"It's very understandable that people who don't have much knowledge of Islam or experience with Muslims are going to concerned about the extreme minority," said John Esposito, author of "Everything You Need to Know about Islam." "But [they] also [have] a sense of: This must be what their religion is like."
To many Americans, Osama bin Laden is the malevolent symbol of a malevolent religion. But Siblani argues bin Laden is on the fringes of Islam, not in the middle.
Some Arab Americans say President Bush has further stoked anti-Muslim attitudes with inflammatory rhetoric in denouncing Islamic extremists. In a recent speech, he said, "They try to spread their jihadist message, a message I call 'Islamic fascism.' "
Anti-Islamic sentiment rises when Muslims are implicated in a terrorist plot or act, such as the London subway bombings in 2005.
"For many , it's a challenge to distinguish between what some people do and the religion itself," Esposito said.
"I think that more generally speaking, America is not Islamophobic," said Dr. James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute. "It really just doesn't understand the religion at all."
For many Americans, their attitude toward Islam and Muslims remains a tug of war between fear and fairness.
"We're Americans," Houssaiky said. "We're living the American dream. We're doing everything everybody does. There's no reason to be scared of us."