For more than two weeks, A.J.M. Fazlul Bari has tried to fend off growing feelings of frustration and fury as he read stories describing the painful standoff at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
"I feel saddened that my religion is being used for a particular cause," said Fazlul Bari, a lifelong Moslem who was born in northeastern Bangladesh and is now an American citizen.
"I'm not totally against what [Iranian leader Ayatolla Ruhollah] Khomeini is doing and I'm not totally for what Khomeini is doing," added Fazlul Bari, the secretary of the Alexandris-based Muslim Development Corporation."But the whole matter is not Islamic -- all Islamic countries do not support it."
In many other mosques and Moslem homes in the Washington area, other followers of Islam are feeling a quandary akin to Fazlul Bari's. Whatever their individual beliefs about Khomeini, the leading religious as well as political figure in Iran, they worry that many Americans will believe he speaks for all Islam.
"It's unfair," said Sheikh Batu Daramy, a budget assistant at Howard University. "I have met a few people who I guess are Christians who seem to have the impression that my religion condones what Khomeini is doing.
"Khomeini talks about religion, but I do not see any justification for his actions in a very religious sense," added Daramy, a native of the west African country of Siera Leone. Fazlul Bari said recently that the loud Nov. 9 demonstration in front of the Slamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW was ample proof that Americans don't bother to differentiate between Iranians and other Moslems.
About 200 local college students gathered in front of the mosque that Friday, shouting and waving signs urging motorists to honk their horns if they wanted the hostages in Iran released. The three-hour demonstration coincided with the weekly religious services inside.
"We don't have any hostages that belong to them," said Khadigah Abdul-Salam, an American-born Moslem who was attending services that day. "This is no different from demonstrating in front of a church on Sunday."
"We were at prayer and they were taking away our right to pray," said Fazlul Bari.
The mosque at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW is one of the main centers of worship for most of the thousands of Moslems in the Washington area and also a center for scholars studying Islamic law and history.
Among the major religions of the world, Islam ranks second after Christianity in its number of adherents. About 600 million people worldwide count themselves as Moslems, with the greatest concentration of Islamic worship in the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
Within Islam there are two major sects, which split after the death of the prophet Mohammed. While most Iranians belong to the smaller Shi'ite sect, followers of Islam in Arab countries are predominantly members of the Sunni sect.
The quarrels that some local Moslems have with Khomeini and his followers, however, have little to do with religious doctrine.
"I do not agree with his actions," said Syed Shujaat Ali, a Pakistani. "They are not only bringing a bad name to Iranians but to our religion as a whole. This should hurt any Moslem in the world."
"To overthrow the shah -- until that point most Moslems supported Khomeini," Ali said. "But now some of his own people have drawn away."
"Another West African Moslem, Mohammad Khadar, said yesterday that he has few worries about events in Iran reflecting badly on all Moslems. "At the beginning I thought these [events] might hurt Muslims or Islam as a whole, but now I think the Iranians are left pretty much on their own."
The ticklish situation, which combines elements of politics and religion at a time of high emotions, has left several Moslem leaders in the area reluctant to discuss any of the events in Iran.
"I only hope and pray things will be settled in an amicable way," said Dr. Mohammed Abdul Rauf, director of the Islamic Center. "Iranians and us are all the same -- we are all Moslems. We pray for compassion and peace."
Rauf would make no comment on the divisions within the Moslem community spawned by the events in Iran.
Likewise, one American Moslem said, "We are taking no position [on the Iranian situation] at this time." But, he said, he is not worried about other Moslems suffering from a general backlash against the Islamic community.
For Shakura Abdus-Samag, a 32-year-old American Moslem who teaches school at the Islamic House at 16th and Montague streets NW, such considerations seem irrelevant. "I trust Khomeini," she said. "I think he is a trustworthy person. I think his character is a good character."
Abdus-Samag, who accompanied 900 Iranian students as they marched through downtown Washington Nov. 9 demending the extradition of the deposed shah, said she feels that most Moslems who disagree with Khomeini have been misinformed by inaccurate news reports. "They don't know the facts," she said.
And for Miraj Siddiqi, a Pakistani who heads the Muslim Development Corporation, religion has little if any place in discussions about the actions of Khomeini. "Islam is a way of life, not just a religion," he said. $"But the present situation between the U.S. and Iran is not a religious thing, it is purely a political thing."