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As Long as We Remember...

September 23, 2011

Frederick Muslimsí Gentrification

Roy Meachum

An event at the local mosque reeked of unreality; it was staged on the 10th anniversary of 9/11’s slaughter of about 3,000 American Christians, Jews and Muslims. I assumed the event’s timing was in commemoration of that dreadful day. I could not have been more wrong.


It was the Islamic Society of Frederick proclaiming its gentrification; the leaders invited public officials to testify their acceptance to the middle upper class.


FBI Special Agent Gordon Johnson traveled over from the Baltimore office to remind the audience — needlessly — that on 9/11, the bureau switched from corralling criminals to looking for terrorists among Muslims, including Frederick’s. Then a city alderman, Frederick County Board of Commissioners President Blaine Young recounted the details of the steps directed by ex-Mayor Jim Grimes in order to keep local citizens safe, without mentioning Sunday’s hosts. Roscoe Bartlett’s chief of staff, Bud Otis, divulged how his boss decided to defy odds and bravely allow a Muslim surgeon to operate on the congressman’s body.


Praised three separate times for donating some $100,000 in medical supplies – paid for by public and private donations – to flooded Pakistan, Frederick Memorial Hospital president Thomas Kleinhanzl performed the equivalent of Huckleberry Finn’s sticking his toe in the dirt and murmuring, “Gee, you guys shouldn’t have.” Joining him separately, FMH’s vice president for ambulatory services, Don Schilling, came on the program as president of the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs — to emphasize the evening’s medical theme.


Considering American feminists’ hostility toward Islam, most of the introductions were handled by a Muslim woman whose identity was briefly mentioned. I asked who she was; I was informed “Karen.” Her name did not appear on the printed itinerary, but she was obviously born in this country to European parents, probably Christian.


Also not published in print was Khalil as-Shazly’s name; he read briefly on a subject that meant absolutely nothing — “mafish” in the Arabic of his native Egypt. His only favorable reference came from Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine who arrived the summer following 9/11, appointed by ex-Mayor Jennifer Dougherty. All during the event, the longtime Islamic Society president maintained the level of the public address system and adjusted the microphone, when needed. Dr. Muhammad Mohiuddin, the co-founder of the society, spoke briefly as the trustees’ board president. We know each other well; I am his patient. (Muhammad’s daughter, Sanaa, read the Qur’an and translated surahs — verses, the very first time I publicly heard Islam’s holy book rendered in a lovely female voice.)


The year before 9/11, my Frederick News-Post column damned anti-Muslim bigotry when then-County Commissioner John L. Thompson scuttled all chances for the Islamic Society to build a mosque, school and cemetery on a property bought for that express purpose. In the course of that battle I met Khalil; he remained the Islamic Society’s president through 2001’s day of infamy. In that exceedingly stressful period, I came to know well the Pratt-educated mechanical engineer, who staunchly defended his fellow Muslims.


At one point, he went to the newspapers and pointed to federal harassment and warned the Islamic faithful: “If you’re ever contacted by the FBI, you don’t have to talk to them. Don’t be afraid. Don’t yield to the pressure.” He had become a full-fledged citizen, beyond the reach of immigration officials and the Justice Department.


A few years later, after the ruckus settled, Khalil invited the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Baltimore office to break bread. The society still met in the Hampton Inn’s basement. Ms. Dougherty tendered an invitation for the society to move within city limits. The former mayor did not make it to the 9/11event – for whatever reason. Successor Randy McClement – designated on the itinerary as keynote speaker – did his Christian and Jewish constituency proud, by warmly welcoming Muslims to the community, and pointing out city services available to all residents.


When the mayor finished, I realized Khalil as-Shazly would not receive the tribute he deserved; I demanded to speak. My speech was brief and to the point: in a very few words I asked the gathered officials and other people to give a standing ovation to the man who saved the Frederick Muslims during onerous times. The audience delivered with a thunderous ovation. I sat down.


Immediately following, current Frederick News-Post columnist Dr. Syed Haque restored the meeting to the gentrification order, without calling on the University of Maryland’s Muslim chaplain Tarif Shraim, a Palestinian, to say a prayer to close the event. Coming away from Key Parkway, I was furious, as you must know.


My personal dignity was never involved; in my 58 years in journalism I was accustomed to be not recognized for whatever efforts I made. But the treatment of Khalil as-Shazly did not follow the Qur’an’s strictures on grabbing credit, stealing from another’s labors.


After that Sunday, it took more than a week wrestling with the story and several news accounts in various media, including The Washington Post, for me to grasp middle-class Muslims used the 9/11 tragedy to assume control of their Islamic societies, like Frederick’s. Still I lament the influential medical doctors’ absence when the man who became a friend fought desperately for Muslim mothers and their children.


The last sewer-water hearing was transplanted from Winchester Hall to FCC’s Jack Kussmaul Theatre because of the large attendance anticipated. Board of County Commissioners’ President Lennie Thompson denied a fellow commissioner’s suggestion to terminate early the meeting; when the post-midnight last plea was heard — to no effect – the auditorium was littered with sleeping women, a few men and boys and girls.


All during that very dark period that preceded – and followed – 9/11, I never met Dr. Haque, or his fellow physicians. For me, Khalil as-Shazly is the Islamic Society’s single hero by asserting Muslims’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.


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