Many Muslim Americans relieved by Osama bin Laden’s death

Yasmin Hussein was 13 when Osama bin Laden’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon transformed the lives of Muslim Americans. She, her mother and sister stayed home for two weeks, fearing harassment or worse. For years, the District resident said, “I just felt like the label was tattooed on my forehead.”

But on Sunday night, she and other Muslim Americans joined hundreds of others in front of the White House to celebrate the news that bin Laden was dead — news that Hussein, now 23, called a “milestone.”

No one seemed to care that Hussein, who coordinates the Young Leaders program at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, was wearing an Islamic head scarf. “A lot of people gave me smiles,” she said.

For Muslims in the United States, life has been divided into two distinct eras: before Sept. 11, 2001, when most Americans weren’t particularly aware of Islam, and afterward, when many began associating their faith with terrorism. If you were an American who also happened to be Muslim, inhabiting both identities could sometimes feel perilous.

So when the news broke, via Twitter, Facebook, e-mails and phone calls, that al-Qaeda’s mastermind had been eliminated, many Muslim Americans let out a collective sigh of relief.

“Osama bin Laden never represented our community, Islam or Muslims,” said Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

On Monday, the leaders of several prominent Muslim American organizations hailed bin Laden’s death, saying they hoped it would remove what one called the “sexy face” of terrorism for young radicals and allow the United States’ relations with Muslim nations to stop revolving around the issue of terrorism.

Asked about bin Laden having been buried at sea, which has raised concerns among some Muslims, Awad called it a “trivial” matter.

But Hassan Abdel, a 19-year-old Sudanese American student at Northern Virginia Community College, said he was uncomfortable with bin Laden’s burial at sea. “It’s not a proper Muslim burial,” he said.

And while no Muslims interviewed for this article voiced support for bin Laden, some said that seeing people celebrate his demise echoed the scenes of some Muslims abroad who publicly cheered after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“As people of faith, it is not right that we dance on the grave of even a mass murderer,” said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, a board member of Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Washington D.C. “We have to move beyond the acts of revenge, to reconciliation.”

Several people pointed out that Muslims worldwide have suffered as a result of bin Laden’s actions. Many Muslims have been victims of wars and terrorist attacks directly related to al Qaeda.

“I think Muslims are more affected,” said Samira Khettabi, 34, who was shopping at a Falls Church halal market Monday. A native of Morocco, where a terrorist bomb recently killed more than a dozen people, she said, “We are feeling it everywhere in the Arab world.”

Kareem Elbayar, 28, an Egyptian American human rights lawyer in the District, agreed: “I don’t think most Muslims in the world will be complaining about celebrating [bin Laden’s] death, because most people know someone who was affected by terrorism.”

For Elbayar, a secular Muslim who was 18 at the time of the attacks, bin Laden’s actions had a profound effect, prompting the onetime engineering major to switch to political science and law and making him more conscious about his Muslim identity.

Still, he said, he doubted that bin Laden’s demise would alter negative stereotypes about Muslims in the United States.

“It’s been a tough decade, and to the extent that this might change the way American Muslims are treated, that might be a good thing,” he said. “But I don’t think that Islamophobic nut jobs are going to have a change of heart because bin Laden is dead.”

Nor did he think it would have an effect on the war on terror. “It’s not like this is the end of World War II or something, and our troops can come home now.”

Kafia A. Hosh contributed reporting to this article.

Tara Bahrampour, a staff writer based in Washington, D.C., writes about aging and mental health.
Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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