OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — After 9/11, the Islamic Center of Omaha found anger directed toward its community.
“Why don’t all of you people go back to your country and kill each other,” said one in a voicemail at the center.
Omaha Muslims quickly worked to spread the word about their beliefs, including at open houses. At one such event, a line from the Quran was laid out on a table: “Hatred is not a family value.”
Ajmal Syed, an Islamic Center board member, said many were taken by surprise by the anger directed toward them.
“What is happening here?” he recalls people saying. “This is our home. We’re mourning and grieving (the attacks).”
“Islamophobia is real,” he said. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to learn and understand what Muslims and Islam is about.”
He added that Muslims can become more visible and work to clarify misconceptions.
Today, Syed said the Islamic Center is still at times subjected to hate directed toward it – especially after terrorist attacks believed to be committed by Muslims.
KMTV ran the following story shortly after 9/11:
Many became too relaxed in their language when discussing extremists, said Ramazan Kilinc, the director of the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Islamic Studies Program.
“Some of them actually lumped all the Islamic movements together within the category of Muslims,” said “It gave an impression that…Muslims, in general, were responsible for those violent attacks.”
Kilinc is glad President George W. Bush initially “made clear” extremists cannot be grouped with Muslims as a whole. But Bush later was “not careful enough,” he said.
People perceived as Muslims found themselves needing to prove their American loyalty, he said. But policies impacted them as well.
After the Patriot Act, many Muslims were detained for long periods of time, before being cleared, he said. They found themselves targeted in random sampling at airports, he said.
In Omaha, Arjumand Ghani knows too well that hate crimes against Muslims is a real problem.
In June, her sister’s family went out for an evening walk in their home of London, Ontario – a routine they began during pandemic lockdowns.
A man attacked the family with his pickup truck while the family was at an intersection. Police said he targeted them because of their Muslim faith. Only Ghani’s 9-year-old nephew survived. Her sister, niece, brother-in-law and his mom, died.
The attack promoted national outrage – including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred,” he said. “If anyone thinks racism and hatred don’t exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say ‘Islamophobia isn’t real?’”
Ghani remarked that London, Ontario, is considered one of the most Muslim-friendly cities in North America. In this web extra below, she discusses the attack and what can be done to combat islamophobia.
After 9/11, Muslims in Omaha received support, too, including calls and letters.
“One of the (people) who threatened us on Tuesday (Sept. 11), he called today to apologize,” said a representative shortly after 9/11, “after finding out what the reality is, what Islam is all about.”
The support from members of other faiths – including some who stood outside the Islamic Center in solidarity after 9/11 – marked the beginning of what has turned into a campus like none other in the world: a mosque, a synagogue, and a church located in the same place.
It’s the Tri-Faith Initiative, a movement that Executive Director Wendy Goldberg said isn’t designed to combine the faiths, but rather to learn about one another and bring unique experiences. She compared it to a potluck: a variety of dishes that “all taste good together.”
Before the idea of shared land came to be, progress was being made. Interfaith picnics were held, for example. Goldberg calls the Tri-Faith initiative a "beacon of hope."
The Tri-Faith initiative will reflect on the 9/11 anniversary on Saturday at the Tri-Faith Commons at 7:30 p.m.