February 11, 2009 6:42 PM
Muslims In America
Khalifa says the security guards then clutched their arms and ushered them out. No one would tell them what was going on.
"Then they started asking us what mosques do you attend? How regularly do you go?," Khalifa remembers.
Later, FBI agents told Khalifa that they were reacting to a tip: that someone saw the men crouching near an air vent at the stadium. He admitted they were on their knees to pray.
"You know we've prayed in front of people before and it was never a problem. So we didn't think about it twice. It something we do everyday, five times a day, everyday. Anywhere we are," Khalifa says.
George Zoffinger is president of the complex where the Giants play. He says his staff handled the situation correctly and is sensitive to cultural diversity.
But, he adds, "Any time that we receive any kind of indication from our patrons or from our security staff that they're concerned about something we make sure that we look into it."
After all, the New York City skyline, a constant reminder of 9/11, is in plain view of Giants Stadium. Security is never far from anyone's mind.
"I know that in our everyday lives, you and I and everybody else, we are so cognizant of the fact that if you do see something unusual that you should report it. And I think that has been so ingrained into all of our thought processes," Zoffinger explains.
But does "praying while Muslim" qualify as unusual?
"One person actually looked me in the eye and said, 'You know, now I feel safe.' I'm like, 'From what? Just watchin' a football game,'" Khalifa says with a laugh.
Many Muslims say they're used to getting the evil eye. In one survey of young Muslims, 70 percent said they noticed significant hostility toward Muslims in the general American public.
And there are those who believe it's not unwarranted.
Daniel Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum, and makes no apologies for taking a hard line. "I think there should be a focus on Muslims," Pipes says.
Pipes points out all 19 hijackers on September 11th were Muslims. And four years later we're still debating whether protecting the country or protecting civil liberties is more important.
"There has to be a balance between the two. It's important to focus in on the real threat. It does no one any good to pretend that threat is other than what it really is," Pipes says.
And he says the "real" threat to the United States is radical Islamic terrorism.
"Are we going to protect ourselves from this or not?" Pipes asks. "The people who are going to do this who will in the future engage in violence against Americans, who carry with them an Islamic or Islamist ideology, are Muslims.
"What is the point of looking at Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Hindus --there's no point," Pipes says. "They're not going to be engaged in this type of violence."
Yet the situation is hardly as black and white as Pipes believes.
When Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City we didn't see the FBI or the government coming down on every Catholic asking questions about their hatred of the U.S. or potentially harboring ill feelings toward this country," retorts Aref Assaf.
Assaf grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp. He came to the United States more than 30 years ago, started a family and a series of successful businesses. Assaf is a Muslim-American but hates that label.
I like to be known as an American because that's what defines me. I made a conscious choice to become an American citizen. And for me, that's 100 percent of myself that's committed to this country," Assaf says.
Yet Assaf couldn't believe it when FBI agents came to his house, to ask him if he knew any terrorists, not once, but three times.
"The terrorists who committed the crimes were not American citizens, so why are we harassing 5-6 million Muslims when the root lies somewhere else," Assaf wonders.
He believes Muslims need to take on that kind of scrutiny as a challenge.
"9/11 and the taking away of our civil rights and the castigation of our community, our culture and our heritage forced many of us in the community to lead efforts to expose its good side to engage our politicians," Assaf says.
To Osama Siblani, it's just the latest twist on a classically American experience: the immigrant, struggling to fit in. Siblani publishes the Arab American News in Dearborn, Michigan, a city with the largest proportion of Muslims of any in this country.
The Italians, the Jews, Japanese, Germans, every single community, African Americans, every community comes in, they have to go through this torture gate. And then tested. And then they become Americans and become accepted," Siblani believes.
"We're the new kid and we are being tested," he adds.
It's a test without any easy answers. And Azhar Usman will be the first to tell you, if you're the new kid, having a sense of humor always helps.
"I'm just waiting for a real honest passenger at the end of the flight," Usman says during his standup set at the high school.
"You know, 'Excuse me sir, thought you were going to kill us. Sorry about that. Remember when you got up to go to the bathroom. I was going to stab you.' Thank you guys, God bless you Rochelle. Peace."
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