Worshippers at Orono mosque not worried about anti-Muslim backlash after Boston bombings

Posted April 28, 2013, at 5:50 p.m.
Last modified April 29, 2013, at 11:08 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — Dina Yacoubagha was in Boston the week of the Marathon bombings.

“I was not comfortable there,” the Muslim woman, who wears the traditional hajib, or headscarf, said Saturday at the monthly community supper at the Islamic Center of Maine. “We stopped in Kittery and Freeport, and I was relieved because I was home.”

Yacoubagha and others who gathered at the mosque on Park Street in Orono for prayer and a shared dinner said they are not concerned about a backlash against Muslims following the news that the brothers the FBI has said planted the bombs that killed three people and injured scores of others April 15 claimed to follow the tenets of Islam.

“I have had four or five emails in the last week from [non-Muslim] people who have said, ‘We know that is not what your religion teaches,’” said Eaman Attia of Bangor.

She speaks twice a month to groups about her faith. Attea said Sunday that she has been very involved in the mosque’s outreach effort for the past eight years and has felt welcome wherever she’s been.

Yacoubagha and Attia both said that the outreach efforts undertaken since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Muslims connected with the mosque have helped people in northern Maine understand that Islam does not promote violence. But it is the welcome they have received from Maine residents that allowed them to say they are not worried about an anti-Muslim backlash.

At least one incident in Malden, Mass., was reported after the bombings, according to an article published April 18 by the Boston Globe. Heba Abolaban was pushing her daughter in a stroller two days after the bombings when “an angry-faced man charged toward the petite woman, his hand balled into a fist,” the paper said. “He punched her hard in the shoulder and screamed curses inches from her face. Then he pointed at her and walked away shouting.”

The incident is being investigated by the Malden police, according to the Globe.

No anti-Muslim incidents have been reported by Maine media since the bombings.

“I feel safe here,” Yacoubagha said Sunday. “I feel like I am part of the community.”

Omar Conteh of Bangor is the outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center of Maine. He said Saturday that the mosque did not plan to increase its efforts because of what happened at the Boston Marathon.

In addition to sending speakers into libraries, churches, schools, hospitals and other venues to talk about Islam, the center is always open to visitors, Conteh said.

The mosque also holds several open houses a year and works with the Muslim Student Association at the University of Maine to bring a nationally recognized speaker to Orono for Muslim Student Awareness Week each spring.

Yassir Fazaga, a California-based marriage and family counselor spoke last month on “Misconceptions About Islam” on campus and the “Psychology of a Terrorist” at the mosque.

His appearance on campus and the work members of the Muslim Student Association have done to raise awareness about Islam most likely helped prevent a backlash on campus, according to Eliot Gagne of Gorham. The first-year student at UMaine, who is attending the Honors College, came to the supper Saturday.

“A number of my friends who went to [Fazaga’s] talk were able to pick up on the misconceptions about Islam in the news,” Gagne said.

The freshman said that he planned to go into medicine but wanted to learn about Islam in hopes of “being a better informed citizen.”

Conteh said that just as people do not condemn all Christians because a member of the Ku Klux Klan might use a cross to commit an act of violence, Mainers do not condemn all Muslims because someone commits an act of violence in the name of Islam.

“People have been fantastic to us — very open and welcoming to us,” he said. “We have no fears, no worries [about a backlash].”