Though they see Oklahoma as a place of “unprecedented support,” many Muslims statewide are concerned the federal government is now linking their faith to terrorism, a Muslim leader said recently.
Statements made recently by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared to unite the Muslim religious observance of Hajj to terrorism something that ultimately could place American Muslims in jeopardy, said Imad Enchassi, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.
“This is unhealthy,” Enchassi said. “The country is already going through an ‘Islamophobic’ phase, and the moment you link religious holidays to terrorism, hate crimes, hate e-mails and hate will increase against American Muslims.”
According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, agents in the FBI’s 56 field offices have been planning to take a census of Muslims as part of the nation’s anti-terrorism effort. The FBI said mosques are included in the survey to protect the Muslim community from hate crimes, the report said.
An official with the FBI in Oklahoma denied the state bureau’s involvement in a census of Muslims and their places of worship.
Enchassi said his organization, which communicates and works with nine mosques in Oklahoma, has sent correspondence to the FBI indicatingnb Muslims’ willingness to cooperate in such an effort.
However, Enchassi said the groups stop short of allowing their First Amendment rights to be consistently violated.
“Certainly we’re doing our part to clarify to the American public that we are just as American as they are,” he said. “Our kids are serving in the military. Our kids are fighting terrorism, but at the same time our people are being terrorized in America.”
An unfair link Enchassi said there are four mosques in Oklahoma City and one each at Tinker Air Force Base, in Norman, Stillwater, Fort Sill and Tulsa.
Enchassi said Muslims who attend these places of worship recently observed Eid al-Adha, which means “festival of the sacrifice.” Eid al-Adha celebrates the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca that commemorates Abraham’s offer of sacrifice.
Enchassi said he and many Muslims grew concerned when Ashcroft said a decision to increase the national terror alert level was based on intelligence pointing to a possible attack coinciding with Hajj.
“Hajj has nothing to do with terrorism,” Enchassi said. “To imply otherwise is an insult to the American Muslim community.”
Enchassi said the government leader’s statements uneasily bring to mind “McCarthyism,” although in the Muslim community, they call it “Ashcroftism.”
He said if the government makes negative statements about one religion, it could target other religions as well.
“If they are going to start with mosques, pretty soon it will be synagogues and Baptist churches, Catholic cathedrals and you name it.”
The New York-based National Conference for Community and Justice called the reported census policy a “frightening example of inappropriate and misdirected religious profiling,” according to the Orlando Sentinel’s report.
“Such religious profiling would not be contemplated for any other religious minority in the United States and would be soundly and instantly condemned by all leaders,” said Sanford Cloud Jr., the national conference’s president and chief executive officer in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, an FBI official in Oklahoma City said his office is not participating in an official count of the Muslim population nor did it receive orders to perform such a task.
“We have not received that directive nor do we have any intention of doing that,” FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said of the reported census.
“If for any reason we need any sort of data, we have the means to get it.”
Both Johnson and Enchassi said the two groups have worked well together before.
Enchassi said he is hoping the seeds of tolerance fostered after the Oklahoma City bombing will continue to grow in the state.
“In Oklahoma City, we’re in a very unique situation. After the Murrah Building bombing, we got together with the federal authorities, and we have since then had many meetings with them,” Enchassi said.
“Of course Oklahoma City has been a place of unprecedented support, from people leaving hearts and flowers at our mosque and so on,” he said. “We’ve been through April 19, too, and people have learned not to jump to conclusions.”
Fostering understanding Oklahoma Muslims are not alone in their concern about a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Earlier this month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations kicked off a yearlong national campaign to foster greater understanding of Islam.
“Without accurate and balanced information about mainstream Islam and Muslims, ordinary Americans are vulnerable to the purveyors of hate, in this country and around the world, who seek a perpetual religious and civilizational conflict,” said Omar Ahmad, the council’s board chairman.