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Muslim American Businesses See Recovery One Year After in Sept. 11 - 2002-08-21

The terrorist attacks of last September 11 caused a business slowdown in the United States, where the economy was already slipping into recession. Businesses owned by Muslims and Middle Easterners were especially hard hit. Muslim business owners in Los Angeles are seeing a recovery one year after the attacks.

Across the street from the Islamic Center of Southern California, one of the city's leading mosques, a small strip-mall houses several Korean shops and a Bandladeshi meat market and restaurant. The market sells "halal" meat, explains Nahin Choudhury, who is part of an extended family of Muslim immigrants who run the business. He says the animals are killed and the meat is prepared according to Islamic rules.

"We basically follow the same terms as the Jewish people follow. We're the equivalent to what 'kosher' is," Mr. Choudhury said.

The 20-year-old studies economics at UCLA and, in his spare time, does bookkeeping for his cousins, who own the Makkah Meat and Halal Tandoori Restaurant. Mohammad Hussein started the restaurant two years ago with brothers Ahmed and Zaman.

"I'm a Muslim and when I came here, it was very hard to get the halal food and it was in my mind, maybe I can help some of my community, Muslim people. And finally in 2000, I got the place and got it started," Mr. Hussein said.

Business was growing at a rate of six to eight percent each month, until September 11. Afterwards, Nahin Choudhury recalls, revenues dropped by half. "By about midway through October, our business started slowing down dramatically. It really had an effect on us because we were really interested in growth," Mr. Choudury said.

Most of the meat shop's customers are identifiable as Muslims because of their traditional robes and beards. In the wake of the attacks, they were hearing stories about hate crimes against Muslims and Middle Easterners. The owner speculates those stories made them reluctant to come to his shop.

Nahin Choudhury says, despite the drop in business, there were no problems with non-Muslims in the neighborhood. "Actually, there was really no hostility around here. The police were very good to protect people of our religion, of our faith. They did a really good job maintaining order and preventing anything from happening to us or our business," he said.

On the prosperous west side of Los Angeles, many small businesses are owned by Middle Eastern immigrants. Some of them are Jewish, others are Christian, and many are Muslim. The Muslim owner of one grocery store saw a serious drop in business, especially a loss of orders from wealthy Saudi Arabian tourists, whose numbers, he says, were down after September 11.

Another West Los Angeles businessman, Bob Mikhak, runs a Persian restaurant and a car rental agency. He says after September 11, he was hurt by a drop in tourism, but as time goes on, business is improving.

"Right after the attacks, the business started going down. However, it hasn't been as bad. It picked up quite rapidly after that," Mr. Mikhak said.

Mr. Mikhak says Los Angeles is a cosmopolitan city with many immigrants, and immigrant entrepreneurs are part of the city's mosaic. Nahin Choudhury adds that many customers at his cousins' halal meat market are Westerners who come to eat the Bangladesh tandoori. Even California Governor Gray Davis stopped by recently, after he signed a new state law guaranteeing that meat advertised as "halal" is authentically prepared according to Muslim guidelines.

Part of VOA's Series on The Anniversary of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks