Islam, July - Sept 2003

Fallout from 11-09-2001

Fallout from 9-11-2001
from the prospective of a Latino Muslim.

By Khadijah Rivera

The World stood still and watched in horror.
“Verily with every difficulty there is relief.” – Quran 94: 5-6.

It was a regular workday across the USA, and most of us were at work. Then, the world stood still in horror as we discovered that the two World Trade buildings in New York City had been attacked by airplane crashes. The news came slowly as we exchanged bits and pieces of information. Our faces showed the grief of humanity falling apart. Pain was written in our faces and body talk. We dropped our work to listen to communication devices that could give us details. One by one my coworkers cried out and wept openly. Lastly we were told to go home because as federal employees we might be likely targets. It felt like the World Trade buildings had fallen in our own city, thousands of miles away from ground zero.

Americans ran home to their loved ones and news poured in with details but not one had been arrested. Ya ALLAH, what was this all about? We all searched for answers. And later as is the usual case, everyone blamed the “terrorist Muslims.” As the “evidence poured in” so did the atrocities against a peaceful and religious people. Painfully, we the Muslim Americans spent more time protecting our families than mourning the victims of the tragedy.

It was precise and thorough. First, the media exploited us and blamed us without a shred of evidence. They were responsible for a whole slew of indignations. Then, our neighbors, coworkers, and nonMuslim families shunned us and humiliated us. In the street, we were pulled over by ‘Patriotic Americans “who wanted to bring the war home. They pulled off scarves from Muslim women, spit upon them, and finally raped one. They went like crazed mobs in the street beating up on dark skinned Latinos and bearded men. One Mexican was followed home and beaten in front of his family. I met a young boy whose only crime was a Muslim surname but his schoolmates harassed him and profiled him as an accessory to the crime. Of course, all their victims were blameless but that did not stop them.

The FBI, INS, and local police were all working for the common cause. The FBI and all security forces were on the alert for Arab looking men who might hijack plans. Immigrants from Muslim countries were under intense scrutiny. Many immigrants were arrested and then deported in a furious vendetta. Many Latinos innocently paid the price. The deportations against Muslim immigrants and Latinos tore many families apart. If the USA had something to prove, it was that Muslims were an adversary. Don’t mess with the USA.

Now I must tell you my personal experience during 9-11 in Miami, Florida. While my American coworkers were anguishing from the news of the tragedy, all eyes were on me! I was the only Muslimah working in the state office wearing a hijab. Whispers could be heard as loud as an explosion. As I glanced around for answers, no one would explain what had just occurred in New York City, and so I called my nonMuslim sister-in-law. As soon as we began speaking, she blurted out that the Muslims had started a war against America! “Come on,” I said in disbelief. “Every time something unexplainable happens it’s ALWAYS the Muslims.” We must remain tenacious in our duties as neighbors and be strong role models for the world to respect us. Islam is the largest growing religion in the world. To our benefit, thousands more have come to Islam than were harassed. In Miami, we had five Hispanic women take shahadah in one day. Islam is logical even to ignorant nations and once educated they flourish.

CAIR has compiled a list of 9-11 victims. The statistics are only based on reported incidents. Many more were committed but not reported including mine. Consider the following numbers of victims.
356 Public Harrasment
315 Hate mail
289 Physical assault / property damage
224 FBI / Police / Immigration Intimidation
191 Airport profiling
166 Discrimination in the workplace
74 Discrimination at school
56 Death Threats
16 Bomb threats
11 Deaths

During World War II, the USA considered the Japanese Americans security threats. Holding cells were built across America to encamp them, many Muslims feared a similar situation. Even though we Muslims aren’t in actual holding cells, we are incarcerated in some ways. The days that followed were unbearable. I was spit upon in the face by a teenager. Insults were hurled at me, followed by housing discrimination. My Hispanic family shunned me and asked me to explain “MY actions.” I was harassed daily at work, and local Muslims told me to stop wearing my veil of modesty. A fearful Pakistani businessman told me that I was not professional looking because I wore a veil. My friends who took off their hijabs also placed American flags on their cars and would not be caught dead with me in their cars. In fact, many national Muslim leaders actually told Muslimahs that this was the safest route to take. What wimps I thought, and I never took off my veil!

Disgusted, I began to speak out on the impact of this discrimination on Muslim Americans. I invited the media to the local mosque and into my home. Telemundo, Univision, and a German station broadcast our side of the tragedy. On one program, I appeared with one of my sons who is in the military. He stated that he was ready to go to war if necessary but could not bear to see his mother and family harassed while he laid down his life for his beloved country. On the popular Latino show, “Christina” I had to “defend” Islam against a slander that “Islam is to be watched carefully as one of the most dangerous religions of all times.” I spoke with Latina Muslims from across America and began an online petition against discrimination by the Spanish media. Presently, we have over 700 signatures. And, you will be happy to know that the infamous episode of the “Christina Show” has been struck down. Even if we do not get the apology we requested, we want television producers to think twice before allowing slander of our beautiful religion.

We finally began to see light at the end of the tunnel when church groups and political leaders began preaching to stop the discrimination. Some say that 9-11 hit Muslims twice, the tragedy itself and the tragedy that followed. Everyone was getting tired of seeing many innocent victims. You didn’t even have to be a Muslim to be a victim. Latino men in Los Angeles and a Hindu in Chicago had been badly beaten. Violence against Muslims was so blatant that President Bush went on the air and pleaded on behalf of Muslims. He said that Islam is a peaceful religion. Eventually, I made Hijrah to another state but it took me three months to find a job in my field. I had to leave behind half of my family and went through financial instability. Allah (swt) made me strong and my faith pushed me to the edge of jihad and back.