MORGANTOWN — Eight days ago, a drunken football fan spied Sohail Chaudhry outside Mountaineer Field. Chaudhry was quietly doing his job, delivering the West Virginia University student newspaper.
The drunken man must have noticed Chaudhry's dark skin, his black hair, his beard. He decided that Chaudhry needed a 9/11 reminder.
"He kept saying, 'We haven't forgotten that day,'" said Chaudhry, an engineering student from Pakistan. "'You'd better watch out for your life in this town.' He just kept repeating that."
Meanwhile, Wafi Albalawa was looking for a house to rent. He's almost finished with his Ph.D. in computer science, but his Morgantown apartment is just getting too cramped for him, his wife and their four small children.
He found the perfect house. He gave the landlord all the usual information: employer, income, references.
Then he mentioned that he is originally from Saudi Arabia, and that the Saudi government is sponsoring his education.
"Then," Albalawa said, "they say they are no longer interested to rent the house to me."
West Virginia has escaped the brutal hate crimes against people who resemble Arabs, hate crimes that tripled in the months after Sept. 11: Two Dallas-area convenience store clerks, one Pakistani and one U.S. citizen from India, gunned down by a white supremacist. A Sikh Indian shot dead at a gas station in Mesa, Ariz. And on and on.
West Virginians have dealt with some discrimination: A Princeton mosque vandalized. Muslim women harassed on the street.
But, as Chaudhry said, "Sept. 11 is coming close. ...
"The Muslims in town are worried again."
Worry seems to depend on level of foreign-ness
Ask a Muslim, "Are you worried about this Sept. 11?" Some will automatically assume you mean, "Are you worried about your safety?"
Others will automatically assume, "Are you worried the terrorists will attack again?"
It all seems to depend on the person's level of foreign-ness. People who spent most of their life in Arab or South Asian countries display a musical voice, a fluid walk, and sometimes a style of dress that sets them apart from white Americans. Many of them have suffered discrimination during the past year.
Those who were born here, or who immigrated as young children, still have the dark complexion and hair. However, others often don't realize they're Muslim.
Mohamed Sabbagh lives in an apartment over the Morgantown mosque. He has pale skin, as Syrians often do.
"I came [to America] when I was, like, 2-and-a-half," Sabbagh said. When you ask him where he's from, he says, "Weston." Nobody has bothered him as a result of Sept. 11.
Same with Hamza Shah, who was born and raised in Princeton. His family is originally from Pakistan. He is clean-shaven, wears American clothes and speaks with a West Virginia accent.
"People with scarves, stuff like that were more likely to be targeted," he said.
People like the Albalawa family. Wafi has a full beard, and his wife wears a scarf and veil when she leaves the house.
"We hear some bad words," he said. "Public places — the mall — you might hear someone shout, that's all. When I go to the Kroger, I hear people.
"Last week, I hear some students calling me: 'Hey, bin Laden.' But I don't care, as long as they don't physically attack me."
Right after Sept. 11, Chaudhry said, some young Syrian women were walking on Morgantown's High Street. Some white men surrounded them and started pulling their veils off.
"They said, 'Take off this hijab, because you have guns underneath,'" he said. Some other American men stopped them.
It's one thing some Americans have in common with the terrorists, Chaudhry said: They are so full of hatred, they lash out at innocent people.
"When you are in a situation where you can do nothing, where you're facing tanks and you have stones in your hand," he said. "At that point, you stop using your brain.
"Just like the American public did."
A true Muslim would never end his own life
Chaudhry speaks calmly, reasonably, with a gentle smile. People must understand, he says, that the terrorists could not have truly been followers of Islam.
"They were enemies of Islam," he said. "Although those enemies might be Muslims themselves."
For one thing, a true Muslim would never end his own life. "Suicide is 'haram' — not acceptable — in Islam," Chaudhry said.
Also, Muslims are never supposed to kill innocent people in war. "And all of the people who died in the World Trade Center were innocent," Chaudhry said.