Young Muslims shine to escape shadows of tragedy

TEN years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 21-year-old Tasnim Saeid ensures she smiles at strangers on the train.

''Because I feel like every time I'm not, people think, 'Oh, it's just because she's Muslim,' or, 'She's just oppressed,''' the university student says.

Saeid's heritage is Iranian and Iraqi and she lived in Sudan before moving to Sydney but she is one of thousands of Australian Muslims whose formative years were shaped by what happened in New York.

Shortly after the twin towers came down, a friend named Osama began being teased at school. The Bass Hill resident says it was one of the first signs the events in New York would create suspicions about Muslims.

''I felt like I was put into a defensive position while growing up, and I still feel that - 'Justify why Muslims are like this','' she says.

Saeid says she now views this as a chance to engage with wider society on behalf of her community. But it is also an obligation. ''If September 11 hadn't happened … then maybe

I could just get on a train and have a grumpy day like everybody else, without feeling self-conscious about adding to [the community's] already tarnished image,'' she says.

Mohammed El-Ieissy, a youth worker from Melbourne, says many young Muslims did not become conscious of their identity until September 12, 2001.

''We were invisible before that. For those of us who didn't want to blow up anything, life was good,'' the 26-year-old says. But in the wake of the attacks, he was denounced as ''the Taliban'' in supermarkets and had trouble getting his first job.

''The worst thing was thinking: what about our economic future?'' he says.

El-Ieissy says Muslims reacted in two ways to scrutiny from those who were suddenly keen to know ''what kind of Muslim you are''.

''People did go out and start playing footy and eating meat pies and trying to be more Australian, but then for a whole bunch of other people it threw them back into the ethnic closet - you don't like us, and that's it, we're just going to isolate ourselves.''

He says the attacks also helped him re-evaluate his beliefs.

''It taught a lot of people that you need to follow scholarship, because a lot of these terrorists, they just followed some guy with a big beard and a great accent,'' he says.

''All the Muslim scholars were coming out and saying 'this

was rubbish'.''

While El-Ieissy says many Muslims now have ''9/11 fatigue'', Mohamed Taha, 20, of Auburn, says the debate has changed.

''I think people have moved on from holding those outrageous and wild misconceptions to having more intellectual misconceptions,'' he says.

Taha says instead of having to defend his headscarf-clad mother from abuse in the street, he now spends time researching the Ottoman empire to counter claims about Sharia law.

Tonight, he will join a public panel of young people in Auburn to discuss how the events of September 11 affected them.

''I'm much more happy to be a Muslim in this day and age because it is a conversation starter,'' he says. ''I'm a firm believer that we all have a common denominator but our numerator's different.''