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Muslims Fear Backlash After Suspects' Faith Revealed


Soon after federal authorities disclosed that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were Muslims of Chechen descent, many American Muslims began bracing for a backlash. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has more.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Arsalan Iftikhar has become familiar with that sinking feeling. He's a senior editor with Islamic Monthly, and also writes the blog "The Muslim Guy." He says he felt it after the assassination attempt on congresswoman Gaby Giffords; after the Aurora, Colo., movie massacre; and after the Newtown school shooting - please God, don't let it be a Muslim.

None of those perpetrators were; and Iftikhar noticed how those crimes, all committed by white men, did not get branded as terrorism.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: The term terrorism in post-9/11 America has sort of been co-opted to really only apply when it's brown, Muslim men. But, you know, it's one of those things that American Muslims - sadly - have become accustomed to.

LUDDEN: We spoke a few hours after news emerged yesterday that the two Boston bombing suspects were of Chechen origin and Muslim.

IFTIKHAR: Already today, I have received several pieces of hate mail in my email inbox and I think many brown people in America are feeling very nervous right now.

IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK: It is a kind of almost depression to say, you know, not again; not us. Why us?

LUDDEN: Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is with the Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Washington, D. C. As a sign of assumptions made, he says his mosque in Northern Virginia was assigned extra local police security even before the suspected bombers identities were known and local churches had reached out offering support.

Now, Malik expects to once again face the hard look of strangers who see that he's Muslim.

ABDUL-MALIK: The faces of the people in my sermon indicated that all of them have had that look this week, that look of a kind of not only distrust, but one woman said it felt like hatred. And she's completely innocent.

LUDDEN: So far signs of a backlash are few. Hours after the Boston Marathon, a Bangladeshi man in New York reported having his shoulder dislocated by someone yelling anti-Muslim slurs. Wednesday, in a town just outside Boston, a woman wearing a traditional headscarf was attacked while strolling with her baby.

She says the man shouted that Muslims had carried out the Marathon explosions. Khaled Abou El Fadl teaches Islamic law at UCLA. He's been tracking anti-Muslim hate crimes since after the 9/11 attacks.

KHALED ABOU EL FADL: I have not seen a significant decrease. In fact, although I have had high hopes of our 2005-2006 that things would get better, there was an increasingly widening sort of cultural gap of misunderstanding.

LUDDEN: Still, Imam Jahari Abdu-Malik is optimistic. He believes he sees a decade of dialogue and education about Islam paying off this week.

ABDUL-MALIK: I have to applaud the media. Even now, knowing that these young men have a Chechen background, even now still reserves, not saying that this is some plot that was concocted overseas. We've come a long way.

LUDDEN: In his sermon yesterday, Malik offered his worried congregation advice from the Quran: Return evil with good. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.