Riad Z. Abdelkarim & Jason Erb
As our nation approaches
the one-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks,
American Muslims around the country will join their fellow citizens
in pausing and reflecting upon the horrors of that day and its
aftermath. Some media pundits and other well-known
figures-including notable evangelist Franklin Graham-have recently
accused Muslims of remaining silent after the terrorist attacks.
Such charges, which have been covered widely but superficially in
the mainstream media, deserve serious analysis.
In reality, even a cursory
review of press releases, newspaper articles, opinion pieces, and
internet websites reveals that Muslims were uniformly shocked,
saddened, and outraged at the vicious attack on our own soil-and
they did not hesitate to voice their unequivocal condemnation. In
fact, American Muslim and Arab-American organizations and leaders
were among the first to react in an organized fashion to condemn the
terrorist attacks on that very same day, long before it became clear
that individuals calling themselves Muslims were involved in the
On September 11, the
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest
grassroots American Muslim civil rights and advocacy group,
distributed a statement which read: "We condemn in the strongest
terms possible what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of
terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in
calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the
perpetrators. No cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts.
All members of the Muslim community are asked to offer whatever help
they can to the victims and their families. Muslim medical
professionals should go to the scenes of the attacks to offer aid
and comfort to the victims."
CAIR also issued an alert
to the Muslim community on September 11, urging that the following
additional actions be taken: "Muslim relief agencies should contact
their counterparts to offer support in the recovery efforts.
Individual Muslims should donate blood by contacting the local
office of the Red Cross…They should also send donations to those
relief agencies that are on the scene of the attacks."
Similarly, the Muslim
Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued the following unequivocal
statement: "We feel that our country, the United States, is under
attack. All Americans should stand together to bring the
perpetrators to justice. We warn against any generalizations that
will only serve to help the criminals and incriminate the innocent.
We offer our resources and resolve to help the victims of these
intolerable acts, and we pray to God to protect and bless America."
And in a September 11
letter to President Bush, community leaders stated: "American
Muslims, who unequivocally condemned today's terrorist attacks on
our nation, call on you to alert fellow citizens to the fact that
now is a time for all of us to stand together in the face of this
heinous crime." This letter was signed by the leaders of CAIR, MPAC,
the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the
Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the
Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North
America, and American Muslims for Jerusalem. These groups represent
most of the seven million Muslims in the United States.
Muslims abroad were also
unequivocal in their condemnation of the attacks. The 57 member
Organization of Islamic Conference issued a communiqué stating:
"The Conference strongly condemned the brutal terror acts that
befell the United States….It further reaffirmed that these terror
acts ran counter to the teachings of the divine religions as well as
ethical and human values…."
In the West Bank thousands
of Palestinians attended candlelight vigils to express their grief
and solidarity with the victims of the attacks, and Palestinian
school children observed five minutes of silence. In Tehran, Iran
(one third of the President's proclaimed "axis of evil"), the main
soccer stadium observed one minute of silence in sympathy with the
victims of the attacks.
Despite the unanimous and
vocal condemnations by American Muslim and Arab-American group and
leaders nationwide, some in our country were not satisfied. In
subsequent weeks and months, numerous unsubstantiated references
appeared in newspaper opinion columns and on television talk shows
about American Muslims' alleged "silence" after the terrorist
attacks. Such claims were clearly not based on facts, but rather
were the products of either outright ignorance-which is
inexcusable-or deliberate defamation by some with thinly-veiled
Islamophobic agendas-which is utterly deplorable.
This accusation of silence
in the face of the September 11 attacks is now coupled with
increasingly aggressive rhetoric about Islam being an "evil"
religion and Muslims a "fifth column." Efforts to even teach about
Islam in public schools and universities are now routinely attacked
if they do not focus on the most extreme interpretations. When
Muslims try to correct uninformed statements about Islam, we are
labeled apologists. Open and honest discussion about Islam in the
public is increasingly silenced by the bigoted attacks of
individuals like Franklin Graham, who recently called for Muslims to
apologize for the 9/11 attacks.
While Muslims join most
Americans in seeking unity and solace with their fellow citizens,
some Americans are sowing seeds of hatred and ignorance. As
Americans we are all confronted by a number of daunting challenges
that we must face together, including concentrated efforts to tear
us apart from within. Bigots seem to be the biggest winners in the
post-September 11 environment. If they win, then we all lose.
Riad Z. Abdelkarim, MD,
is Western Region Communications Director and Jason Erb is
Governmental Relations Director for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest grassroots American Muslim
civil rights and advocacy group.