A Muslim Reflects on 9/11.
Like many Americans, I watched transfixed as the Twin Towers fell down on September 11, 2001. My coworkers and I hunched around a 6 inch, grainy, black and white, contraband television set on our assistant’s desk. Most of us missed when the first tower fell. But her sharp cry of alarm brought us all running. We arrived in time to watch live as the second tower fell, to our shocked amazement. We did not immediately attribute the act to terrorism. It was not our automatic response as it would be today. The shock was too new. It was unimaginable at first, that this had happened on purpose. We thought the first tower was a terrible accident. Then as the second tower fell, a horrific coincidence. That naivete did not last long. Within the hour it was clear that America was under attack. As planes fell in Pennsylvania and the pentagon, fear replaced shock. We searched to name this unnamed enemy to all Americans. It didn’t take long to name the enemy and the lives of all us to change forever.
As the only Muslim in my office, I was protected from the (sometimes brutal) Islamophobic attacks that others endured that day. Spared because of the unique relationship I’d built with my coworkers over the years. Although not a hijabi, I had worked to teach my colleagues the beauty of Islam BEFORE the attacks. Often explaining the meaning and importance of Ramadan and our two holidays. Sharing with coworkers, things like Eid gifts. I also participated in customs that were important to them, such as weddings and funerals. Somethings I could not Islamically take part in, such as Easter. But I made sure to explain the reason why and to still wish them peace and joy on their holiday. Many of them returned the same wishes for mine. Enthusiastically they wished me an Eid Mubarak (or blessed holiday), and tried to ease my fasting by not bringing food around or inviting me to lunch during Ramadan. Because I had built this relationship of faith and trust before September 11th, I had their full support on September 11th. Others were not so lucky. I received a worried call from my friend in New York City. Her colleague had returned to their job in tears after leaving the building wearing her hijab. She’d been shouted and spit at and nearly choked as someone tried to rip the hijab from her head. Her only option was to run back to the safety of her job. Once there, she removed her hijab out of fear for her life before exiting again.
It was a scary time. Now sixteen years later I wonder have we come much further? The answer is yes and no. It is a roller coaster ride of contradictions, highs and lows. The highs include; increased interfaith collaborations and interactions, increased understanding of Islam by non-Muslims, inclusion of Muslim history and culture in schools and public institutions, more toleration and legal protections for Islamic dress, and the rise in the number of Muslims in politics both state and federal. All of the positive progressions have been met with Al hamdulillah!!! Praise be to God, for bringing us all together during difficult times, and for helping us to include Muslims in the American melting pot.
But we can’t rest on our progress or highs without examining our lows. The invasion of foreign Muslim countries who, we learned in retrospect, had absolutely nothing to do with the bombings on September 11th. The destabilization of many other countries leading to war and loss of life that continues sixteen years later. Watching dominoes fall in painful slow motion for sixteen years as whole countries changed forever. We watched impotently as our country used inhumane interrogation and torture techniques. To get information that we later learned was useless. Denial of basic human rights and due process to detainees at Guantanomo Bay and other “black sites”. The rise in anti-Muslim, propaganda, sentiment and terrorism. Masajid burned and vandalized. Muslim women and children harassed and attacked are all part of the lows. Culminating in the election of the most Anti-Muslim, Anti-immigrant president we have ever had.
Both the highs and the lows have been extremes. Most of our daily lives fall somewhere in the middle. We interact a little bit more and we are harassed a little bit more. This has become our status quo. Our new normal, that continues as we live our lives post September 11th. As we continue journeying past this date, it is my prayer that Allah (God) continues to keep our country safe from another attack. I pray that the highs increase and the lows decrease. I pray that those who would use Islam to terrorize others return to the core Islamic values of peace and patience. If they refuse to come back to the fold of Islam and choose instead to hold fast to their terrorist tactics then I pray that they are stopped before they cause any harm. I pray that ultimately this event is something that brings us together as Muslims and makes our ummah (community) stronger. I pray that it also brings us together as Americans and teaches us to live together with tolerance and patience and reminds us of the dangers when we don’t.