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Eid al-Fitr, 9/11, and my status in America

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I came across a news headline that said “Eid festival expected to fall on 9/11. US protesters demand it be moved to another day out of respect for victims”. This isn’t just ridiculous or absurd. This is blatant prejudice. And this is my testimonial.

For those who might not know, Eid al-Fitr is a celebration or festival that Muslims observe to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Just like other Muslim holidays, it’s a strictly religious and cultural affair. It celebrates the end of the fasting period and the beginning of a purified way of life. There is absolutely no political significance to it whatsoever.

So why should it be moved?

As I’m sure many of you are, I’m disgusted by those who insist on associating Islam with 9/11. Let it be known that Islam condemns the terrorist actions that led to the downing of two towers and the deaths of thousands of innocents: men, women, children, and elderly. Here is a verse from the Qur’an (and please make sure to keep it in context):

” … If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”
(Al-Qur’an 5:32)

Point is, you just can’t kill. The events that occurred on that dreadful day lie in direct contradiction with the teachings of Islam. I know this, you know this, but why doesn’t the rest of the world know this?

I was in fifth grade when the towers fell. I had no idea what happened but my classmates were buzzing about it. My teacher didn’t show up to class and I remember that striking me as odd. She was one of those old-fashioned teachers who wore one-piece dresses, sat at her desk in the front of the room facing us, and used wooden pencils instead of mechanical ones. Instead, my Spanish teacher subbed for her. Minutes into class, he said, “the Muslims did it.” I didn’t know what was going on so I didn’t say anything.

By lunch time, parents started packing the hallways trying to pick their children up. Chicago is home to a bustling downtown with tall buildings and skyscrapers so employees were told to take the rest of the day off in case a hijacked plane were to hit the Sears Tower or some other structure. Being that my mom worked in a downtown bank, she rushed over to school immediately and took me home. She explained to me what happened and I understood the look of distress on her face. I told her what my Spanish teacher said and she assured me that she’ll talk to the principal tomorrow for a formal apology. I was young and he was one of my favorite teachers, so I made her promise to just let it go. It didn’t bother me at the time.

First thing I did when I got home was turn on the television and watch Peter Jennings report on the current state of the felled buildings. I found my big yellow notepad and decided I’d be a detective for the day. I was naïve but my plan was to “discover” a pattern in the hijackings so that I can tell Mr. Jennings that Muslims weren’t behind the attacks at all. My teacher’s comments were starting to get to me.

The next day at school, I found out why my fifth grade homeroom teacher was absent from class yesterday. Her sister was in New York at the time and my teacher hadn’t been able to connect with her. New York City’s phone lines were jammed. However, her sister eventually managed to contact the school and my teacher returned to class, albeit it looking paler than usual.

Fast forward a few weeks. Mama was driving me home from school. She turned into the alley to park in our garage but a man came out of his backyard and stood in front of her. Being that my mom’s first reaction is to remain calm, she waited until he moved. He didn’t. Mama honked softly and the man finally spoke. “Get your A-rab a– out of here! We don’t want you scum. Go back to where you came from.”

What did my mom do wrong? What did she ever do wrong? She was never in trouble. The only ticket she ever got was when her parking meter expired. But that was my fault because the second quarter managed to slip into my pocket. She’d been a good samaritan her entire life. She donated to charity. She volunteered at local mosques. She worked hard to support the family. She raised my sister and myself all alone after my parents divorced. And during that moment, my mom proved to me how level-headed she was. She stayed there, politely said “excuse me”, waited for the man to move, and drove into the garage. But before the car came to a stop, I made my way out and walked down the alley to the man. I don’t fight (and I really don’t even know how) but I made a point to walk with my hands made into fists. Nobody gets away with disrespecting my mom or my religion. I was hoping to scare him. My little mind thought violence would be the answer.

My mom caught up to me and told me to relax. and unclench my fists. The man started walking towards us, so mama stood in front of me. Protectiveness, a mother’s natural instinct.

He ended up apologizing for what he said. It turns out he didn’t recognize that we were his neighbors from a few houses down. Was it sincere? I don’t know. Who am I to judge. But that’s all we needed to hear. And with that, we walked away. I’m not sure if it “scarred” my mom, but I know that since 9/11, she’s been adamant about how haram (forbidden) the attacks were. She spoke out against terrorism and made sure that I knew exactly how much Islam condemns it. That was how I was raised.

