Sep 12, 2010 - albanyia    14 Comments

On Sept 11th, 2010 – NYC Rally to Support the Mosque

On Sept 11th, 2010, I found myself in a very surreal experience:  Traveling to New York City on a bus full of non-Muslims nine years to the day of 9/11. As a Muslim-American, I can’t even tell you the pain we feel on the 9/11 anniversary. Not just for what happened on that day, but for all the consequences of it, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the millions of people killed, to the FBI round up of Muslims, hate-crimes against Muslims, discrimination and bias, to the anti-Mosque Islamophobia Quran-burning crusades of today. All of these events have somehow inexplicably led me to being on a bus heading to the very spot 9 years later…

To us, September 11th, 2001 is  a defining date in our lives. There was life before 9/11 which seemed happy and promising, and life after 9/11, full of constant defenses against attacks and painful experiences. At one time we thought America could be the place where we could practice our religion freely, raise our children and live good fruitful lives. I can’t help thinking that those who landed on Plymouth Rock had the same idea. Leaving England for a New World, they hoped to practice their religion freely and establish an equal society.

The bus I traveled on was sponsored by a few organizations in this area including a local Mosque, the Muslim solidarity committee (a group of almost all non-Muslims which have been constant supporters of us in this area), and Project Salam (an advocacy group pursuing all the wrongful prosecutions of Muslims). Not surprisingly, there were only a handful of Muslims on the bus. This upsets me, but I’ve learned the vast majority of Muslims in the US are pained and saddened by what’s happening but they have steadfastly refused to do anything about it. They sit in their homes, continue to watch television, buy their BMWs and pretend that life is like pre-9/11 until something happens to them. How long this denial will go on, I don’t know. And perhaps it’s too late now for us.

Arriving at the planned site of the counter rally in New York City we found it swarming with reporters from all over the world. Organizers were still setting up and there were pre-made signs with slogans like ‘No to Racism and anti-Muslim Bigotry’, ‘Islam has been in NY for 400 years’, and ‘Muslims are Welcome here’. These were heartening to see. As soon as I and another Muslim sister stepped off the bus wearing Hijab, reporters immediately started asking us questions and interviewing us. This was really surprising because we were expecting to attend a really and not actually be interviewed by anyone! We weren’t really prepared and I’m not sure if our answers were the best ones. I’m sure everyone knows by now that being interviewed by the media is a double-edged sword. They tend to take the one or two phrases we say, what they think will go best with the angle they are going for and use it, they almost never convey what you wanted to. The trick for us is to get across how/what we want to present in as few sound-bytes as possible. I think they were attracted to us because we were visibly Muslim. I did want our viewpoint to be heard, but I also wanted them to interview non-Muslim Americans who were supporters.

Some reporters were actually very aggressive like one who asked me if I thought the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim. I said that their act was one of terrorism and did not follow the beliefs of Islam, but he continued to ask “But ARE THEY MUSLIM?” with the camera and lights in my face. I should have said ‘This isn’t relevant to what we’re doing here today’ and bring up the real points, but I guess you live and learn. I also didn’t have exact figures of how many Muslims there are in America (3-6 million) or how many Muslims died in 9/11 (62 names are known, 60-100) or exactly what floor Muslims used to pray in the World Trade Center (17th floor south tower). Next time I think it’s a good idea to go over these things on the bus going down in case anyone asks us. Mostly I talked about how Muslims used to work and pray in the World Trade Center and also died on 9/11 and asked why it was such a big deal now to have a cultural center two blocks away. Also a lot how Islam doesn’t equal terrorism or all Muslims aren’t terrorists. How I didn’t think the Pastor from Florida represents all of Christianity or all Christians, and the same should be said for the perpetrators of 9/11.

sept11th_rally_sign

There were about 2000-2500 supporters at the rally, and we were located at least four or five blocks away from the rally against the Mosque/Tea partiers group. There was also another rally of a couple hundred of some religious group, not sure what that was about except they had a lot of signs about how homosexuality was a sin and that “Islam was a lie”. The 9/11 memorials earlier in the day were also placed closer to Ground Zero than we were. At our rally, we heard some speeches from various speakers about the anti-Islam phobia that was spreading across America, about religious rights and how important support of Muslims was right now. The people in attendance were mostly non-Muslims from all walks of life…teachers, students, older people, peace activists, war veterans, Christians, Hispanics, African-Americans, babies… Many smiled at us and were extremely kind. A very strange experience as a Muslim Hijabi in New York City I can tell you! We then marched a few blocks around the park holding up our signs.

