Special Reports

'With a name like Mohammad'

Life turned difficult for the family of Staff Sgt. Mohammad Tabassum and other Tacoma-area Muslims after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's unfortunate," said Tabassum, a 45-year-old Pakistani American.

Several anonymous callers placed harassing phone calls to Tabassum's home - probably because of his Muslim name, he said. A death threat was called in to Tabassum's mosque, the Islamic Center of Tacoma.

In January, when Tabassum traveled to Washington, D.C., on military business, security workers searched him thoroughly - even though he was in uniform.

"With a name like Mohammad," a security agent at Dulles International Airport told him, "you ought to expect that."

The incident angered Tabassum.

"Some of these people are going overboard," he said.

Some Tacoma-area Muslims, especially those of Arab descent, have refused to talk with reporters about life after Sept. 11.

Many are scared, said Tabassum, a member of the Islamic Center of Tacoma and the Fort Lewis Islamic Center.

Tabassum chose to confront problems related to Sept. 11.

"This is home. Whatever problems come, I will deal with them head-on," said Tabassum, who lives off the post in Tacoma and is a personnel sergeant with the 704th Military Police Battalion.

"The more you try to stand on the sidelines and let events control your life," he said, "the more you will become a victim."

Tabassum's wife, Rukhsana, also encountered problems after Sept. 11. She wasn't allowed to board a plane at Sea-Tac Airport in March with her 1-year-old son to travel to her native Pakistan.

A ticket agent said she couldn't have a boarding pass because she hadn't cleared a security screening, even though her luggage already had been checked.

She had to return three days later for another flight and then she passed quickly through security.

While the Tabassums have encountered troubles on civilian turf, Muslims in the military generally have not encountered problems on their post since Sept. 11, said Tabassum and Muslim Chaplain James Yee.

A few of the 90 Muslim soldiers at Fort Lewis were the objects of insensitive remarks from other soldiers, Yee said. After Sept. 11, one soldier asked a Muslim soldier how a Muslim could serve in the U.S. military, he said.

The disciplines of military life - including respect for religious and ethnic diversity - have prevented such incidents from mushrooming, Yee and Tabassum said.

"The soldiers are fully aware if they do anything blatant, they're going to be punished," said Yee, 34, one of eight Muslim chaplains in the Army.

Outside the military, life hasn't become more difficult for Rasheedah Shahdid, a Muslim who works in Tacoma and lives in Federal Way.

She knows other Muslims who attend the mosque in North Seattle that was vandalized with graffiti after Sept. 11.

"But for me, everything's been fine," Shahdid said.

Shahdid, 69, owns and operates Rasheedah's Closet, a clothing store adjacent to her mosque, Mas'alah Muslim Center at 1218 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Shahdid plans to attend the mosque's open house at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 11 to commemorate those killed in the terrorist attacks.

Prayers will be said and a short talk given during the public event. Tacoma-area firefighters and police will be honored for their work.

Shahdid said she was very sad and upset about what happened a year ago.

"Our teaching is not about going around and destroying people's lives," she said.

Yee and Tabassum said the Sept. 11 attacks were evil and go against the basic tenets of Islam, which forbid the killing of innocent civilians.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 also spawned something positive - an intense interest in Islam, Yee and Tabassum said.

Yee has given more than 30 lectures since Sept. 11 to various battalions and the chapel youth group. He has taught more about the basic beliefs of Islam than at any time during his 11 years as a Muslim, he said.

"What happened on Sept. 11 helped us to be able to inform others about Islam," Yee said. "It caused an enormous interest in the American public to want to know more about this religion called Islam."

Tabassum said Sept. 11 destroyed innocent lives and changed the lives of millions of American Muslims.

"Let's hope it doesn't happen again," he said.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647