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"It is something we never see at home," says Zaidi, of India. "They want to kill each other everywhere except in the USA."
For years, Sunnis and Shiites in this country have worked together to build mosques, support charities, register voters and hold massive feasts for Eid al-Fitr (on Oct. 13 this year in the USA), the celebration at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Now there are small signs of tension emerging in America's Muslim community that are raising concerns among many of its leaders. They worry that the bitter divisions that have caused so much bloodshed abroad are beginning to have an impact here. Such concerns are rising at a time when the USA's Muslim community has grown from less than 1 million in 1990 to nearly 2.5 million today, with two of three Muslims born overseas, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
"You have people who recently arrived from other places where things may have gotten out of hand," says Sheik Hamza Yusuf, the U.S.-born co-founder of the nation's first Muslim seminary, the Zaytuna Institute, in Berkeley, Calif. "It takes just one deranged person with a cousin back home who died in a suicide bombing to create trouble here."
Several recent incidents pointing to rising tension among Sunnis and Shiites here have led Muslim leaders to call on their followers to reach out to those in other sects. None of the incidents has been violent. But Yusuf and other leaders worry that these could be signs of increasingly cool relations between Sunnis and Shiites here or undermine other Americans' views of a religion that has been under particular scrutiny since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Among the incidents:
•Shiite mosques and businesses in the Detroit area were vandalized in January, and a Shiite restaurant owner said he'd received a threatening call mentioning his sect.
Authorities have yet to identify the vandals. But some Shiite Muslims told local news media they believe Sunnis were behind the broken windows and graffiti because Shiites had celebrated publicly when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was executed in December by Iraq's Shiite-led government.
•On several Muslim websites in recent months, Sunnis and Shiites from Seattle to Manhattan have traded accusations that they have been rebuffed from worshiping at each other's mosques.
Meanwhile, a small Sunni group known as the Islamic Thinkers Society, which has branded Shiites as heretics and is known for distributing provocative leaflets in New York's Times Square, has gone online to urge its followers to "avoid" contact with a range of Islamic studies scholars and theologians, several at U.S. colleges.
•Muslim Student Associations on a few campuses, such as Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and the University of Michigan at Dearborn, have disagreed so vehemently over which sect could lead prayers that students sometimes have refused to pray together.