For years, Hamza El-Nakhal led a peaceful, quiet life in Davis. He was professionally successful and personally satisfied.

“I lived my own life, like everyone else,” he recalls. “I was focused on my family and isolated as many others are.”

That was before Sept. 11, 2001; before, El-Nakhal says, he “became the local face of Islam.”

“I used to live for myself,” he admits. “Now I am living for the community.”

El-Nakhal, 65, came to the United States from his native Egypt in 1969. He went first to Minnesota, and then came to Davis to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology. He spent many busy years focused on graduate school and career, marriage and raising a family. Except for a few years in Southern California and 11 years in Saudi Arabia, El-Nakhal has lived most of his adult years in Davis.

“I have developed many friendships in this community,” he says. “I feel really blessed.”

But things haven’t always been easy for El-Nakhal, who is Muslim.

“I always felt I was accepted,” he says, “at least before 9-11.”

After the attack on the World Trade Center, El-Nakhal remembers thinking, “Now everyone thinks I am a terrorist.”

He describes the hostile responses many Muslims received from angry Americans.

“Muslims were spit on or called names,” he says. “Some people grabbed head scarves off the heads of Muslim women, and Muslims were harassed for praying publicly.

“We struggled for a while,” he admits. “In fact, we are still struggling in many ways.”

El-Nakhal believes the angry reactions were based on fear and ignorance.

“Islam unequivocally condemns terrorism,” he explains. “Islam is a merciful religion, and calls for peace if there is no aggression, injustice or mischief. When some Muslims kill others, they are acting despite Islam, therefore Islam should not be blamed or put on trial.

“I am just trying to fight this ignorance,” adds El-Nakhal, who is president of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group that promotes justice and mutual understanding.


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