Muslim in Montana: Islamic community reports little hatred but misconceptions lead to isolated trouble

Elizabeth L. Harrison

He felt it the moment he entered the Bozeman bar. The hospitality of small-town America fell away, and after a few minutes, Emad Alahmadi and his friends turned and filed out the door, back into the crisp Montana air, in search of someplace more welcoming.

On the way out, they passed a bouncer. "Oh that's good," he said. "We don't want any terrorists in here."

Alahmadi, a Sunni from Saudi Arabia and one of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, is anything but an Islamic terrorist — he's not even that religious.

"They can tell I'm not American. They can tell I'm from an Arab country," he said. "They just don't understand Islam."

In a state that's 89.6 percent white and glamorized for its Old-West history, incidents like Alahmadi's run-in might seem common to outsiders, but that's not necessarily the case, many Montana Muslims say. There are about 600 Muslins in the Treasure State.

When Alahmadi calls home, he tells his family that Montanans are "great people." He emphasizes that the racism he has encountered encompasses a small minority — that in the four years he has studied at Montana State University, he considers 95 to 99 percent of the people he has met to be very nice.

Still many Muslims and scholars agree there is an undercurrent of fear here and across the country, stemming from ignorance, and intolerance hidden in the privacy of homes, lurking in the dark corners of bars and sometimes showing its face in the light of day.

With his tall frame, Monther Abusultan could be intimidating to those outside of his culture.

But in three and a half years in graduate school at MSU, the Palestinian has never been on the receiving end of a racial remark.

"Being Muslim, I came to the U.S. and thought, 'interrogation,'" he said. "I was surprised because in Bozeman it was not the case."

He admits Montanans have a lot to learn about his Islamic faith, but the ones he has encountered have been nothing but helpful, friendly and welcoming.

"I consider Bozeman my bigger American family," Abusultan said. (view full article)

June 27, 2010, Great falls tribune

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