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11/4/02 - MUSLIMS IN AMERICA - 2002-11-07

This week marks the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting, prayer, and family activities for Muslims around the world. In America, too, Muslims will be observing Ramadan -- secure in the knowledge that they live in a country where all people are free to practice their faith. As Abdul-Raouf Tawfik Hammuda [AHB-d’l rah-OOF tau-FEEK hah-MOO-dah], a Muslim who immigrated to America from Libya, put it, “The thing I value most about living [here] is the freedom and dignity I enjoy as a human being.”

Mr. Hammuda operates a bakery business in Toledo, Ohio. He is one of a group of American Muslims who tell their stories in television and Internet features that are part of a new information program supported by the U.S. State Department. Called “Common Ground,” the program enables American Muslims to share their experiences with their co-religionists around the world. The program is being conducted in cooperation with the Council of American Muslims for Understanding, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about the achievements of Muslims in America and of Muslims throughout history.

Many people are scarcely aware that there are several million Muslims in the U.S. In fact, Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the U.S. today, with more than one-thousand two-hundred mosques and four-hundred Islamic schools. American Muslims have also established more than four-hundred associations and two-hundred publications. An estimated two-hundred thousand Muslims operate businesses in the U.S., and thousands serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni {EL-ee-us z’air-HOO-nee] is an American Muslim who was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the National Institutes of Health. Born in Algeria, Dr. Zerhouni said the “tolerance and support” he has received in America are “remarkable.” Dr. Zerhouni said he doesn’t think “there is any other country in the world where different people from different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members of a society.”

Like people everywhere, Americans have not always lived up to their highest principles. But there can be no question that Americans have long been committed to religious freedom. The first settlements in America were established by people fleeing religious persecution in their homeland. And as the U.S. developed into a unified yet diverse country, for millions of Americans, as President Bush put it, “the practice of tolerance [became] a command of faith.” This ideal of tolerance is eloquently summed up by Farooq [fah-ROOK] Muhammad, a paramedic with the New York City Fire Department. “My colleagues,” he says, “are Jews, Protestants, Catholics, even Hindus. We are able to work together without any problems.” In the words of Mr. Muhammad, “We respect each other.”