A Muslim Community Moves On After Ft. Hood

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Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty

Retired US Army 1st Sergeant Osman Danquah (3rd R), Imam Syed Ahmed Ali (2nd R) and retired US Army 1st Class Jameel Sabree (R) speak with the media at the Islamic Community center of Greater Killeen, where US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan attended prayer services, on November 9, 2009 in Killeen, Texas.

It has been a little over a week since 13 people were gunned down on the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood. The impact of the killings still reverberates from the base in the heart of Killeen, Texas. Now, the start of a glorious fall weekend promises this central Texan town a hint of normalcy, but true normal — weekend football, shopping, yard work and worship — will take longer to return, especially to the community's Muslims.

"They feel this is a double betrayal," says Major Dawud Agbere, a Muslim chaplain of the U.S. Army, in reference to the base massacre, allegedly carried out by Major Nidal Hasan, a fellow Muslim. Agbere, one of six Muslim chaplains in the Army, was dispatched to Killeen from Fort Leavenworth to help Muslim soldiers cope in the aftermath of the shootings.

Killeen is a soldier's town. Many choose to remain here after retirement — the climate is benign, the cost of living relatively low and the social network familiar. The Islamic Community Center of Greater Killeen, a mosque founded by several Army veterans, is the place where civilians and soldiers gather for prayer every Friday. The congregation is diverse, and includes both serving and retired military and civilian families, some with roots in Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East, others native-born Americans. Now the small, red brick mosque on South Fort Hood Street is notorious as the place where Hasan prayed. It sits on the edge of town, past the strip malls, car washes, fast food joints and less than a mile from the gun shop where Hasan is alleged to have bought his lethal weapon.

By Friday, the media crowd gathered on the small lawn of the mosque had grown smaller, but still contained members from across the country and even overseas. At the close of afternoon prayers, mosque leaders and members filed out, patiently indulging reporters' questions as they have done all week, breaking away only to tend to duty — picking up a child from school, or going back to work. The cars and trucks in the mosque parking lot sport "Go Army" bumper stickers.

Fear, in the wake of the shootings, was perhaps felt most keenly by Killeen's Muslim women. Although there have been no reports of negative fallout so far, "I think for the women, you know especially those who wear the hijab, it may have affected them," says Amr Abdelazeem, 47, a professional engineer, businessman and Army reserve officer.

Visible symbols of their faith, some Muslim women refrained from going outdoors immediately after the attack, forgoing mundane tasks like grocery shopping. Abdelazeem's wife, Sahar, 36, was on the base when the shootings began; she teaches Arabic there. The family has lived in Killeen for 17 years and has a nine-year-old daughter. Abdelazeem says his wife was worried about going back to work the day after the shooting. "I didn't want to go to work," Sahar tells TIME. "My nine-year-old asked me, 'Why are you afraid to go out Mommy? No one is going to hurt you.'" Indeed Sahar returned to work at the base two days later. "Everyone was nice," Sahar said, "and there were big smiles."

Despite their initial trepidation, Killeen's Muslims have not been targeted by the larger community. Rather, they have been quietly accepted, as always. Standing outside the mosque on a Friday afternoon, Siqua Thiam, 57, says goodbye to some women who have come for prayers. The sequins of her vivid, canary yellow West Senegalese dress catch the bright fall sun. Her son, an American citizen, is an Army sergeant serving in Iraq. After being widowed in 1999, she left Senegal to live with him and his family. Her son called home immediately after he heard of the attack in Fort Hood, but she reassured him she was fine. Thiam says she has felt no impact and heard no criticism from her neighbors and says she is still proud to dress in her long robes and head scarf. "I fear no one but Allah," she says, pointing heavenward. "I depend on Allah. he will always help me."

It is a sentiment that likely will be echoed across Killeen in all manner of churches in the weeks ahead as the community grapples with conflict both near and far.