Denver Lawyer Says Prejudice against Muslim Americans Has Grown
By Electa Draper
The more time that passes since the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the worse things seem to get between Muslim Americans and other Americans, says Asma Gull Hasan.
Hasan, 36, a Denver lawyer and author of "Red, White and Muslim: My Story of Belief," has always seen the lighter side of growing up in Pueblo, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and devout Muslims.
She laughingly recalls her role as the only Muslim in the class at St. John Neumann Catholic School. She enjoyed the attention when asked for "the Muslim perspective" on the Crusades and other subjects.
She was a little miffed she was never picked to play the Virgin Mary in the annual Christmas pageant, even though, she explained, Muslims do believe in the Virgin Mary.
She giggles when she talks about an irate nun sending her home for a day after she informed the class that Jesus, though "special," was not divine.
That lighter side of Muslim-American life is getting harder to find as the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks looms. Open bigotry has replaced the friendly curiosity or benign indifference she experienced during her youth.
The animosity toward the Koran, the Muslim sacred text, and places of worship stuns and saddens her. The latest blow is the backlash against Pakistanis after Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was found and killed there on May 1.
"If we're in a war on terror, then we want a moderate form of Islam to prevail," Hasan said. "We don't want moderate Muslims to find common ground with extremists."
Soon after events of Sept. 11, 2001, perpetrated by Islamic extremists, most of them Saudi Arabian, Hasan recalls Coloradans reaching out to reassure local Muslim communities.
Protective phase "changed"
Hasan remembers being moved by a local politician's pledge that local Muslims wouldn't be made targets or scapegoats in Colorado. She was touched when a group of Christians joined hands and made a prayer circle at a Denver mosque to help ward off any retaliatory vandalism.
"It seemed to me there was a protective phase," Hasan said. "That's changed."
Within a few years, US Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., proposed that this country respond to any future attacks by terrorists by bombing Mecca and other sites holy to all of the world's more than 1 billion Muslims.
It became acceptable for national leaders to argue against Muslims' freedom of religion and right to build mosques in certain places.
Asma Hasan's father, Malik Hasan, a neurologist who came to this country in the 1970s with $32 in his pocket, re-established his medical credentials here and then made a fortune in the health maintenance organization business. He was the founder of the Pueblo-based HMO QualMed. Asma is the chief legal officer for two software companies her father later founded.
Malik Hasan has been one of the Republican Party's elite national fundraisers. His wife, Seeme, and son Muhammad Ali Hasan, started "Muslims for Bush." In 2008, Ali Hasan ran for a state House seat in District 6 and lost.
When Ali Hasan considered a run for state treasurer in 2010, he told a public forum, he was asked by many potential voters how he would prove he wasn't a terrorist or terrorism supporter.
Asma Hasan had dated non-Muslim men, but came to realize, she said, that being Muslim in America affects so many aspects of life that it would be good to have a partner who understood.
She went online to meet the man who is now her fiancee, Tahir Ali, 37, a Muslim Canadian of Pakistani ancestry living in a Toronto suburb. They met in person in May 2008 and were engaged last August and plan to marry next month.
"There is so much pressure on Muslims right now, I want to be with another Muslim," Hasan said. "I want to have more Muslims. There is such comfort in our faith for us. And we rebound always."
Hasan said she was proud of her country when Navy SEALs killed bin Laden.
"The world should know there isn't a safe place for bad guys when the US is on watch," Hasan said. "I don't think we're bullies. We sent a message. Al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims than Americans. I think most (Muslims) feel the guy has made our lives miserable."
If she was hoping his death would bring some relief from tensions here, she was disappointed. The circumstances of his life there and questions about whether Pakistani officials were harboring him have caused only more resentment of her father's homeland.
"Many other terrorists have been caught by Pakistani officials. Pakistan has made huge sacrifices for us," Hasan said. "It's a country at somebody else's war."
It hasn't helped with her pre-wedding jitters. She frets wedding guests from Pakistan might be detained at airports.
"I really wanted to have a Pakistani dress like all the other women in the family," Hasan said.
Wedding attire not here yet
Her wedding attire, a beaded and embroidered hot-pink gharara — a tunic and full pants resembling a long skirt — is expected to arrive here from Pakistan this month. Hasan has arranged for two backups, just in case.
"My mom and I are getting a little panicky," she said.
When she interrogated the dressmaker's agent about the guaranteed latest arrival date of her gharara, he told her: "When Allah wills it," or "Inshallah." The American part of her fired back: "No, you-shall-ah."
Hasan, a creature of two cultures, has planned a multifaith, multicultural wedding featuring, among other things, both an iman and a feminist friend who is a Presbyterian pastor.
She also readies herself for the inevitable annual requests from Fox News and CNN for her to comment, as she has for 10 years, on the Muslim perspective on American life post-Sept. 11. "Every American's life changed on that day," she said. "Every Muslim American's life changed on that day. We've had to explain and justify our religion ever since." Courtesy The Denver Post