9/11: A Double-Edged Tragedy
By Ahmed Rehab
September 11, 2004
In commemorating the third anniversary of 9/11, our grief as American-Muslims is twofold.
On one hand we deplore the attack on our country. Our hearts bleed for the thousands of innocent lives lost. TV images of that terrible day are forever imprinted in our minds.
On the other hand, we realize with great regret that on that date our religion was hijacked along with those four planes.
Since that day, the world has not been the same. And again, for American-Muslims this statement is true in more ways than one.
Firstly, as Americans we are troubled by the notion that our homeland is under attack. Like all Americans, we worry about the security of our country and our citizens. Like everyone else, we fear further attacks that can cause more damage and further disrupt our way of life, a way of life that we have grown accustomed to and that we hold dear. Like all our compatriots, we are heavy-hearted at the ensuing wars that endanger the lives of the sons and daughters of America abroad.
Secondly, as Muslims, we have to worry about being scapegoated by some of our very own, those whose angst we share. We have to worry about being judged by the actions of those whom we do not know and have never met; to be crammed together with those whose actions we utterly abhor. We have to worry about those whose careless judgment lumps all Muslims as one group, and who fail to appreciate the diversity and variety represented amongst Muslims: the notion that Muslims are as diverse in their views as 1.4 billion people can be.
We have to brace for a certain level of paranoia that makes our post 9/11 daily lives as Americans even more difficult. We must face excessive profiling at airports and jobs, rising prejudice on the street, and sensational media reports that collectively demonize Muslims. We live with the burden of having to reaffirm our patriotism repeatedly.
We also have to worry about the continued hijacking of our faith by some Muslims whose atrocious acts can have no possible justification. Minority as they may be, we have to gear up for an ideological battle against them since their aggressive ways are attracting more attention than our peaceful ways.
Yet there is a sunny side to our double predicament that has many of our visionaries cautiously optimistic. It provides us with an important – albeit unsolicited - opportunity to test and strengthen our understanding of both our American identity, and our Islamic creed. If there was ever a doubt that the two can fully mingle, now is the time for us to remove all doubts. Now is the time for us to aggressively challenge the extremists amongst our ranks, and now is also the time for us to raise our voices against demonizing Islam as a whole.
The American spirit teaches us that for every generation, there is a calling to greatness. We welcome the challenge presented to us with a determination to rise above it. This is a chance for us to remind ourselves of our love for this country, and the need to be an active and integral part of the great and diverse American tapestry. In our public and private rhetoric, whether in mosque sermons, community publications, or at our dinner tables, now is the time to remind ourselves of what is good about America, and why America is our chosen and beloved homeland. In our struggle to improve civil rights, we are making America a better place, and doing our part to write a chapter of American history that will edge our nation closer to greatness.
The Muslim spirit teaches us that life is a series of tests and that allegiance to truth, fairness, hard work, and perseverance is the surest way to rise above all barriers. We understand that strain is a catalyst for growth, just like muscles requiring a workout. You grimace and you sweat, but in the end, you are in much better shape than when you started out. Challenges are necessary, even crucial for growth and improvement.
Far from being mutually-exclusive, each of our identities – American and Muslim - works to make the other more complete.
The American spirit inspires us with its values of freedom and inclusion. It is that spirit that allows us to practice our beloved faith of peace and compassion without persecution or retribution.
The Islamic spirit teaches us that love of one’s nation is part of the love of God. It teaches us that peace with one’s neighbors is part of peace with oneself. Islam teaches us that if there are evils present in the society in which we live, then our role as Muslims is to selflessly work to increase goodness as the best way to offset this evil. The true Muslim spirit is not to destroy, but to build. We have an obligation to live this message to our compatriots in the west, and to challenge those fringe Muslims who desecrate it with their deplorable blind anger.
In such trying times, as we American-Muslims struggle to deal with the dual challenges of post 9/11 life, we are mobilizing with optimism to become more American and more Muslim.
In conclusion, it is befitting to end an article commemorating the anniversary of 9/11 by remembering the most important dimension of this ordeal and that is its victims. I end by extending our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and our heartfelt prayer for the innocent souls lost.
Director of Communications
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Chicago
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