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CAIR New England director says that 9/11 inspired him to convert to Islam - works in Groton power plant

July 27, 2005

MIM: Given CAIR's track record of arrests for terrorism it would stand to reason that one of it's newest directors credits 9/11 for their conversion to Islam. Hamza Ismail Joel Collins is CAIR's new New England director who first came into contact with Islam through Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. He was in the army and works at the Groton power plant.Collins had this to say about his conversion:

Ismail said that for him, the decisive event, outside of getting to know his wife, was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. One way or another, "you had to pay attention (to Islam) in America after 9/11," he said.

We still don't really know what happened and why," said Ismail. "I just know that after 9/11, I became a Muslim."

On Guard Against Prejudice
Muslim Convert's Focus On Civil Rights In Post-9/11 World

Buy this Photo Sean D. Elliot
‘We still don't really know what happened and why. I just know that after 9/11, I became a Muslim.'
Hamza Ismail Joel Collins
General Assignment Reporter/Columnist
Published on 7/27/2005

Norwich -- As America and its allies seek protection from terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam, Hamza Ismail Joel Collins has the unenviable job of protecting fellow Muslims from stereotyping and discrimination.

The 50-year-old New York native thought hard before accepting the title of civil rights director for the only New England branch of the nation's leading Islamic civil rights organization, the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"I told my wife it's going to be a lot of work," he said in an interview at his home in Norwich earlier this month.

And on the morning of July 7, his job got tougher. Muslim suicide bombers murdered 56 civilians in London. That afternoon the Connecticut CAIR council joined branches nationwide in condemning the London attacks as "barbaric crimes that can never be justified or excused" and calling for "swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators."

Adding to its "Not In My Name" national anti-terror campaign, CAIR aired a 30-second public service announcement stating that "those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam are betraying the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad."

Muslims "will not allow our faith to be hijacked by criminals," the PSA says. "Islam is not about hatred and violence. It's about peace and justice."

CAIR-CT opened its doors in September 2004, led by Badr Malik of Old Lyme. For Hamza Ismail, who prefers to go by his adopted Muslim name, it provides a chance to apply what he has learned about combating prejudice as a black American.

"I don't like to pursue a court case," Ismail said regarding complaints about potential discrimination. "I don't want people in jobs and in schools to look at us and say, ‘Oh, that's CAIR, they want to make a big scene.' Then you can't shake that image if you come off being belligerent."

So far, most complaints have been relatively easy to resolve. Take the case of a Muslim woman from Willimantic who was told she couldn't get a photo ID wearing a hijab, or head scarf, at that city's Department of Motor Vehicles office.

DMV workers told her to take her case to DMV headquarters in Wethersfield. But "the sister was past 60, and didn't drive," said Ismail. She wanted the ID to make tasks like cashing a check easier. CAIR intervened and she got her ID.

CAIR then conducted a sensitivity training workshop for DMV managers. While the managers weren't inclined toward discrimination, Ismail said, he found that most of them knew practically nothing about Islam.

Connecticut is among 35 states that allow Muslim women to wear the hijabfor their driver's license photos, providing they have religious documentation and their features are fully distinguishable in the photo.

Imran Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of New London, said his wife was made to take off her hijab when she got her license. Things should be different when she renews it.


Ahmed reported a "somewhat higher level of concern" among Muslims in the region that they could be regarded with suspicion after the recent bomb attacks in England and Egypt, but he knew of "no incidents" of actual discrimination.

All that outwardly distinguishes Ismail as a Muslim is the kufi, or prayer hat, he wears even at the AES Thames power plant in Montville, where he has worked for 15 years. Before that he worked for nine years at Electric Boat in Groton.

His wife typically wears the hijab, he said, but however she chooses to dress, it's "between her and Allah."

One thing that's not negotiable for Muslims is prayer five times a day. Ismail has an alarm clock in the shape of a mosque, programmed according to data from Mecca, to track prayer times.

Ismail said his religion has never caused him any trouble at work. "These guys that I work with, they understand me," he said. "Mike, Dan,Joe, Tim, they have no problem with me being a Muslim."

If the guys order out for lunch, he added, "they will go out of their way" to find a place that sells what he can consume. No pork or alcohol. "That shows me a lot," he said. "They respect me, and I respect them."

Born and raised in Utica, N.Y., Ismail and his eight siblings never lacked freedom of religion. "My mom was a Methodist," he said, "but she never forced religion on us."

One sibling chose to be baptized a Catholic. Another married a Baptist preacher.

As a teenager, Ismail followed two of his brothers to meetings of the Nation of Islam, led by the fiery and then openly anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan.

"I was curious," he said, but he told his brothers it wasn't for him.

Yet he stayed curious about religion. After high school and a brief try at college, Ismail needed to make money, so he joined the Army. He was stationed in Hawaii, where his first roommate was a Catholic priest.

During that period he accompanied a friend to some Buddhist gatherings. But "I didn't grab it," he said, "and it didn't grab me."

After his stint in the service he migrated to Connecticut, where he married, had a son, and divorced. He fathered a daughter, now 7, in another relationship. This summer he devoted much of his time to caring for his grown son, who died this week after a long battle with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.


Through the years, Ismail's thoughts wandered to Islam. It took a long Internet courtship of a Muslim woman from Singapore, however, to finally lead him there.

Ismail relishes telling how he fell in love with Mashamah, whom he initially encountered in 1998 in a Muslim chat room.

"She wouldn't talk to me at first," he said, "because Muslim women aren't supposed to talk to men. She just totally blew me off."

Persistence, and his demonstrable desire to learn more about Islam, won her over. She sent him books about Islam, and, eventually, a photograph.

"I was like, Ya Allah (Oh my God)," he recalled, when he saw how lovely she was. He proposed, and two years ago she came to the United States, accompanied by her parents.

"I wasn't nervous," Ismail said, because they had "known" each other for years. Three weeks after she arrived, they married. They have a 5-month-old daughter, Shuhadah.

Unlike other religions, Islam has no formal ceremony for accepting the faith. Ismail said that for him, the decisive event, outside of getting to know his wife, was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. One way or another, "you had to pay attention (to Islam) in America after 9/11," he said.

"I could've said I'm going to join a Christian crusade ... or I'm going to join the Army and go fight the Muslims just because of 9/11," he said. Instead, he was inspired to find out more about this religion abused by terrorists.

"We still don't really know what happened and why," said Ismail. "I just know that after 9/11, I became a Muslim."

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