Exactly 10 Septembers ago, our global community would awake to witness one monumental act of craven inhumanity that would change our world forever in one fell terroristic swoop. In addition to our country mourning the collapse of two of our largest towers, we as a nation also witnessed nearly 3,000 Americans of all religions, ethnicities, and races perish right before our eyes.
On this 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, I spent most of my day here in Washington, D.C. at the 9/11 Unity Walk, where hundreds—if not thousands—of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and people of all faiths walked alongside each other to commemorate the legacy of 9/11. Hundreds of us gathered at Washington Hebrew Congregation—the largest synagogue in Washington, D.C.—and heard a Muslim call to prayer as we then proceeded to the Washington Islamic Center where Jewish cantors sang over mosque loudspeakers and African-American gospel singers (who once sang for the Pope) melodiously sang “Amazing Grace” at the mosque grounds.
Such an encouraging display of interfaith unity from hundreds of Americans of diverse backgrounds was truly a silver lining from the very dark cloud that reared its ugly head upon our country one fine Tuesday morning 10 years ago.
Even though I was a 24-year-old law student at the time, in many ways my life as an American Muslim only truly began on that day at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, when the first plane hit. Because that was the day that my country was attacked by people who would also infamously hijack my religion. On that saddest of day of my own personal life, as the second airplane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex at 9:03 a.m., it would soon became abundantly clear that we in the American (and global) Muslim community needed to issue quick, immediate, and categorical condemnations of these horrific terrorist attacks.
“On behalf of every member of the global Muslim community, I condemn the vicious acts that occurred in Washington and New York,” began my New York Times editorial condemnation, which was published Sept. 14, 2001. “Nowhere in Islamic doctrine is the killing of innocent civilians condoned … At this time of numbness, anger and profound sorrow, I, along with the entire American Muslim community, extend my hand in love and peace to our friends, neighbors and children.”
My other editorial condemnation—which was published the previous day in USA Today on Sept. 13, 2011—reminded every American that “people of all creeds perished Tuesday. Muslims, as well as Christians, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists, were all victims of this unspeakable tragedy. This act was not consistent with the teachings of Islam nor can it be condoned by any living human soul.”
Mohammed Salman Hamdani—a 23-year-old American Muslim 9/11 first-responder paramedic and New York City police cadet—was one of the 2,976 people who tragically died in the attacks. Because of his heroism as a first responder on that day, The New York Times posthumously named Hamdani an “all-American Jedi.” Even though he selflessly gave his life on 9/11 trying to save the lives of others, there were still some people who continued to see him as something he was not.
According to The New York Times, when it was learned that “Mr. Hamdani, 23, had disappeared on Sept. 11, ugly rumors circulated: he was a Muslim and worked in a lab; he might have been connected to a terrorist group. Months later the truth came out. Mr. Hamdani's remains had been found near the north tower, and he had gone there to help people he did not know … And then, at last, everyone could see Mr. Hamdani for what he truly was.”
Even though many Americans would come to learn about Muslims in a negative light from the 9/11 attacks, it is important to note some of the positive societal contributions that Muslims have given to the world over the course of our shared history. For example, most people do not know that it was Muslims who invented algebra, and many people would also probably be surprised to learn that it was a Muslim who designed the Sears Tower in my sweet hometown of Chicago.
Also, the greatest American boxer ever and the funniest dude in America—Muhammad Ali and Dave Chappelle, respectively—are both Muslims. Even more significantly, Muslims have won three out of the last 10 Nobel Peace Prizes. But more important than Nobel Peace Prizes, Muslim culture has brought crunchy falafel, henna tattoos, and yummy hummus to our beloved American shores.
But all because of one terrorist cave dweller, nearly 1,500 years of pan-Islamic cultural and societal progress have gone down the drain.
Thanks a lot, Osama.
So as we honor this 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on our country, there are millions of American Muslims like myself around this nation who want you to know that we also died a little that day—and we will always mourn together with our fellow Americans during times of shared national tragedy.