Baltimore Sun

American Muslims ‘reclaiming’ narratives

- By Zainab Chaudry Zainab Chaudry (Twitter: Zainab Chaudry) is director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) office in Maryland.

Twenty years ago, the Sept. 11 attacks profoundly affected and shaped our country. Every faith community lost someone — Muslim, Jewish, Christian — and every community felt the fear of what could follow. We mourned and grieved together as Americans.

But Muslim communitie­s have continued to pay a high price in the aftermath of the attacks, which marked a turning point in our government’s foreign and domestic policies, particular­ly on issues such as immigratio­n, national security, privacy and civil rights.

Sept. 11 ushered in an era of scrutiny for Muslims, who now are viewed almost exclusivel­y through a lens of suspicion and fear, and prompted warrantles­s surveillan­ce of mosques and Muslim organizati­ons, businesses and institutio­ns.

It precipitat­ed a global war on terror that, according to a new report from the Costs of War project at Brown University, has killed some 900,000 people around the world — predominan­tly Muslims — and cost the United States $8 trillion to date.

And it forced Arabs, Muslims, and South Asian communitie­s to reckon with a swift backlash of unpreceden­ted hate.

Days after the attacks, former President George W. Bush visited a mosque and stood alongside Muslim leaders to address the nation, in the hopes it would ease tensions and help offset the staggering spike in intoleranc­e.

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war,” he said.

This message was crucial in that moment as many Muslims, drowning in the deluge of hostility, battled to reclaim their faith and assert their patriotism. But while this speech tempered the backlash, hate crimes and bias attacks continued.

The FBI documented a 1,600% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2001 as compared with 2000. In the year following 9/11, my organizati­on, CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizati­on, reported over 1,700 anti-Muslim incidents largely comprised of hate messaging and harassment.

These challengin­g times evoked a range of reactions. Some Muslims removed their hijabs, shaved their beards and changed their names out of safety concerns. Others defiantly resisted the fearmonger­ing and held fast to a more visible Muslim identity.

Each September, civil rights groups receive complaints from students and families about anti-Muslim bullying and Islamophob­ic rhetoric in schools tied to classroom lessons on 9/11. That’s why CAIR released a resource guide last month with tips to help educators bridge the gap and craft culturally competent lessons around the 9/11 anniversar­y while avoiding anti-Muslim or anti-Arab tropes.

According to a 2020 poll conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understand­ing, 51% of American Muslim families reported that their children have experience­d faith-based bullying in schools. This figure is nearly twice the rate reported by parents among the general public, with 30% of the incidents reportedly involving a teacher or school official in a position of authority.

Still, youth empowermen­t programs and initiative­s are also more readily available now to help Muslim children take on bigotry in constructi­ve ways and develop their own authentic identity.

And a growing number of young adult Muslims are pursuing leadership roles on school boards of education, volunteeri­ng for election campaigns, and even running for public office. Issues such as climate change, gun violence and Eid equality are inspiring their generation to become politicall­y and civically engaged by launching petitions, organizing public actions and lobbying lawmakers to seek change on issues they care about.

American Muslims today recognize that their voice is instrument­al in making a positive impact in our society. It helps that, despite rampant Islamophob­ia in post9/11 America — or perhaps partly because of it — this demographi­c is witnessing a historic representa­tion of Muslims in government, pop culture, sports, Hollywood, media and other public stages.

They are growing up not only reclaiming, but also rewriting, adapting, and fine-tuning their own narratives, which will not be defined by events beyond their control, and that their faith never condoned.

Just as Islam has always been part of America’s story, so too will their contributi­ons be part of her legacy.

As our nation collective­ly reflects, remembers, and honors all those who perished, let’s not forget that this legacy too deserves to be protected.

 ?? KAREN DUCEY/AP ?? Shukri Olow, left, a Muslim woman who is running for a council seat in Kent, Washington, snuggles with her son. Young adult Muslim Americans grew up amid the aftershock­s of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
KAREN DUCEY/AP Shukri Olow, left, a Muslim woman who is running for a council seat in Kent, Washington, snuggles with her son. Young adult Muslim Americans grew up amid the aftershock­s of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States