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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Islamic society wary of backlash
President Bush with Muslim leaders
President Bush met muslim leaders after the attacks

A gathering of the largest Muslim organisation in the United States opened in Washington with a prayer for the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington last year.

It is the Islamic Society of North America's annual convention, which this year was dedicated to examining the effect of the September attacks on their religion.

It is a poignant moment for America's Muslims.

It is the first time their annual convention was held in the US capital and came just before the anniversary of the suicide attacks last September.

Ghadija Abdullah, a young Muslim from Los Angeles, offered a tribute to the victims.

"So we ask you God to answer our prayer for all those who died in the horrific events of last year. We are grateful that they once were part of our lives. We thank you for the happiness and joy that they brought to this world."

Shaken by intrusion

The past year has seen Islam put on trial in America.

Some suggested that the religion itself had been hijacked by violent fundamentalists.

But Dr Sayyid Syeed, the Islamic Society's secretary-general, says true Muslims distinguished themselves from the hijackers from the first moment.

"From day one, 11 September, we have disassociated ourselves from that barbarious action, and we have gone all the way in expressing that Islam does not represent that kind of extremism."

We have disassociated ourselves from that barbarious action

Dr Sayyid Syeed on 11 Sept attacks

The Islamic Society of North America is a grouping of Muslim organisations working in politics, social services and education.

During the conference those who came to Washington discussed the impact of 11 September on Islam.

Many have been shaken by intrusions into their lives - raids on their mosques and Islamic charities by the FBI as it seeks to uncover any links to terrorists.

Individual sessions at the convention considered the threat to their civil liberties and tried to answer troubling questions about Muslim integration in American society.

Strength in numbers

Sadef Kahn travelled from California to show solidarity.

"There's definitely strength in numbers, so I think people need to feel that there is a sense of community within the United States, and they also need to build a culture of their own within the United States so Americans can see that Muslims are staying here and are a part of the culture, like every other American," he explained.

But the meeting also covered other aspects of Muslim life in the US.

There was a sessions on health care, schooling, and employment. It also considered political strategy for November's mid-term elections, as Muslims seek to gain a louder voice in government.

For many, although last year's attacks threatened to demonise Islam, they also brought a new and positive questioning of what it means to be Muslim, a questioning which they hope will leave their faith stronger in the future.

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