Remembering 9/11 Today

By Saulat Pervez

flagSeptember 11, 2001, changed everything. We who had led carefree lives centering on our individual routines, blissfully uninformed about international events or the politics of far-flung places, were caught unawares. A stunned nation watched with horror, filled with hurt and anger. Grief engulfed our hearts, questions pricked our minds, and suspicions lurked in our thoughts. That fateful day jolted our collective consciousness and nothing was the same again.

Indeed, this was true for Americans as a whole – which included the minority of Muslims that call the United States their home. In fact, their angst intensified as fears of backlash turned into reality in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: mosques were vandalized, innocent lives were lost, and individuals were harassed. Even so, there was an outpouring of support among neighbors, colleagues, and peers. Local people of different faiths offered to guard mosques, get groceries for Muslims, and sought to understand the political motivations of the terrorists. In the vastness of the land, however, these were a brave minority, and remain so.

As the anguished nation sought revenge, a clear divide between “them” and “us” began to emerge, splattering our shared psyche with phrases such as “holy war” and “Muslim militancy” on the one hand, and “homeland security” and “war on terror” on the other. In the process, few on either side recognized Islam as one of the victims: its peaceful message ravaged, its teachings grossly misinterpreted, and its virtues vilified.

Today, more than a decade later, the perception of Islam in America continues to be overshadowed by the events of 9/11, as apparent in right-wing rhetoric, the anti-Shariah campaign, and the various obstacles different mosques face. On this anniversary of 9/11, we owe it to ourselves to explore what Islam truly says about terrorism, historical examples of coexistence in Muslim lands, how the Muslim American community was affected by 9/11, and ways in which we can positively move forward as a united nation. 

Islam, Jihad and Terrorism

Many Islamic concepts and terms began taking a life of their own soon after 9/11. Take, for example, ‘jihad.’ Often mistranslated as “holy war,” it invokes images of fearless men blowing themselves to pieces in the name of God, convinced that they are going to Paradise, even as they take innocent lives and shatter families. Such one-dimensional depictions manage to shock, but do not educate.

Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means to strive. At the individual level, jihad primarily refers to the inner struggle of being a person of virtue and submission to God in all aspects of life. On a larger scale, jihad can also be warfare, but it is undertaken after all efforts at peace fail, and even then it has stringent rules of engagement.

There are key differences between jihad and terrorism. Firstly, jihad can only be launched by an established authority whereas terrorism is committed by individuals or groups that have no legitimacy to speak for the majority. Secondly, jihad is limited to combatants while terrorism causes the death of civilians. Thirdly, jihad, when necessary, is declared openly; terrorism is carried out secretly. Lastly, jihad is bound by strict rules of engagement but terrorism has no such limits.

Indeed, the Quran (also spelled ‘Koran’) displays an extraordinary respect for human life:

“…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” (5:32)

At another point, Quran states,

“…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (6:151)

Islam certainly permits engagement in war for purposes of defending religion and combating oppression. God says in the Quran:

“And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? Men, women and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!’” [4:75]

At the same time, such warfare carries stringent requirements, reflecting Islam’s inherent inclination towards peace. This is completely contrary to the impression which the following oft-quoted verse gives:

“…and slay them wherever ye catch them…” (2:191)

While this makes a great sound bite, this clipped verse is actually taken out of context. [Read an explanation here.]

In short, Islam strongly condemns terrorism and this has been stated in unequivocal terms by scholars of Islam worldwide. [Read the statements here.]

Islam: A History Lesson

Within the first hundred years after Prophet Muhammad’s death, Islam had spread in all directions of the world with remarkable speed. From the deserts of Arabia, it had extended its reach eastward to the edges of modern day India and westward to the northern parts of Africa up to and including Spain, the southern expanse of Europe. By the eight century, it had successfully replaced the dominant Persian and Byzantine empires and established itself as a world power. Muslims continued to rule most of that region over the next ten centuries, extending eastward to parts of China and southwards into Africa.

This was a time of great conquests or jihads, where much territory fell into Muslim hands. They conquered vast areas and populations which were unfamiliar with Islam or Muslims – yet, the native people embraced Muslim rule in comparison to their previous repressive regimes. Contrary to popular beliefs, the people belonging to these conquered lands were not converted to Islam by the sword. Rather, they slowly began to accept Islam over generations and many simply chose to keep their own religions and they were free to do so.

