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Tragedy sickens Muslims

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MIDVALE — A prayer rug rests in the corner of Crescent Auto Sales, below a beautiful plaque written in Arabic, asking God for protection.

Five times a day, Shiekh Ahmed and his son, Avais, go to the rug and kneel toward Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Lately, their prayers have been full of tears — for those who died in terrorist attacks on the United States last week and for the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Originally from Pakistan, Shiekh, 50, and Avais, 18, are now American citizens who have lived in Kaysville for 14 years. It hasn't been easy, being the only Pakistani family in town. There are second looks from others wondering about their heritage, and the Ahmed family has had to work twice as hard as their neighbors, says Shiekh, "to make a place for ourselves."

"We are good citizens; we are as torn as anybody over this tragedy," says Shiekh, a small and soft-spoken man with lively dark eyes.

"But now, I am so worried that I hurt all over. I feel as though we don't have any ground — that the ground doesn't belong to us. I hope people will understand that we are Americans, too."

Eager to share their love for their new country and their concern for the victims of last week's violent acts, Shiekh and Avais invited me to join them for a Free Lunch of fresh fruit at their used-car dealership in Midvale.

Slicing a mango, Shiekh pauses to find the right words when asked what it is like to be Muslim at such a tense time.

"I wish somebody would mention the good things about Islam," he says, "because we have nothing in common with the people who committed this cruelty. Violence is not the teaching of (Islam's prophet) Mohammed."

"People think Islam is a weird religion — that it's totally out there," adds Avais, a University of Utah student who was the only Muslim when he attended Davis High School. "They don't know the whole story. We don't take drugs, we don't drink alcohol. We believe in helping others and valuing our families."

Just like Utah's predominant religion, says his father.

"I have raised my children to be good human beings, to be hardworking and honest," says Shiekh, who built a mosque in his basement so other Davis County Muslims would have a place to worship. "We have attended the vigils (for terrorism victims), we have experienced the sadness. It sickens our hearts."

Toward the end of our get-together, a friend of the Ahmeds' stops by to say hello and catch up on the latest news from New York. A Kurd who fled the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Mahdi Jaff knows a thing or two about persecution.

"I have seen so many bad things — I only want a quiet life now," he says. Like the Ahmeds, he left his homeland "because I was tired of the unrest and violence."

"Those people you see celebrating in the streets on TV do not represent what we are about," says Mahdi. "When Timothy McVeigh did the Oklahoma City bombing, were fingers pointed at all Caucasians? Why is it different for us?"

During this time of crisis, Shiekh finds comfort in the teachings of Mohammed. "There was a lady who used to throw garbage on Mohammed when he was praying," he says. "One day, she didn't come with the garbage, so Mohammed went to find out why. Was she sick? Did she need help?"

That is the true focus of Islam, he says. "We are simply people," says Shiekh. "We want the same thing as you do. We want to live in peace."

Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 801-466-2851. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.