Being A Muslim Since 9/11

by Abdul Latif Aeppli

September 22, 2003


The morning of 9/11 I was up early and watched in shock as the first tower burned. Within a few seconds the second tower was attacked and my heart sank. I knew that a radical Muslim group had struck and that nothing good could come of it. On arriving at work I was immediately confronted with hostile looks and a chilling atmosphere. It was common knowledge at work that I was a Muslim as I took a long lunch every Friday to perform Jumma prayer. I confronted the people affected immediately and although a couple of employees and clients never really warmed up again at least my professional life suffered minimal disruption.

Within a few days the hate crimes against Muslims began. Luckily, Las Vegas is a fairly tolerant town so violent assaults were few. The most serious physical assault was against a Latino mistaken for a Muslim, which speaks volumes about the nature of hate crimes. The backlash was not without impact. Muslim children were forced into private schools or removed from school due to unrelenting harassment. Muslim men and women were laid off or fired, businesses were boycotted and vandalized, and the wearing of the Hijab was banned in some businesses.

The Muslim leaders in the community called a public meeting with local law enforcement officers to address safety concerns. The meeting was well attended and featured the local chief of police, sheriff and the FBI special agents for Las Vegas. We were photographed clandestinely, and notes were taken on individuals and speakers who appeared to be leaders in the community. After a brief dog and pony show regarding equal protection under the law and so on the real agenda was revealed by the FBI agents. In summation, we the Muslims in Las Vegas were to be informants to the Feds regarding members of or visitors to our community. We were also reminded that failure to do so could lead to investigation and prosecution for supporting terrorists. Needless to say the effect was chilling. Within a few months of the attacks and meeting those of us who were involved in newsletters, political or social activities were questioned by the Feds. One of my close friends has been questioned no less then four times and his newsletter seized to disrupt distribution.

I was personally chosen to join a delegation to visit Harry Ried, our State Senator, at his office. Our intent was to discuss the harassment of Muslims, the abuses of the Patriot Act and the pending invasion of Iraq. We had a confirmed appointment and took our position paper to the Federal Building on the appointed day. We were denied entrance and told that the Senator had never agreed to such a meeting and it was surely a misunderstanding on our part. When we left the building we were met by a hostile crowd of pro-war activists who had been alerted and rallied by a right-wing shock jock that morning. We were spit at, verbally threatened and abused, and feared for our safety. The media also attended and in spite of assurances of unbiased coverage the broadcast focused on the most abusive and hostile of the anti-Muslim contingent. It was then agreed that we would keep our heads down and provide support and information within our community.

Since that time it has gotten worse. We have among us disappeared ones, either fleeing the country to avoid incarceration for immigration violations, actually arrested and being held without charges or deported without due process. Our Mosques have informants, phones and computers are assumed to be tapped and Brothers with personal vendettas are turning in other Brothers for any number of reasons. It has of course seriously compromised our Mosques as community centers and places for active discourse. Mosques have always been set aside for secular purposes as well as educational, social and community welfare centers. The current climate of fear has damaged our ability to provide humanitarian services and a lively cultural base for a community comprising many immigrants who look to the Mosques as a home away from home.

On a personal level I now face harassment and bigotry should I wear my traditional prayer garments. I'm fairly confident that my e-mail is monitored and am certain that my house is under infrequent but regular surveillance. I observed one of the unmarked cars from a hidden vantage point with binoculars and observed a person watching my home and taking computer notes. The town here is so small that non-local cars stick out. When the Imam from the Las Vegas mosque visits we are observed if we go downtown to eat. My wife, a non-Muslim, has actually been approached by a man who was eavesdropping on a visitor and I at a restaurant; he, although obviously a conservative white guy, approached her speaking Arabic. I guess his intent was to gauge her reaction or to see if she speaks the language. My Brothers and I frequently use Arabic in conversations because the words are specific and technical in describing theological points in the Quran. I'd like to think I'm paranoid about this stuff but know that I am not. Some might ask "why don't you quit wearing robes and hats or switch religions?" Well, I think the answer to this question is crystal clear and brings to mind another reluctant radical's words, "give me liberty or give me death." I could no more renounce Islam than change my species.

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9/11 on Swans


Abdul Latif Aeppli was born in the mid-fifties in a US Christian family. After a long spiritual journey he eventually discovered and converted to Islam about seven years ago, and recently changed his name from Stephan Aeppli to Abdul Latif Aeppli. This text is a slightly edited version of a letter written to a friend of his in July 2003, when he was residing and working in Las Vegas. He attended the Islamic School Muslim Educational Trust where he studied the Arabic language, Islamic history, philosophy and religious science. Mr. Aeppli and his wife and daughter live in Mojave, California.

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Published September 22, 2003
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