The Real Spiritual Impact of 9/11

Americans don't go to church more often now, but 9/11 was still one of the most important spiritual moments in recent history.

BY: Steven Waldman and the Staff of Beliefnet


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But the rise of anti-Semitism doesn't seem limited to Arab or Muslim countries. In December, the French ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Bernard, reportedly said during a dinner party that Israel was "a shitty little country," adding, "Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?" During the past year, anti-Semitic violent acts have become much more widespread in many western European countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, Scandinavia, and Italy. Incidents have included the vandalizing of many Jewish cemeteries, attempts to destroy synagogues, and attacks on individual Jews. Anti-Semitic acts in France are widely viewed as being at the highest levels the country has seen since World War II.

An American Style of Islam Grew

While much attention has been focused on Islamic leaders overseas--What are they saying? Are they denouncing terrorism?--something dramatic has been happening within the American Muslim community. Respected Muslim writer Michael Wolfe puts it this way: "Privately, in our mosques and in our homes--away from the judging ears of the world--we began talking to each other with an honesty born of urgency. We knew something had to be done or our religion was going to be tarnished, even corrupted. In the year since September 11th, American Muslims began to do something extraordinary. WE began to take back Islam."

Wolfe's comment, in "Taking Back Islam," a collection of essays by prominent American Muslims, is just one example of a year-long, spontaneous effort by many American Muslims leaders to energize their faith.

Other examples include the group Muslims Against Terrorism, a group of young Muslims who mobilized in the aftermath of 9/11 to fight terrorism in the name of Islam.

W.D. Mohammed, the leading African American muslim in the United States, condemned the terrorist attacks and used Qur'anic verses to explain why the destruction of innocent civilians and property was un-Islamic. "[T]hey are really out of the circle and framework of Islam with their conduct. So we are talking about terrorists,not Muslims," he wrote in the "Muslim Journal."

Beliefnet members were active in defining what this new American style of Islam would be. Muslims struggled with their post-9/11 Muslim identity. Member mnn wrote, "Despite our problems in the U.S., this is a great country to be Muslim. Our freedoms to worship are guaranteed by the constitution...our freedom to NOT worship is also guaranteed. In these other Muslim countries where ritualistic adherence to Islam is the law, I could never live there." On message boards dedicated to "Defining an American Islam," Muslim members wrote about the unique challenges of being Muslim in America, such as wearing hijab, raising Muslim children, and dealing with the growing diversity of the American Muslim population.

Though it's too early to tell how significant this movement will become, it's possible that one of the most significant effects of 9/11 will be the creation of a vibrant new form of Islam in the United States.

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Will these developments last? Any one of these incipient trends could reverse. American Muslims may prove unable or unwilling to chart a course dramatically different from that of their overseas brethren. The positive personality traits may continue to drop and anti-Semitism may return to its familiar status as persistent low-grade fever. Or something else may emerge not even being considered now. But it is clear that at least in the last year, the 9/11 attacks had profound spiritual significance.
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