Historically, Islam championed the freedom of religion when few others exercised it. When Muslims occupied Palestine in 637 C.E., they allowed Jews to enter and live in the Holy Land after 500 years of exile. Muslim Spain, from the 8th through the 11th centuries, was known for its spirit of tolerance and mutual respect among people of differing faiths, also known as convivencia. After Muslims lost Spain and the infamous Inquisition began, Jews were expelled en masse – but they were welcomed by the Muslim Ottomans with open arms. The fact that pockets of minorities have existed in Muslim lands for centuries is further evidence of Islam’s liberal stance.

When we take the acts of a few fanatics to represent an entire religion, we end up glossing over centuries of traditions and ignoring historical precedence which reflect an entirely different reality, as shown above.

Muslim Americans Respond to 9/11

A prominent Muslim scholar publicly proclaimed,

“Islam was hijacked on that September 11, 2001, on that plane as an innocent victim.”

Practicing Muslims, who lived the reality of Islam every single day, sensed this the most; it pained them to see their religion of justice, of righteousness, of mercy, be equated with indiscriminate killing and bloodshed. As a result, Muslims sprung into action.

From a group of close-knit families minding their own business and quietly attending mosque events, Muslims as a community learned to break out of their shells and proactively engage with local and national organizations on topics such as Islam, terrorism, and the Muslim world. They vocally and vehemently distanced themselves from the terrorists, and affirmed their loyalty to the United States. Mosques circulated press releases, Imams met with local officials, and Muslim scholars advised the president on how to handle the crisis in a sensitive manner.

Furthermore, as details of the deceased emerged, it became clear that dozens of Muslims had also died in the WTC attacks. These included restaurant employees, executives, managers, traders, technicians, airplane passengers, and first responders. Muslims were victims too! They had suffered alongside their fellow Americans, and some had even heroically given their lives while trying to rescue others. For example, Abdu Malahi, an audio-visual manager at Marriott World Trade Center, personally guided many guests to safety before dying himself. Several survivor reports praise his selflessness and heroism.

Alas, due to the climate of fear and distrust, some of these victims were suspected to be perpetrators before their names were formally cleared. For instance, Rahma Salie was on board American Flight 11 along with her husband when it crashed into WTC; she was seven months pregnant. Afterwards, authorities investigated her as a possible terrorist accomplice and placed members of her family on a no-fly list which almost prevented them from attending her memorial service.

Despite these sacrifices, Islam and Muslims have continued to stay in the limelight ever since 9/11 in the past 12 years. This constant scrutiny has transformed many Muslims into activists, while others decide to lay low. Even as some Muslim women have stopped wearing hijab so that they wouldn’t suffer by association, many others willfully adhere to it. Increasingly, men and women choose to be openly identified as Muslim and seek opportunities to show that Islam is not oppressive or extremist. [Read an article about this.]

During the past decade or so, many mosques have facilitated interfaith dialogue and encouraged participation in organizations which serve the larger community. In this way, 9/11 has enabled Muslims to evolve from a people concerned with their own problems to a group which is increasingly contributing to local social causes and faith-related discourse. In the end, Muslims in the United States have managed to hold their heads high through it all, celebrating their unique identity as Muslim Americans and maturing as a faith-based community.

A Time to Remember

On this anniversary of 9/11, we must remember that people of all religions, ethnicities, and races died side-by-side on that tragic day. The perpetrators of this heinous event, though they professed to be Muslim, were driven by their own warped agendas that have nothing to do with the purity of Islam.

When we think of terrorism, we instantly imagine the toppling towers of the World Trade Center, subway attacks or airplane hijackings. The victims in our minds often hail from the West – under attack by violent Muslim fundamentalists.

However, the reality of the matter is that terrorism is blind: its targets are inclusive rather than exclusive. In fact, Muslims fall victim to terrorist attacks far more than their Western counterparts. Suicide bombings in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq are alarmingly common, leading to indiscriminate deaths of both civilians and non-civilians, local people alongside foreigners.

Moreover, more than Islam, the issue at the core of terrorism is political. Many people, groups, and constituencies in countries in the developing world are angry because they feel their governments have given free reign to the U.S. on issues which suit American interests, such as allowing drone attacks as in the case of Pakistan. At times, this allegation turns into bitter hostility, resulting in certain self-styled organizations venting their anger in the form of terror attacks, both internally and externally, varnishing their rhetoric with religious veneer.

Holding Islam or Muslims responsible for such reprehensible acts only helps the terrorists succeed in their mission to divide the world along religious, ethnic, or political lines. We must defeat the terrorists by embracing one another, by enabling constructive dialogue, by engaging in common causes irrespective of faith, ethnicity, or race – just as those who died on 9/11.

