Local Muslims and others reflect on the impact of the terrorist attacks

Vicar Bruce Shipman of the Church of the Holy Advent in Clinton, second from right, listens with others to the opening speaker Saturday during the open house held at the Islamic Center in Groton.

Groton - At age 8, Mansoor Alam couldn't figure out why his mother didn't drive him to school in Cheshire after his doctor's appointment on Sept. 11, 2001. He heard the car radio talking about a horrible plane crash and saw the fiery crashes on TV and the anxious faces of others in the doctor's waiting room.

Much later, Alam worked it out in his mind. The tragedy of 10 years ago physically separated him from his classmates and friends. But much worse, in the years that followed, the events that day separated this Muslim youth from his peers in many hurtful ways.

Alam, now 18 and still of Cheshire, joined several local Muslim leaders and Christian clergy in a panel discussion at the Islamic Center of New London that featured frank impressions of how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed their worlds and changed America.

In a building that started as a Catholic church and then became a synagogue, a Greek church and now is a mosque, about 50 people of varying faiths, races and ages gathered for an open house and reflections on what the Sept. 11 anniversary means to Muslims and all Americans.

Alam will release his self-published book "10 Years Older" today on Amazon.com. He spent this summer as an intern at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Hartford and forced himself to recall and record many painful memories of his youth.

A favorite baseball field in his Cheshire neighborhood just a few weeks after Sept. 11 was the scene of one unforgettable moment.

Young Alam never feared the two neighborhood bullies at the time, because there was an older boy who always looked out for him. But on this day, while playing shortstop, Alam was grabbed by his ankles and swung around in the air. His shirt came up over his face so he couldn't see.

He was dropped to the ground, his head and face slammed into the grass.

"Eat grass, you terrorist," the bully yelled at him. Alam had to comply to get himself free from the attack.

His older friend stood by and did nothing to help him.

Participants told several stories of where they were and what they were doing 10 years ago today.

Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of CAIR, contrasted his experiences that day with what followed during the next several years.

Dhaouadi had just dropped off his daughter at an Islamic school when he learned of the World Trade Center attack. At first, he just clamored for more information, like everyone else. When it came, he was struck with a father's panic and raced to the school. He found it surrounded by federal agents checking the IDs of everyone trying to enter, making sure they belonged there.

"It was a relief to me as a father," he said.

But now, he said, the FBI is monitoring hundreds of Muslims and asking questions about their mosques, the topics of sermons, license plate numbers on cars of those who attend, he said.

Mahmoud Mansour, the religious leader at the mosque, said today should be a time of prayer and reflection. The eve of the anniversary was better suited for impressions of what happened and what should happen now.

The Rev. David Good of the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme used the adage "a three-fold cord is not easily broken," and asked everyone to combine forces to combat discrimination, racism and illegal targeting of Muslims. Many in the room nodded their heads. Cook said all faiths should rally for truth and justice, especially the legal protections of freedom of religion and personal protections provided in the Constitution.

Yet local Muslims have felt targeted and singled out in the years that followed the attacks 10 years ago, many participants said. Those feelings intensified in recent days, as government authorities made public a "credible" threat of a potential new terrorist attack. Suhaib Abu Zainab of Groton said his wife recently underwent an invasive and humiliating search before boarding a plane to California that left her in tears on the plane. His best friend and business partner was prevented from flying to California two years ago.

Mansour started the program with a brief description of the origins of the Islam faith with some familiar names to non-Muslims. He spoke of Abraham and his children, and Moses and the prophets Jesus and Mohammed. The religion of Islam is a religion of the same God as Moses and Jesus, he said.

"For that reason, we have a lot of common things," Mansour said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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