Teen Perspective, a column on Muslim teen issues

October 2002

A Day that Changed My Life

by Shezena T. Mohammed

Muslim women at a special town hall forum in Seattle, Washington describe incidents of harassment directed against them.
Muslim women at a special town hall forum in Seattle describe incidents of harassment directed against them.

A year ago I went to school every day without any thought about my safety there. I went to the masjid without ever wondering if there would be any chance of a bomb being in the mailbox. I spoke freely about politics without any thought of being incriminated for my points of view.

It has been over a year since September 11th. This past year has undoubtedly changed most of our lives forever. What we have learned from these experiences can never be taught in any class or book.

On the morning of September 11th I was at home. It was my day off from school and I planned to sleep in. Suddenly my mother rushed in the room and told me to turn on the TV. I could feel the panic in the air and I bolted up toward the TV with much confusion and worry. Just like how it is in movies, as soon as I turned the TV on I saw the images that would stay with me forever. I couldn't believe it. I had been there so many times before; how could this be happening? I remember wishing I were dreaming but I knew I wasn't. I could hear my Mom on the phone. We have so many relatives in New York and the call was not going through. When they started to report of the masses of firefighters stuck in the building, I remembered my friend who lives in New York whose father is a firefighter and I began praying for them as well. My father called and said perhaps we should not go out today or for even some time for that matter. That made me realize what all this meant for us. I began to wonder what was going to become of us now? So many of us are easily identifiable as Muslims and our people are clearly the number one suspect. I remembered what had happened after the Oklahoma City bombing and I knew we were bound to share a similar fate. If only I had known just how much.

We didn't go out for days. The Imam at our masjid called us knowing that we wore hijab and suggested the same as my father. A rumor quickly made its' way around that a Muslim family had been beaten in the street just a few blocks away from where we live. We didn't know what to do. I couldn't even imagine how many people had died just before my eyes. I couldn't believe that we were going to be blamed for this, so much that it would drastically change our lives. My father quickly became the errand runner for our family. I called all my teachers to tell them that I would have to be withdrawing from all my classes. For the reason in the paper work I had no idea what to put. It was not safe for me to continue going to college anymore. It truly was, but it seemed so strange for the day to actually come. It seemed every week there was another bomb planted in the masjid. We quickly grew tired of all of the threats that were directed to our Ummah. It didn't seem it would ever stop. I remember reading the news on the internet that another masjid's windows were shattered. When I followed the link I realized it was the very masjid I grew up in. These same things were happening everywhere to so many Muslims. One sister told us of her experiences, "During this time, I was worrying about my own safety of course. My masjid was under siege for days by teenage thugs. Everyone around us knew that my family is Muslim... I wondered if our neighbors would lash out against us or reach out towards us."

Although a lot of us have been under persecution by the people around us, the results were not entirely negative. From this event the public has been forced to more closely look at Islam. They have seen what it is really about, for the most part. There will always be people who will discriminate against us but when this happened people decided to take a closer look at Islam. Just like anything though, there are going to be mistakes and misconceptions but for the most part, I think all the attention on us was for the better. In this we were able to give so much da'wah to the people who approached us and even to those who were simply aware of us. After the attacks, one woman came up to me and told me that we are here in America and I don't have to wear this (my hijab) anymore. I told her it doesn't matter where I am, I am always Muslim and I will always wear this. She then told me no, that because we are here in America, we are free. We don't have to do these kinds of things over here. I told her that because I am free I wear this. Although there was so much attention focused on Islam, Muslim women are still portrayed as oppressed.

Among all these acts of discrimination, there have been particular incidents which stand out and which the people of America cannot ignore. For instance even though a year has passed, three Muslim medical students on their way to a medical conference were wrongly accused of plotting terrorism in Florida. They were minding their own business when the ingrained prejudice from September 11th came into play. This prejudice may not be something that most people recognize in themselves, but we Muslims see its effects. The incident with the medical students just showed how ridiculous all this has come to be.

When the news came out of the suspected terrorist plot by these medical students, I feared that this would cause a lot more problems for Muslims. I prayed they would not find anything and would let those young men go and alhumdullilah they did. Not only were the students innocent, they dealt with the situation very well. They did not bear any resentment toward the woman, which was a great display of the teachings of Islam. And I think that their decision not to sue the woman who accused them of such a horrible crime showed just how wrong and unfair they have been toward Muslims. I saw them being interviewed on Larry King Live and I knew this is a good thing for Muslims. They had such kind words and came across as such good Muslims. They were soft spoken and they showed just how far America has gone in accusing Muslims. They are showing America another face of Islam. It's showing them our generation, a generation that adheres to our religion but is also American - just as American as anyone else. I believe that this incident, although it must have been very difficult for the students, will end up benefiting our Ummah. And Insha'Allah it was our Ummah that benefited them when we sent emails and expressed how unfair it was for the hospital not to accept them after this incident.

The events of September 11th were a sad occasion. At first it put a negative light on Islam and people were curious about what it was really about. They wanted to know more about this religion that everyone was saying so much about. As a result Qur'an sales and conversion rates went up dramatically, and so have the number of Muslims practicing Islam because people realized that Islam was not what so much of what the media claimed it to be. They saw that this is the true and correct path to follow, the new ones and the ones who were born Muslim. This also happened with the three medical students that were traveling to Florida. The three gentlemen's mannerism and attitudes were according to Islam and that was clear in the way they handled this event. They displayed the proper demeanors of Islam and Insha'Allah people will be will be able to look at Muslims differently because of this and realize that these men are a better representation of Islam than the terrorists who destroyed so many peoples lives.

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