RALEIGH — This morning, on what should be the happiest day of the Islamic calendar, thousands of Muslims will converge for prayers in a far more somber mood.
There will be the customary hugs and kisses and goodwill wishes of Eid Mubarak, or "blessed Eid," as Muslims mark the end of the monthlong fast of Ramadan. But many Muslims say this has been a wrenching month as assaults on their faith have intensified.
"People are hurt," said Faisal Khan, a Muslim from Morrisville. "They're feeling degraded, inferior, left out."
Contributing to the mood: the controversy over the proposed Islamic community center near the site of the World Trade Center bombing on Sept. 11, 2001; recent attacks on several mosques across the nation and the possibility that Terry Jones, pastor of a small Florida church, may go ahead with plans to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A time to celebrate
This rising tide of public disapproval comes as celebrations begin for Eid-al-Fitr, the feast of the fast-breaking, a time when Muslims congratulate themselves on their spiritual sacrifice by exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes, visiting family and friends, giving to the needy and indulging in sweets.
In a show of solidarity for their Muslim friends, several Triangle clergy will host Quran readings in their sanctuaries Saturday.
"It seems irresponsible not to offer a counter word," said the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. "We have to respect each other's faith traditions and stand firm on the principle of religious freedom."
Quran readings are also planned at the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Carrboro and outside the old Post Office in Chapel Hill, as part of a public vigil planned by the Community Church of Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the United Church of Chapel Hill is starting a four-part series, "Becoming Better Neighbors With Muslims in Our Community."
A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life shows that favorable opinions of Islam have declined since 2005. Then, 41 percent of Americans had favorable opinions of Islam. That percentage dropped to 30 percent last month. In addition, the poll found that 51 percent of Americans oppose the construction of an Islamic community center near the New York site where the twin towers fell.
Even more troubling to Muslims is what they perceive as a growing willingness on the part of some in the Republican Party to lend support to the anti-Muslim frenzy. The Pew poll found that Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to have unfavorable views of Muslims, 54percent to 27 percent, respectively.
"It's a political ploy," said Marc Conaghan, a Muslim from Morrisville. "It's to rile up people before an election year."
Bias undergoes rebirth
Religious discrimination is nothing new in the United States. Roman Catholics, Mormons, even Baptists, were once subjected to it. What worries some Muslims is that they don't see an end to it for them. Instead of getting better, things seem to be getting worse.
"Muslims have not felt this insecure since Sept. 11," said Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University. "It's a tragic comeback. I'm extremely concerned and disappointed."
Antepli said he had planned to fly to Switzerland this weekend to try to persuade a group of Iranians to stop denying the Holocaust. Now, he wonders if he shouldn't stay in the United States and work on combating intolerance here.
His concern is shared by many Muslims, especially those who emigrated from other countries.
"They feel like, 'Wait a minute. This is not the America we read about,' " Khan said. "We thought religious freedom was our right."
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