Ten years ago, Sept. 11 fell on a Tuesday. That afternoon, hours after the attacks, the Islamic Society of Augusta issued a press release condemning the terrorists who claimed to act in the name of their religion.
By nightfall, the center was the target of its own attack. Someone spray painted profane graffiti meant for Osama bin Laden across the center’s brick sign, along with the words “coward” and “U.S.A.” A window was also broken.
It was the first of a few scary moments for Muslims at the Islamic Society, Augusta’s largest mosque, in the weeks, months and years after the attacks, local Muslims recall.
Police were asked to patrol outside the mosque in 2003, when the Iraq war began. In 2009, following the deadly shooting at Fort Hood by a Muslim officer, Augusta’s imam took to wearing a T-shirt and jeans out in public, instead of his traditional tunic, because of concerns for safety.
Ten years after the terrorist strike, Augusta should be proud to say there’s been progress, said Hossam Fadel, a longtime member of the executive committee of the Islamic Society.
Islamophobia in Augusta seems to have lessened, even if it has not elsewhere in the country, said Fadel, whose son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren were in Manhattan that day, and were on their way to school when the jets struck.
The public remains divided over whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions. In March, 40 percent of those surveyed in a Pew Research Forum poll said Islam is more likely than others to encourage violence in its believers than other religions. That’s up from 25 percent in March 2002.
Findings from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project released in July found that, nearly 10 years after Sept. 11, 66 percent of Americans are still concerned about Islamic extremism in the U.S.
Fadel believes that Islamophobia has decreased in Augusta thanks to the center’s interfaith efforts, and the response of other local congregations.
The center has partnered with a local church and Jewish temple for tri-faith Thanksgiving services. They’ve volunteered with Jews at the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen. They’ve held peace rallies and prayer services and open houses to tour the facilities.
“People have been much more reasonable, more tolerable, even kind,” Fadel said.
Shortly after vandalism of the mosque made headlines in 2001, many sent cards, flowers and offers of help, Fadel said. Some Christian pastors volunteered to scrub the graffiti off the walls.
Respect flows both ways, said Imam Majed Sabke, of the Islamic Society of Augusta. Last year, the Islamic Society delayed its Eid al-Fitr festival, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. The festival would have fallen on the anniversary of Sept. 11.
“A moon bounce simply isn’t appropriate for the day,” Sabke said at the time.
Today, as always, the Islamic Society is open to curious members of the public, Fadel said.
“If you have questions, talk to a Muslim. Discuss things with a Muslim,” he said. “Our mosque is open all the time. People are welcome to come and see. We are regular human beings. We eat and drink and laugh and pray. We are Americans and we are Muslims. We felt the agony of that day, too.”