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Muslims live amid fear of reprisals

Finding a bullet in their mosque and encountering angry strangers make the community fearful.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Kevin White]
Charlston Burgess, 4, touches his father, Rashid, after a prayer Friday at the mosque in Spring Hill for those killed in Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
Since Tuesday's attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Nada Hamoui has stayed mostly indoors.

The first time she left her home in Brooksville, someone drove by in a car, shouting an obscenity at her. On Thursday, she risked a trip to her husband's medical practice. On the drive home, she said, someone tried to run her off the road.

Early that morning, a bullet was discovered in the mosque where Hamoui and her family worship in Spring Hill.

"I've been sitting in my house," she said Friday. "I'm not going anywhere unless I'm accompanied by my husband. . . . Everybody's terrified."

Hamoui, 41, said she is one of several Muslim women in Hernando County afraid to venture out. The women wear head scarves because of their religious beliefs and fear a dangerous climate of hatred and reprisals in the wake of the attacks linked in news reports to Osama bin Laden, a terrorist leader.

On Friday, Hernando sheriff's deputies patrolled outside the mosque during a weekly prayer service. Sheriff's Capt. Michael Maurer tried to quell fears voiced by several men who wondered how best to protect their wives and children.

"I would say things are fairly tense," said Maurer. "It's unchartered waters."

Walter Dry, chairman of the Hernando County Human Rights Coalition, cautioned the congregation not to take unnecessary chances.

"If you know evil is there, don't allow your women to come in contact with the evil," he said. "You must protect them at all costs."

For Dr. Adel Eldin, a cardiologist at Oak Hill Hospital, the situation is frustrating.

He came to the United States from Egypt and is now an American. On a human level, he was devastated by television images of planes tearing through buildings and rubble filling the streets. To be targeted now, simply for being a Muslim, is galling, he said. Many killed in the attacks were likely Muslims, he added.

"We share the same pain," said Eldin. "We're getting double pain now."

In an attempt to build understanding across cultures, Eldin is planning a town meeting sponsored by the county's Muslim community. No time or date has been set yet.

"We have to all join together in that counterattack," he said. "We are all suffering."

Ghiath Mahmaljy, chief of medicine at Oak Hill Hospital, led prayers for the victims and their families at the service. He said Muslims must spread the word that their faith is built on nonviolent principles.

"We are the ones who fail to teach people what we are all about, what our religion is about," he said. "Nobody else is going to do that. Ignorance is what begets hatred. It is our duty to explain to people."

- Jennifer Farrell covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to

farrell@sptimes.com.

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