New local Muslim Council will Encourage Civic Involvement
Founders: Muslim Council believes in American ideals 03/14/02
by michael cody
When Anwer Hasan and Abid Askari wanted a sense of how many Muslims live in Howard County, they counted names that sounded familiar in a telephone book.
Their findings _ that Howard County has 750 Muslim households and several thousand Muslims _ led them to conclude there was a need for the civic group they helped to establish recently. The Howard County Muslim Council will give local Muslims, who attend mosques from Baltimore to Montgomery County, a single place to gather. The council also will encourage members to become involved _ as Muslims _ in local issues.
Its first event, April 6, will be a $75-per-person fund-raiser for County Executive Jim Robey, who is running for re-election. About 120 tickets have been sold, with another 25 available, according to Hasan and Askari, who said local Muslims are grateful to Robey for his support before and after Sept. 11.
When suspicion fell on a radical Muslim group, al Qaeda, as the likely perpetrators of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands that day, American Muslims feared a violent backlash in the United States. Immediately after Sept. 11, Police Chief Wayne Livesay met with local Muslims to suggest ways to avoid conflict and handle harassment. No significant incidents have occurred, according to Hasan, president of the Muslim Council, and Askari, the group's general secretary.
Still, they agreed, while the idea for a local Muslim group had been discussed for more than a year, community involvement is now more urgent. "We are 100 percent behind what the Bush administration is doing," Hasan said, referring to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. "We have chosen to live in this country," Hasan continued. "We want to be a part of this country, and of this community." Atop their involvement in the Muslim Council, Hasan and Askari have several common characteristics. Both were born in Pakistan and both are professionals, one in environmental engineering and the other in construction. Most significantly, they say, both have children in Howard County's top-rated school system.
"I think Muslims are attracted to good schools," Hasan said. As any other American would be, Askari adds. So, they explain, the Muslim Council is about helping to better Howard County and, by setting an example, about encouraging their children to become involved in the community. "Our children were born here," Hasan said.
"The only thing they know is America." That, he said, increases the importance of ensuring that they can practice their religion and the importance of training them to be good citizens. Urging Muslims to be involved in PTAs is sure to be one effort of the council, according to Hasan and Askari. Other possible projects include a communitywide health fair staffed by Muslim doctors, a food drive or a fund-raiser for local charities.
Sensitive subject Despite its idealistic goals, the Howard County Muslim Council stumbled once already when a notice for the Robey fund-raiser appeared a couple of clicks away from pro-al Qaeda stories linked to a Web site run for Dar Al-Taqwa, a mosque based on Route 108 in Ellicott City. The stories, compiled by Azzam Publications in the United Kingdom, suggest that Muslims who die fighting Americans and their allies are blessed and that ordinary Afghans regard U.S. troops as invaders. An illustration on the Azzam Publications site shows a cross, with a Star of David at its center, dripping blood on a map of Afghanistan.
A Robey assistant, Sang Oh, said he called Hasan about two weeks ago, after a reporter made him aware of the connection and after Oh called Robey's attention to it. Robey was concerned by the contrast between the Azzam site and what Hasan had told him about the Muslim council, Oh said.
"As for Dar Al-Taqwa and what they want to promote, that's up to them. This is America," Oh added. Oh called Hasan. Hasan said he apologized to Oh for failing to scrutinize the Web site and then called its creator. "I had to give him no reason. I said, 'Take it down,' " Hasan said. On March 7, he and Askari said they still had not examined the site.
As the Muslim Council and Dar Al-Taqwa are not affiliated, the council cannot tell the mosque what to do, they agreed. Yet, Askari said, "If this is against America, we condemn it.
" Ashraf Hassan said he created the Dar Al-Taqwa Web site two or three years ago and added a link to the Islamic news site soon after. At the time, he said, he knew of no other source of information from a Muslim point of view about the fighting against the Russians in Chechnya. Ashraf Hassan said he tends to the site at no charge to the mosque with little supervision and had not looked at the link since April 2001.
Nor had anyone commented on the link, he said. Hassan said he removed the link March 8, after talking with a reporter. "It was completely an oversight on my part," he said, adding that he was distracted when changing jobs recently and that he does not endorse the Azzam site's current contents.
The inflammatory image, he said, represent "something I don't promote: any kind of Islamic radicalism." Dar Al-Taqwa's imam _ its religious leader _ said the site was only a bulletin board for local Muslims. "It is just simply a link for all of the [Dar Al-Taqwa] members, so they can ... see what's going on," said the imam, Mahmoud Abdel-Hady.
The imam said he had not seen the Azzam Publications site and declined to comment on it.