Andrea Coleman had just sent her daughter off to her second day of school at Las Vegas' newly opened Omar Haikal Islamic Academy when she turned on the television that September morning and saw what had happened -- in New York City, at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., in a Pennsylvania field.
Nearly 10 years later, Coleman recalls her initial reaction: "Please don't let this be a terrorist attack."
Coleman's mother, back in Chicago, expressed another concern when she later called, advising her daughter to stop wearing her hijab, her head scarf, " 'so you don't attract attention.' "
Coleman refused. "I firmly believe what is going to happen is going to happen," she maintains. And by wearing her hijab, "people saw my conviction."
That same day, Samantha Haikal, then 11, was also at the new academy -- founded by her physician father and named in honor of her grandfather. She remembers the Metropolitan Police Department officers who came to the school "to make sure we were OK."
In the days that followed, "watching the news for the first time in my life, my perception was that I had never seen the word 'Muslim' so often," Haikal says. "I distinctly remember thinking, 'It's not going to be the same for us.' "
Not just for "those who lost family" in the attacks, she thought, but for those like herself who were used to "being a little bit different and under the radar."
That is, until Sept. 11, 2001, when "me and people like me were completely pushed under the bus," Haikal says of anti-Muslim sentiment she saw in the media. "It hurt to hear people say it was my fault."
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A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, it still hurts for members of Las Vegas' Muslim community. Beyond painful memories of the day's tragic events, many face equally painful memories of the hostile reactions those events provoked.
"One of the challenges is that Islam came to be known on a mass level" in the United States in conjunction with the Sept. 11 attacks, says Imam Aslam Abdullah, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. "That was the first exposure of the country to Islam. You have to explain -- even though they claim to be Muslim and they pray like us, they do not represent us."
Abdullah estimates between 12,000 and 15,000 Muslims currently live in Southern Nevada.
The terrorists also don't represent Imam Fateen Seifullah of Masjid as-Sabur in West Las Vegas, the oldest of Las Vegas' five mosques.
"When we found out the people who did it called themselves Muslims," Seifullah says, "we were hurt and disgusted that people would hijack the religion."
And they don't represent Masjid as-Sabur members George and Ugur Clare.
"It's important to us as Muslims to be part of the community," Ugur Clare says of their participation in interfaith activities with other Las Vegans who "share the same common values we do."
After all, "Islamophobia seems to be growing," she says. "We Muslims have a responsibility to show" what the religion truly represents and not "let the bad guys doing bad stuff" speak for them.
That's why she spends her time volunteering.
It's also why the mosque plans to reopen a community health clinic Oct. 1. And why Shah Muhammad was so busy after prayers on a Friday afternoon in August, organizing fellow volunteers to help transport about 250 sack lunches to the Salvation Army's nearby Owens Avenue homeless shelter.
It was still Ramadan, the highest of holy days, and everyone from the mosque was fasting until sundown, but the people at the homeless shelter would be very grateful for the food prepared by "the Muslim sisters," he said.
Such efforts underline the connection between members of Las Vegas' Islamic community and their Southern Nevada neighbors.
Haikal, now a UNLV senior planning to follow in her father's footsteps as a doctor, says she gets questions about her religion, but has not been targeted directly by derogatory comments.
Las Vegas seems a relatively tolerant place, "because it's new, because it's transient," she says. "You build your own life on top of any religious community." That made it easy for her to develop close friendships with peers from all backgrounds; among her closest childhood friends, she notes, was a local rabbi's son.
Oncologist Shamoon Ahmad, an Islamic Center trustee and treasurer of the Interfaith Council of Las Vegas, says he thinks people here live in more harmony: "I think people in Las Vegas are less introverted. They choose to know about other people."
When it comes to some mosque members, that's because they're related to them.
When Seifullah was growing up in Compton, Calif., "everybody thought I was the next preacher in the family." He was, just not in the Southern Baptist church his relatives attended.
"What drew me to Islam was the camaraderie," Seifullah says. "I was looking for something with a lot of structure and discipline. I needed that at the time. And five prayers a day -- it helped."
For convert George Clare, it was different.
"Islam teaches that everyone is born a Muslim, so in a sense, I've always been" a member of the faith, says the eastern Washington native.
"I decided way back when I was still gettin' out of high school that I didn't believe what Christians thought I should be believe," he explains. When he opted to convert formally to Islam, "everybody tried to talk me out of it."
Except, of course, for wife Ugur, a Turkish native, who was "happy to share the information" with George.
"It's God's will, whatever happened," she says. "I was just the messenger. Now I teach other new Muslims."
And when Coleman wears her hijab to work as an esthetician at the Encore hotel-casino -- and customers comment on it -- she welcomes it.
"It's an opportunity to have dialogue," she says. "I'm not offended by it."
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Living in a city built on gambling, greed and good times presents special challenges to observant Muslims.
"In a way, it's hard, with what I call the 'godlessness' of Las Vegas -- godlessness we're proud of, which is anathema to Muslims," says George Clare, who works for an engineering company. "On the other hand, there's a tremendous number of people who need the kind of help Muslims can give them."
Besides, says the Islamic Society's Abdullah, "I think Sin City is a cliché, because sins are everywhere."
The challenge for Muslim leaders like himself, he adds, "is to put together more than 85 ethnicities and cultures."
At the Islamic Society's communal, post-prayer potluck during last month's Ramadan observance, a rainbow of beaming faces illustrated his point, with members from throughout Africa, Asia -- and America -- breaking the fast together. Some wore skullcaps. Some wore baseball caps. Mothers and daughters sported matching hijabs.
