September 11, 2003
LAFAYETTE — Hesham Tillawi said that Muslims in the United States are better off today than they were two years ago.
“Back in 2001, people did not know much about the Muslim religion. They thought it was something from outer space, he said, “but now, people are more familiar with what Islam is all about.”
Originally from Palestine, Tillawi has lived and worked as a civil engineer in Lafayette for the last 20 years.
And if Americans had never heard of Islam before Sept. 11, Tillawi said they learned about the religion very quickly. Tillawi said copies of the Quran were exhausted in this country in the wake of Sept. 11, creating a rush to print more copies.
The Quran is the sacred text of Islam. Muslims believe the book contains the revelations of Allah to Muhammad.
Tillawi, a Muslim, said there was an increased interest in Islam following the attacks on the World Trade Center.
But along with Tillawi’s optimism, there is also some skepticism in the local Muslim community.
Calls placed to the Islamic Center of Lafayette were not returned.
On Tuesday, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations released its poll of 644 American Muslims that reflects this optimism and skepticism.
Seventy percent said they felt free to practice Islam without restrictions, and 86 percent had experienced an act of kindness from non-Muslims.
On the other hand, 88 percent knew of at least one Muslim who had been discriminated against, and 56 percent had personally experienced anti-Muslim discrimination.
Tillawi is also the president of the Palestinian American Congress of Louisiana, which represents 200 Palestinian-Americans in the state.
He said the 1,500-member national Palestinian American Congress works to educate the general public on Middle Eastern issues. The group also supports the Palestinians’ struggle to return to their homeland and acts as the voice for Palestinians in America.
Tillawi said that he believes that the perception of Muslims in the United States by other the Americans has improved.
“It’s not foreign to them,” he said, referring to non-Muslims. “Islam is an Arabic word which means total submission to God, and I don’t think a Christian would argue with that point because Christianity is about submitting to God too.”
Tillawi attributed a clearer understanding of Islam to a greater public awareness of the religion since the Sept. 11 attacks. He said, “The Internet, the news media and different programs have talked about Islam and Muslims. Especially if it’s an impartial program to show exactly what Islam is all about, I think we’ve seen a lot of changes in attitude from people who were ignorant of Islam. We have more educated people than before.”
Muslims have also taken to educating the public about Islam, with Web sites like www.islam-guide.com, an Internet version of a book titled “A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam.”
Both the Web site and the book give non-Muslims a bird’s eye view of Islam.
Tillawi said he doesn’t believe that Muslims in the United States have been persecuted or denied their civil liberties within the last two years.
Nor does he feel that there has been any backlash against Muslims by the federal government.
When asked about the controversial Patriot Act, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tillawi said he did not see the legislation as an attack on Muslims.
Tillawi said, “I think we, as Americans, overall have lost a lot of freedom due to that act and the subsequent act — not particularly Muslims — but all Americans of all denominations.”