Image: Two men in Mumbai
David Guttenfelder  /  AP
Two men wait to cross a busy street in front of a mosque in a Muslim neighborhood of Mumbai, India, on Dec. 3.
updated 12/8/2008 6:44:46 PM ET 2008-12-08T23:44:46

The cleric stood before dozens of bearded men who had gathered on a crowded Mumbai street corner to honor the 171 people killed by Islamic militants.

"Many innocents were killed by these terrorists," said Ibrahim Tani, president of the Muslim Council of India. "Those who were martyred are our family."

The men raised their fists in the air and cried out: "Long live mother India!"

The speech was part of an aggressive campaign by Mumbai's Muslims to show their solidarity with India's Hindu majority in the wake of last month's attacks.

Muslim groups have held community meetings and peace marches, brought tea and cookies to hospitalized victims, and organized blood drives. Leaders have asked people to tone down festivities for the Muslim holiday of Eid, and the city's largest Muslim graveyard refused to bury the nine slain gunmen.

But behind these efforts at unity lie fear and suspicion. Reactions to the attack show that despite the talk of all Indians standing together against a common enemy, in many ways the Hindu and Muslim communities remain ill at ease and view the world differently.

Mutual distrust
While thousands of protesters called last week for war with Pakistan, Muslims on the streets near the Minara mosque said they weren't convinced by Indian government claims that Pakistan-based militants were responsible for the attacks.

Here, in the narrow alleys of Mumbai's Muslim's neighborhoods, the fear is that the mutual distrust could explode in bloody attacks by Hindu mobs, as it has in the past.

Even as Tani called for unity, he warned his street-corner disciples of the possibility of a backlash by Hindu radicals. "It might be our turn to die tomorrow," he told them. "There are some Hindus who call Muslims 'Pakistanis.'"

Although Muslims say relations with the police have improved since the early 1990s, when some police joined mobs on anti-Muslim rampages, the trust is fragile. Some say they still don't feel protected by local authorities.

There have been few signs so far of a backlash against India's 150 million Muslims in these early days of collective grief and rage at a government many feel failed to protect them from a foreign enemy. But many Muslims worry the peace may not hold.

Video: Reports: Mumbai terror leader captured "For now, everyone is united," said Sarfaraz Arzu, editor of the Hindustan Daily, an Urdu-language paper read largely by the Muslim community.

But, he added, "You cannot say this is a permanent change. Things might get out of hand if there is a minor trigger."

A history of tension
India has a history of Hindu-Muslim tensions that at times erupt into violence. Mumbai itself was the scene of riots in 1992-93 that claimed at least 900 lives.

Soon after, a terrorist attack in Mumbai killed more than 250 people — an attack the government says was masterminded by Muslim gangster Dawood Ibrahim. He was one of 20 suspects that India asked Pakistan to hand over last week. Pakistan denies that Ibrahim is in its country.

More recently, Hindu mobs killed 1,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002 after Muslims were accused of burning a train car full of Hindus. Who set the train on fire has never been established.

"Whatever happens in India, everyone is pointing at Muslims," said Parvez Khan, who runs a shoe shop on Muhammad Ali Road, a heavily Muslim neighborhood in Mumbai. "Even if Mother Nature does anything, we are blamed. So far, everyone is blaming Pakistani Muslims, not Indian Muslims."

He fears that distinction could easily blur. "When you go to sleep and get up the next day, it's always a new thing," he said.

World in chaos
A few doors down is a bakery where police gunned down five Muslim workers in the 1992-93 riots.

"Times are bad. The whole world is in chaos now," said a man sitting at a table outside, drinking sweet milky coffee. He would not give his name for fear of stoking tensions. "We really want peace and harmony now. You pray for that," he said.

So far, right-wing Hindu groups, which have targeted Muslims and other minorities in the past, have directed their ire abroad over the attacks.

"Pakistan is responsible, definitely. Internal security we are not concerned about at all," said Shishir Shinde, a spokesman for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, an offshoot of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu fundamentalist group.

Neelam Gorhe, a spokeswoman for the Shiv Sena, said India's own Muslims were victims of the terror attacks. "There is going to be a united reaction to the terrorists," she said. "People who died were also Muslim. Why should there be a reaction against Muslims?"

Terrorism and religion
The government's early fingering of Pakistanis as the likely culprits has helped take the heat off India's Muslims, said Arzu, the newspaper editor.

"Had there been some confusion as far as the identity was concerned, things might have been different," he said.

Arzu added that he has seen a list of the dead and about a quarter were Muslims.

Across from him sat Sayyed Mazhar, his left hand bound in a bright blue cast. Mazhar said he was shot outside Mumbai's main train station on the first night of the attack. His friend, he said, was shot in the thigh. He held up a wad of bloodied 100 rupee notes with a bullet hole at the center pulled from his friend's pocket.

"The anguish is ours, too," Arzu said.

A few miles to the south, thousands of protesters thronged outside the burned-out Taj Mahal hotel, setting up candlelight shrines and calling angrily for political change and war with Pakistan.

One man held a sign that read: "Terrorism doesn't have a religion ... Or does it?"

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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