9/11/01: Muslims fear fellow New Yorkers' revenge

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Amina Zaid huddled yesterday inside a Muslim book store on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, waiting for her husband to pick her up.

Wearing a navy blue hejjab, the traditional headcovering of Muslim women, the 54-year-old mother of nine said she had been called an obscene name moments before walking into the shop.

"I don't care to repeat it," she said to a reporter. "The ignorance that dwells within the minds of people, I can't account for."

Like many Muslims interviewed in neighborhoods all over New York City yesterday, Zaid said her heart went out to the victims of yesterday's terrorist attacks as well as to their families - but she also voiced enormous fear of retaliation against herself and her family, and the thousands of Muslims who call New York their home.

"I want to get out of here before night falls," she said, motioning to Atlantic Avenue, which is lined with shops, restaurants and other stores owned by Muslims. "I don't want to be caught in it."

Indeed, like their fellow New Yorkers, Muslims from downtown Brooklyn to Jackson Heights, Queens, expressed shock and sorrow about yesterday's tragedy.

But many urged Americans not to assume that Muslims were behind the attack.

"Whoever is responsible is not a group to be considered sane," said Ali Mirza of the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Queens and president of Americans of Pakistani Heritage.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, called on Muslims to offer help to the victims of yesterday's attacks. It also urged those who wear Islamic attire to consider staying out of public areas for a while.

Anecdotes from around the city suggested that the fears of Muslim New Yorkers might be well-founded.

"Let me just tell you this, there ain't an Arab in NYC that's safe," said Anthony Lanza, a carpenter standing on Mulberry Street yesterday, who said he hadn't heard from his brother-in-law who worked on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center.

A woman passing by nodded her head. "Don't you think they [the Arabs] should get blown away?"

But Muslims said such stereotypes are mistaken. "Islam doesn't say, 'Kill innocent people,'" said Ahmad Osman, 40, of Sunnyside, part-owner of a Middle Eastern deli in Astoria. "Islam says to be peaceful, to be good to people."

Fearing retaliatory violence, many Muslim small- business owners shuttered their shops yesterday. And some who took their chances paid a price.

A boy standing in front of Yemen Cafe, who identified himself as the owner's son, said a group of teenagers threw bottles at the restaurant. "They were calling us '-- Arab terrorists,'" he said.

More than a few Muslims expressed anger at the terrorists who have made their lives more difficult.

"Of course, I look bad [because of what they do]," said Nourdine Bahri, who emigrated from Algeria 10 years ago and is the owner of a grocery and housewares store in Astoria. "I come to this country to work. Why am I going to bother this country?"

Bahri noted the irony that today, his brother in Algeria called him to find out whether he was all right. "Always, we call them to find out if they are all right," Bahri said. "It's strange for them to call me."

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Staff writers Halimah Abdullah, Katie Thomas and Tania Lopez contributed to this story.

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