Written by Theresa Corbin
When people remember 9/11/01 they often ask one another, where were you? So, where were you?
I was on the verge of my 21st birthday, and on my way to the first day at a new job. I heard of the first plane crash on the radio (as it was thought to be an accident at that point) and didn’t think much of it, but that it was a sad loss of life.
By the time I reached the mall (I was to be the new sales girl at New York & Co.) and went to the back of the store for training, the morning news anchors on the small TV used for training videos were telling us of the second plane crash.
My new coworkers and I were shocked. We stood around the tiny screen in silence. I can’t remember what happened next except that I sat down. I think the training videos were playing, but my mind was somewhere else.
I felt a certain sense of urgency in the air like a weather forecaster had just announced a Cat 5 hurricane was making landfall in the neighborhood. The who, what, why, or how was unknown.
An hour later, after more was known about the crashes, the mall was closed because our country was officially under attack. I never got to finish watching (or even start) those training videos.
Like most people’s, my life was never the same. At this point, I considered myself an unofficial Muslim. I believed in God, and his messengers from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (Peace be upon them). I believed in the original revelation of the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran.
I held these beliefs in my heart, but never made my declaration of faith out loud (the shahada). I had been studying religions since my journey began in 1998–read more about it here, and here.
Then the backlash came. Since “Muslims” were taking credit for the attacks, the natural reaction for the public was to attack back. The religion in whose name the atrocities were committed and all those who followed this religion were slandered, drug through the dirt, tried and convicted as backward, corrupt, and guilty in the court of public opinion.
Life changed for Americans. Life changed for Muslims. Life really changed for Muslim Americans.
I saw the way people treated my Muslim friends. I saw Muslims being cursed in public. I saw Muslim owned businesses close because people no longer went to them or even started rumors about the owners. I saw Muslim women being targeted in public with slander and slurs.
Because of backlash like this, I could not keep quiet while people who I shared a belief with were slandered and suffering. I spoke up. “This is not Islam”; “This is not a part of what Muslims believe”; “Muslims are just trying to make there way in this world, and raise their families, just like you and me”; “Muslims aren’t all terrorists”, “They believe in, we believe in making peace not starting war”.
“Ash hadu an La illaha ill Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammad ar Rasulullah“: I bear witness that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is His messenger (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him). Two months after 9/11/01 I said this testament of faith or the shahada out loud, for the world to hear.
I couldn’t pretend to be something other than a Muslim anymore. I couldn’t sit back and watch my fellow Muslims being slandered and not say anything.
After coming out of the closet as a Muslim, it was as if a cloud in my mind had cleared. The world that had been so chaotic, sad, and confusing, came into perfect focus. It was more than metaphorical: it was a physical clearing away of senseless actions that lead to a mass of cluttered and confused paths. Paths that had been lain before me. Paths that I had been pulled toward by the generations that preceded me and pushed toward by those who were waiting to come after.
By the will of Allah (SWT), I removed myself from this deafening destruction that had me chasing my tail and the approval of those who would eternally withhold it. My path became singular. I was made to please my Creator, and that is what I intended to do.
After becoming a Muslim, for the first time in my life I became the “other”. I came to my conversion knowing this would be the case. But the reality of it was both liberating and oppressing. On one hand, I finally knew where I stood.
As a Muslim, I know I was valued as a member of my community and as a believer. As an American, I knew I would be disliked for exercising my freedom of religion. I was still being judged, but at least now I wasn’t being judged for my jean size, I was being judged for standing up for my beliefs.
As a human being, I never knew how lonely it could be to be the “other”. I never knew how hard it could be to be thought of as less than human. I never knew how unnerving it could be to be stared at like a freak.
And I never knew how strong a belief could make me. I never thought I could withstand the curses yelled at me and still smile. I never thought I could love something so intangible as faith. I never thought I could be a better version of myself.
The world has changed since 9/11/01. A lot of it for the worse, but I think there are millions of little silver linings. My life has changed since 9/11/01: a lot of it is far, far better, but nothing in this world is perfect.
So where were you on 9/11/01? And where are you now?
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