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Iraq Sectarian Violence Affects American Muslims

There has long been concern within the Iraqi-American community in the United States that the war in Iraq, and the violence there between Sunnis and Shias, could spark tensions at home. Today, in our weekly series "Searching for Solutions," we look at efforts within one American Muslim community to ease those tensions.

Twenty prominent Muslim leaders in Detroit, Michigan today signed an "Intra-Faith Code of Honor," condemning all forms of sectarian violence and forbidding hate speech. VOA's Brian Padden visited Detroit, and nearby communities in central Michigan, where some 500,000 Muslims and Arab Americans live. He filed this report.

Iraqi-American Fadhel Iljebori has been closely following the Iraq war on television and what he sees makes him angry.

"It's like what we see on TV. What's going on TV, car bombs, and innocent people falling dead every day, for no reason? It makes us mad to see that happen over there, Iraq."

Like most people who live in this Arab American community in Dearborn, Michigan, his anger has not turned into acts of sectarian violence. Such upheavel is rare in American communities where the police and courts maintain law and order.

Also instrumental in keeping the peace among Muslims in Michigan are leaders such as Sunni Farhan Latif, the Muslim student advisor at the University of Michigan. "The need for dialogue has increased. And the need to discuss issues and to understand one another better and to basically to set an example for others to follow, has become more of a priority."

Latif says after the 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines, both Sunni and Shia leaders in Michigan began to meet regularly. At prayer services at the Islamic Center of America, Imams emphasized Muslim similarities over differences, and urged reconciliation over confrontation.

Najah Bazzy, a community activist in the Shia mosque, says most Muslims in the United States also see the violence in Iraq as political in nature rather than religious. "What is coming across is there are those who instigating this sectarian violence and giving it a name, calling it sectarian violence but that is not how we want to treat one another. But there is an overwhelming feeling that there is an agenda that is flaming that fire and that's where the stress is."

There have been moments that tested the unity of the Michigan Muslim community, such as when Saddam Hussein was executed on the Sunni holiday of Eid.

Latif adds, "When Saddam was hanged you saw a mixed reaction in the community. Everyone was extremely happy that he was removed, whether Sunni or Shia, because he was a dictator and he had committed atrocities across the board. I know there was some discussion as to the timing of when it happened. That was something people were somewhat upset about, that it was insensitive to the Muslim community for happening on Eid -- the day."

Bazzy comments, "The execution caused some words, some exchanges but did that erupt in violence? No. That manifested itself in, 'that is a very barbaric thing to do'."

There were also some recent incidents of vandalism. In January, the words "9/11 Murderers" and "You Idol Worship" were spray-painted on the front of the mosque. But many people here believe this was an anti-Muslim hate crime, and not a Sunni on Shia attack.

Promptly investigating these incidents, and stressing that what unites them is stronger than what divides them, the Muslims of Michigan are preventing violence before it can erupt.