We should never forget the events of 9/11 – but we must learn to differentiate between the perpetrators and their professed faith, between a few extremists and their billion-strong peace-loving counterparts. Only then will we do justice to the victims of 9/11 – all of them – and deal a fatal blow to terrorism.

On this anniversary of 9/11, let this be our vision, let this be our legacy.



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  1. Lynn says:

    Saulat, no truer words have been spoken. I call out to NON Muslims to set aside mistrust and hatred, and get to know your Muslim neighbors. It is only a handful who believe in the perversion of “jihad” called terrorism. I have come to understand that term in a truer sense through your article … and realize that our STRUGGLE to understand one another is “jihad” … and call on everyone to engage in that struggle. You will not regret it, and may even get to know some good decent human beings who just happen to be Muslim.

  2. Eric Christopherson says:

    It saddens and disappoints me that there was not a more thorough investigation into the 911 attacks, especially since it is the opinion of demolition experts, and victims who heard loud explosions in the basements of the twin towers AND the building behind them, that demolition explosives were used, and that those explosives were used to bring down those 3 buildings as completely as happened. And am sure many who read here are aware of many other elements of the situation at that time that were not properly investigated, such has the almost immediate cover-up of the crime scene at the Pentagon crash, and an observed type of aircraft engine wreckage which is installed on military aircraft, not civilian.

    Am just scratching the surface and sharing a little to make the point that we live in a complicated world as far as sin, people who do terrible things, and the people on the scene and behind the scenes who do terrible things to advance their own particular agendas.

    I used to belong to a historic Masonic type of brotherhood that is very influential in the world, and their goal is the completion of one government and religion for the world. This has been known at least as far back to the 1700′s as “the Great Work.” Without going into detail, these societies are Satanic under the surface and very polytheistic, even though may of the lower level members think they are doing good and even serving the God of Abraham.

    It is well known in these circles and a joke that whatever President the citizens vote for and elect, they have simply voted for the same overall agenda to advance.

    The masses are often given very clean-cut conclusions about situations such as 911, but behind the scenes various groups with different agendas: political, religious, making enormous war profits, oil acquisition, as well as terrorists of every shade, finding a degree of victory in their own minds, and finding themselves temporarily on the same evil side of the battle.

    Financially, the USA has been repeatedly plundered, and historically, some the of the Presidents who stood against the bankers and the buying of their currency at interest have been assassinated.

    My heart goes out to sincere Christians i know who have spoke with me on this 911 anniversary about how we need to forgive the terrorists, because that is what Jesus/Isa (pbuh) would want us to do. Then they mention to me about how the “Arab Muslim countries hate us, and always will…” And i think in my own heart, i am willing to forgive people who actually wish to be forgiven. Allah forgives those who sincerely repent and are sorry for their sins. But, those who maim and kill innocent others, whether it be in the USA, Palestine, or anywhere else and have no remorse will not be forgiven.

    Some of my Muslim brothers feel that 911 has brought attention and conversions to Islam. This is true i feel, and is how i began to investigate Islam. but i feel the continued slaughter of innocents that terrorists perpetuate obviously does far more damage to the cause of Allah that any indirect good that may result.

    But mainly today, i am hoping more and more good and decent people can realize that we are all really on the same side of this war in our world, and that those who do evil and harm others make up a strange alliance of those whose hearts are filled not only with a misguided and perverted interpretations of Islam and Allah’s will in our time, but allied with them are those who are devoted to further the moral degradations of Satan, one-world order, and greed which has spawned rule of much of the world by heartless corporations gladly supported by investments from all those who can profit, no matter what the cost in human lives and suffering.

    True Islam has the answer to the need of sincere humans worldwide. Those who care about others more than money.

    The 911 attacks were not only seemingly against my country the USA, but just as much an attack against true Islam and the majority of sincere Muslims worldwide, and just as much used as a false justification to take military actions under the guise of helping others, to further the agendas of those who serve money and those who serve Satan in direct hostility against Allah.

    I am grateful that Allah knows all things and has not given up on humans.

  3. Roshni Nair says:

    Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means to strive. At the individual level, jihad primarily refers to the inner struggle of being a person of virtue and submission to God in all aspects of life. On a larger scale, jihad can also be warfare, but it is undertaken after all efforts at peace fail, and even then it has stringent rules of engagement.

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