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MUSLIM WOMEN TRY TO EXPLAIN CHANGED WORLD TO CHILDREN

Ibtisam Taher didn't know how she would explain the events of Sept. 11 to her two young children.

The world was -- and remains -- in shock. And that some of the terrorists were Muslims has cast suspicion on Islam, a religion that is practiced by more than a billion people worldwide. In Western New York, there are an estimated 10,000 Muslims, who work, raise their families and contribute to this community.

In my last column, I told the story of several women who are part of the Muslim community in Erie County. These 10 women represent diversity within their own ranks in shades, dress, backgrounds and careers. Some were meeting for the first time in the Getzville home of Yasmin Dara.

Besides their faith, these women share a love and loyalty to the United States, their country. Unfortunately, they also share the common task of having to explain to their children the prejudice they face in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the accusations by some unwitting people in this country that all Muslims are terrorists.

"Personally, I was absolutely horrified and devastated," Taher, an Amherst resident, said of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. She was concerned about friends in New York City, the impact on the country and the impact on her children. "What questions are they going to have when they get home from school?"

Taher's 8-year-old son showed signs of stress on the day of the attacks. His first question was, "Mom, are they (the terrorists) going to come here next?" Taher asked him what he knew and he started talking about a 10-foot man who had mixed chemicals and forced people to fly planes into the World Trade Center. Taher explained what had really happened, but her son still didn't understand. So she turned on the television set and they watched the news reports together.

Her 6-year-old daughter asked if there were parents in the towers. Taher answered yes. "That's really sad, Mom," her daughter said. "Yes, it is," Taher answered. "I'm really glad you weren't in New York today, Mom." All Taher could say was, "Me, too."

The news report continued and her son kept watching. The face of prime suspect Osama bin Laden flashed across the screen, along with the words, "Islamic militant: Osama bin Laden."

Said Taher of her son's reaction: "He was horrified. . . . He looked at me and said, " 'Mom, they think a Muslim did that? We don't do that. Muslims don't do that.' "

Shortly after hearing the news, Yasmin Dara, president of the Williamsville PTA Council, phoned her children and then talked with the principal to find out how school officials were reacting. The principal assured her there were no problems.

She also wondered how she would help her children, a fifth-grader, seventh-grader and 3-year-old, cope with the terrifying news. She knew her oldest son had already discussed the attacks in his social studies class. But she also knew the accusations against Muslims would arise.

"How are we supposed to tell them, suddenly something changed for them? They're not American as they were seen before Sept. 11. Where are they going to go? This is their home," Dara said.

As PTA Council president, Dara and the Williamsville school superintendent sent a letter to the homes of the 7,000 children in the district, asking that parents reinforce the climate of tolerance for diversity that the district works to create. Fortunately, the Williamsville district, along with others in this area, has had few problems.

For Farah Malik's family, the repercussions from the terrorist attacks hit close to home. The Williamsville resident recounted a phone call from her 23-year-old son, who works at a corporate office in Washington, D.C.

"He said, 'I hope it's not someone calling himself a Muslim,' " Malik said, remembering her son's depression those first few days.

Then he called, again, to say he felt uncomfortable at his place of employment. "I feel that everybody's looking at me," the son of Pakistani parents said.

Malik realizes the importance of talking to their children and maintaining their self-esteem.

The terrorist attacks damaged this nation to the core, and those scars are not easily healed.

e-mail dbracely@buffnews.com