Amina Saeed began September 11, 2001 like any other day, but upon her arrival at the law firm where she worked, she immediately heard of the horror unfolding in New York City. For Amina, the events carried even more gravity: her dear cousin, Nasima Simjee, worked in the World Trade Center. “I had just arrived at work that morning,” Amina recalls. “The other attorneys and I all crowded around a television set to watch the events unfold in New York. I recall saying that my cousin works at the WTC and lives nearby. It just didn’t enter my mind that she may not have made it because she was athletic, energetic and a sharp person.”
As Muslims, Amina and her family quickly realized they could be targets themselves for those seeking retribution. They were more immediately concerned about finding Nasima, but the growing news coverage blaming the attack on Muslims concerned some of the extended family. “As the day wore on, calls began coming in from family in England, asking how things were going--they were worried about backlash against us since we’re Muslim.”
Amid the chaos of the day, Amina and her family found solace in the rationalization that Nasima had escaped but simply had no way of communicating. By day three, they knew there was little to no hope, but there was still no closure. Days turned into weeks, then into months. Nearly a year later, the family finally had a memorial service. “As I prepared to speak at an anniversary service,” Amina says, “I saw a news story that three people who had been in a coma since the bombing had just woken up. Forever the optimist, I immediately clicked on the story to see if Nasima was one of them. But it was not to be.”
In the months after the attack, amid her grief, Amina had to deal with a now warped perception of what it means to be Muslim. “My colleagues at the time were extremely supportive and sensitive to my needs. One day, I happened to mention how I felt unsafe driving to work because I sat in rush hour traffic on the expressway, with people all around me tuned in to the news about the bombing. I speculated about how they must feel anger towards me, a Muslim woman in a scarf, driving along, enjoying my freedom in America. The very next day, the head attorney at our office called to ask if I would prefer to work from home until things calmed down a bit. That was incredibly thoughtful and gracious of him, an act of kindness that I will always remember.
“I have found that in order to gain more acceptance, I need to be more outgoing than what I was previously accustomed to. So, when someone stares at me, I make it a point to say hello and see if I can say something to help make them more at ease around me and so that they will see that we have more in common than they may think, things like our concerns about children, shared values, and common perspectives on health care, jobs, the economy, and other issues of local and national concern.
“I think Muslims in general have become more involved in their local communities since 9/11. Additionally, the American people have become more curious about their Muslim neighbors, leading to greater dialogue.”
10 years later there is still much talk of ‘Radical Islam’ and the threat it poses to the United States, but Amina has a different perspective. “Religion is not radical; people are. I don’t believe any of the Abrahamic faith traditions espouse radical ideology. It’s the self-serving interpretation of individuals that is problematic. With respect to ‘Radical Muslims,’” she continues, “the perpetrators of these crimes have hijacked my faith by proclaiming that their vile and evil actions are in the name of Islam.”
Even amidst the tragedy of a lost loved one and battling misconceptions about her faith, Amina Saeed is able is able to find hope for the future and offers the following: “I believe in the Islamic teaching that God makes everything happen for a reason. We may not see the good in the action right away and we may not even see the good in it during our lifetimes. Yet there is good in it that only God, in His infinite wisdom, can know and understand.
“My hope is that whatever lessons God intended us to learn from this evil will be learned sooner than later and that they will help us grow into a more united community that can still accept and celebrate diversity.
“I hope that in my lifetime, I can be accepted as no less of an American than any of my neighbors, colleagues and friends who happen to observe various other faith traditions. And I hope that my children, whom I have sheltered thus far from the brutal ways of the world, can grow up in a world that will judge them for who they are, not what religion they practice.”
Images taken by Actual Beliefnet members