Shortly after last month's terrorist attacks, two bricks ferried handwritten notes with crude, racist remarks through the front window of the Old Town Islamic Bookstore in Alexandria. Store manager Hazim Barakat was angry and frazzled. The Palestinian immigrant also was unprepared for what happened next.
About 15 bouquets of flowers and more than 50 cards -- some with money -- arrived at his store. People from as far away as Tennessee and Nebraska called with condolences. A local businessman, who would not give Barakat his name, paid for a new window. Christian ministers and a rabbi dropped by to express their support.
"The people in the neighborhood were so nice you don't believe," said Barakat, 44, who runs the store for the American Muslim Foundation. "This is like another family I have. This is my big family. I want to thank everybody."
Terrorism and bigotry, it seems, can have unintended consequences.
Across the Washington area and the nation, many Muslims say that since Sept. 11, they have been encouraged and comforted by unexpected acts of kindness from communities and individuals. In subdivisions, stores, restaurants and offices, non-Muslims have approached them with hugs, handshakes, moral support -- even the sanctuary of their own homes -- as well as apologies for attacks by others.
"The love and support we got from the community was overwhelming," said Mohamed Magid, 36, imam of All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Herndon, describing the response after someone spray-painted anti-Muslim obscenities in the hallway outside the mosque's prayer room.
Neighboring churches wanted to pay for the damage. Members of Shorshim, a Jewish congregation in Reston, hand-delivered a poster of support. Local women volunteered to shop for Muslim women too afraid to go out. Magid was invited to speak at nearby churches.
"My appreciation for my neighbors, my country and people of faith has increased," said Magid, who is from Sudan. "I think we came out of this stronger, more caring, more appreciative of one another. And even more tolerant."
Many reports have suggested that tolerance was a casualty in the devastation at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Middle Eastern-looking men have been ejected from airliners on concerns by nervous pilots and passengers, and Muslim women wearing Islamic head scarves have been forced off roads by other drivers.
The U.S. Department of Justice has opened about 100 criminal investigations into "ethnically motivated" acts of violence -- including three deaths -- since Sept. 11, a spokesman said.
Still, a steady stream of e-mail to the D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations reveals another kind of story.
Nada Hamoui, who lives near Tampa, wrote that two days after the attacks, she found a red rose on her office desk with a card that said, "From one American to another." It came from a patient of her physician husband. "I held it," she wrote, "and I cried."
The Islamic Center in Athens, Ohio, reported being mailed a $100 check from a non-Muslim couple who wrote that "we are all one people." In San Diego, the Islamic Center said it was "flooded with letters and cards of support." And Olga Benedetto, a 27-year-old student at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, e-mailed an offer of "help for those in the Chicago area needing groceries or other needs. . . . I understand that some of you are afraid to leave your homes."
Similar sentiments have been evident around Washington. Egyptian-born Ahmed Heshmat, a doctor who lives near Rockville, said that his wife, Jenane, was shopping recently with their two young daughters when "the manager came running up to her and gave the girls a gift. It turned out to be pencils and papers. He said it was just to show support."
In Manassas, a local interfaith group contacted Prince William County's Muslim Association of Virginia with an offer to guard its mosque, said association President Yaqub Zargarpur, a businessman who came from Afghanistan 20 years ago. "They said they had families offering their homes to anyone who did not feel safe," Zargarpur added. "I am so proud of Prince William County."
Four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Adisra Jittipun, a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf, stopped at Chason's Country Buffet in Winchester, Va., with two non-Muslim girlfriends.
About 10 minutes after they began eating, a waitress came over. "It was kind of our first assumption that she was possibly going to kick us out," recalled Jittipun, a 23-year-old senior at George Mason University. Instead, she handed them the $30 they had paid for their food, saying the restaurant wanted to give them a free meal.
"She knelt by our table and was very sympathetic . . . saying that she didn't want us to go to war," Jittipun recalled. The waitress also "said she was very proud that I had the strength to wear the Islamic attire. . . . I was very happy about that," Jittipun added. "And once she left, she was actually in tears. She just walked away in tears. And everybody was silent."
Patricia Morris, of Falls Church, said it was a walk with her son the day after the attacks that got her wondering about her Muslim neighbors. As they passed Dar al-Hijrah mosque, "it was the first time I ever saw the iron gates closed, and I wondered what kind of threats they were feeling," she recalled.
Morris called a Palestinian neighbor. "She told me, 'We're not doing too well. We're all very scared,' " said Morris, 48.
So when President Bush declared the Friday after the attacks a day of mourning, Morris went into action, leafleting her subdivision of Lee Boulevard Heights with invitations to a 7 p.m. candlelight vigil of solidarity outside the mosque. More than 30 people attended. In appreciation, a few Muslims who had been at evening prayers there emerged and distributed white roses to the vigil's participants.
Anwar Al-Awlaki, imam of Dar al-Hijrah, said the mosque has had other "very positive" responses from neighbors. Eighty tenants of the nearby Woodlake Towers apartment building sent a statement: "We want your congregation to know that we welcome you in this community . . . and wish you health, security and prosperity."
And George Chiplock, principal of Corpus Christi, a Catholic elementary school three blocks from the mosque, brought it more than 450 cards made by students. "We teach respect, tolerance and love of neighbor here," Chiplock said, "and we thought it would be a good idea to contact our neighbors and let them know we are thinking of them."
Linda Jasper, an English teacher at Rockville's Magruder High School, also was spurred to reach out. She and some friends decided that they would stand guard at night for a week outside the nearby Islamic Center of Maryland to make sure it was left undisturbed. "The idea of someone being afraid to pray," she said, "is crazy to me."
When the Muslim Student Association at Magruder found out, they sent Jasper a thank-you note. "Not only were you protecting a mosque that many Muslims consider another home," they wrote, "but you were doing it at a time when it is a dangerous and hazardous situation."
Magruder senior Karim Baz, 17, whose parents emigrated from Egypt, said that his friends at school "came up to me and said, 'Karim, if anyone is saying anything to you, you just come to us.' To feel that, after all this, I'm being accepted, it's great."
His feelings are shared by Pakistani-born doctor Abid Khan, 41, who said he was nervous about going to pray at his Richmond mosque the Friday after the attacks. But then he found about 50 people from a Presbyterian church there, holding up banners extolling unity.
"Seeing these gestures gave us a feeling of comfort and peace," Khan said. "You have to give the credit to the people who are keeping a positive, friendly attitude. That's what makes America great. It's not its military or its advances in science. It's the kindness, affection, helpfulness and tolerance which is found in the large majority of people here. That's really what makes America great."