The Daily Herald: Suburban Muslims feel closure

A sense of relief permeated the suburban Muslim community Monday as news spread that United States special forces killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

“Our hearts and our minds are with the families of those who lost their loved ones on 9/11 and in (bin Laden’s) death a sense of justice and closure will be found,” said Mazen Asbahi of LaGrange, a board member of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

While many Muslims agree bin Laden’s death marks the closing of a dark chapter in the War on Terror, there’s a mixture of fear and cautious optimism in the community over what may come next.

Abdul Javid of Palatine, a member of the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs in Rolling Meadows, said he hoped bin Laden’s death will put an end to negative campaigns against Islam.

“We still have to make sure that people understand us better and be good Muslims, be good citizens,” Javid said. “I think our religion is still misunderstood and it is up to us to kind of be role models and proactively engage with other communities, other faiths.”

Some Pakistani Americans said they were disturbed to learn bin Laden was hiding out in their motherland so close to a military academy and the barracks for three Pakistani army regiments.

An elite team of Navy SEALs gunned down bin Laden in a firefight at a compound in Abbottabad, a quiet town nestled in the mountains roughly 60 miles northeast of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

“We would certainly hope it’s the death of an extremist ideology rather than of a human being,” said Kiran Ansari Rasul, a Pakistani American from Roselle.

Rasul said she hopes for peace not only in America, but her homeland of Pakistan where bomb blasts, targeted killings, and kidnappings have escalated internal tensions in an already volatile region.

“There were riots in Karachi today,” Rasul said. “Buses were being burned, and this is scary.”

Javed Aslam of Villa Park said he fears there will be revenge attacks in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and more snakes like bin Laden will emerge.

“That’s the basic problem in the territory,” he said.

Aslam said educating the Afghan and Pakistani public instead of putting more military forces on the ground would serve America’s interests better.

“Institutions, schools and colleges for the same price as troops would have actually brought a new generation of educated people there,” he said. “Believe me, the mentality (of revenge) will change.”

Fear over reprisals against Muslims in the United States has prompted the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago to issue a warning to its 53 member organizations to remain vigilant and report hate crimes or vandalism against mosques and Islamic schools.

“I hope that with (bin Laden’s) death that your average American (be it) Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and others, when they think of Muslims, they will think of their neighbor, friend, work colleague, their physician, and not this murderer whose face has for so long been associated with a beautiful faith,” Asbahi said. “We see ourselves as part of the American family.”

Asbahi said Muslim community leaders need to reiterate President Barack Obama’s statement Sunday night that “America will never be at war with Islam and that Osama bin Laden was never a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer.”

“Those comments were incredibly important and relevant and a needed reminder,” Asbahi said. “There still remains an incredible need for American Muslims to educate the broader American community about the true nature of Islam and Muslims.”

Like many fellow Americans, Muslims also are eager to see an end to America’s ongoing military involvement in the world, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago.

“This incident shows what we’ve been saying all along that it’s good intelligence and surgical strikes that are most effective in dealing with terrorists and not military occupation, certainly not the war in Iraq or the curbing of civil liberties and civil rights domestically,” Rehab said.

Yet, in some quarters, there remains skepticism over whether bin Laden is truly dead.

Ghulam Farooqie, president of the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines, said if it was bin Laden in that compound in Pakistan, he should have been captured and not killed and buried at sea.

“Saddam Hussein was hanged. People have seen it,” Farooqie said. “But bin Laden blew away in the wind. Still, I have doubt whether he was alive. There should be proof that that’s the guy and he got killed. I am confused. I’m not clear, but what the media says, that’s what we hear and that’s what we believe.”