WY: 'PART OF THE COMMUNITY'
Despite a couple of isolated incidents in Laramie, many Wyoming Muslims say they were spared backlash from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
In Cheyenne, a small group of about eight Muslim families was invited to speak at various churches shortly after 9/11.
"We were all nervous, but the community was wonderful," said Arshi Nisley, a native of Pakistan and now an instructor in English at Laramie County Community College.
Mohammed Salih, a native of Sudan in East Africa who came to Cheyenne in 1969 and is dean of the LCCC business and technology department, agreed.
"We never had one incident of harassment or anything," he said. "We had support from everybody after 9/11."
The Cheyenne Muslim community has had a mosque in north Cheyenne since 1999 which is open to everybody.
"People treat us as part of the community," Salih said. "We consider this our country."
"What happened had nothing to do with religion," he added.
This year Salih is teaching a class for the third time on the history and philosophy of Islam.
The Cheyenne Muslims are eager to educate people about Islam, its beliefs and ritual of prayer five times a day facing Mecca.
"Islam is the word of peace," said visitor Abdulbari El Banna, who was praying with Salih in the mosque on a recent Friday afternoon.
El Banna is a project consultant who came to the United States from Egypt in 1975. During the 9/11 attacks he was overseas in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"It was a surprise," he said of the attacks.
Right after 9/11, a Muslim woman was harassed in a Laramie Wal-Mart, and a Muslim University of Wyoming student who wears the traditional "hijab" head scarf was accosted and threatened by two men.
Forrest C. Bright, director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said he knew of no recent incidents of harassment of Muslims.
Nisley said one Muslim woman, a widow, runs a gas station on Lincolnway in Cheyenne and wears the traditional head scarf. She said she was in Wal-Mart recently with her sister, who also wears a head scarf. The clerk asked her politely why.
"We love it when people ask questions, because it gives us a chance to explain instead of misconceptions that her husband is forcing her to wear that," she said.