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Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.S. Muslims worry about a backlash; spitting, shouts, but no attacks in Seattle area

Seattle Times staff reporters

A man drives by a Seattle mosque and spits in the direction of a Moroccan man waiting to pray.

A University of Washington student skips going to his mosque out of fear and replaces his Islamic skullcap with a baseball hat.

A Muslim father in Kent counsels his 11-year-old son, Attah: Be cautious if people start saying bad things.

As fury erupted at yesterday's horror and the speculative blame focused on Muslim extremists, American Muslims braced for a backlash even as they condemned the attacks.

"Whenever a terrorist action occurs anywhere in the world, it's usually a Muslim who gets blamed," said Humza Chaudhry, who studies biochemistry at the UW and is president of the university's Muslim Student Association.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged Muslims across the country who dress in Islamic attire to stay out of public areas and asked local police to step up patrols of mosques.

Local mosques received a number of abusive phone calls and some threats, and a number of callers to 911 and crisis lines yesterday threatened violence against Muslim residents, King County Executive Ron Sims said. Some Muslim residents also called in expressing fear for their safety.

The president of the Islamic Center of Eastside said his center also had heard from some Christian churches, whose pastors offered help with security or safe haven in parishioners' homes.

There are an estimated 40,000 Muslims in Washington state, with an estimated 7 million across the country. In an effort to offer an increased sense of security, Seattle police sent officers to area mosques as well as Jewish synagogues yesterday.

Local Muslims worry that too many Americans always assume a connection between terrorism and Islam. The long-running Middle East conflict only reinforces the notion that for Muslims, religion and violence are inextricably linked.

Yesterday, anger against Muslims was palpable on talk radio, in online chat rooms and on local streets.

At the Idriss Mosque in North Seattle, a motorist gave a thumbs down and spit as a man waited to pray. In Lynnwood, a motorist shouted at a Muslim woman. In Redmond, a group of Muslim women, easily identifiable because of the head scarves they wear, canceled a meeting about their children's education.

After a tragedy like this, the U.S. Muslim community suffers twice, said Omar Ahmed of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national advocacy group.

"First of all, we suffer when our homeland is attacked and innocent people are killed. And second, we suffer as Muslims from finger-pointing, where Islam is somehow linked to these attacks."

Brian Goldberg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and intolerance, added, "It's important we send the message out not to racially profile anyone based on their national origin or religion."

The Jewish High Holy Days begin Monday. Leaders in the local Jewish community had already been considering extra security, and yesterday they encouraged synagogues and institutions to take greater precautions. There were no reports of any threats to local synagogues.

But there were reports of two assaults yesterday against Muslims elsewhere: one in Kansas and one in Virginia, according to CAIR. In Ohio, the organization said, men surrounded the car of a Muslim woman and shouted anti-Muslim comments.

Such response is "the normal reaction of people who know nothing about Islam," said Jamil Razzaq, spokesman for the Idriss mosque.

Yesterday's events were horrifying, said many local Muslims, who quoted from the Koran: A person who kills another kills all mankind.

And they expressed disdain for Palestinians in the West Bank, who reportedly cheered and threw candy at the news of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

"I think these people have no idea what they're doing," Ahmed said of the Palestinian celebrants. "They're doing it out of anger and out of pure stupidity. No one should celebrate these kinds of acts."

"They don't represent the faith. They don't represent what billions of people practice," added Mahbubul Alam Ali, president of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community.

Seattle Times staff reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this report. Eli Sanders can be reached at 206-748-5815 or esanders@seattletimes.com.

Florangela Davila can be reached at 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

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