On September 11, a day that will forever be remembered as Black Tuesday, Americans were glued to their television screens watching in horror as the catastrophic events unfolded before their eyes. And when news reports pointed to Osama Bin Laden as the possible mastermind behind the attacks, America’s 7 million Muslims braced themselves for the fallout. That day America and all Americans were dealt a devastating blow. And indeed, so too was the Islamic faith.
No doubt in the minds of many American Muslims, a massive smear campaign against Islam, like never before, would surely follow. And to some extent, it did. But as the dust settled, and time wore on, a remarkable thing happened. A new kind of Islam was broadcast into American homes, one far removed from the terrorist’s twisted version of Islam or the ‘Hollywoodized Islam’ often popularly associated with this largely misunderstood faith. America opened the book on Islam.
The Islamic faith became almost as much a story as the tragedy itself. Americans grew interested in learning about a mysterious faith practiced by 1.2 billion of the world’s population. And though immediately after the attack, anti-Muslim hysteria was rampant across much of the nation, the angry rhetoric against Islam started to slowly take a different direction. It began following President Bush’s phone conversation with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, when he explained, “…we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war [against terrorism], that we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserveéwe should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror.”
In the wake of the attack, Americans heard their president and other government officials describe Islam as a “peaceful” religion, not at all associated with the acts of terror committed against Americans. The Friday following the attack, President Bush, several former presidents, and leaders of several different faith groups gathered at the Washington National Cathedral in recognition of a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for victims, family members and rescue workers. The prayer service was broadcast live and included prayers and supplications delivered by Imam Muzammil Siddiqi.
In the days that followed, President Bush attended the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. to show his support for the American Muslim community. In his speech he quoted verses from the Qur’an, and stated, “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand thaté The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
In President Bush’s live address to Congress, he again urged Americans not to take out their frustrations on American Muslims or Arab Americans. He reached out to Muslims around the world to explain that the United States was not at war with Islam, saying, “We respect your faith …. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.”
The leader of the free world had spoken. Americans were listening.
The entertainment industry has made some positive moves as well. MTV has taken the lead in promoting tolerance with its “Fight for Your Rights’ campaign, taking a stand against discrimination while educating the young about the Islamic faith. Nearly 60 million tuned in to watch the special two-hour broadcast of America: A Tribute to Heroes. The highlight of the show was an appearance by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who told viewers, “I’ve been a Muslim for 30 years, and I’m against killing, violence – and all Muslims are against it. Islam is peace, against killing, murder, and the terrorists. The people that do it in the name of Islam are wrong. And if I had a chance, I’d do something about it.” Musicians and actors also came together for a remake of the 1979 Sister Sledge hit “We Are Family” as a response to the backlash against the Arab American and Muslim communities. Proceeds from the song will go to non-profit organizations, media, and educational programs promoting racial and religious tolerance, according to Rollingstone Magazine.
On Sept. 23, thousands of Americans of every faith went to the Yankee Stadium in New York to take part in ”A Prayer for America.” Following a mesmerizing Islamic call to prayer and recitations from the Qur’an, Imam Izak-El M. Pasha, a police chaplain and imam of Harlem’s Masjid Malcolm Shabazz mosque, delivered a moving speech condemning the acts of terrorism against America and emphasizing unity among all Americans. The crowd rose to its feet after Pasha pleaded, “Do not allow the ignorance of people to (push) you to attack your good neighbors. We are Muslims, but we are Americans.”
Across America, Muslims have witnessed an outpouring of sympathy and support from fellow Americans, some of who have left cards, flowers, and flags at local mosques. In Peyore, Ill., 300 American women wore scarves for a day to show their solidarity with women who wear hijab, and other similar events have been planned. Interest in Islam has peaked. There are reports that copies of the Qur’an are selling out at bookstores nationwide. Islamic websites have seen an increase in hits as well as inquiries from Americans interested in learning more about Islam.
On Wednesday, President Bush met for the second time in two weeks with American Muslim leaders at the White House. He reaffirmed that the “teachings of Islam are the teachings of peace and good.” At the close of the meeting Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi gave President Bush a copy of the Qur’an and stressed the need for further education about Islam in American society.
Sometimes out of tragedy, comes some good. Out of the darkness and the rubble of Black Tuesday, a religion that has for so long been the object of misunderstanding and stereotypes, has finally come into the light.