When the subject of the proposed Islamic center near ground zero came up in Fahina Chowdhury's government class recently, the high school freshman at Oklahoma City's Classen School for Advanced Studies, spoke up.
"As a Muslim American, and as the daughter of someone who was killed on September 11, I knew I had to say something," Chowdhury, 14, said.
Chowdhury told classmates that Muslims condemn terrorism, and that the 9/11 terrorists killed people of all faiths.
She didn't reveal that her father, Mohammad S. Chowdhury, a waiter at Windows on the World restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower, was a 9/11 victim. Dealing with school and trying to be a "normal teenager" was pressure enough, and Chowdhury didn't want the added attention and sympathy.
Still, Chowdhury, whose younger brother Farqad was born two days after 9/11, said she wished more Americans knew Muslims were also killed on 9/11, and that she was saddened by the recent wave of anti-Islamic bigotry.
She and other Muslims who lost loved ones on 9/11 say opponents of Park51, as the Islamic center planned two blocks north of ground zero is known, confuse Islam with terrorism, ignore that many Muslims were killed on 9/11, and even equate Muslim victims with the terrorists who committed the attacks.
"Muslim people are victims also," said Chowdhury's mother, Baraheen Ashrafi, who moved to Oklahoma in 2002 to live with her sister. "My husband, he never got to see our son. People like us, we shouldn't have to face these kinds of things."
Talat Hamdani, whose son Salman, a New York City Police cadet and emergency medical technician, was killed 9/11 trying to help the injured, agrees. "We did not kill, we did not attack. We were attacked. We were one of the victims," she said. "Salman was also murdered, and yet we've been carrying the cross since 9/11. We refuse to carry the cross anymore. Enough is enough."
To highlight that some Muslims are Americans who also felt attacked on 9/11, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released three public service announcements on Sept. 1, featuring Muslim Americans who were first responders on 9/11. "9/11 happened to us all," the ads say.
Ashrafi and Hamdani said making all Muslims responsible for 9/11 would be like making all Christians responsible for Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who was involved in Christian militia movements.
While most families of 9/11 victims are accorded a special respect, that status hasn't always shielded Hamdani and Ashrafi from bigotry.
Hamdani said because her son was a Muslim, authorities investigated whether he was connected to the 9/11 plot. FBI agents interrogated Talat Hamdani and her now deceased husband.
"He was an NYPD cadet, he was an EMT, he was a first responder, and he wasn't given dignity," Hamdani said.
Ashrafi said she hopes someday to visit New York City, and that she would visit Park51 if it ever gets built. She acknowledges being shaken by recent attacks against Muslims, including the knifing of a New York taxi driver in August.
Nevertheless, she has no intention of leaving America. "My kids are born here, it's their country. And my husband, he died here, so I never think about moving somewhere else. I want my grave to be here, because this is my home," she said.