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Muslims in Minnesota play it safe
By Laurel Druley
Minnesota Public Radio
September 24, 2001
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In the nearly two weeks since terrorists attacked U.S. targets, reports have surfaced, of other violence. In Arizona, authorities say a man shot and killed the Sikh owner of a gas station, fired on a Lebanese clerk at another business and shot at the home of an Afghan family. In Minneapolis, three Arab-American men say they were kicked off a Northwest flight last week after other passengers refused to fly with them. In Rochester, some Arab-Americans have been the victims of verbal threats. We talked with one family about their experiences.

The Mikati family (from left to right) - Ihab, Arij, Rana and Amer, are Lebanese-Americans. Arij, 12, and her brother Ihab, 8, say they have good friends who have not treated them differently. Their parents decided they shouldn't participate in an out-of-town tae kwon do tournament, because they were not familiar with the safety of the community where it was held.
Listen to them talk about their experiences
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)
Arij Mikati, 12, has black hair and olive skin, and is into the latest fashion trends like her peers at school.

"I don't really look like I'm Arabic but my mom does. And sometimes they treat her differently," Mikati says.

Her friends from Somalia who wear a traditional head scarf or hijab, a word that means modesty, have been harassed on the school bus. Mikati, who is Lebanese-American and a Muslim, says even though she doesn't wear traditional dress, she is still afraid.

"I was scared that people would be too judgmental. I kind of felt like certain people were avoiding me at school," Mikati says. "I was scared to go to school. My cousin told me when he went back to his locker he found a paper from his friends that said, 'No terrorists allowed on our soccer team,' and I was terrified what would happen to me."

Arij's mother, Rana, gently reminds her daughter that was in Ohio. Rana and her husband Amer say they feel safe in Rochester. But they have made some concessions to ensure safety. Rana says her two oldest children, Arij and Ihab, stayed home from an out-of-town weekend tae kwon do tournament.

"It's kind of disappointing," says Ihab, 8. "I really wanted to test for my black belt.

His mother says her children don't look Arab but she does. Rana, who is draped in black, says there's been a change in how people react to her.

"You can feel electricity in the air. I used to go to the mall and everybody would come to me and smile. Last week it was awful," says Rana. "Whenever I go I can see something is wrong. No one said anything bad. They are still smiling, but you can feel electricity in the air."

When Rana left the house the week of the attacks, she noticed other Muslim women had abandoned their traditional dress. In fact, some national Islamic organizations sent out e-mails urging women to stay at home or dress differently if they choose to go out. But Rana refused to give up her traditional dress, called an abayah.

More Information about Arab-Americans
  • Detroit Free Press, 100 Questions and answers about Arab-Americans
  • Yahoo Summary of coverage of Arab and Muslim Americans
  • South Asian Journalists Association
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations
    "This is what I am. I did not do anything wrong, so what should I change?"

    "I think it's terrible," 12-year-old Arij says of her mother's experience. "You shouldn't judge people by the way they are. One of my friends - she stands with her mom at the bus stop - she gets threats from the neighborhood like they're going to kill them. It's really hard," she says.

    On September 11, when their children came home from school, Rana and Amer had a long discussion with them.

    "It was important for me to talk about it because they are part of the suspicion," says Rana. "I want them to know the other point of view, because it is important for them to know that we are good. We are not bad. I want my kids to be sure this is not something common in our community, in our religion or in my home country," she says.

    "My children were really worried," Amer adds. "They have conflict of their own. Could a Muslim really have done that? Are we really that terrible? Do we really have more terrorists? Any true Muslim would not harm civilians, or even a tree or an animal, so thousands of people - it's totally unacceptable by religion of Islam."

    Amer, who is a pharmacist at the Mayo Clinic, says most people know Muslims are peaceful people. He says nothing in the Koran condones these terrorists acts. Amer says their friends and colleagues have been very supportive.

    "I'm not really scared for my family. What I'm scared of - there might be a fool anywhere, and one fool can destroy the good action of many."

    However, the Mikatis say they will not let fear and suspicion stop them from trying to live a normal life.