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Invisible Neighbors: SA's Muslim Community Perseveres Despite Facing Discrimination

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SA’s home to a growing Muslim community, around 30,000 now. They pray at mosques such as the Islamic Center of San Antonio. But many live in fear of becoming victims of hate crimes. - SARAH BROOKE LYONS
  • Sarah Brooke Lyons
  • SA’s home to a growing Muslim community, around 30,000 now. They pray at mosques such as the Islamic Center of San Antonio. But many live in fear of becoming victims of hate crimes.

Looks elicit harassment from people who are bullies, racists, religious bigots or just plain ignorant.

Take Sikhs, for example. They don't follow Islam but their tradition calls for them to wear head turbans, leading many to see them as Muslim.

Muslims also pray five times a day. At colleges with heavy presences of foreign exchange students from Middle Eastern countries, it's not uncommon to see someone praying on bent knees with bowed backs.

"Any time people engage in public religious expression, it may be problematic to other people," Acevedo said. "There are lots of reports of Muslim men praying in airports or holding religious beads that causes some people tension."

Both Husain and Hussain told stories about being detained in airports for hours upon hours of questioning, often leading them to miss their flight.

Whether discrimination is rooted in religious bigotry or xenophobia or a combination of both, this American obsession really took off after the 9/11 attacks.

"9/11 was a watershed moment," Acevedo said. "It's quite fair to say targeting Muslim immigrants in the United States is linked to 9/11 and linked to the continuing war on terrorism and geopolitical conflict around the world."

But just like ISIS or Al Qaeda don't reflect the values of the majority of Muslims, lightning-rod activist Geller and her propensity to mock Islam doesn't represent that majority of non-Muslim Americans.

"I think what ends up happening, really on both sides of these issues, is extreme views and extreme actions always tend to be very provocative and really don't represent what the vast majority of people feel and experience," Acevedo said.

Still, San Antonio's Muslim community, like others across the country, continues to encounter societal resistance.

That's why Husain tirelessly works toward confronting misguided views and telling anyone who will listen that Muslim-Americans aren't any different from other Americans.

"I wish, instead of doing this, or educating people in this way, I wish it was more peaceful," she said. "I'm thankful for God that he's given me an opportunity. What little I'm doing, something needs to be done."

Real Struggle

Husain was in Austin last week testifying at a legislative hearing about a bill proposed by State Rep. Jeff Leach from Plano called "American Laws for American Courts."

The bill would prevent "foreign forum selection" and "foreign laws" from superseding state and federal laws and courts. The proposal is specific to marriages, divorces and any lawsuit affecting parent-child relationships.

While Leach didn't single out any religion, Husain said the bill is anti-Sharia Law, the traditional Islamic legal system. She believes Leach's proposal is a reaction to Islamic Tribunals, a non-binding arbitration process used to settle civil matters.

"These are the leaders, the elected officials, who do not understand their own laws — state and federal," Husain said. "We have the best judicial system in the world. And they are talking about going to some Muslim place, getting a divorce and coming back here. They still have a right to go to court!"

While Leach's proposal is preposterous because the U.S. judicial system already trumps Islamic Tribunals — or any other religious method of arbitration, like beth din, a rabbinical court used by Orthodox Jews — there are other Lone Star State legislators who are openly hostile toward Muslims.

Take Molly White, a state representative from Belton.

During "Muslim Capitol Day" in February, White posted on Facebook that if any Muslims came to her office, she would ask them to renounce terrorism before speaking to them.

"I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws," White wrote.

And then, of course, there's Geller, who organized the provocative "Draw Mohammad" event in suburban Dallas last week.

"What happened in Dallas, the shooting ... that should not have happened," Husain said, explaining that Geller is full of hate and fear, which she said she serves up through the smokescreen of free speech.

Geller may have gotten what she wished for in terms of the two Arizona men who attacked the event, one who was already on the FBI's watchlist.

Yet thousands of local Muslims remained mum.

"Dallas and the surrounding areas have about 100,000 Muslims. None of them reacted or protested," Husain said.

Those are real Muslims, unlike the growing cadre of opportunistic agitators who hijack Islam as a conduit for their terroristic endeavors.

The Arizona duo being just the latest example.

"They are not Muslims," Husain said. "If you take one life, it's as if you have killed all of humanity."

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