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NPR Special Report: Muslims in America
Part One: Profiling the Proud Americans of 'Little Mecca'

Listen to Duncan Moon's report on the Falls Church, Va. Muslim community.

Young Muslim Praying

Young Muslim reads the Koran at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.
Photo: David Banks, NPR

photo gallery View a photo gallery of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.

Reports in this series:

Muslims in America seriesOct. 22, 2001: Profiling the Proud Americans of Virginia's "Little Mecca"

Muslims in America seriesOct. 29, 2001: Muslims in North Carolina Step Up Public Relations

Muslims in America seriesNov. 5, 2001: Arab-Americans at Home in the Nation's Heartland

Oct. 21, 2001 -- The Sept. 11 terror attacks on U.S. targets -- and the almost immediate implication that Middle Eastern and Muslim suspects were involved -- have had a profound effect on Arab and Muslim Americans. In the weeks since, mosques have been defaced, businesses have been vandalized and many South Asians, Muslim or not, have been attacked.

For the first installment of a three-part series focusing on how American Muslims are coping with the aftermath of the attacks, NPR Religion Correspondent Duncan Moon visited one of the largest American Muslim communities in the United States. It’s in Falls Church, Va. -- a city only minutes away from the nation’s capital.

Many of the Muslims Moon interviewed say they are being unfairly targeted by the U.S. government because of their religion or ethnicity. But they also say that part of the solution is to break down the wall of misunderstanding and suspicion that surrounds Islam. Quietly but diligently, they work to convince neighbors that they are just like other Americans -- and to show that there is no place in Islam for those who resort to violent acts of terrorism.

In a part of Falls Church known to many as Little Mecca, the streets are lined with Arabic grocery stores, coffee houses and restaurants. At nearby J.E.B. Stuart High School, Muslims make up 12 percent of the student body. The streets of this tightly knit Muslim community are also home to the offices of professionals -- doctors, lawyers, technology consultants, managers -- who often gather together for evening prayers.

Muslim American Facts

• Estimated number of Muslim Americans: 6-7 million.

• Mosques in the United States in 2000: 1,209.

• Proportion of mosques founded since 1980: 62 percent.

• U.S. mosque worshippers who are converts: 30 percent.

• U.S. mosques that have Asian, African-American, and Arab members: almost 90 percent.

• U.S. mosques attended by a single ethnic group: 7 percent.

Ethnic breakdown of majority of U.S. Muslims:
• South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani): 33 percent
• African-American: 30 percent
• Arab: 25 percent

Source: U.S. Dept. of State, U.S. Census Bureau

Yousef Talat, a manager of a retail store at a nearby mall, told Moon after a recent prayer meeting that he thinks President Bush has done a good job defending Muslim Americans. But now he worries that the government is resorting to racial and religious profiling -- and as an American citizen for 26 years, he chafes at the scrutiny.

“That’s not fair for me as an American citizen, an obeying citizen, as a taxpayer,” he told Moon. “If I am going to be profiled, I think that Jim next door -- or Rex, the guy across the street -- (should) be profiled as well as me.”

Many of those Moon interviewed had their own stories of being questioned by authorities. Yasser Bushnaq of Solidarity International USA, formed after Sept. 11 to help protect the rights of Muslim Americans, advises Muslims who know something about the attacks to get a lawyer and contact the FBI. Otherwise, he advises Muslims to keep a low profile.

Dr. Sonya Gabbalah says some of her patients stayed away after the Sept. 11 attacks. But she said Mr. Bush’s highly visible trip to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., ,just days after the attacks may have gone a long way toward stemming further discrimination, and even violence, toward Arab and Muslim Americans.

Many residents of Little Mecca are worried that new anti-terrorism legislation will infringe on their Constitutional rights, especially the right to worship. Sarah Wali, 19, told Moon she is proud of her Egyptian and Muslim heritage, but concerned that in the future, the ways she expressed that heritage will be constrained. “It really comes down to… not being able to be me, and not being able to enjoy the beauty of the United States,” she says. “They’ve taken that foundation away.”

Other Resources

Islam.com, a Los Angeles-based Web site with comprehensive information and links to Muslim culture worldwide.

Islam in the United States: a report from the U.S. Department of State.

President Bush's directive on racial profiling dated Feb. 28, 2001, with links to Web sites about racial profiling.

Search the Koran by key words or phrases.