My mom isn’t the only example though. There are 1.5 billion other examples. The entire Muslim population faces harassment through this relatively new Western trend called Islamophobia. Last year, my friend’s sister was verbally abused in a supermarket. The aggressor even pulled off her headscarf after calling her a terrorist.

My mom’s friend’s child was suspended from school after getting into a fight with a classmate who spent the entire day calling him a terrorist. And just for added measure, the kid hurling insults was a policeman’s son. He got away with a warning.

A mosque in Florida was damaged by a bomb a few months ago.

A church in Florida is hosting a “Burn a Qur’an Day” on September 11 to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks. Google it.

My friend’s dad was put in jail because he fit the profile of a “suspect”. He’s lived in the Midwest for years and the most he’s ever done was travel to Chicago to speak to crowds about how Islam is opposed to terrorism.

I can name five people at any given moment who’ve been racially profiled at airports because of their headscarf or because of their Muslim-sounding last name.

My mosque is put under surveillance. I found this out after learning that another mosque I attend is also under FBI surveillance. This I learned after someone commented on the suspicious-looking cameras stationed in really unnecessary places in an almost entirely Muslim neighborhood in the southwest suburbs.

The Muslim Student Union at the University of California – Irvine will be banned for an entire school year. No public gatherings or Friday prayers at the religiously-active college campus.

But these are only a few examples of what Muslims around the U.S. face everyday.

The attacks of September 11 have affected more than just typical “Americans”. I am American too. Yes, I preserve my Arab culture and my Palestinian identity but I was also born and raised in Chicago. I speak English and even some Spanish. Hurricane Katrina hit me too – not physically of course but I became well aware of the oppression, the suffering, and the humility that my American brothers and sisters are forced to live with. My people can relate to your people. The economy affects me too. My family pays taxes. I say the Pledge of Allegiance. So do millions of other Americans. So how am I any different? Why can’t I grieve also? I’ve prayed countless times for the people – Muslims and non-Muslims – who were killed in the attacks. We are all one and the same.

So stop associating Islam with terrorism. Ask yourself: are those “Muslims” who hijacked those planes really Muslims? I can’t judge anyone’s faith, but I’m 100% positive that their actions go against the values of Islam. The Qur’an condemns it, the mosques condemn it, the leaders condemn it, and of course, the Muslim world-community condemns it as well. Those radicals who praise the terrorists are exactly that: radicals. Do radicals always represent the truth? No. Does the Oklahoma City bomber represent American values? No. Does he represent Christian ethics? No. Do serial killers or rogue soldiers represent you, me, or us? No.

Logically, then, those terrorist hijackers do not represent Islam. They do not represent me, my family, my community, my friends, my country, my way of life, or my religion.

Islam is not a threat to the memories of the those killed during 9-11. Muslims were killed too, in case FOX News didn’t tell you that. But Islam recognizes the power of humanity in its entirety. Not only do we grieve for the Muslims that were killed, but we also keep in our thoughts the faces, the names, and the families of all the 9/11 victims regardless of race, color, gender, size, or religion.

Eid al-Fitr will not be moved. As a matter of fact, even if it falls on September 11, I’m going to celebrate it with vigor – just like every other Muslim does. But if it’s within my power, I will invite all my non-Muslim friends to celebrate with me. I’ll invite the families of the victims for dinner at my place. We’ll enjoy the day – and we will culminate by praying for those who were killed, those who continue to be killed, and those who live in constant oppression.

And whether you want to believe it or not, the Muslims of America live in oppression too. I’m an example. Every single day, America’s peaceful Muslim communities are forced to live with the negative stereotypes, assumptions, and prejudice. We’re slandered. We’re made fun of. People swear at us. People yell at us. People burn our houses and then tell us to find a new home in another country. Some of my Muslim friends have parents who are still afraid of going out in public or unfamiliar places. Death threats don’t surprise us anymore. Some people would even prefer to die rather than having to live in constant threat or fear for their lives. This is oppression.

Eid won’t “fall” on 9-11. Nothing else will fall after those twin towers. But if Eid does indeed happen to be on the 11th of September, you’re welcome to join us in festivities where together we’ll remember the victims of crimes committed against humanity.

This post originally appeared on Sami Kishawi’s blog Sixteen Minutes to Palestine.

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