This an excerpt from a sermon delivered by the Director of Outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque at an interfaith service marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
I’m talking today about time. We are coming upon a time of remembering the 10th anniversary of remembering the events of September 11. I would like to remind us all of where were on September 11, 2001. Immediately after this great tragedy, and probably for us as Americans, the first time in a long time that we had experienced the violence and terrorism that people around the world experience on a daily basis. But in that time, there was something unique that we can look to. Immediately following this tragedy in America, rather than attack one another, we reached out for one another. I saw in Manhattan, people of all different backgrounds helping one another. Nobody asked, what religion are you? Nobody asked in those hours of the rescue person, are you a Sikh?Are you a Buddhist? Are you a Hindu? Are you a Jane? Are you a Zoroastrian? Are you a Unitarian? Are you a Muslim? Or a Jew?
People said, if you’re here to help me, I’m here to receive your help. And we as a nation said, “what can we do to rally to the cause that we will help each other?” And that the tragedy of 9/11 will not divide us, it’s going to unite us. The government did its job. President George Bush, whatever your political persuasion is, the President went to the Islamic Center of Washington, and said “I want everyone in American to know that Islam is a good religion, and that the Koran is a good book. And that we are not at war with Muslims in America.” I thanked him personally because it saved the lives of not only Muslims, but of many Sikhs. Don’t forget, some Sikhs were attacked after 9/11, because they saw the turban and they saw the women wearing the scarves and they said “oh, they must be Muslims – get them.” The President of the United States used his moral authority to pull people back from the precipice.
In those days, the media did an outreach the way you’re doing today, learning about the tradition of your neighbor so that you wouldn’t fear them. The interfaith community rallied around so if there were mosques that were threatened to be vandalized, people of faith came together, to say we’ll keep vigil and watch at night to make sure that our ignorant neighbor, someone who looks like me, doesn’t go and attack someone, because they look different from me.
The scholars of Islam said it was permissible for women to uncover themselves so that they would blend in and wouldn’t be attacked. But on college campuses, university women of all backgrounds rejected this idea. They decided, if they were going to live the ideals of America, they all needed to put a scarf on. Because Muslims come in every different color, so if you see an Oriental woman wearing a scarf, it makes you think — well, I don’t know … maybe she’s a Muslim. Or maybe she’s white, or Syrian or Lebanese or Turkish. Maybe when I see that person who’s black, maybe I think they’re African from Senegal or Mauritania. Those women gathered together spontaneously putting themselves at risk to safeguard the whole. We were as a people, resilient in the face of that tragedy.
But then you know, sometimes we forget that our nation then turned to a time of wars. And I have to remind you and I as people of conscience, we weren’t there, raising our voices to say that we will not live in a country that will practice war around the world. That there’s something about violence that begets violence. Unfortunately, many of us were silent when we should have called our nation back to peace. In those war times, public opinion turned negative against American Muslims. Then, in the economic downturn, you started to find that war on terror is also a war against Hispanics, because they’re taking our jobs and they’re changing the complexion of our nation.
Then, there were people who said, well maybe we should take matters into our own hands, and suddenly someone wants to assassinate a congresswoman, Gabby Giffords. We are in a climate of war, how can we say that it’s okay to kill someone somewhere else for political objectives, but it’s not okay for someone to kill a congresswoman? The widening gap between the rich and the poor has been staggering in these last 10 years when so many have been made homeless by an economic downturn, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Somehow our moral values haven’t moved our economy to a place where we take care for the least of these.
On a brighter note, I want to call us to remembrance. Because I’m afraid that maybe people of conscience have forgotten that in the days and hours after 9/11, that we rose to the occasion. We didn’t do what we did in America what we did after Pearl Harbor, which is to intern the Japanese. We came out of that experience, and now we’re better. We came as Americans out of the Nazi era where German Americans were discriminated against, and we came out better. We have decided while the moral constitution of Americans is challenged, that our moral conscience would lead us to uphold those values enshrined in our constitution that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. We have said that America is stronger because we believe in the first amendment that says people should be free to practice their religion. And the Qur'an says it in a different way – “let there be no compulsion in religion.”
I want to remind you that there are institutions that we have. Muslims have just finished the month of Ramadan. It is a month in which fasting is a test. Can you abstain from your food and from your drink and from your passions? I think most Muslims passed the test, but fasting was given to all people. You haven’t found any tradition where human beings have been left without fasting because it tests us around our passions, to control our anger, to have sensitivity toward the needy. So while our flesh and bone was tested, our spirit rose.
Human beings, unfortunately, sometimes we’re driven by our passions. Our souls go hungry. The spiritual’s response is to have compassion. The soul’s response is to have resilience. But in every challenge that the American people have faced over time, and I say that as a descendant of slaves, over time America becomes better. Maybe I could talk about Dr. King. There was a time when the head of the FBI said that Martin Luther King Jr. was the most dangerous man in American. Now you can go down, and you can see him in a monument on the Mall, speaking about what the greatness of this nation means.
This week, some of our neighbors will forget that the real America is that resilient America. I’m afraid sometimes we forget who we are as Americans. We’re not nirvana, but we’re not Rwanda. When tragedy reaches us we don’t reach to attack one another, we reach out to each other to hold it together. I’m reminding you as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to just keep going, because America’s just going to keep getting better and better. Hold on to those values that some of our neighbors are going to forget, so you can remind them who they really are. We lost many loved ones, and we are going to remember them and to love and pray together that we might build a world without war and violence and poverty. It is possible.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is Director of Outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va.