CAIRO — For many US Muslims, pro-activity and engagement with the wider community have proved the best way to counter an image as the enemy within in post 9/11 America, where prejudices and stereotypes about their faith still persist.
"We must control our own image," Yousif Marei, a volunteer leader for Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, a community-based policing program, told the Chicago tribune on Thursday, September 11.
As the US and the world commemorate the seventh anniversary of 9/11, many Muslims are ready with a proactive campaign to fight back the negative image of their religion.
Community leaders are urging Muslims to assert their civic identities by registering to vote, taking part in neighborhood block meetings and becoming active in schools and other local institutions.
As this year"s anniversary coincides with the holy fasting month of Ramadan, mosques are playing their role too, inviting non-Muslims for iftar to foster understanding about Islam.
"It is our duty to show that we are good neighbors," said Marei, who hosts a daily radio show during Ramadan encouraging fellow Muslims spread the spirit of Ramadan "over the skies of Chicago."
Mohammed Kaiseruddin, former president of Chicago"s Muslim Community Center, believes that the small steps campaign could yield big.
"Our presence and our involvement should be sufficient to say that, well, these are Muslims and these are not terrorists and these are people who are fully participating in civic issues."
Ceremonies are held nationwide Thursday to mark the 9/11 attacks, including on at New York"s Ground Zero, the site of the targeted World Trade Center.
In Washington, President George W. Bush presided over a dedication ceremony for the Pentagon 9/11 memorial.
"We are not out to bring about Shari`ah in the United States. We are your average Americans who happen to be of Muslim faith," Rehab says.
Muslims, however, note that seven years on, prejudices still haunt them and their religion.
"All we hear about Islam—and we are listening with tears in our eyes— is Islam and terrorism," lamented Marei, a 53-year-old Palestinian who moved to Chicago nearly 30 years ago.
The anniversary is marked in the national media by replayed footages of the hijacked airplanes and painful reminders of how "Islamic extremists" planned and carried out the attacks.
In Dearborn, a documentary titled "Obsession: Radical Islam"s War Against the West" is screened to coincide with the anniversary.
Producers of the movie, which has outraged Muslim leaders, said they chose Dearborn because of its sizable Muslim population.
US Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, continue to face discrimination because of their Islamic attires or identities.
JBS Swift & Co., a major meatpacking plant in Colorado, fired one hundred Muslim workers for demanding a break to pray during Ramadan.
"We are not out to bring about Shari`ah in the United States," stressed Ahmed Rehab, the Chicago director of the Council of Islamic-American Relations (CAIR).
"We are your average Americans who happen to be of Muslim faith."