In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mustafa Kuko advised Inland Muslims to reach out to their neighbors and let them know they are Americans, too.
Muslims in the Inland area and in Southern California have held open houses at their mosques, invited visitors to community dinners during the holy month of Ramadan, cooperated in interfaith projects and answered pointed questions about Islam in classrooms, churches and synagogues.
Five years later, Kuko, director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, and other leading Muslims in Southern California say those efforts have allayed some fears about their religion and generally improved relations with non-Muslims in California.
But despite their best efforts, the perception persists worldwide that Islam is a religion of violence, a view that Kuko and other leaders said puts American Muslims in a tough position: How can they win the trust of neighbors who are continually frightened by news of terrorism by Muslims?
Hussam Ayloush, a Corona resident and executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he doesn't like it when people are anti-American, just as he doesn't like it when Americans ask him what is wrong with Islam.
"I am all for isolating and challenging fanatic, violent Muslims, but most Muslims here are interested in being able to live the American dream: to raise a family, to have a good job and to have good relations with their neighbors.