9/11 – More Than a Decade Later


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decade

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

 

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

 

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

 

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

 

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

 

The Present: Life in America Today

 

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

 

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

 

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

 

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

 

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

 

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

 

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

 

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

 

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

 

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

 

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

 

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

 

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

 

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

The Present: Life in America Today

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

Hope After 9/11 – Globally

By Fiza Fatima Asar

London-based social media marketer for the non-profit sector

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

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