A few of our bus group went over to see what was going on at the anti-Mosque rally and reported back that they were in one open block and seemed like 1000-2000. They also had a humongous flat screen TV jumbotron to broadcast the speeches (compared to our truck and megaphone). They also had signs like ‘Bigots are Americans too’??!?! Many supporters went over there to see what was going on, unfortunately creating confrontations and shouting matches that were pounced upon by TV cameras and shown in the media and also maybe increasing their numbers so some reports said there were a lot more anti-Mosque protesters than there were supporters!

On our side we had maybe one or two anti-Mosque protesters walking by who yelled ‘Traitors! Go back home!” There was also one Hispanic/Italian woman standing nearby as we were leaving with a small sign that said “Islam=Terrorism” saying ‘Izlam,Terrorists’, ‘Izlam, Terrorists’ over and over again in a heavy accent. I went up to her and said “I’m a Muslim and I’m not a terrorist”. She wouldn’t look me in the eye and continued repeating that. The only other negative incident I had was when we went to the McDonalds nearby to eat something and an African-American woman came up to me and started showing me a book of printed photographs of 9/11 and said she was in one of the towers. She then started talking about “Shariah law and stoning in Iran”. I told her that we lived in the United States and that had nothing to do with us and then she started quoting (misinterpreted) verses of the Quran. I told her you can’t take verses of context and misinterpret them and then at that point I just realized there was no point, and left.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the main problem. The anti-Mosque people are not against the Mosque. They are against ALL OF ISLAM. They really hate Islam, Muslims and everything to do with us. They are “anti-Shariah” which is the stupidest thing I’ve heard of in the world. No country in the world has complete Shariah law (which is actually extremely flexible and wholesome) yet these people think Muslims will take over America and impose Burkas on them. It’s just so ridiculous. I can’t imagine anyone intelligent actually really thinks this, but they just use it to propel their dialogue of hate. They also equate Islam with terrorism. They say all Muslims are terrorists and that Islam teaches terrorism and that we want to take over the world, etc etc, whatever. They just hate all Muslims and want to expel us from the United States. Their message is so neo-Nazi I’m waiting for the day they come up with their own symbol and hail.

I really wished I had told that woman at McDonalds and the Italian woman to walk over to the Tea partiers and see how they treated them. At the last rally a non-Muslim African-American man had been walking passed them and they thought he looked foreign and surrounded him and started harassing him!! They hate all immigrants and all people of color and I found it sad that those women didn’t realize that.

There is so much misinformation and outright lies being spread about Islam. This is one of the roots of the problem. Unfortunately our lack of Dawah (teaching about Islam) really is an extreme weakness and perhaps downfall right now.  We need to open our Mosques, we need to have interfaith programs, we need to teach our neighbors. We need alliances. We need to do so much work just to prove our right to exist. The right of Islam to exist. But again, Muslims are too busy going to medical school (so they can buy that luxury SUV), trying desperately to fit in and be the least visibly Muslim or active they can.

After the rally was over, we walked back to the bus and on the way home took turns sharing our stories on the microphone. One of the reporters earlier in the day asked me how I felt being at the rally. I said ‘I was actually sad, sad because I had to be there’. It wasn’t a good day. To see so much hate and malignment of our religion is a very difficult thing.

