POMONA – It was a terrible shock, and a time for faith.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington horrified the nation, and in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, many turned to religion for comfort.
More than 35 million people attended a religious service in the days following Sept. 11, according to a Gallup poll. Almost 75 percent of Americans said they were praying or intended to pray.
Sales of Bibles, and Korans, soared. . .
That deepening of faith also applied to Muslims who found themselves isolated after 9/11, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
He said there are more than 6 million Muslims in America, and the number is growing in part because of the public anger directed at Islam after Sept. 11.
The mosque became a place of refuge, he said.
“Because of the (public) pressure, some felt the need to get into Islam,” he said.
The mosque also became a place to begin the slow process of convincing America that Islam is not a religion of terror.
“Right after 9/11, most of our fellow Americans knew very little about our religion,” Ayloush said. “That took us to basics, took us to the very important task of educating our American neighbors.
“Before we lived in separate clusters. American religions had no bridges. I think there’s a need to learn about each other.”
The effort has been painful.
“Today more Americans admit to holding prejudice against Muslims,” he said. “The use of inflammatory language, Islamic Fascists, Islamic terrorists. In times of war people are always looking for a target to hate.
“There has been history; hating all Japanese, Germans, Russians. And now it’s the Muslim people. What it has taken from the Muslim community … We have a realization that we are partly responsible for the misinformation.”
He said the effort to change the image of Islam in America is one part education, one part “old-fashioned personal interaction with people.
“Not a statement on TV,” he said, “Not an ad. Real change.”