This is the start of an open dialogue and the end of a controversy.

Front-page coverage in the Portland Press Herald of Muslims celebrating Eid, the end of Ramadan on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 might have wrongly angered many people.

Some people, out of ignorance, associate all Muslims to terrorism. Others were angered because the anniversary of 9/11 did not get the coverage and the priority it deserved. They felt its “position” in the paper was taken by the end of Ramadan story.

I cannot deny the existence of a few people whose hearts are filled with hate. To describe or isolate those hateful people is often difficult, as they blend their agenda with other debatable issues.

They try to break the existing community bonds. Because of space limitations, I do not want to address the claim of those who associate all Muslims to terrorism. Good people everywhere know they are wrong.

But I will leave them with this question: How many Muslims have been killed by Al-Qaida around the world?

The answer is that in the aftermath of 9/11, thousands of innocent Muslims lost their lives in terrorist attacks.

Richard Connor, the editor and publisher of The Porrtland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, addressed the controversy by issuing an apology. It seemed to many people, including myself, that the apology was for running the story about the Eid celebration on the front page of the newspaper.

The issue attracted national and international attention. Big newspapers like The New York Times ran articles in their papers. And big television networks talked about the controversy.

After Mr. Connor issued the apology, leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities came together and asked to meet with him. He agreed to meet with us and we were thankful for his time. As Nicholas Kristof said in his piece in The New York Times, “Your Comments on My Apology to Muslims,” Richard Connor is “decent guy.”

The leaders who attended the meeting expressed their concerns and ideas about how to go forward. Brother Daud Ummah mentioned how all of humanity — especially Muslims — is still suffering from the tragedy of 9/11.

Wars started because of 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have lost their lives.

Mr. Connor and members of his staff listened to us and repeatedly mentioned how the apology was taken out of context.

And after long discussions we all agreed to move forward and use this energy for constructive purposes.

So here I am, for the first time, writing my opinion in the Maine Sunday Telegram to initiate what I believe will serve as the common good of the community.

Who are the Muslims In greater Portland, Maine?

A majority of Muslims who are in greater Portland and Lewiston are from Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The Somalis constitute the largest group.

Like the Somalis, the Afghanis and the Iraqis are refugees or former refugees who became U.S. citizens.

They left their home countries because of wars and fear of persecution. The refugees, and the former refugees who are naturalized left their homes, family members and friends, survived in refugee camps and adapted their new home here.

They are thankful and loyal to their adopted country, the United States. They struggle to earn bread, go to school to learn English and other skills, send their children to schools and dream the “American dream” like everyone else.

Yet they are often challenged, their loyalty is mistrusted, and they sometimes are made feel unwanted.

But their determination to raise their children in a safe environment outweighs all obstacles.

They have the same hope that first-generation Irish, Greek, and Italian immigrants had — that one day their children will have better lives.

So let us reserve our judgments and learn from and about each other. That is the road to peace and understanding.


– Special to the Telegram