Every year, as Ramadan approaches, I eagerly await the month's arrival, as if I am getting ready to see a long lost friend. But this year, in a way that I could never have imagined, I am desperate for Ramadan to begin. I will be seeking refuge from the fear, confusion, rage and sadness that have threatened to overwhelm me since the unspeakable happened on Sept. 11.Like others, I responded with shock, and fear for my own safety and that of my children. After all, Osama bin Laden and his ilk consider Muslims who don't share their point of view and especially those who aren't actively fighting "the West" to be traitors and, in his mind, legal targets. I still can't shake an irrational sense of shame because I share some features with the terrorists, in terms of Arab ethnicity and Islamic affiliation. Yet, I cannot fathom how those who claim to share my faith could actually believe that the terrorist acts could be consistent with Islam under any circumstances.
The support from friends and neighbors, now and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, has come as a relief from my tortured thoughts and feelings. And, to my astonishment, an innocent curiosity about Islam emerged among the American public as a consequence of the attacks--a curiosity that provided American Muslims with an opportunity to share our beliefs and experiences with others in an atmosphere of friendliness and understanding.
But lately, these fleeting hopeful moments have been replaced with grief and dread, as bombs drop on starving Afghans and as respected leaders speak of torture, military tribunals, indefinite detention and mass deportation. Now, the slogan "Islam is not our enemy" has been replaced throughout the media with headlines like "Yes, It is About Islam" ( The New York Times). The networks are back to their simplistic reporting with sensational segment lead-ins like "Do Muslims want to rid the world of Christianity??!!" (Fox News) Television and radio pundits who have never read the Qur'an are suddenly experts, reading verses out of context--when they even bother to have a Muslim on the program. It seems they want their guests to purge the Muslim community of the "evil within" and expunge the problematic sayings from the Muslim scriptures altogether.
Yet it is the very text of the Holy Qur'an, with which I renew my relationship every year during Ramadan, that makes me want to be Muslim. It was bestowed as a "guidance and mercy" to "bring forth all mankind out of the depths of darkness into the light." (Qur'an 14:1)
Every year, I look forward to a different experience with the Qur'an. Through this living text, God responds to the innermost cravings of my heart, answers my questions, soothes my fears, gives me hope. I will read verses that I may not have fully understood before and suddenly their meaning will be clear. The events of today will somehow be addressed, and in the end I will be able to rejoice once again in the beauty that is God's creation, in the wisdom of His guidance, and in the awareness of my own strength and ability to patiently persevere.I know this will happen, because it happens every time. But, now more than ever, I need this transformation to take place quickly. I need the light of the Qur'an to overwhelm the darkness that now engulfs me. Events are occurring at breakneck speed and on most days I feel like a hapless spectator in a scenario that surpasses even Hollywood's wildest imagination.