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LI Muslims praise Obama's words, but want action

Muslims on Long Island reacted positively Monday - one used the word "beautiful" - to President Barack Obama's declarations in Turkey, including that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam."

Still, some said that, while they were impressed by Obama's rhetoric, they want to see it backed up with concrete actions by resolving such thorny issues as possible statehood for Palestinians.

"That is a very, very positive statement and I can assure you it is a very welcome statement after the Bush administration," said Long Island-based Ghazi Khankan, a spokesman for the New York chapter of the American Muslim Alliance.

"I hope this will materialize into some further activities and developments so that we can convey this message to the Islamo-phobes in the United States to readjust their vocabulary and stop associating Islam with terrorism," he said.

Khankan added: "I also call upon the Muslim world to reciprocate and realize that the American people are not the enemy."

Habib Ahmed, chairman of the board of the area's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, said he was similarly encouraged by Obama's words, but wanted to see where they led.

"That's a very good start. I am encouraged by that," he said. Still, "always, actions are more weighty than words."

Arshad Majid, a former assistant district attorney in Suffolk County who is now a criminal defense lawyer and civil rights activist, said he thought Obama's experience as a boy growing up part of the time in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation, helped give him a broader world view that may help him build bridges to the Muslim and Arab worlds.

He thought that was reflected in Monday's comments, although, like the others, he wants to see concrete actions. "I've always had high hopes for Obama, especially given his unique heritage," Majid said.

Naveed Siddiqui, 39, of Westbury, who runs a financial real estate firm, said that while President George W. Bush made similar statements defending Islam as a peaceful religion, "he was not believable."

He said he believed one of Obama's next steps should be tapping into the U.S. population of Muslims to assist his outreach. "That would make a huge difference," Siddiqui said. "There's six million of us and we have done very well."

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