CHICAGO (Reuters) - American Muslims welcomed Osama bin Laden's death, hoping it would help cast off a stigma attached to their community since the September 11 attacks.
"It's the best thing that has happened. Everyone is celebrating," said Sam Elhaf, 44, capturing the mood in Dearborn, Michigan, the largest U.S. Muslim community.
But Muslims have grown frustrated that their condemnations of bin Laden and al Qaeda have gone unheard as some Americans associate Islam with his message of violent jihad.
"It has been a nightmare to try to constantly explain to ordinary Americans that we are not associated with bin Laden. We have tried very hard to convince people that Muslims are not one monolithic group standing behind this monster," said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
"We were also victims of bin Laden's ideology of hate," he said. "The man hijacked our religion, committed crimes in the name of our religion and caused the greatest damage to the American Muslim community and Islam."
Musri and some other Muslim leaders said bin Laden's killing Monday by U.S. forces in Pakistan gave American Muslims and other Americans an opportunity to correct misunderstandings and bridge differences.
"Muslims ... continue to be victims in the growth of Islamophobia here, so the taking out of bin Laden, certainly at a symbolic level, in the short-term, takes the pressure off," said John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University.
There are up to 7 million Muslims in the United States and many have felt the sting of being unfairly lumped in with Arab Muslims who plotted and carried out the deadly 2011 attacks.
Sunday night's announcement by President Barack Obama that bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces set off a fresh round of spiteful telephone calls to a Muslim civil rights group.
"Since his death was announced we've received a number of hate calls, most expressing joy that he was killed and referring to him as 'your leader,'" said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest U.S. Muslim group, said spontaneous cries of "USA, USA" during street demonstrations outside the White House and at other gatherings around the nation were understandable.
"Americans have been talking about him, learning about him from these deadly acts," Syeed said.
In New York at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers, Toronto pharmacist Amin Jaqani said he was thrilled.
"We're ecstatic. After seeing the news, we had to go to Ground Zero to pay our respects. We're just as ecstatic as the people of New York City," said Jaqani, 39.
"This is a good day for Muslims everywhere," said Mahmood Rahman, a New York City cab driver.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council said the democratic protests that have shaken the Middle East in recent months have exposed bin Laden's violent message as bankrupt.
"We hope this is a turning point away from the dark period of the last decade, in which bin Laden symbolized the evil face of global terrorism," said its president, Salam Al-Marayati.
Majed Moughni, a 40-year-old Dearborn attorney who burned an effigy of bin Laden in his backyard on the eve of September 11 last year, said he was worried about reprisals.
"It's a double-edged sword," Moughni said. "I am happy that he is gone, but I'm terrified of the consequences -- of what his people are going to do in response."