an American to report someone to authorities if he thought they posed a threat.

"I want to try to show we are not part of those initiatives at all," he said, referring to the terrorist attacks that he believes are counter to his religion. "We don't want anyone wanting to harm our neighbors, our country, our co-workers or our classmates."

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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