Siraji Omar was at a local grocery store, trying to read the ingredient labels on yogurt. He asked a store clerk if any contained pork, something his religion forbids him to eat.
Instead the clerk asked him the question: Are you Muslim?
Omar, who speaks in a thick Somalian accent, told him yes. The man took a few steps back, then, according to Omar, began a tirade: "Muslims are bad people. Muslims are terrorists. They are killers. They are evil people and I don't believe in your religion or your faith."
Omar was stunned.
The 37-year-old refugee from Somalia is a father of four and a U.S. citizen. He's lived in this country for 15 years, works as a janitor at a Kansas City elementary school, and is a regular customer at the grocery.
Still, he understood the man's feelings toward Muslims. It was everywhere after 9/11.
But now, many area Muslims fear that anti-Islam attitudes have reignited with the controversy over building a mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York City.
The national debate over the mosque, a 13-story, $100 million project, was heightened when President Barack Obama said that those wanting to build the Islamic center and mosque have the constitutional right to religious freedom.
Later, he clarified that he was talking only about the right to build the center and not the "wisdom" of doing so close to ground zero. On Wednesday — as the political rhetoric intensified — the president wasn't backing down, firmly stating he had "no regrets" about stepping into the firestorm over religious rights.
Anti-Muslim feelings are running strong again in America, with some critics equating Islamic extremists with the Muslim religion. Others oppose building the mosque so close to what they consider the World Trade Center's hallowed ground.
A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll found that nearly 70 percent opposed the mosque plan, while only 29 percent approved. And a new Gallup poll Wednesday found more Americans disapprove (37 percent) than approve (20 percent) of Obama's recent comments, though four in 10 do not have an opinion. The poll also found Republicans seem to be paying closer attention to the matter than Democrats or independents.
To Muslims who live thousands of miles from ground zero, the national arguments feel as if their very religious beliefs are under attack.
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