Like many Americans, Enamul Haq, the imam at the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County mosque in Boca Raton, was glued to his television Friday, watching as police hunted for a Muslim man, Dzhokhar Tsarnaez, 19, wanted in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Dzhokhar’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaez, 26, also a Muslim, had reportedly been killed in a shootout with police overnight.
Haq said waking up and learning early Friday morning that the suspects in the bombing were Muslims “was very disappointing,” after all the ill will directed at Muslims since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Aziza Suleiman, whose husband Haroon Suleiman is president of the Muslim Community site and said her family has been in Palm Beach County more than 20 years, was also propped in front of her TV and felt the same way.
“It is very disturbing,” she said. “It really upsets me.”
She was too disturbed to say much more.
Asked if he was afraid of anti-Muslim repercussions locally due to the incident, Haq said:
“I think the great majority of Americans know that the great majority of Muslims in the country are simply working people.”
Mohamed Abushadi, 34, originally of Egypt, the outreach director for the Islamic Center in Boca Raton, was just emerging from Friday midday prayers at his mosque when he was reached. He spoke about a Muslim friend of his who had attended the Boston Marathon.
“He was there with his newborn daughter to watch the race just like anyone else and luckily he escaped injury, which we were very glad to hear,” Abushadi said.
Abushadi also expects that the non-Muslim American public will not blame all Muslims for the bombings. “We don’t have all the facts, but if it turns out it was Muslims who did this, then it saddens me,” he said. “But I have faith and trust in the non-Muslim American people that they will not quickly come to a conclusion and stereotype the faith as a whole.
“I trust they will understand that some individuals have personal motives of their own and that the whole faith should not be judged by their actions. And non-Muslim Americans should know that we Muslim Americans are here to do anything we can to help.”
The Tsarnaez brothers are reportedly from Chechnya, a part of Russia, predominantly Muslim, which has waged a civil war for independence in the past two decades. Islamic militants and Russian government forces were both accused of massacres. That made many Chechens flee the country.
Haq said he has no Muslims from Chechnya in his congregation. Abushadi said he he didn’t know of any Chechen Muslims from Palm Beach County but he had met some who live in other parts of South Florida.
“And they are very grateful to the American people, for allowing them to come here and escape all the problems where they come from,” he said.
Gholam Rahman, 82, a retired Palm Beach Post employee who still writes a weekly food column for the paper, has lived in Palm Beach County for 41 years and attended Muslim services locally. Rahman said when he saw the photo of fugitive Dzhokhar Tsarnaez of the two suspects on television Thursday, he became concerned.
“I saw him there and I said, ‘Oh, my God! He looks like a Pakistani,” Rahman. “I said, ‘He looks like people I know.’ That face is characteristic.”
Rahman said possibly the family of the two brothers had moved within the Muslim world, just as he did, from India, to Pakistan, to Bangladesh, before he finally came to the U.S.
The fact the bombing suspects are Muslims made him worry about an anti-Muslim backlash.
“When I found out I said, ‘Oh no, not a Muslim again!,’” Rahman said. “There is tendency among some people to paint with a broad brush. Look at the Florida Legislature.”
Earlier this week the GOP-controlled Florida House passed a bill banning courts from considering religious or foreign law in cases regarding divorce, alimony, child support or custody. Though sponsors insist otherwise, many Muslims see the bill as directed at Sharia law, Muslim religious law.
“It is a mindset of some people who pass laws like this,” Rahman said. “Those people say ,’The Muslims are everywhere in this country. We must stop them.’ They don’t understand Islam. Islam, the word, means peace.”
Mohammed Osman Chowdhury, 56, president the American Islamic Alliance of Florida, based in West Palm Beach, says he believes relations between Muslim Americans and other Americans have improved around the U.S. and in South Florida since 9/11. “That is because we have been working at it,” Chowdhury said.
He spoke about interfaith picnics he and other religious leaders have sponsored and dialogues with students he has participated in as a way of educating non-Muslim Americans about his faith. Chowdhury, former president of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach, said no acts of aggression were committed against any Muslims in that congregation or any facility there after 9/11.
“And, no, I’m not worried about this time,” he said.
Palm Beach Post researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.