The ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the planned Muslim cultural center near ground zero, the planned burning the Qur’an day, the Eid al-Fitr celebration ending the fasting month of Ramadan this year, all have put many Muslims in America and around the world in a predicament and made them redefine their identity.
The 9/11 tragedy has influenced many people from various walks of life. A Christian Arab may be mistaken for a Muslim. A Sikh was attacked for wearing his turban.
An Indonesian visiting or returning to the United States whose name is common but Arabic may experience extra scrutiny by the department of Homeland Security. Mosques, churches and houses of worship may be filled with sermons expressing contradictory views, memories and feelings about the tragedy and about each other.
Ordinary chats and social network discussions about the tragedy and its aftermath take different directions, many becoming more literate, and others confirming their prejudices. For Muslims, living in this global village would be much different if no 9/11 had ever occurred.
Today, as in the past, human relationships are full of conflict and tension as well as dialogue and cooperation. People often need a trigger for increased tension, or for dialogue and cooperation.
That trigger could be big, small, near, or far, but because of increased ways of communication, people may be affected immediately by what’s happening in other parts of the world. Those 19 people who attacked the World Trade Center nine years ago were not directly related to other Arabs, other Muslims, other individuals.
They are not linked to Muslim politicians, educators, artists, or others, in many parts of the world, but everyone has become a stakeholder of that attack: for better or worse.
The planned Muslim center, the current status of which is not clear, provides opposing arguments: religious freedom and American identity versus religious freedom and sensitivity to the horror and the many victims.
For the supporters, building the center near the sacred space would demonstrate Muslim New Yorkers’ outreach to other faiths and ideologies. For them, near Ground Zero would be a good site for raising awareness about moderate Islam and Muslims.
The supporters argue that the center would not become a haven for extremism, anti-Americanism, but instead a space for moderation and dialogue. Jewish and Christian leaders support the building.
However, the opponents argue that the plan jeopardizes the sense of atrocity committed by a group associated with Islam. For them, Islam is responsible for 9/11. There is little change in their view after nine years.
Not only that. The pastor in Florida advocates the burning of the Koran on that day. Many have mailed Korans to be burned there. They dub Islam as the “religion of the devil” and the Koran as “the book of terror”.
On the other hand, Jewish, Christian, and interfaith forums demonstrate their support for Muslims struggling for recognition and acceptance in American society. Many are simply ignoring the invitation.
Others, many being non-Muslims, feel insulted by such senseless plan.
There were already acts of ignorance, if not attacks and insults directed toward the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad(P) in his day. Later, several European authors in medieval times charged Muhammad with being the Antichrist, with heresy and insanity.
Today, many still write about it; some call the Qur’an the source of evil. In American schools and colleges, and public places, Koranic studies and Islamic studies attended by multifaith students and audiences have developed in ways that are balanced. Attempts continue to increase awareness about the Qur’an, Muhammad and Islam.
For many, it is increasingly difficult to live as an observant Muslim today, but for others it is easier now than before because of communication technology and globalization.
Many Muslims are worried about their own security but, at the same time, they should show empathy toward the victims of the attacks and their families. Many Muslims are expected to be tolerant of others when part of the others continues to show prejudice toward them.
To a great extent, because of 9/11, Muslims are increasingly diverse and dynamic: some still categorize Muslims as the liberal, the moderate, and the conservative (the hard-liners being part of them), using how they react to the event and how they respond to modernity and tradition.
Being Muslim today varies from place to place, but 9/11 seems to have influenced the way Muslims redefine their identity in relation to America. There is no way to define Muslims with one, monolithic characteristic.
Interests and perceptions about Islam and Muslims increase in both positive and negative ways, but one thing is quite sure: Being Muslim today is different from being Muslim before 9/11.
There are choices to be made: To continue in goodness and wisdom, or to become reactionary and violent, perpetuating others’ ignorance and prejudice that have long prevailed.
Muhamad Ali, Ph.D., teaches Islam and religion at the University of California, Riverside.