The only highlight of my trip was praying freely on the sidewalk in New York City on one of the protest signs on the ground, surrounded by supporters. I was very impressed with the non-Muslims who were so supportive and defending Islam better than most Muslims. They kept repeating “Assalam Alaikum, Muslims are welcome here”.  It just proves my point that we just need to teach people about the basics of Islam. We do not need to convert anyone. The acceptance of it and psychological space can lead people to their own conclusions. No one has to AGREE with Islam, its beliefs or practices, but as Americans we should all realize the hope and dream of Plymouth Rock. We should all be able to live and practice our religions in peace.

sept11th_rally

See all the pictures here: http://jannah.org/gallery/main.php?g2_view=slideshow.Slideshow&g2_itemId=4601

14 Comments

  • gave me goosebumps. a beautiful article.

  • Jazak’Allahu Khairan for sharing your day at the rally with us Sr. Jannah.

    All of the points you brought up were excellent and relevant.

    Even though you felt you could have done a better job responding tot he reporters (I don’t know what I would have said), but I think you did an admirable job considering the circumstances and as you said, not having prepared ahead of time.

    The point you made about how those against the whole thing and how they just hate everything there is about Islam – indeed it’s sad and scary. They don’t even bother to give us a chance, as when you said “I’m Muslim and not a terrorist.” The fear and propaganda that they see and hear just fuels them and they refuse to explore the issues on their own and try to see differences between those who misinterpret the Qur’an (and then do it themselves) and those who are trying to practice Islam in a more pious way. After all, our Faith is the way of the Middle Path, not an extreme one.

    Hey!!!, I resent the medical school comment! :-P

    In all seriousness though, I do think that as a whole too many of us (myself included) aren’t doing nearly enough about speaking up and making a difference. When our non-Muslim counterparts can be so welcoming and supportive, it should make us feel ashamed that fellow Muslims can’t step up to the plate in times like this.

    I do hope I can contribute once I am an established member of my community, where my words will carry weight when I speak out, as I do have an urge to do what you did, to make an effort to speak up, to show our true colors.

    I think you represented us well dear Jannah. Really proud of you to be honest – though I know by now, this is typical for you, as you an active participant in the community ma’sha’allah.

    I know it was a difficult day for you and the other sisters/brothers who were there. Indeed, it was a sad thing that all of you had to be there, as you said. I think we have a long battle ahead – an important battle in our history, but I hope that we have the patience, the talent, the perseverance to endure through the difficult periods and insha’allah, with sincere effort and Allah’s (swt) Help, I pray things will be brighter in the future.

  • Thanx Nina! Wa iyyak br Wcoastbaba. I did think of you when I wrote that, but I know that’s not why you’re going to medical school and that you will use your degree and future life to help Muslims in your community and all over inshaAllah. But we both know in our community that’s the pinnacle for most Muslims, becoming a doctor or one of their (or all) their kids becoming doctors!! That’s what their life is about. When it comes down to it, it’s Dunya. Nothing about values or society or what’s going on in the world, bringing about change or living the ideals of Islam. One bro even told me once that he was going to medical school so he could “marry whoever he wants”. I was like!!?? seriously?

  • I took guts to be there. And that is the major thing what we luck among other things as Muslims. The majority of us just don’t care and think that Islamaphobia is a phase that will come to pass. And that is the mistake we are making as Muslims. Phobias don’t just go away unless they are addressed and tackled head on.

    I also know that fear is one the things that has us paralyzed. Fear of being at the forefront of not only defending Islam but of being interviewed and then our answers, opinion being twisted to fan Islamaphobia. You didn’t expect to be interviewed but you were. Instead of listening to your response, the reporter was busy putting words that suited his and his master’s agenda into your mouth. So, even if you came prepared, whatever meaningful thin you said would not have been written or broadcasted. Only what they deemed fit for their ratings and audience.

    But for how long are we going to cower or sit on the fence and expect other people, like the few Non-Muslims who are defending as to do so. Defending Islam is no longer an option but Dawah is, as you rightly said, Sis jannah. Starting with our neighbours, then our neighbours’ neighbours and so on and so forth. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It is time we got off our couches and armchairs, stop admiring and thinking of our material wealth and stuff, before we find ourselves rounded like the Jews were.

