From Wakefield High School in Arlington to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Shakila Yasmin Miah was adored by her peers. After college, she moved to New York, where she fell in love.
She met Nurul Haq Miah at a friend’s wedding, and four years later, in 1999, the couple got married. Both worked for Marsh & McLennan, a professional services and insurance brokerage firm, in the World Trade Center — one on the 93rd floor and the other four stories up — on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck.
“Nural was attending a meeting on the 99th floor when the first plane hit their building,” said the Rev. Daniel Vestal of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “They were the only couple that died in 9/11” inside the World Trade Center.
Vestal told the story of the young couple to make the point that Muslims also died when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and headed another toward Washington before it crashed in a Pennsylvania field. He and other church leaders said Thursday that, a decade later, too many religious leaders have painted the 9/11 attacks in terms of Christianity under attack by Islam.
“We need to put a new face on what the Christian community looks like in this country,” said Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ.
A total of 26 faith groups have joined Shoulder to Shoulder, an organization dedicated to building bridges among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
In a program at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Northwest Washington on Thursday, nearly 50 church leaders, victims’ family members and friends spoke out against religious bigotry and championed programs meant to build bridges.
Tarunjit Singh of the World Sikh Council said his community was targeted after the Sept. 11 attacks. “Many Sikhs became Muslims in the eyes of many.”
Shoulder to Shoulder was conceived by religious leaders who gathered Sept. 7, 2010, to speak out against the planned burning of the Koran in Gainesville, Fla., by the Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center.
Kinnamon said Christians and missionaries around the world were targeted after the incident, and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said the incident underscored the need for Christian church leaders to educate their flocks about what Islam is and is not.
Polls conducted by the Brookings Institution in collaboration with the Pew Research Center and others show the depth of the problem, Cizik said. “What those exit polls revealed is that a significant percentage of American evangelicals believe that Islam is incompatible with our shared American values.”
Iman Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America, said: “This gathering, Shoulder to Shoulder, is extremely important because, unfortunately, we have seen the rise of Islamophobia, which is more than what happened immediately after Sept. 11, because some people want to use Muslim as a political football.”
During the program, Cizik read a pledge in which participating groups agreed to work together to end discrimination against Muslims and promote mutual understanding.
“As our nation commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we stand together as religious leaders from diverse traditions to urge our fellow Americans to recommit to the inspiring spirit of unity and cooperation that we as a people embraced in the weeks after the tragedy,” Cizik said.
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, said the goal of the organization is to encourage local communities to hold ecumenical services where Jewish, Christians and Muslims “read from the Torah, the gospels and the Koran in the same service.”
“The point is people who are Islamophobic have not understood that all three major traditions worship the same god, have the same values, and they are not values of division but values of coming together, mutual understand and mutual respect,” Gaddy said.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York, said there are signs of progress. “We now see greater sensitivity since 9/11, and we have seen the emergence of the re-United States of America.”