Egypt is not among the 14 nations listed by the United States as a security risk, but that's where Muqtedar Khan was traveling from when he was detained for an extra half-hour upon arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Khan, director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, was returning about two weeks ago from a work-related trip on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Despite having a letter from the federal department and another from UD verifying his employment there, he was questioned long after his colleagues were allowed to leave customs.
The professor, who is a native of India, said the incident is an example of what many Muslims in America worry about in the wake of recent terrorist acts around the world.
The arrest of U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan in connection with the Nov. 5 mass killings at Fort Hood army post, the five American Muslims detained in Pakistan after trying to cross into Afghanistan to fight Western forces, and the Nigerian man who is accused of trying to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day are sparking fears among the moderate majority of Muslims who are concerned about backlash similar to the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"By and large, the community is quite despondent over this," Khan said about the terrorist acts. "There is a fear they are going to suffer from a backlash. Things are definitely going to become tougher for them."
Khan said in some ways the three back-to-back terrorist acts are worse because they raise questions about American Muslims, rather than foreign-born Muslims.
"There is this very idea that American Muslims are becoming more dangerous and more politicized," Khan said. "This is like a returning nightmare, a deja vu all over again. People in the Muslim community are depressed."
It also makes local Muslims worry that awareness of the peaceful side of Islam will be lost amid screaming headlines and troubling video images.
"I feel there has been a lot of progress made. But I think we're not doing enough because for every 10 steps we take forward, we take 70 or 100 backward," said Ahmed Sharkawy, a native of Egypt who lives in Newark. "It is the minority that causes this negative propaganda who have a much stronger influence than the majority that disagree with these kind of beliefs."
Sharkawy said he also worries about a backlash. He was in Toronto attending a conference about "reviving the spirit of Islam" when the news about the Detroit-bound airliner broke. He said the thousands of conference attendees condemned the incident and felt a sense of responsibility to counter the negative perception of Muslims.
"You can't just be quiet," Sharkawy said. "That's not enough anymore."
"It's very difficult to educate people about the goodness of Islam when on a daily basis they are fearing about Fort Hood and these things," he said. "People read that and say, 'How do you square that with what is happening?' because the Muslims who do these things are doing it in the name of Islam."
Sharkawy, an electrical engineer, heads a new social-service organization called Muslim Professionals of Delaware, which has held health seminars and interfaith events to build bridges.
"This is not going to stop us," he said. "I hope we can try to change the world as much as we can in our small state of Delaware."