On September 11th, 2001, our world caught on fire. Everything we knew…our innocent concept of reality–was raped, pillaged, and burned. It was our Pearl Harbor, our “day of infamy,” the singular event that shaped my generation.
Today I’ve asked you, the members of our Congregation, to share some of your stories from that day. Where were you? What were you doing? How did your faith pull you through…if at all? The following short snap-shots represent many people of many faiths, all sharing that same universal horror of the world as they know it collapsing around them.
“I was around 12, we weren’t told about it at school. I was staying with my Nan til I got accepted at the school where we had recently moved in a completely non-Asian area. My nan and aunt are from India and can’t understand English very well. When I arrived home that day, they were busy making dinner but the TV was left on in the background. I saw the footage and called out “What are you guys watching?” with the reply “Some American movie”. But when I looked closely, it was channel 4 news and when I realised it was real footage my heart dropped. I told nan and aunt, they couldn’t believe it. Everyone was in a state of shock. Terrorism was an entirely new experience for me. The IRA and Air India bombings were before my time. I had never experienced racism before then either. We moved out at not the best time I guess? One guy even threatened to throw a brick in my face as I played in a park. If it wasn’t for 9/11 though, I would not be the person I am today. It pushed me to learn more about my identity. Who was I? I knew nothing about sikhi (or very little anyway) before then. Now, I’m an amritdhari and never been so sure of myself…”
–Shanu Kaur: Sikh
“My daughter had just left to fly back to New York City the evening of 9/10. I was to start a new job the next day teaching English as a Second Language at an area college.
I was able to talk to my daughter before heading to my classes. Seems my daughter had overslept for work and didn’t make it to the subway bound for Manhattan before the Twin Towers collapsed and the subways were closed. When I walked into my first class that morning, the group of international students facing me included a large number of young men from Saudi Arabia. After class, I encountered televisions on stands set up around the campus blaring the news and images of the chaos.
Students were walking around like zombies, clinging to each other. The first day of this new job included a new way of looking at things in our world that has changed many lives, including mine.”
–Lisa Armstrong: Baha’i
“On the morning of 9/11, I had gotten up for another day of homeschooling my daughter. We had just finished up breakfast and was beginning our Math lesson. I got a phone call from a friend to turn on the TV. I remember feeling terrified, because from the sound of her voice I knew it was not good. When I watched the news bulletin and saw the building smoking, I said what many Muslims that day said…..”please, not a MUSLIM!” When the second plane crashed into the building I felt so numb inside. “What kind of monsters would do this?”. I watched the television all day awaiting the answer. Later that night my father, a non Muslim called with concern. “Please dont go out. Can you just take off your scarf when you go out?” His concern was warranted and I suddenly felt in fear of my life and my family. Instead of taking of my scarf, like many of my friends did, I decided to stay indoors til things ‘cooled off’ for a few days. But, they never did. With report after report of beatings and vandalism I began to get more paranoid. All thanks be go God, no one I know has been harmed physically since 9/11. We have however, been scarred emotionally. I am American, actually I come from Native American roots(Cherokee to be exact). I love my country and countrymen. Why does my religion have to be my ‘condemnation’? Wasn’t this country founded on religious freedom? After ten years of evading the public whenever I can, ignoring all the snide comments and rude stares…. I am finally ‘coming out of my shell’. I no longer want to be afraid. I am proud of my choice to be a Muslim and even more proud to live in America. With all the hatred, I have also felt so much compassion and understanding….longing to understand and accept me. All thanks be to God, I AM FREE!”
–Sundus Michele: Muslim
“I was only 9 years old when the future of our nation was changed forever. I remember everything about that day, from the stupid assignment I had to do to the feeling of the school change to my mom suddenly coming to my school lunch to that night when I finally saw the footage. I remember asking my mom about the debris falling out of the building and the announcer gasping in horror as she reported on what it actually was. I remember seeing people run for their lives on tv, women screaming and the camera men running and firefighters pushing people to safety. I especially remember my mom flipping out badly, more so than I had ever seen her become unglued. Only later did I find out that a lot of her closest friends where there at the site, and her one friend Paul had to run for his life and managed to escape somehow. As a kid, I didnt want revenge or retribution. I wanted to know why something like this had happened, what would possess someone to do such a horrendous crime? God was not in my life at this time, nor would They be until some years later. Still, this was my first brush with the Muslim faith, and for many years after that I would be uncomfortable around them if I saw them out and about. While I had been working to change my feelings, it was only when Andrew became a Muslim did I really reach out to that community.”
–Deanna Barnes: Pagan
“I sat in my dorm room with my room mate and stared at the television. We had been in college for less than two months. I can’t imagine what our parents must have felt. “What sort of world have we built for them?” they might have asked. The scene was unreal. I remember the quiet, that cold silence of the entire college campus. The world stopped. Frozen in terror and understanding. Out innocence was gone. We had taken the fruit.
That point defined me forever. I was a Christian at the time, and a narrow-minded one. I remember the hatred, the taste of revenge–like blood in my mouth. A few weeks later, I called my parents. “I’m joining the Marine Corps.,” I told them. “I’m getting them back.” Thus, I began my crusade toward the East. Fate had other plans in mind. I am ever thankful.”
–Andrew Bowen: Everything
Thank you to all who contributed. I could not include everyone’s entry because of space considerations, however I wanted to include a variety.
September 11th punctuates why things like Project Conversion exist. They are generational markers. Would I feel compelled to do this without that day seared into my mind? Had we been as open and informed (at least better than we were) then as we are now, would that day have happened? To be sure, religious hatred and bigotry persists to this day, but now there are more out there willing and able to fight it. I, like so many millions out there, am a product of September 11th. Project Conversion is my legacy–my offering–to my generation to heal our wounds and help prevent misunderstanding and violence.
Had we known what we do now, had the hijackers known how popular Islam is in America right now (number of converts), would they have thought twice? Or what about Frank Roque, a man who shot and killed a Sikh–mistaking him for a Muslim–out of “revenge for September 11th”? He later bragged that he killed a “towel head.” If Frank would have stumbled across a site like Project Conversion, or any other popular Islamic sites aimed at stopping misinformation, would he have known better? Could we have saved a life?
That’s what I’m here for, folks, because I was close to being a Frank Roque. Every time I make a post, I’m trying to heal the past. Every time I ask you to spread the word about Project Conversion–about OUR Congregation–I’m asking you to help me save lives. Ignorance is deadly. We cannot become idle in our efforts. We cannot stop until hatred, bigotry, religious infighting, and fear become obsolete.