I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write anything commemorating the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which is why I am a day late. As another blogger mentioned, it just didn’t feel right telling a story that wasn’t mine to tell. I didn’t live in New York at the time of the attacks. I don’t know anyone who died in or around the towers that day. Yet like just about every other American, I stared wide-eyed and barely blinking at the television for hours that day. I watched camera footage of New Yorkers running in the streets as clouds of debris-filled ash threatened to swallow them. The days following, I watched with a lump in my throat as citizens posted pictures of loved ones on light poles, begging for information on their whereabouts. Wives grieved the loss of husbands and vice versa. Last words spoken were recalled. The grief they felt was so powerful that it was able to reach through the television with spindling fingers that wrapped themselves around my heart and squeezed until it hurt.
I sat in a chair at the Main Place Mall in downtown Buffalo a few days after the attacks, and waited for my chance to give donate blood. People had come together to help in any way possible. That’s one of the awesome things about Americans. We rejoice at helping others, despite hating the reason for the opportunity. As I scooted to the next chair when it became vacant, I observed the people around me, chatting about the events that transpired and what the plan of action was. And who was responsible.
As a Muslim, September 11th was more than a horrific act that killed thousands of innocent people. I had always felt like a real part of society but suddenly, I was the outsider. A group of men who called themselves Muslims committed a heinous crime in the name of my religion and as far as many people were concerned, I was just as much an enemy as one of those men. My hijab felt like a ton of bricks on my head and shoulders, and I felt suffocated by it. More than anything, I wanted to be a part of the renewed patriotism that spread across the nation. But the piece of fabric on my head made me feel as though I didn’t have a right to. And of course, there were people who flat out told me that I didn’t have a right to. Despite being born and raised in this country, random strangers would yell at me out of the windows of passing cars as I walked down the street. I was advised to go back to where I came from. Or better yet, just die. And I didn’t fight back. I understood their anger towards me, at least initially. I guess it would be similar to the anger that the majority of Americans felt towards Japanese citizens after the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the disdain that blacks and whites felt towards each other during the post-slavery years. But just as all those instances of anger were unwarranted, so was the anger that people felt towards me.
I debated with myself on whether or not to remove my hijab until things “cooled off”, and ultimately decided not to. It wasn’t an act of defiance on my part, but an educational opportunity. People were bolder since the attacks, and often approached me with questions. Sometimes angrily, other times, curiously. I explained to anyone who was willing to listen that the word Jihad was often misused. Jihad isn’t strapping an explosive device to your body and detonating it in a crowded marketplace. The word itself literally translates to mean “struggle”. It often refers to the struggle that we fight as human beings against our lowly desires. Sometimes it does refer to actual battle, but with rules in place. No killing of women, children, or elderly. In fact, no starting fights period, for “Allah loveth not the aggressor”. This is mentioned in Surah al Baqarah, just a few verses away from the ones that are frequently quoted out of context and used to justify hatred.
I may not be able to change the world’s opinion of me as a Muslim, but it is my responsibility to dispel the misunderstandings that people may have. I also take the time to teach my children about what God expects from us so that no one can dupe them into believing that slaughtering people has a place in our religion, and that the people who do such horrible things in the name of Islam are severely misguided. For those who call themselves Muslims and believe that we have some sick obligation to spill the blood of non-Muslims, I would love to know what they hope to achieve. They have done nothing but make life more difficult for the average Muslim whose strives to live a good, honest life and hopes to be rewarded with paradise as a result. The criminals will stand before God on the Day of Judgment and answer for the blood on their hands, and will be shocked when they are granted a free pass to hell fire in lieu of the virgin maidens they were expecting.