    Education is important, well and good. But what is that education if those educated are not using it to educate Non-Muslim about Islam. I agree that we do not need to convert anyone but make them understand what Islam is really about.

    I remember a speech by a Sheikh who said. That while we Muslims are just busy with the dunia and not doing Dawah, we should know that Allah SWT will not let this Deen die. He will use those who are not Muslims to spread it and defend it. It is already happening. Non-Muslims defending Islam and Muslims as is the case of the group in your bus, neighbourhood, etc., as well as other places.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Your site came up in a search list I did and I read your article w/ great interest. I am a Christian American. I do not hate all Muslims and I believe in freedom of religion. You have generalized your statements just as you accuse others of doing to you. I don’t agree w/ the mosque location either but that does not mean I hate all of Islam. And speaking of hate, that goes on both sides of the coin- was it not hatred of Americans and Christians to see Muslims celebrating in the streets abroad after 9/11? Passing out candies to children? Cheering and partying over the deaths? Was it not hatred to see thousands protesting recently and burning our flag saying “death to America” and “death to Christians?”

    • Halima jazakiAllah khair for your comments, really things to think about!!

      MC thanks for your comments. I’m glad to hear you don’t hate all Muslims and believe in freedom of religion, but I find that jarring with your viewpoint of not agreeing with the Mosque location. Unless you believe all Muslims or Islam is responsible for 9/11 you wouldn’t have any problem with a Mosque or Community Center or anything “Islamic” being located anywhere in the United States. Did you know there are strip clubs, 2 churches and a synogogue right within a 2 block area of Ground Zero as well? Did you know Muslims had a prayer room IN the World Trade Center? So why the problem with something 2 blocks away?

      Also my comments are not directed to every American in the United States, because as you can see from the pictures and what I wrote there were MANY non-Muslim supporters at the rally. They were directed specifically at the anti-Mosque Tea partiers that were full of hate.

      Lastly, the video that was shown over and over again in the media of “Palestinians celebrating” was later to be found to be false footage from another event that was used to create this hysteria. Please do some research. I believe there were one or two articles in the mainstream press questioning it’s authenticity as well. There’s no denying there are Muslims in the world that do hate all Americans and Christians, I’m sure you know there are two ongoing WARS right now in two Muslim countries where MILLIONS of INNOCENT ppl have died. But what exactly are you trying to say? So then it’s ok to hate all Muslims because of that? What then, this hate negative cycle will never end. Ignorance about Islam and Muslims will continue forever.

  • dude kudos for making the trip! and i love the patriotic outfit, so cute :)

    and lol @ dude who thinks anyone will marry him because he is a doctor :)

  • thanx mariam… waiting for u to dress up as a maple leaf ;)

  • Salaam Sister Jannah,
    You’ve just fulfilled the right of the community. JZAK for representing us all at this rally.

    We need the courage to express our beliefs, and should not be shy of taking part in public forums. I’ll leave two quotes, one from classical Islam and the other from recent history that support this proposition.

    Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “A time will come when the nations (of the world) will surround you from every side, just as diners gather around the main dish. Somebody asked, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, will it be on account of our scarcity at that time?’ He said, ‘No, but you will be scum, like the scum of flood water. Feebleness will be in your hearts, and fear will be removed from the hearts of your enemies, on account of your love for the world, and your abhorrence of death.’”

    The second is from Malcolm X. He is well known for his efforts to protect the freedom and civil liberties of the African-Americans in the US. We have a lot to learn from his history.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2S3ShBexMs

    The effort and risk of speaking up is far less than the actual price that we should be willing to pay to ensure our freedom, liberties and way of life. May Almighty Allah increase us all in courage, and in the desire to express the truth, even if it be to an evil dictator.

    It is so important to be present where the debates are happening,because if we are not, or we are present and do not speak up, then by default, it is as if we are agreeing with all the negative lies being spread by xenophonic racists when they bash Islam and the Muslims.

    Everyone cannot be an Urwah ibn Mas’ud, but what is required from us nowadays is so much less than that.

