Originally created 10/09/01

Young Muslims face questions, some prejudice



Bilal Yousufzai has been answering a lot of questions.

In the wake of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, the Lakeside High School freshman has been fielding questions from curious classmates about his religion, he said. Bilal, a 14-year-old Muslim of Indian descent, said that most people have been supportive when they talk to him.

"I heard one stray comment I think was directed at me," he said. "But people don't associate me with the people who did this."

Instead, they're asking him questions about Islam and whether the religion condones actions such as the terrorists', who flew three planes into the buildings on Sept. 11, killing as many as 6,000 people. Osama bin Laden, a Muslim extremist whose al-Quaida organization is present in more than 35 countries worldwide, has been linked to the attacks.

BECAUSE OF THE FOCUS on a Muslim Arab, Muslim Americans and Americans of Middle Eastern descent have encountered harassment and violence since the Sept. 11 attacks. A mosque in Texas was firebombed and a Sikh man, who wore a turban and a beard, was shot to death in Arizona by a man who protested that he was a patriot as police led him away. Some universities warned Muslim students to stay home from classes in the days after the attacks, particularly women who wear the hijab, the traditional head-covering.

In Augusta, vandals spray-painted rude language and the word "coward" on the brick sign in front of the Islamic Society's mosque. Some Muslims have been threatened, said Kent Spruill, chairman of Richmond County's human relations commission.

A Westminster High School student was red-carded and fined at a recent soccer game after calling a Middle Eastern student on the opposing team, Augusta Preparatory School, "Osama." The offender is supposed to apologize to the entire Augusta Prep student body, said Xtreme teen board member William Palmer, 17, a senior at Augusta Prep.

SANGINI PATEL, 17, has experienced the vandalism and ugly words, she said.

"Up until the events of (Sept. 11), I wasn't treated any differently," the Lincoln County High School senior said. "Since then, some students think I'm from Pakistan or Afghanistan and have made ugly comments to me. There have also been people in the community who must think that as well because they have thrown rocks at my parents' businesses and broken out the windows."

Sangini's family isn't Muslim - they're Hindu. But they're from India, and some people lump them in with the terrorists.

"After Tuesday's attack, they look at my race differently than before," she said. "They look at me as a person from one of the enemy countries. They really don't think of me as anything else but Indian from India."

Teen board members Elizabeth Holoubek and Chelsey Willis contributed to this report.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com