MUSLIMS: 'WE HAVE TO STAY TOGETHER'
In the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, Jaafar Hammoumi says, many Americans questioned Muslim neighbors about their faith and sought answers about what could have led people to commit such horrible acts.
"They figured out, finally, that it has nothing to do with Islam. It's just there are bad people everywhere," says Hammoumi, a 41-year-old Chelmsford resident and native of Morocco.
Five years after the attacks, things are starting to "get back to normal," he said, during an interview outside the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell mosque on Stedman Street in Chelmsford.
Imam Hafiz Abdul Hannan, who has overseen the Islamic Society mosque for nearly four years after moving to the U.S. from Pakistan nine years ago, said a basic tenet of Islam is to never harm anyone else. Radical Islamists violate those strictures, Hannan said.
"We're not even a part of them, and we don't even consider them as a part of us," he said. "They are giving us a bad name."
Hannan said the biggest change he has seen during the past five years is in more unnecessarily harsh treatment of Muslims by federal officials than before. Visa applications are stalled, and legal immigrants run into problems with residency status, he said.
He said he experienced such treatment last year, when he was abruptly asked to discontinue his role as Muslim chaplain at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica and the Cambridge jail.
After working at the jails since 1998, Hannan said he was asked to stop coming after jail officials told him "some agency contacted them" and put a "restriction" on him.
He said he had no problems in the past with jail officials and has never been contacted by any agency about his work. Then, about five months ago, he was allowed to return without explanation. He has been back at the jails since, but never learned why he was required to take a leave.
"These are the things that happen," Hannan said. "This is really something that's painful. People who are really moderate, who are willing to do something for the community, are under more scrutiny."