    May Almighty Allah reward you for your efforts, and give you the eloquence and influence to make a positive difference for Muslims in the US, and to support the dawa effort

  • Salaam Sis J – awww, I had a feeling you thought of me when you wrote that.

    Yes, I agree, I do find that attitude among our parents generation – superficial things such as that, but it’s sad that it has filtered down to some of the children as well. While achievement is all well and good of course, I think that having such a position alone is not enough. I think if one can use their prominent place in the community (not just because they are a doctor or engineer, but for the fact they are a respected voice), they can encourage their children to get and do something.
    I am happy to see that there are many active brothers and sisters in the US, making a difference and holding up the flag of Islam in a way that the rest of us can be proud of. Not only is this important for their own development, but as we can clearly see, how we carry ourselves and thus represent Islam, is going to be a very critical aspect of our future, both in the US, UK and elsewhere.
    Yes, go to medical school, law school or whatever interests you, but in conjunction with that, we should also do our part, however small, in contributing to the problems we have in our community, which of course, will weigh heavily on where we will be in the coming years.

    Good reply to mc. I was actually wondering about that footage myself. Seems like that not enough people know about the truth behind those images.

  • Thank you br shahzad and wcoastbaba, you guys really restore my enormous respect towards muslim guys!! So true about the Hadith, seems like we have no voice even though we are so many. I love Malcolm X as well, what an amazing personality. So much to learn from. br wcoastbaba if all ppl had ur sincerity we’d truly be in a different place. jazaks to u both, ws

  • You’re welcome Sr. Jannah. Ma’sha’allah, well said Br. Shahzad. Ameen to your du’a.

    I remember that hadith actually – it has been brought up in recent years, as our numbers have grown; Islam is as you know, the second largest Faith in the world.

    I LOVE MALCOLM X! That was a great clip – if you haven’t already, I think it is required reading for every Muslim, especially those of us in the US, to read his autobiography; one of the best books I’ve ever read.

    Sis, you are too kind. While I am passionate about the feelings I’ve expressed above, it’s easy to say, harder to do. I do hope that those feelings will persist within me as I grow older. Again, as I said in my first comment, and as Br. Shahzad said also, you and others who go out there for protests, the brothers and sisters who work for CAIR, etc, I always get a swelling of pride (the good kind mind you) to see that in such trying times, these youngsters (though wiser than me in most cases) are putting their faces out there for the media when we need strong, calm and mature voices representing us.

    Once again, great post, good discussion and lots of important things to think about.

  • Salam Sr. Jannah,
    Your excellent post brought many feelings for another Muslim human being like me who isn’t American by the way, so firstly, I start by saying Jazak Allah Khair for your efforts.

    The tragedy of the 9/11 terrorists attacks had changed the world for Muslims everywhere and how other non-Muslims deal with them in the light of the aftermath of such horrible attacks. Now nine years after 9/11 yet the troubles are still caused.

    Nevertheless, I see that the controversy about Park51 project (that media mislabeled it as Ground Zero Mosque) highlighted on the real status of misconceptions and stereotypes that Muslims are facing in general and American Muslims in particular who are citizens too.

    I am not surprised by the efforts of non-Muslims who support Muslims in this project because I see they do understand well what citizenship means.

    Finally, this is what we should understand clearly as Muslims, especially for the Islam/Muslims stereotypes and Misconseptions. Hence, I wish that efforts of the Islamic Organizations to be more focused on overcoming this issue through the outreaching that you suggested.

  • Assalaam alikum..

    you got to fight in your heart to strive in that kind of community with all the comments and insults..you know u were sent to earth for a greater reason. God lives those who strives on his path.

    We living in nearly 100% muslim countries got other problems to face.

    Thats the case, its getting more tougher and tougher to live in this globalised world if u practice Islam. May allah suhanahoo wataala give patience and reward Jannah for striving for the cause.

    Let us do Dawah with our examplary deeds and tolerence towards them.

    Jazakallah for such an inspirational reading material.

    Allah Akbar