Unintended victim of plot: Va. Muslim moms' group

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010

When Esraa Bani's phone started ringing Wednesday with news reporters on the line, she had no idea that an Ashburn man named Farooque Ahmed had been arrested for plotting to blow up Metrorail stations in Northern Virginia, or that such a story could have anything to do with her.

But Ahmed's wife, Sahar Mirza-Ahmed, was a member of Hip Muslim Moms, a freewheeling group of 50 or so young mothers Bani had started. Suddenly, the coupon-clipping, play date-arranging suburban mothers were thrust into the national spotlight, associated with a horrifying plot that, as they noted, could have harmed their own families.

"We all have family members who ride the Metro - we ourselves ride the Metro," said one Northern Virginia member who joined this year and did not want her name associated with terrorism. "So we're as scared as anybody else would be."

Bani, 26, who works for a nonprofit organization and was dressed Thursday evening in a stylish geometric-patterned tunic, started the group two years ago using a Meetup Web page as an alternative to the stodgier, older mom groups across Loudoun County.

"This area has tons of young Muslim professionals and their families," she said, sitting in her family room as her 2-year-old daughter played nearby. "They're really a new generation of Muslim Americans. We don't fit into the traditional groups."

Now Hip Muslim Moms is being disbanded - a victim of the relentless attention generated by Ahmed's arrest.

Bani said she was deactivating the Meetup page and had canceled a group trip to Imagination Stage on Friday, leaving her with $100 worth of unused tickets. The group also had been about to launch some charitable efforts. But its first clothing drive, which had been scheduled for Sunday, will not take place.

"A lot of moms were really sad," Bani said. "They called me up and were in tears. They were really sad that this beautiful, pure group got tainted by this . . .and a lot of the moms were commending the feds, saying the government is embodying the Islamic values - they're saving lives."

Hip Muslim Moms, she said, was "spontaneous, open-minded, savvy, educated, fun-loving, into organic stuff."

The group's members were from different national and ethnic backgrounds, living all over the metro area. About half wore hijab, the head scarves donned by some Muslim women to fulfill a religious requirement for modest dress, Bani said. And about 10 percent were not Muslim.

They typically met in small groups and exchanged recipes and child-care tips as their children played. Rarely did religion or politics come up.

"It wasn't about being Muslim," one member said. "It was about interacting with other moms."

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