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Young Muslim-Americans Find New Voice After 9/11 Terror Attacks - 2002-01-19


The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and subsequent manhunt for the terrorists behind it, has focused attention on the Muslim community in the United States.

Muslims tried to keep a low profile during the angry backlash right after the attacks. But a sense of calm was soon restored and with it, an increased interest in Islam.

The September 11 terrorist attacks focused a lot of attention on Islam and how little it was understood in the West. In the United States, the number of classes on Arabic language and Islam has soared. So has the number of young Muslims anxious to speak out about their religion.

"It's funny. Before 9/11 we felt like an invisible minority and after 9/11 we feel like we have this intense spotlight on us. We want to be a part of that articulation of who are Muslims both here and abroad. And the vast majority of Muslims that deplore violence and terrorism need to be much more vocal about it now because in the silence, the fringe can sometimes seem to speak for all of us. We were scared at first to assert ourselves but we thought we have to speak out because if we don't, the terrorists will define Islam for us," Shahed Amanullah says.

Shahed Amanullah was born in the United States. His parents immigrated from India. Shahed helps run a California-based Muslim advocacy group known as AMILA, which aims to raise awareness about the American Muslim community.

"We articulate an Islam that is more culturally American and focused on service to the community, spiritual enrichment and intellectual freedom, things that are essential to Islam in America. The people who created AMILA felt there was a need to explore ways to express our identity as Muslims in America that went beyond regular prayer. We felt that Islam, to thrive, needed to become more involved and we could break barriers of misunderstanding by getting involved in the community around us," he says.

Asma Hassan agrees that young American Muslims have found a new voice after the September terrorist attacks and a deeper understanding of their religion.

"I've become stronger because I knew that wasn't Islam. The people behind the attacks wasn't Islam. I didn't belong to that Islam and it wasn't the Islam that I practiced," she says.

Asma Hassan is in her mid-20's and the author of American Muslims: The New Generation, which chronicles the experience of immigrants' offspring growing up Muslim in the United States.

Miss Hassan was born in the United States. Her parents immigrated from Pakistan.

She talks about the cultural gap with immigrant parents who practice Islam according to cultural patterns of the countries where they grew up and their offspring who want to practice Islam as Americans. She says it is an emotional journey experienced by the children of other immigrant communities too.

"Being Muslim in America and having grown up in America and having American attitudes and views on things, that affects how I interpret Islam in a few important ways, and that makes me different from other Muslims around the world. So when I say I'm an American Muslim that has a way of distinguishing me from Muslims around the world because in other Islamic countries they use their own cultures to influence their practice of Islam and I'm doing the same here," she explains.

'Many young American Muslims like Asma and Shahed acknowledge their approach to Islam is influenced by their cultural environment.

Unlike his father who decided to return to India, Shahed has little interest in living in a more conservative Islamic society.

"I am an American Muslim. My national identity is American and I'm proud of it. My religious identity is Muslim and I'm proud of it. I see no contradiction between the two and I think it's 100 percent possible to be 100 percent patriotic and 100 percent Muslim," he says.

Asma Hassan says young American Muslims are reaching out to each other through Muslim social clubs and the internet - as they explore their religion and nurture a sense of self that contrasts with their immigrant parents.

The events of September, she says, have also spurred American Muslims to speak out against the negative image of Islam and define their place in U.S. society.