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Saturday, 31 August, 2002, 00:31 GMT 01:31 UK
US Muslims rally in Washington
Participants in the inaugural session of the rally
Up to 30,000 people are expected to attend the event
The largest annual gathering of American Muslims has opened with prayers for the victims of 11 September and for Muslims who suffered harassment in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington.


People need to feel a sense of community with in the US and yet also build a culture of their own

Attendee Sadef Kahn
Up to 30,000 people are expected to attend the four-day convention of the Islamic Society of North America taking place in Washington.

The society's President, Muhammad Nur Abdullah, said in his opening address that US Muslims also wanted justice for the attacks.

"This is our country, [as] American Muslims, we care for the betterment of this country and for every human being," he said.

Terror impact

The 2001 terror attacks have been blamed on Muslim extremists, and their impact on civil liberties, Islam and political life in the United States will feature high on the agenda.

Khurshid Ali from Atlanta, Georgia, recites a prayer from the Koran
There are between two and six million Muslims in the US

The society's Secretary General, Sayyid Syeed, said that as American Muslims, their destiny was linked to all other American citizens.

"We want this country to have peace," he said.

"Our job here is to discuss how we can achieve that kind of positive role in mainstream America."

He also said that his organisation had worked hard to stress the difference between conventional Islam and its extreme forms.

"From day one of 11 September,we have disassociated from that barbarous action and we have gone all the way to express that Islam does not represent that kind of extremism," he said.

Changing minds

Estimates suggest there are between two million and six million Muslims in the US.

Over the past year, many have endured some of their most difficult moments.

There have been government raids on their charities and mosques, as federal agents work to uncover any links to terrorism.

Despite efforts to prevent the demonisation of their religion, the attacks inevitably changed some perceptions, says the BBC's Alex Van Wel in Washington.

Sadef Kahn had travelled from California to attend the meeting, and said that the event was important for building a Muslim culture in the US that was both distinctive and yet integrated.

"There's definitely strength in numbers...people need to feel a sense of community within the US and yet also build a culture of their own," she said.

"[This way] the US can see that Muslims are staying here and are a part of the culture just like everyone else."

Reaching out

For a period, many Muslims felt personally threatened and even now many find they have to defend accusations against Islam.

But some have also been encouraged by the many Americans who have visited mosques and made other gestures of support.

It is hoped the convention, which is being held in the US capital for the first time, will also encourage US Muslims to reach out to other faiths and explore common ground.

The four-day convention will also offer other advice on a range of social and economic issues affecting Muslims in America such as health care, parenting, charter schools and investing.

The National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, a coalition of groups including the National Lawyers Guild and the American Muslim Council, is planning a rally at Freedom Plaza on Sunday.

It will end with a discussion of political strategy for Muslims in forthcoming elections.

See also:

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