Like so many others this week, local imams have been praying since Monday’s bombings.
They’ve been praying for the victims. They’ve been praying that the fanatic who did this is caught quickly and brought to justice.
And they’ve been praying for something more: Whoever it is, please don’t let him be a Muslim.
“What will happen to us if they arrest someone and that someone turns out to be a Muslim?” Imam Talal Eid, a chaplain at Brandeis University, said Wednesday.
He recalls the backlash that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers being afraid to send his children to school for a few days afterward, and the way some began to view all Muslims with suspicion, even hostility. A few fringe-dwellers even spoke of internment camps like those that held Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
The country has changed since 2001, Eid said. People know more about American Muslims now, are less afraid of them, less likely to make the many pay for the sins of the unhinged few. But we have a long way to go.
“I am still worried,” he said. “We are still labeled. Muslims may be out of the red zone, but we are still in the yellow zone, not the green zone.”
If the terrorist turns out to be a disaffected survivalist, a white supremacist, or some other flavor of domestic extremist, he will stand in a courtroom alone, with only infamy for company. If he is a Muslim, thousands will be called upon to answer, by association and stereotype, for his actions.
Leaders in the community will then go right into what Ibrahim Rahim, imam at the Yusuf Mosque in Brighton, calls “apologist mode.”
The attack fills him with immense grief, said Rahim, who leads a largely Arab-American congregation of several hundred. Born in New York, he has lived in Boston since he was 12, and he feels this attack as viscerally as any native. But all week, his grief has been bound with dread.
“As you process it, you think, ‘Oh boy, this looks like something from overseas, that might be affiliated to Islam, and here we go with that again,’ ” he said.
Preparing for that possibility, Rahim has been strategizing for days with another imam, William Suhaib Webb at the 1,000-member Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury.
“We have to figure out a narrative,” Rahim said. “We’re talking about a unity service on Friday if it turns out to be what we hope it isn’t.” He and other imams will make it clear that anyone who takes a life has no right to call himself a Muslim, that whatever brand of Islam extremists may practice, it has nothing to do with the faith lived out by their congregations.
“We do so much interfaith work, we apologize so often for many of the things that do not reflect Islam,” he said.
Still, both imams know, all the work they have put into building bridges to the wider community will be threatened.
But the past few days have made Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston, more optimistic that those bridges are strong enough to withstand an onslaught.
“I’m proud to be a Bostonian,” he said. “The way our community has bonded together has been an amazing feeling inside this tragedy.”
As he spoke, three Boston police cruisers and one state trooper sat outside the mosque, just in case. Since Monday, he has heard from officials at two local temples offering support: “It may be hard being a Muslim in Boston this week,” one e-mail read. “If there is anything we can do, from one congregation to another, please let me know.” A longtime Mission Hill resident, worried about a possible backlash, offered to gather neighbors who could escort Muslim women to the grocery store.
“This is what Boston is about, right?” Vali said.
Yes, that is what we are, or try to be.
But please, let’s not put it to the test. Again.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.