Image: New York rally
Mary Altaffer  /  AP
Demonstrators hold up signs during a news conference on the step of New York's City Hall on Wednesday.
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updated 9/4/2010 6:21:49 PM ET 2010-09-04T22:21:49

American Muslims are boosting security at mosques, seeking help from leaders of other faiths and airing ads underscoring their loyalty to the United States — all ahead of a 9/11 anniversary they fear could bring more trouble for their communities.

Their goal is not only to protect Muslims, but also to prevent them from retaliating if provoked. One Sept. 11 protest in New York against the proposed Islamic center near ground zero is expected to feature Geert Wilders, the aggressively anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker. The same day in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran.

"We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don't want to create a hysteria," among Muslims, said Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. "Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It's just that there's a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion."

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On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America will hold a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington "to address the growing tide of fear and intolerance" in the furor over the planned New York mosque.

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Islamic centers in many cities are intensifying surveillance and keeping closer contact with law enforcement. Adding to Muslim concern is a fluke of the lunar calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a joyous holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will fall around Sept. 11 this year. Muslim leaders fear festivities could be misinterpreted as celebrating the 2001 terror strikes.

"We're telling everyone to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious to authorities and call us," said Ramzy Kilic of the Tampa, Fla., chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Other efforts around 9/11 aim to fight bigotry. Muslims will clean parks, feed the homeless, and give toys to sick children as part of Muslim Serve, a national campaign to demonstrate Islamic commitment to serving humanity.

Separately, groups are distributing ads to combat persistent suspicions about Islam. One spot, called "My Faith, My Voice," features American Muslims saying, "I don't want to take over this country."

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Sept. 11 anniversaries have always been challenging for U.S. Muslims, who have been under scrutiny since the attacks. This year, the commemoration follows a stunning summer in which opposition to a planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site escalated into a national uproar over Islam, extremism and religious freedom.

Islamic centers as far away as Tennessee and California faced protests and vandalism. In western New York, police said a group of teenagers recently yelled obscenities, set off a car alarm and fired a shotgun during two nights of drive-by harassment at a small-town mosque near Lake Ontario.

Usama Shami, board chairman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said a new mosque the congregation has been building for years drew little attention until recently, when some resistance emerged in the neighborhood and from some in city government. Recently, vandals broke into the new building, spilled paint on the floor and broke expensive windows.

Shami believes the ground zero dispute is partly to blame for the trouble, along with passions unleashed by Arizona's strict new law that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

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"All of these issues came at the same time," Shami said. "When things like that happen, I think they bring out the worst in some people."

On Sept. 11 in Chicago, Zeenat Rahman, a 34-year-old native of the city, will visit a local nursing home with Muslim and non-Muslim friends to spend time with residents and help serve a meal.

"This is when people are going to look at our community, and when they do, what are they going to see?" said Rahman, a policy director for the Interfaith Youth Core, which promotes pluralism. "Sometimes, saying 'Islam means peace,' feels a little defensive and apologetic, whereas service is really core to our faith."

Unity Productions Foundation, a Washington-area group that specializes in films about Islam and Muslim Americans, will hold an interfaith talk on Sept. 11 at the Washington Jewish Community Center.

Speakers include Monem Salam, the subject of a Unity Productions film titled, "On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly." Unity recently launched groundzerodialogue.org, where visitors can view films and use them for community discussion about Islam in the U.S.

Salam, 38, of Bellingham, Wash., usually spends the Eid weekend with his wife and three young children, but said he persuaded his wife he had to participate in the event.

"I have to leave them and go across the country to answer questions about Islam," said Salam, a portfolio manager who was 4 years old when his family left Pakistan for the U.S. "It's unfortunate. It's the time that we live in."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Who’s behind the anti-Muslim movement?

  1. Closed captioning of: Who’s behind the anti-Muslim movement?

    >> back to hardball. another anti-muslim incident they have occurred over the weekend. they're invest gaigating a suspicious fire. they're calling for an end to heated anti-islamic rhetoric coming from the right. after 9/11 bush was quick to condemn any muslim backlash. where are they today? isham fante is chairman of planning committee for the mosque being built in tennessee. i want to ask mr. fofrey that question. what do you think happened to your mosque? construction of the site.

    >> we were told by the fire department there was a fire on the site. it was very early in the morning . we wept there about 5:00 in the morning. the fire was already put out. it was still a little dark. we shined our vehicles towards the equipment and on the sides we could see the fire. i mean, we could see the burning. one of the, like an earth mover or something like that. one of the big equipments that have set on fire.

    >> where are most of your con congregation from? south asia ? give me a sense of the community.

    >> we have people from the middle east . we have americans. we have african-americans. we have from the far and near east . muslims are from everywhere.

    >> oh, i know that, sure. i just wondered if there was a particular background. did you get any warning that there was trouble coming to indicate this may have been foul play? you're not sure yet, are you?

    >> no, but the detective that came said this was definitely an arson.

    >> the detective told you that. you're breaking news here for us. can you trace it to anybody who has given you a warning or threat?

    >> no, we did not have a direct threat. but a lot of people were opposing what we were doing in the community.

    >> characterize them, sir. political people? partisan people?

    >> both. we had some people that actually were political people running for offices. and we have people that are from -- just people in the borough.

    >> i want mark to respond to this. it used to be the haters were haters, and that's who they were. now there's a partisan piece to this. watch now president bush after 9/11, just six days after the tragedy calling on the country not to be anti-islamic. then catch newt gingrich 's act a couple weeks ago. there's a real seat change in the way republican leaders are talking and how they now seem to be exploiting the situation to the detriment of what we call america. here he is. both of them speaking. the president and then gingrich.

    >> the face of terror is not the true faith of islam . that's not what islam is all about. islam is peace. muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. and they need to be treated with respect.

    >> nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in washington. we would never accept the japanese putting up a site next to pearl harbor . there's no reason for us to accept a mosque near the world trade senter.

    >> there you have it. he is saying islam attacked us on 9/11. he's making a very identical remark. he's saying it's the same thing. islam did not attack on 9/11. al qaeda did. but your thoughts on this tricky issue zm.

    >> that's what's going on. it really do. there's more. there's a group out there called the national prm trust political action committee . which dries the islamic center . i think what is going on is republicans don't know how they're going to pull their party together and apparently are willing to throw caution to the winds, all responsibility to the winds and make these kinds of incredible statements. comparing muslims to nazis and so on. it hasn't slow slowed down a bit. the majority leader finally came out and said something about the tone of the debate.

    >> doctor, what's the reaction of your congregation to the seat change in partisan ship. our president was a republican and he was speaking about against this tribalism. gingrich is a smart guy , thinks there's money in this politically, and he's out trashing islam .

    >> the congregation is appalled. they are in shock that sot distinguished and very significant politicians say what we hear. iz he's talking about 1.5 billion people in the world that are muslims and with christians and jews all over. it sounds like a new movement happening in the united states recently. because it is everywhere that we can see. although muslims were hurt so badly. when they say muslims did this and, of course, it was al qaeda . it was hurting muslims more than anyone else we only saw this when making an expansion for our islamic center .

    >> it's not the first time that smart people don't know how to exploit stupid people . here's rick lazio trying to save his campaign for governor of new yo york.

    >> new yorkers have been through enough. now a terrorist wants to build a 100 $million mosque near ground zero . where is this money coming from? who is really behind it? andrew cuomo defends it even though he said america was an accessory to 9/11. thank you, mark potok. thank you mr. fathi. you are an american. you know what we're going into. a bad situation made worse by politicians.

    >> i dough appreciate you having me here to say a few words.

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