San Antonio Muslims Move Beyond Isolation to Civic Engagement

September 6, 2006

Source: San Antonio Express News

On September 6, 2006 the San Antonio Express News reported, "A block away from such commercial icons as Haverty's and Home Depot sits a typical house on a secluded 2-acre property with a basketball hoop standing on an asphalt parking lot. Here, on Friday afternoons, South Asian Muslims re-create the atmosphere of their native countries at this 1-year-old mosque near De Zavala Road and Interstate 10. During one sermon this summer, Imam Abdul Wahid described the direction they, as a congregation, should take.

'We need to stop being so isolated,' he said. 'We need to contact our employers and tell them we are Muslim. We need to talk to our neighbors. There is an uncomfortable feeling that it creates when you remain isolated.'

Five years after the 9-11 attacks, Wahid's comments sum up how local Muslims still struggle to find their place in American society.

Memories of retaliation nationwide and in San Antonio linger and trigger caution, they say, whether they're boarding a plane, running their businesses or debating critics of Islam.

The tension often stems from a lack of understanding how diverse the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world are, local leaders say.

They are an eclectic mix: native-born Americans, immigrants, Arabs and non-Arabs whose faith reflects a variety of sects and branches, just like Judaism and Christianity.

Further complicating favorable relations for most Muslim Americans is their political support for the Palestinian cause in the Middle East. It puts them at odds with America's longstanding support of Israel and sometimes provokes critics to call them disloyal when they express their views in public.

They also are under intense scrutiny by the growing evangelical movement Christian Zionism, dedicated to the protection of Israel and whose leadership includes many San Antonio Christians.

Still, not all the problems since 9-11 lie outside the Islamic community, many Muslims say.

'I think most Muslims are busy with their own issues, family and work,' said Veysel Demir from the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, a Turkish Muslim group at the University of Texas at San Antonio that meets with people of different faiths. 'It's not that they're not open to doing more. There's just not that much time remaining in the day. Still, I want to do more.'"

The 9-11 attacks highlighted not only how little the American public knew