9-11: Muslim and American: This is my home
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — When Seddiq Behrooz heard about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he said he felt the same way anyone else would feel.
“I was shocked,” he said. “How could something like this happen?”
Behrooz, a Salisbury resident and a Muslim, said he was greatly saddened by the loss of life, so it upset him when people began associating that with Islam.
Out of more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide, he said, he thinks only a few hundred — maybe as many as a few thousand — support the violent views of the Taliban or al-Qaida.
“If they are representing a billion good Muslims, then I’ve got a problem with that,” Behrooz said. “But I have faith that people in the U.S. are smarter than to just fall for what they see on TV. If they weren’t, I would have been in conflict with people I’m meeting every day.”
But those people treat him very well, he said.
The KoSa engineer said he personally felt no animosity from people right after the terrorist attacks, and he still doesn’t 10 years later.
Behrooz was coaching his son’s soccer team in 2001, and the first game of the season was two or three weeks after Sept. 11.
“I went on the field not knowing how people would approach me,” he said. “One of the referees came over from the other side of the field and reached out and shook my hand. … He said, ‘I want you to know that we think you’re one of us.’ ”
The same thing happened at work, and again when he visited his wife’s church. A few people seemed a bit cautious or afraid around him, but he said they were “very few and far between.”
“It was really touching to see that there are so many people with the right mind, much more than those that make wrong judgments and wrong assumptions,” Behrooz said. “Mostly, people treated me very well, and I was expecting that. This is my home.”
That’s still true today. No one has expressed resentment to him or made him feel different because he’s a Muslim, he said. In fact, more people are interested in his religion.
“What has changed is that many churches and local colleges — like Catawba and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College — have invited me to talk to them about these issues,” Behrooz said. “I am really proud of the American people, because in all of the places I went and talked to them, they were so open-minded.”
Behrooz was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States in 1980.
When Russia occupied the country in 1979, it began requiring people to join the military and fight against their fellow Afghanis. Behrooz had just earned a college degree in architecture when he was drafted.
Behrooz fled to Pakistan for two months before he was able to travel to the United States. He then stayed with his brother in Salisbury for about two months.
Unable to find work here, Behrooz moved to Falls Church, Va., where he worked three food service jobs and slept on cushions because he didn’t have a bed.
Four months later, Behrooz came back to Salisbury to visit his brother and learned that a company called Fiber Industries was hiring. He worked there first as a millwright and then as an engineer.
He met his wife Judy — a Christian — in 1982.
“My parents were concerned at first, because he was a Muslim,” she said. “But they ended up loving him.”
Judy says she has never had a problem with her husband’s faith, and she has learned a lot from him.
On holidays and special occasions, Behrooz accompanies his wife to church, where she said the congregation welcomes him warmly.
He doesn’t attend a mosque — the closest ones are in Charlotte and High Point — and instead practices his religion individually.
The couple now has three children, and they live on High Rock Lake in a house Behrooz himself built over eight years. He’s been working on an addition to it this summer.
In Afghanistan, Behrooz said, he and others pictured America as a place where people could strike out and make it on their own. In poorer countries, they would often rely on family and friends their entire lives.
“We had a picture of America that you can be on your own and do well,” he said. “For me, it just so happened that it was true.”
Learning and teaching
Behrooz’s three children, Jonathan, Susan and Sharif, grew up going to church with their mother while also developing a respect for Islam.
Susan said it bothered her when some of her friends and classmates began to call Muslims terrorists after Sept. 11, 2001.
Then 12 years old, she took it upon herself to learn more about her father’s religion so she could educate other people.
She presented some school projects about it and later took Islamic studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she graduated this year.
Behrooz said Islam is more similar to Christianity than many people realize. It recognizes both Jesus and Muhammad as prophets of the same God.
People who use the Quran to say women should not drive, go to school or even show their faces are twisting the scriptures, Behrooz said. Muhammed’s first wife is said to have been a rich entrepreneur — and his employer.
Behrooz said the Quran talks about spiritual holy war or jihad, but it does not tell Muslims to physically go to war over their faith.
“For them to go and pick up a gun and fight for God, that is totally against everything in the Quran and everything that I know about Islam,” he said. “Islam does not promote violence.”
He said he is saddened when he hears about people who are hesitant to sit next to someone on an airplane who looks like a Muslim.
“Americans need to be strong enough that if an empty seat exists next to a Muslim and another one next to someone else, they will choose to sit next to a Muslim,” Behrooz said. “If you stay away, that doesn’t do any good, because you will never learn from the person, and you will not contribute to a greater cause of creating peace.
“Why not socialize? They’re human beings, just like everybody else.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Muslim public opinion
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of 1,033 Muslim Americans from April 14-July 22.
The center said it found no indication of increased alienation or anger, and Muslim Americans reject extremism by much larger margins than Muslims in other countries around the world.
• There are about 1.8 million Muslim adults and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages (including children under 18) living in the United States in 2011.
• A quarter of all Muslims in the United States are immigrants from the Middle East or North Africa, while 16 percent come from South Asia.
• 81 percent of Muslim Americans say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians are never justified.
Just 1 percent say these acts are often justified, and another 7 percent say they are sometimes justified, to defend Islam from its enemies.
• 21 percent of Muslim Americans — compared to 40 percent of the general public — report that they see a great deal or a fair amount of support for extremism in the Muslim American community.
• 4 percent of Muslim Americans — compared to 21 percent of the general public — think that Muslim support for extremism is increasing.
• Nearly half (48 percent) say that Muslim leaders in the U.S. have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists. Only about a third (34 percent) say that they have.
• 72 percent of Muslim Americans who are aware of the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center say it should be allowed.
35 percent say either that it should not be allowed, or that it should be allowed but is a bad idea.
• A quarter of Muslim Americans report that mosques or Islamic centers in their communities have been the target of controversy or outright hostility.
• 28 percent report being looked at with suspicion, and 22 percent report being called offensive names.
• 21 percent report being singled out by airport security, and 13 percent say they have been singled out by other law enforcement.
Full report is available at www.people-press.org.
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