US & Canada

Tension as Eid clashes with 9/11 anniversary

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Media captionWorshippers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia, give their views on being a Muslim in the US

Sounds of industry - and tempting smells - emanate from the busy kitchen of All Dulles Area Moslem Society, in suburban Virginia. Hundreds of meals are being prepared as worshippers arrive to break the fast.

Eid al-fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, is approaching.

But, unusually, so too is the anniversary of 9/11, an event which compromised the reputation of Islam in the US.

Events since - two wars, home-grown terrorism - have done little to help.

"Some of them are really tense, because Eid comes around 9/11," says Imam Mohammed Hag Magid of his congregation.

Members throughout the area are being advised to keep their celebrations low-key and private.

Keep a low profile. Don't offend anyone. With America in the midst of a debate about the literal and figurative place of Islam in society, this seems to be a time for caution.

But with rows over where and when it's acceptable to build a mosque, and with a pastor threatening to burn the Koran in Florida, some of the worshippers here sound frustrated.

"I think they should understand that just like they celebrate Christmas every year, we celebrate our Eid after fasting for a month and praying," says 15-year-old Mim Sharna.

"It's none of their business."

But don't get the wrong impression. The mosque is not seething with resentment tonight.

The atmosphere is relaxed, as befits a time of celebration. This is not, it turns out, such a bad place to be a Muslim.

Ashraf Sabrin, a volunteer firefighter at the Pentagon on 9/11, says there's no better place to practise his religion.

Surprised?

"People who are surprised to hear that are people who don't live here, and don't understand the recourse that we have when things happen that are bad," he says.

Ashraf's prescription for a successful life in America is disarmingly simple.

Image caption Muslims in the area have been advised to keep their celebrations low-key

"Being yourself. Being this average Joe-Muhammad-Abdullah guy that goes to work and comes home and lives peacefully is the best medicine," he says.

As worshippers mingle in between prayers, the conversation turns to the subject of what a small group of Christians in Florida may or may not do with the Koran.

But, again, there's no hysteria, no vengeful threats. Just a rather resigned acknowledgement that this is America, where freedom of speech is paramount.

"I think he has the right to do whatever he wishes to do," says Khalid Iqbal, who is the centre's deputy director and the grandfather of nine, referring to the Gainesville pastor, Terry Jones.

Mr Iqbal was speaking before Pastor Jones announced that he was prepared to call off his incendiary protest, provided the planned Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York is moved.

"He can burn the books. It doesn't mean that he's going to take it away from the hearts of the people."

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