9-11: Muslim artist hopes for greater understanding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Salisbury artist Syed Ahmad remembers how strange it felt, after being glued to the TV in horror for hours, to retreat outdoors and see the clear blue sky of a beautiful fall day on Sept. 11, 2011.
Ahmad also remembers the feeling of dread as he began to fear that a member of his own religion was responsible for the terrorist attacks of that day.
“I prayed that it would not be a Muslim, and I just had a sinking feeling,” he said.
Ahmad had woken up at his brother-in-law’s house in Columbus, Ohio, to the sound of people talking loudly and a television in the background. He lived in San Diego, Calif., but was on the road selling his art at the time.
Later, when he heard Osama Bin Laden was connected to the attacks, he wasn’t surprised. Bin Laden had been tied to several other acts of terrorism. But Ahmad was dismayed that Islam was used to justify them.
Sept. 11 didn’t change his own beliefs, Ahmad said. He was raised in Malaysia, which has a majority Muslim population.
He said most Muslims have views that are quite different than the “extreme, fundamentalist, fanatical” groups that commit acts of terrorism.
“Being from that culture, you just say, ‘Oh, these are misguided people,’” Ahmad said. “My faith wasn’t shaken.”
After all, he said, it doesn’t shake the faith of Christians when people in their religion commit acts of terrorism, because “it’s just some lunatic.”
But Ahmad said he knew that many Americans would think the attacks reflected the nature of Islam — they do not, he said — and that stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists would get stronger.
Ahmad said a general suspicion of Muslims existed as early as 1981, when he moved to the United States to attend a Texas college.
But only in recent years has public opinion been able to spread so quickly and to so many people, he said.
For example, Ahmad said, an attempt to build a Muslim community and worship center in New York received low-profile media coverage until certain bloggers began to spread “fear and misinformation.” Suddenly, building a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attack was the subject of international controversy.
Fortunately, Ahmad said, he personally has never felt like a target of suspicion or anger as a result of the terrorist attacks.
He and his wife, Whitney Peckman, have lived in Salisbury since 2005. He sells his artwork at Syed Art Glass downtown and at festivals and shows around the country.
There are “a handful” of Muslims in the area, Ahmad said, but they travel to mosques in Charlotte or High Point to worship.
“I think there is very little understanding of Islam, because not a lot of Muslims live in Salisbury, so people are unfamiliar with it,” he said.
But Ahmad is encouraged by the American public’s interest in becoming familiar with Islam. He said he hopes people of all religions, races and cultures realize they are more similar than they are different.
“I think there is more understanding now and more opportunity,” Ahmad said. “Before, there was ignorance. People just had no idea, because they were not exposed to (Islam). … Now, I have hope that there will be greater understanding.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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