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Around Chicago, Muslims, Arab Americans say they still face post-9/11 discrimination

A suburban imam says there’s still an element that ‘kind of doesn’t want American Muslims to be part of that remembrance and grieving process. They want Islam to be the enemy.’

Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.
Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network: It’s been “20 years essentially of scapegoating and criminalization and surveillance and attacks against our communities.”
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

In the 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Muslims and Arab Americans in Chicago say they have faced continued discrimination and, in some cases, attacks.

  • Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, whose offices in Chicago Lawn were set on fire months after 9/11: “We believe it was very strongly a direct response to Sept. 11. It was just the beginning — 20 years essentially of scapegoating and criminalization and surveillance and attacks against our communities.”
Tariq El-Amin.
Tariq El-Amin.
Masjid Al-Taqwa
  • Tariq El-Amin, imam at the Masjid Al-Taqwa mosque in Calumet Heights: When he hears people say “never forget” 9/11, he wants them to also remember the things that were done in the aftermath of the attacks, like the creation of the Patriot Act, which vastly boosted the government’s surveillance authority: “There was an element — even then and also now — that kind of doesn’t want American Muslims to be part of that remembrance and grieving process. They want Islam to be the enemy and be on trial.”
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and executive director of the Syrian Community Network.
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and executive director of the Syrian Community Network.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times
  • Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and executive director of the Syrian Community Network: She remembers people protesting after 9/11 outside the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, carrying signs that said, “Go home.” She says she saw this and thought: “Many of us are born and raised here. This is my home. There is nowhere else to go.”
Alia Bilal.
Alia Bilal.
Inner-City Muslim Action Network
  • Alia Bilal, deputy director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network: The fear she says she felt in the immediate aftermath that she might be targeted because of her religion has dulled but still remains. She says there’s still a long way to go for many Muslims to be able to get past their pain over how they’ve been treated since 9/11: “We haven’t really been afforded the dignity of believing that we should — that we have a right to — grieve. That we have a right to feel devastated and angry.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.