DETROIT – It was an image of Islam that might have startled many Americans: a young Muslim woman wearing a traditional head scarf standing in the center of a chandeliered banquet hall singing the U.S. national anthem. “It saddens me,” Denise Hazime, a 25-year-old, Muslim American law student remarked after watching the woman sing to kick off an Arab student fundraiser. “The way things are now, I bet the average American would never think of the image of a covered girl singing our national anthem.” The way things are now is this: American Muslim leaders say they are facing an increasingly tough public relations battle as they fight to portray their faith as non-violent. Some Muslims say conveying a peaceful image of Islam is tougher now than it was after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they blame a daily barrage of negative media images. They are referring to stories such as a Christian convert being threatened with execution in Afghanistan, coverage of thousands of Muslims expressing outrage at Danish cartoons and shouting anti-Western threats, and daily bloody images from Iraq. “We say we’re peaceful people, but it doesn’t matter what we say,” said Irfan Rydhan, 31, a spokesperson and organizer for the South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose, Calif. “They see these violent images on TV, and those people look like us.” American views of their Muslim neighbors had been improving. A Pew Research Center poll released in July 2005, after the London terrorist bombings, showed that 55% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in March showed that a majority of Americans have a negative view of Islam. ‘It’s really hard right now’ It seems as if extremist voices “have taken over,” said Rana Abbas, a 26-year-old Muslim American who is deputy director of Michigan’s American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a nationwide civil rights group based in Washington, D.C. “It makes your struggle so much harder. It makes it seem as if all your efforts are in vain. It’s really hard right now for moderate Muslims to get their message out.” A large part of the public relations problem is that most Americans do not have a basic understanding of the turmoil that exists in parts of the Muslim world, said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, a political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Zogby said that many heavily Islamic regions have been destabilized by war. “The problem is not the nature of the religion; it is the dislocation and disruption of normal society brought on by the trauma of war,” he said. “It’s similar to what happened in our own country during the post-Civil War period where you had lynchings and the emergence of extremist currents that lasted for decades.” Imam Hassan Qazwini heads the largest mosque in the USA, the Islamic Center of America, based in Dearborn, Mich. Qazwini said he and other imams have grown weary of being made to answer for every violent act committed in the name of Mohammed. “This has become a daily nightmare for Muslims,” Qazwini said. “We’re upset. We’re frustrated. We cannot control every Muslim. We cannot be held responsible for everything.” Qazwini said he is confounded when Islam as a whole is blamed for the actions of individuals, while other religions are not. “How is it that when Pat Robertson calls for the murder of the president of a sovereign country that nobody said Christianity is promoting violence and murder?” Qazwini said, referring to Robertson’s call last August for the assassination Venezuelan President Hugo Ch_vez. Robertson later apologized. Qazwini said his mosque is trying to do its part to open dialogue. The mosque offers tours of the elaborate, 76,000-square-foot community and worship center, which is topped with a huge dome and accented with teak and mahogany doors carved in Turkey and the Philippines. ‘We’re not so different’ A group of 27 eighth-grade girls and boys from a Catholic school about an hour outside Detroit recently toured the mosque. The girls fidgeted with their makeshift headscarves, straw-blond hair poking out. A boy with shaggy bangs and pale skin asked the tour guide, a 46-year-old nurse consultant who sent her daughter to Catholic school, “How come you can’t draw Mohammed?” He was referring to recent news stories about the controversial Danish cartoons and the belief that any images of Mohammed are considered sacrilege in Islam. As guide Najah Bazzy waved goodbye to the students, one of their teachers stopped to thank her, saying it was her first time in a mosque. The teacher added, “We’re not so different.” Bazzy agreed. “That’s why these tours are so important,” Bazzy said after the teacher left. Muslims in San Jose are making special efforts at public relations, too. “Images are more powerful than any words,” the South Bay Islamic Association’s Rydhan said. With that in mind, Rydhan organized “Muslim Unity Day” last year at Paramount’s Great America amusement park. He said part of his mission was to provide an image of Muslims being carefree, and that’s his mission for this year’s unity day, too, which is Aug. 27. More than 4,000 Muslims from the area showed up for a day last year at the park in Santa Clara, Calif. The South Bay Islamic Association’s imam, wearing traditional loose, white religious clothing and a thick, long beard, got off a water ride with some friends at one point during the festivities. He was soaking wet and laughing. That’s a good picture, Rydhan says he thought to himself.