U.S. Muslims hope bin Laden's death may signal turning point

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A tumble of kindergarteners sat cross-legged on their classroom carpet, reading in tiny voices a list of rhyming words: best, rest, west, nest.

At this Islamic school in suburban Washington, D.C., where an American flag hangs in the lobby and pupils' Earth Day posters decorate the hallways, teachers guide a generation of youngsters defined by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"They have never lived in a world where Muslims were not considered terrorists," said Johari Abdul-Malik, an imam and director of community outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, which runs the school.

In the wake of Sept. 11, the lives of many American Muslims were changed in such a fundamental way that not even the death of Osama bin Laden — the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist organization, which orchestrated the attacks — can fully turn back the clock on an existence once quietly lived in the shadows. In the post-Sept. 11 era, the woman in the head scarf or the man in the turban became part of the scary "other," and new phrases such as "Shariah law" were added to the nation's lexicon.

The day after President Barack Obama made the dramatic announcement late May 1 that bin Laden had been killed, Muslim religious leaders took to the airwaves condemning the terrorist leader. That same day, vandals spray-painted the words "Osama today, Islam tomorow" (sic) on a mosque in Portland, Maine.

The incident was a stark reminder that the idea of the Muslim next door remains a polarizing image in some circles.

In recent months, the public has debated the rights of congregations to build houses of worship within blocks of ground zero in New York and in a suburban community of Nashville, Tenn.

In America, the heightened focus on eradicating the violence perpetuated by those who espouse radical views of Islam has meant that Muslims try just a little bit harder to subtly show their non-Muslim neighbors that they, too, live lives of normalcy.

Tayyibah Taylor, the editor and publisher of Azizah Magazine, an Atlanta-based publication that focuses on American Muslim women, said there was a difference between how American-born Muslims and immigrants reacted to being considered different. "It depends on the level of comfort," she said. "For African-American Muslims, who have already dealt with some social injustices and know how to maneuver that road already, it's something that you just do. For many of the immigrants, some of whom were flying under the cultural radar, all of a sudden they realized they were the 'other,' and it was a surprise."

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