Misunderstood sign sparks controversy

HOUSTON It started last year when a widely circulated e-mail wrongly accused a Houston-area business owner who's Muslim of commemorating the 911 attacks. That same e-mail is circulating again this year.

Sajid Master says he's being targeted over an issue he says is inaccurate.

"I respect everybody's sentiments to be American," he said. "I am American, too, but nevertheless you need to go to the truth."

The cause of his problems is the sign he put up last year announcing the closing of his Harwin-area business on September 11 to commemorate, says the sign, the martyrdom of Imam Ali.

A picture of the sign was widely circulated last year through e-mail, saying the store owners were commemorating the 911 attacks. Instead, says Master, Imam Ali is a Muslim prophet who lived over 1,000 years ago.

It was a distinction not known to Marine Michael Shamsi, who received the e-mail last year while serving in Iraq.

"I remembered it because it upset a lot of people, especially the local contractors here based out of Houston," Shamsi said. "It gave Houston a very negative image."

Master did not put up his sign this year and apologized last year and on Wednesday for any confusion. Yet he says he is still being harassed.

"It was a misunderstanding," Master said. "They've found out my house number and even called up my house."

Shamsi admits he came here this year looking for the sign that angered him last year in Iraq. Instead, he saw the meaning behind the sign and recognizes the chasm caused when religious freedom crosses into personal feelings.

"We have people that are dying for our freedom, fighting in Afghanistan, fighting in Iraq," Shami said. "We really need to take a step back and look at the whole picture as far as what we can do and what's borderline and what's going over the line."

The shop owner hopes the threats and e-mails to stop.
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