Many members of the mosque "came from oppressive societies," Abdullah explains. "Now, in a free society, they can express what they want to express." Such diversity is part of Islam's appeal, Seifullah says.
The diversity, however, extends beyond ethnicity.
At recent Friday afternoon prayers, some members wore hospital scrubs and others wore janitorial service uniforms.
From physicians to the unemployed, from "a Ph.D to some who didn't finish school," Seifullah notes that his mosque is probably among Las Vegas' most diverse places.
"It's the U.N.," chimes in Ahmad Ade, the mosque's director of community development.
Seifullah says that while Las Vegas has been welcoming, in general, to the Muslim community, there remains a chill in the air when Sept. 11 rolls around.
"Certainly, since 9/11, more people have a broad awareness of Islam," says therapist John Abdullah Hassan, who attends Masjid as-Sabur. But the reason for that awareness "was horrific," he says, flinching at the memory of the terrorist attacks. "For all the work a lot of us have tried to do to establish a greater understanding, that was a devastating blow."
Egyptian-born Morad Baday, breaking the daily Ramadan fast with his Romanian-born wife Nina and 7-year-old daughter Laila at the Islamic Society, remembers what happened, not only in 2001 but just last year.
A salesman by profession, Baday has been working as a security guard. And on Sept. 11, 2010, somebody threw a rock at the offices he was guarding -- offices with "a lot of Muslim names" on the door, he notes. "I knew right away it was because (our) names are Muslim."
Still, he adds, "there are a lot of open-minded people" in Las Vegas.
Some of them live on their street, daughter Laila reminds him, where their neighbors include Cubans, Chinese and American families.
"Most of the people I know in Las Vegas are nice to me," Laila says. As for the ones who aren't, "I don't let that bother me."
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Not everyone shares Laila Baday's resilient perspective.
Some members of Masjid as-Sabur, originally from other countries, "returned to their homeland because of the strife," Seifullah says. "It was tough for them; they felt things had changed. It wasn't the same place."
In part, Abdullah says, that's because "certain political opportunists are trying to create a culture of fear," seeking "to dehumanize the people and create an enemy."
Or, as Hassan observes following Friday afternoon prayers at Masjid as-Sabur, "there's a segment of America that thinks -- and a larger segment of people who don't do any thinking."
They're the ones who see someone in a turban and react negatively -- even though "98 percent of the people who wear turbans are Sikhs," points out Dr. Upinder Singh, a member of Las Vegas' Sikh community. "I travel a lot, and every single time, without exception," Singh finds himself "randomly picked to have a screening" at the airport.
Tejiwant "Teji" Malik, a Sikh and Henderson gas station owner, has even more vivid memories of Sept. 11, 2001. Malik discovered a local radio talk-show host had "mentioned about me in a derogatory manner and gave my address, thinking in his mind that I was a Muslim terrorist."
He also remembers the customers who "came in running" to warn him about the radio broadcast.
Radio station officials ignored his demand for an apology, but Malik says he remains "thankful to many fellow Americans," including off-duty Henderson police officers who "offered to take my kids to school and stay there to make sure they were not harmed."
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Sept. 11 always has been a memorable day for Soheil Zolfonoon, a Persian classical musician who moved to Las Vegas in March. It's his birthday.
A decade ago on Sept. 11, he was in the Pacific Northwest, working with an immigration attorney to get his green card. The terrorist attacks shocked and scared him, but he missed his family back home in Iran, so he decided to mark his birthday by going to a local bar. When he heard his fellow patrons singing sad songs, Zolfonoon decided not to celebrate his birthday.
By Sept. 11 of last year, all that had changed, as his classmates at Indiana University proved by insisting they celebrate "because the past is past," he says. "Also I show my sympathy" by playing a "bittersweet" song.
He's unsure about this year's birthday.
But Zolfonoon, who's been playing Persian classic music since age 8, has found a link with his Iranian roots at the Persian Cultural Society, where dozens of Iranian transplants gather monthly to share music, poetry and other readings in their native Farsi.
The vast majority of attendees are not practicing Muslims, according to organizer Fred Bakhtiar, a retired engineer who moved to Las Vegas from Olathe, Kan.
"Even in Kansas, people are more conservative, but I have received nothing other than respect," Bakhtiar says. "If they had general questions, we educate them a little more about the background of Persia."
For Zolfonoon, "the people here, they've seen many people from different countries," he says. "They're very open-minded."
And keeping those minds open remains a goal of many Las Vegas Muslims.
Despite some of the post-Sept. 11 struggles he and his family have faced, "the more you know, and the more you know about people, the walls go away," observes Aman Ullah Naqshband, a 30-year Las Vegas resident and a slot supervisor at Circus Circus.
Among the many 10th-anniversary memorials in Southern Nevada for the Sept. 11 attacks is a 5:15 p.m. remembrance service Sunday at the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas' largest mosque. And a 6:30 p.m. interfaith program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is being sponsored by several organizations, including the Islamic Society and the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.
For Samantha Haikal, the young girl who 10 years ago worried that life for her and other Muslims would never be the same, Sept. 11 represents "a time to be solemn -- and a time to be thankful for what you're given."
Taking a break at the UNLV student union after buying books for her senior year as a biology major, the Las Vegas native muses: "I tell myself, we have progressed -- my life hasn't changed."
Still, she acknowledges that "when it gets close to that time of year, I know that there are things that will be said that are going to hurt me."
If only her fellow Americans would realize she is dealing with the same things they are, she says.
"I lost a mother to cancer. I'm a student aspiring to be a physician. At some point, I would like to meet Mr. Right. And my faith is what has made me a very active member of American society."
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.