But some also expressed concern that "United 93," a new film about the last moments of the last hijacked plane to crash on Sept. 11, 2001, could stir up anti-Islamic sentiments.
Safaa Ibrahim, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, took her staff of four women wearing a hijab, the traditional Muslim head scarves, to a Thursday matinee.
As a civil rights advocate, Ibrahim said, she wanted to see the movie after reports that several young Muslim-American women in Arizona were verbally assaulted by two people who said they had seen the movie recently.
Ibrahim said she knew the movie would stir up emotions, but she did not expect that all of the members in her group would walk out of the theater in tears.
"We thought it was important to see the movie to find out how it comes across," Ibrahim said. "But it dredged up a lot of emotions. We were watching it as Americans and as Muslims and it hurts us to see our fellow Americans hurt, and see people hurt others, acting in the name of Islam."
At the April 29 symposium, Suhail Khan, associate director for congressional affairs at the Department of Transportation and a former White House aide under President George W. Bush, recalled his experience working at the White House on Sept. 11, 2001.
Today, Khan said he still remembers that day "moment by moment," adding that the movie touches a raw nerve. He said he had not made up his mind about whether it is too soon to produce such a film.
"Five short years after 9/11, we're seeing a movie produced that purports to relive the horrific moments of 9/11 and Flight 93," Khan said. "I haven't made up my mind about that issue honestly. I do feel, obviously, that it will stir up anti-Muslim sentiments. But, I mean, it's hard to make the situation worse."
Ibrahim said the opening scene of the movie, where hijackers are reading the Quran, "sent chills up my spine."
"It only reinforced my hatred and resentment toward Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and reminded me of how much they've hurt Muslims and scarred our faith," Ibrahim said. "I have so much anger toward these guys. The movie only reinforced that. I understand why it makes others angry. It doesn't feel good to watch what happened and see innocent families die. It's senseless."
But Ibrahim added that the movie also reinforced how much has changed since the events of Sept. 11.
"On 9/11, I was working at a high-tech firm and I wasn't wearing a hijab," Ibrahim said. "Now I'm wearing a hijab and dedicating myself to preventing people from trying to ruin the name of my faith. That day helped us grow and made us more civic-conscious."
Khan agreed: "My sense is that the opportunity is still there to educate non-Muslims. Just as we had hate crimes after 9/11, we also had an outpouring of brotherhood and friendship with non-Muslims who stood by the Muslim community and stood by their neighbors and friends. ... I think you need to look at the positives and educate friends about the realities of Islam."
Jonathan Jones covers ethnic, religious and cultural issues. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005, or firstname.lastname@example.org.