OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Whenever Laeeq Azmat hears about an attack, he hopes it doesn’t involve a Muslim.
“If something else happens and there is somebody else involved, it is just terrorism," he said. "But if a Muslim is involved, it becomes the whole Muslim community is blamed for that."
Azmat and fellow members of the Islamic Center of the Northland in Kansas City, Missouri, (where Azmat serves as board secretary) felt that blame in the years following Sept. 11, 2001.
“People told me, they open their windows [and told me], ‘Go back to your home country, what are you doing here? You’re a terrorist,’ ” said Azmat, who is a general practice doctor in Cameron. “One of my patients came to my office and she wanted nurses to be present in the room while I talked to her. She was a new patient at our clinic. She was concerned I may do something to her and that meant she wanted somebody else to be present. So people generally have fear.”
Azmat said his stories of profiling are not unique. Whenever he flies commercial, he and his family take special care not to raise suspicions.
“You try to remain quiet, don’t want to say a lot of things because people may take the wrong meaning of that," he said. "If you’re talking in your own language, your mother tongue, people will take wrong meaning of that. All the time you’re worried about these things."
Azmat, who originally is from Pakistan, said he has accepted that a degree of Islamophobia will always exist, but his children and others in Generation Z have a harder time accepting.
“It’s hard to explain [to] them [younger generation] that you will be considered differently if you are a South Asian Muslim person," ,” Azmat said. "People can behave differently to you."
He would like non-Muslims to know the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace-loving and hard-working. He said there are a few who use violence to spread their message – a strategy the majority of Muslims disagree with.
“Just do not look at the visuals and associate all terrorism with all Muslims," Azmat said. "Whoever is a terrorist is a criminal and should be dealt [with] accordingly."
In 2016, while the Islamic Center of the Northland was under construction, its members discovered remnants of a small fire, which investigators treated as a possible arson. Now between 300 and 400 families use the center for daily prayer, religious services, community gatherings and Sunday school.
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Azmat said he doesn't expect Islamophobia to get worse, but he is hopeful for a brighter future.
“I think the hope is all people are treated equally, without a consideration of their religion, race or color," he said. "That’s the hope. That will be the strength of this country where everyone gets an equal opportunity."