September 11 has touched all our lives. By evoking sentiments of shock, fear, sorrow, disbelief, and resentment it has forever changed the mindset of America from one of near invincibility to one of unsettling vulnerability. For Muslim Americans, it has also evoked a deeply profound sadness and outrage that such a contemptible crime could be committed and perversely associated with our religious beliefs.
On the anniversary of this tragic day in our history, we remember in our prayers those whose innocent lives were so tragically cut short. We ask God to provide comfort to their next of kin. We seek His forgiveness, mercy and guidance to heal our fractured humanity.
On this solemn occasion, Muslim Americans had not expected to disassociate themselves once more from an act that was so antithetical to their core beliefs. However, in light of charges leveled against the Muslim community that it has not done enough to denounce the perpetrators, perhaps now is a good time to set the record straight.
Within hours of this vile act, heads of Muslim countries, leading Islamic clerics worldwide, and every Islamic organization in this country issued their unconditional condemnation.
Whatever may have motivated those to commit such an abhorrent act, the following verse from the Qur’an is a call to tolerance and pluralism and an absolute rejection of their extremism, “O mankind! We have created you from a male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another. The noblest among you before God are those of you who are the most God-conscious. ” (49:13)
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, ordinary Americans reached out to the Muslim
community with a magnanimity that exemplified America at its best. Rather than accept portrayal of the Muslim world as dominated by hateful terrorists, Americans of all religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds reached out to Muslim Americans to learn for themselves about Islam, and about their Muslim neighbors. They came to our mosques to seek understanding, share their fears, and put a face on the Muslims in their community.
They also came to express their concerns for, and their solidarity with our community now increasingly vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination. African Americans voiced protests against the racial stereotyping and profiling, now targeting Muslim Americans. Christians of every denomination offered support in the noblest spirit of ecumenism, repudiating religious persecution and condemning the notion that an entire religion could be reviled for the acts of its lunatic fringe. American Jews and Japanese Americans made empathic connections with us, drawing upon their own experiences of bigotry and institutional discrimination, and reminded us of the chapters in American history when fear of the “other” in our own country eclipsed democratic values and freedoms.
In extending the heartfelt gratitude of Muslim Americans to those who reached out to us, it would be remiss if we, in the Muslim community, did not share our present concerns. As the saga of the war on terror continues with no end in sight, the line of distinction between the real enemy and Islam has become less distinct and Muslim Americans have been made to feel like aliens in their own home. We have witnessed a relentless erosion of our civil liberties by the creation of, among other things, the Patriot and the Secret Evidence Acts. While open-minded and good-hearted Americans have reached out to us in our local communities, something far less noble seems to be happening on other levels.
For instance in the media, polemical commentators from the political to the religious end of the spectrum, denigrate Islam with impunity, fueling an unmitigated contempt for all Muslims and generating an atmosphere of suspicion and prejudice in which we have to raise our children. To many Muslim American families such scurrilous Islam-bashing is suggestive of an institutionally acceptable form of racism.
We would not be self-respectful or respectful of the ideals of America, if we did not speak up about these issues. We reject the claim that giving up on democratic values, religious freedoms, and the basics of American jurisprudence such as the presumption of innocence is either justifiable or honorable. We honor those who died so tragically on 9/11 by grieving for them, by praying for the pained loved ones they left behind, and by seeking to re-affirm the values that have drawn freedom-loving people to America’s shores for centuries.
Like other immigrant populations who made this country their home by choice, Muslim Americans have also come in search of liberty and justice and are committed to their defense and preservation. In this context, there are 15,000 Muslims in the military, many of them in Afghanistan. But whether in the military or not, we as Muslim Americans, whether indigenous or immigrant, all serve our country when we call upon our government and institutions to make America the best country that it can be, protective of freedom, and truly welcoming to people of all religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.
In the years to come, as Muslim Americans strive to reclaim their religion, and rightful American heritage through continued peaceful engagement with people of all faiths, we look to the following Qur’anic verse that inspires a worldview of pluralism, equality, and freedom: “To each among you God has prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but His plan is to test you in what He has given you. So strive, as in a race in all virtue. The goal of all of you is to God. It is He who will show you the Truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (5:8).
Mazen Duwaji, President
Abdul Cader Asmal, Mary Lahaj, Communications Committee,
Islamic Council of New England