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Published Friday, Oct. 5, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

400 women gather to support Muslims facing harassment


Mercury News

Ameena Jandali looked stunned as she stood on a makeshift podium and stared at the 400 women gathered before her in a sunbaked Santa Clara parking lot.

Stunned by their numbers, and even more stunned that most of the women -- including Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais and Sikhs -- had covered their heads in solidarity with Muslim women who have suffered harassment in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

``I should have brought my Kleenex,'' Jandali, a Muslim educator, said.

Jandali explained that the wearing of a Muslim hijab -- a head covering or modest dress, head to toe -- is very much ``in the tradition of Roman Catholic nuns who cover themselves out of modesty or of Orthodox Jewish women who cover their heads. Thank you for joining us in sisterhood,'' she said.

She spoke at the Granada Islamic School, where about 50 students, all girls, stood on the podium and soaked up the show of support. Those who addressed the ``Women of Faith in Solidarity Against Hate Incidents'' included Muslim college students, a nun, a rabbi, a Methodist bishop and Santa Clara Mayor Judy Nadler.

The event was organized to confront the backlash against American Muslims and Arabs and others perceived to be members of those groups. In particular, it was held to support Muslim women who wear traditional dress and suddenly are fearful.

Sponsors included the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose; the Council of Churches of Santa Clara County; the Muslim Community Association; the Silicon Valley Region of the National Conference for Community and Justice; the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin; the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of San Jose; the Interfaith Council on Religion, Race, Economic and Social Justice; and the Islamic Networks Group.

`Most shocking scene'

Jandali told the crowd that she woke up on Sept. 11 and turned on her television to witness ``the most shocking scene that I have ever seen.'' It happened to be her young daughter's first day of school. Later that morning, Jandali, who wears a head covering and full-length robe, found herself fearing for her daughter's safety amid news reports that the terrorists were from the Middle East.

Hebah Salem, a student at Foothill College, told the audience that she stayed in her home for two weeks after the attacks. ``I wanted to hide. I felt targeted.''

Jana Abdelgawad, a De Anza College student, said motorists screamed and glared at her yesterday. But finishing her remarks, Jana, 16, said, ``God bless America, and thank you all.''

Prayers for victims

Prayers were spoken for those who died in the attacks, and blessings were recited in Hindi, Arabic and Hebrew. And there were all kinds of hijabs. Jean Quinn, a member of the local Bahai assembly, wore one of purple silk. Rabbi Melanie Aron, of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, wrapped a floral-patterned scarf about her head. Gertrude Welch, a Methodist and social justice activist in Santa Clara County for 50 years, covered her hair with a black scarf, crocheted at the edges.

``It's not unlike during the second world war when the King of Denmark put on the Star of David as a way of saying, `We are all Jews,' '' said Sister Elizabeth Avalos, president of the Human Concerns Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese. ``This is something like that, that if you're going to harass Muslim women, you're going to have to harass all women.''

©Copyright 2001, The Mercury News

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