Born in Hyderabad, 9/11 lawyer is made jurist in NJ

After the 9/11 attacks, more than 1,100 Arabs and Muslims, most of them from New York and New Jersey, were rounded up as the FBI searched for terrorists.

In few places was the spotlight as white-hot as in Paterson, New Jersey, where as many as six of the September 11 hijackers spent time before the attacks. As agents went knocking on doors, many Muslims were cowering terrified of being thrown in jail for crimes they knew nothing about.

A young, soft-spoken Muslim immigration attorney named Sohail Mohammed represented many people rounded up in New Jersey in post-9/11 dragnet. Along the way, the Indian-American attorney gained the friendship of top law enforcement officials for his efforts to build bridges between the Muslim community and law enforcement. He won over one official whose favour would prove crucial: the US attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie. Christie, now the state's governor, nominated Mohammed to a Superior Court judgeship. Mohammed was sworn into office last week, becoming New Jersey's second Muslim judge. Mohammed, born in Hyderabad, India, is also the state's first Indian-American judge.

Mohammed, 47, said his religion has nothing to do with the job. "My faith, my ethnicity: that means nothing here.'' Not everyone agreed. After Christie nominated Mohammed in January for the judgeship, the former federal prosecutor found himself accused of cozying up to Islamic radicals. Mohammed's confirmation hearing before the state Senate included two hours of grilling, including inquires about Sharia, jihad and Hamas.

The US attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said, "What is revolting is the number of people who seem to believe that a Muslim has no place on the bench,'' he said. But proof to the contrary was all around during the swearing-in. Fishman said to Mohammed, "Look at who are here, lawyers, judges, doctors, accountants, engineers, homemakers, police, prosecutors, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, a few atheists, Palestinians and Israelis, Yankee fans and Met fans. That we all came is a testament to you.''

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