Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 the Islamic community in our country felt that backlash. People who had been and continued to be loyal, peaceful, law abiding citizens overnight became targeted as the enemy simply because they called God, Allah. These Americans cried with the rest of us, mourned with the rest of us, and like the rest of us were disgusted by the actions of monsters from half way across the world.
A friend of mine from Oman named Ali is coming to the United States in January with his family and he recently emailed me to ask if I thought it was safe for his 17 year-old daughter to wear her hijab to school and in public. Ali and his family are not particularly religious people, and his daughter wears the hijab less for religious reasons and more for cultural ones.
What do I tell him? That his daughter will be fine and that no one will bother her? The fact of the matter is, someone probably will bother her without knowing her, her family, or the very real differences between Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc... or the very real differences between mainstream Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, or Ibadi Islam as practiced in Oman.
We fear what we don't know and what we don't understand... why else would a Sikh be harassed after September 11 if not for ignorance? Why would a Hindu be accused of Islamic extremism if not for ignorance?