As September rolled around 10 years ago, Saad Mohammad prepared to conduct a series of informational lectures about Islam for the first time.
He thought no one but his friends would show up for the presentations at the Islamic Society of Oklahoma City's mosque, 3815 N St. Clair.
His prediction proved incorrect.
“I told people there wouldn't be anyone there but our tribe (mosque members) but the tragedy happened on Sept. 11 and the first lecture was planned for Sept. 18. All four lectures were packed with people and the media,” Mohammad said.
He and other Oklahoma Muslim leaders said in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many non-Muslims in Oklahoma displayed not anger, but curiosity.
Mohammad, the society's director of Islamic information, said one local Muslim man who distributed Islamic materials from his booth at the AMC Flea Market was inundated with people wanting pamphlets, copies of the Quran and other items.
“The attacks happened on a Tuesday and that Saturday, his booth was packed,” Mohammad said.
Efforts to educate
Both Mohammad and Arif Abdullah, imam of the Masjid Mu'min, 1322 NE 23, said stereotyping of Muslims still abounded, despite efforts to educate non-Muslims about Islam. They said many people seemed to think that all Muslims were radical Islamic terrorists like those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.
Abdullah said because of the stereotyping, he and other leaders at his mosque began extra patrols around the building for safety. He said the dress code for women was relaxed, meaning they were allowed to go without their hijabs so they would not be readily identified as Muslim.
These days, both men said the hunger for information about Islam that came after the 9/11 attacks proved to be positive for the local Muslim community.
Imad Enchassi, the Islamic Society of Oklahoma City's imam and president, said the stereotypes and misinformation that arose after the attacks made many Muslims aware of the importance of educating others about their faith. He said more Muslims became interested in interfaith activities and the Muslim faith community seemed to come together.
“After 9/11 10 years ago, we were scrambling on what we should say, what not to say,” Enchassi said.
“We have become more proactive after 9/11 and in Oklahoma, it started after the Murrah bombing.”
Bin Laden death
Enchassi noted the way Muslim groups immediately issued statements of relief at the demise of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks who was killed by American special forces in May.
“I'm extremely proud of the way Muslims have reacted,” he said.
Abdullah said Oklahoma Muslims have done a good job reaching out to the community at large and the community has responded positively, with a couple of notable exceptions.
He said numerous Oklahoma legislators' refusal to accept a complimentary copy of the Quran in 2007 and the 2010 passage of a state question outlawing the use of Sharia law or Islamic law in Oklahoma courts were seen as negative by many Muslims, but their hearts are still hopeful.
Several Oklahoma Muslim leaders have said they saw State Question 755 as a measure that unfairly condemns the Islamic faith).
“I think we've had some hits and some misses, but I think it's been pretty good here, barring some people who have been doing things (against Muslims),” Abdullah said.
‘Feeling the stress'
Sheryl Siddiqui of Tulsa, spokeswoman for the Islamic Council of Oklahoma, said misinformation about Islam is spreading once again — even after many Muslims and non-Muslims have joined together in interfaith activities designed for fellowship and education across faith lines.
She said groups that seem to thrive on bigotry against Muslims are growing across the state, threatening the peaceful lives that Oklahoma Muslims want to live here.
“Muslims are certainly feeling the stress in the escalating bigotry and scrutiny,” Siddiqui said.
“It's starting to wear on Oklahoma Muslims and really our biggest agenda is to live a peaceful life.”
Siddiqui said bigotry against Muslims, also called Islamophobia, has become a booming industry, with more and more books and other materials presenting anti-Islam messages popping up all the time.
She said the curiosity immediately after 9/11 was easier to deal with.
“People were acknowledging that they were uninformed about Islam. Now people are making money off this,” Siddiqui said.