"Church and charity, synagogue and mosque, lend our communitiestheir humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and inour laws," said President George W. Bush, a conservative Christian whopromised to welcome religious groups as Washington's partner.
Never before had a president mentioned Muslims in his inauguraladdress, and Muslim groups were delighted with their new place at thetable. One Muslim official said the country's Muslims had finally comeof age. "We'll just have to wait and see what develops," he said.
But what developed on a picture-perfect morning eight months laterwas not what either Bush or the Muslims had in mind, when bands ofIslamic extremists hijacked four airplanes and slammed them into theWorld Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside onSept. 11.
Suddenly, the nation was at war and thousands were dead. In the daysand hours after the devastating attacks, Arabs and Muslims were publicenemy No. 1. Mosques were vandalized, women in veils harassed and Sikhsmistaken for Muslims were assaulted. Only when the anger subsided didMuslims slowly come out of hiding and into the spotlight.
The sudden emergence of the American Muslim community and globalIslam is perhaps the biggest religion story of 2001, a year when thesacred and the secular collided head-on in the public square.
"The year 2001 proved that we can't understand our nation or ourworld without understanding religion," said Melissa Rogers, executivedirector of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
More than anything, Sept. 11 demonstrated the tremendous pull ofreligion in public and private life -- and the spiritual and politicalchallenges posed by fanatics who act in the name of God. Attorney CarlGell seemed to sum up the national mood as he exited a Sept. 12 prayerservice at St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown Washington. "Your faitheither gets stronger, or it gets weaker after something like this," Gellsaid. "No one stays the same."
In the post-Sept. 11 world, Muslims struggled to reclaim their faithfrom extremists. Copies of the Quran flew off bookstore shelves andinterfaith services sprouted around the country. A renewed interest inspirituality and faith -- including Islam -- flourished around kitchentables and in sanctuaries across the country.
A recent poll by the Pew Forum shows modest gains in favorabilityfor Muslims. Between March and November, ratings for U.S. Muslims rosefrom 45 percent to 59 percent. After the attacks, Muslims were no longerthe unknown people "over there" but the now-familiar people who shareoffices, schools and neighborhoods."Suddenly, it seems everyone is taking a crash course inunderstanding Islam," Rogers said.Islam wasn't the only faith to be jolted by Sept. 11. Jewish groups,already dismayed by the ongoing violence in Israel, fended offaccusations that U.S. support for Israel had caused the attacks.
The course of events also highlighted the promises and perils ofinterfaith relations. There were bright spots, like when Jewish andChristian women shopped with fearful Muslim women, and when the AmericanJewish Committee gave $10,000 to help rebuild a small Greek OrthodoxChurch destroyed in the attacks. There were also hot spots, seen in thewidening gulf between several Protestant denominations and the Jewishcommunity over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and thecontroversial call by the president of the Southern Baptist Conventionfor the conversion of Muslims at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Throughout the conflict, religious leaders wrestled with how torespond to terrorism and impending military strikes. Most werecautiously supportive of the new war. In a landmark statement, Catholicbishops drew on centuries of Just War theory to affirm the country's"moral right and a grave responsibility to defend the common goodagainst mass terrorism."
Obviously, there was a world before Sept. 11, even though it may behard to recall. Much of the year was consumed by the president'scontroversial plan to funnel federal money to faith-based groupsproviding social services. The plan passed the House in July, but itremains stalled in the Senate over concerns about possible federallyfunded discrimination. John DiIulio, Bush's high-profile faith-basedcheerleader, left the White House late this summer while the billfloundered.