// Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life
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« on: Sep 11, 2010 01:37 AM »

Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life


Sometime in 1999, a construction electrician received a new work assignment from his union. The man, Sinclair Hejazi Abdus-Salaam, was told to report to 2 World Trade Center, the southern of the twin towers.

In the union locker room on the 51st floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam went through a construction worker’s version of due diligence. In the case of an emergency in the building, he asked his foreman and crew, where was he supposed to reassemble? The answer was the corner of Broadway and Vesey.

Over the next few days, noticing some fellow Muslims on the job, Mr. Abdus-Salaam voiced an equally essential question: “So where do you pray at?” And so he learned about the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower.

He went there regularly in the months to come, first doing the ablution known as wudu in a washroom fitted for cleansing hands, face and feet, and then facing toward Mecca to intone the salat prayer.

On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam’s companions in the prayer room might include financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers. There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors conducting international business — the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and race.

Leaping down the stairs on Sept. 11, 2001, when he had been installing ceiling speakers for a reinsurance company on the 49th floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam had a brief, panicked thought. He didn’t see any of the Muslims he recognized from the prayer room. Where were they? Had they managed to evacuate?

He staggered out to the gathering place at Broadway and Vesey. From that corner, he watched the south tower collapse, to be followed soon by the north one. Somewhere in the smoking, burning mountain of rubble lay whatever remained of the prayer room, and also of some of the Muslims who had used it.

Given the vitriolic opposition now to the proposal to build a Muslim community center two blocks from ground zero, one might say something else has been destroyed: the realization that Muslim people and the Muslim religion were part of the life of the World Trade Center.

Opponents of the Park51 project say the presence of a Muslim center dishonors the victims of the Islamic extremists who flew two jets into the towers. Yet not only were Muslims peacefully worshiping in the twin towers long before the attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition

“We weren’t aliens,” Mr. Abdus-Salaam, 60, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he moved in retirement. “We had a foothold there. You’d walk into the elevator in the morning and say, ‘Salaam aleikum,’ to one construction worker and five more guys in suits would answer, ‘Aleikum salaam.’ ”

One of those men in suits could have been Zafar Sareshwala, a financial executive for the Parsoli Corporation, who went to the prayer room while on business trips from his London office. He was introduced to it, he recently recalled, by a Manhattan investment banker who happened to be Jewish.

“It was so freeing and so calm,” Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. “It had the feel of a real mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism — New York City, the World Trade Center — and you had this island of spiritualism. I don’t think you could have that combination anywhere in the world.”

How, when and by whom the prayer room was begun remains unclear. Interviews this week with historians and building executives of the trade center came up empty. Many of the Port Authority’s leasing records were destroyed in the towers’ collapse. The imams of several Manhattan mosques whose members sometimes went to the prayer room knew nothing of its origins.

Yet the room’s existence is etched in the memories of participants like Mr. Abdus-Salaam and Mr. Sareshwala. Prof. John L. Esposito of Georgetown University, an expert in Islamic studies, briefly mentions the prayer room in his recent book “The Future of Islam.”

Moreover, the prayer room was not the only example of Muslim religious practice in or near the trade center. About three dozen Muslim staff members of Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floors for their daily prayers.

Without enough time to walk to the closest mosque — Masjid Manhattan on Warren Street, about four blocks away — the waiters, chefs, banquet managers and others would lay a tablecloth atop the concrete landing in the stairwell and flatten cardboard boxes from food deliveries to serve as prayer mats.

During Ramadan, the Muslim employees brought their favorite foods from home, and at the end of the daylight fast shared their iftar meal in the restaurant’s employee cafeteria.

“Iftar was my best memory,” said Sekou Siby, 45, a chef originally from the Ivory Coast. “It was really special.”

Such memories have been overtaken, though, by others. Mr. Siby’s cousin and roommate, a chef named Abdoul-Karim Traoré, died at Windows on the World on Sept. 11, as did at least one other Muslim staff member, a banquet server named Shabir Ahmed from Bangladesh.

Fekkak Mamdouh, an immigrant from Morocco who was head waiter, attended a worship service just weeks after the attacks that honored the estimated 60 Muslims who died. Far from being viewed as objectionable, the service was conducted with formal support from city, state and federal authorities, who arranged for buses to transport imams and mourners to Warren Street.

There, within sight of the ruins, they chanted salat al-Ghaib, the funeral prayer when there is not an intact corpse.

“It is a shame, shame, shame,” Mr. Mamdouh, 49, said of the Park51 dispute. “Sometimes I wake up and think, this is not what I came to America for. I came here to build this country together. People are using this issue for their own agenda. It’s designed to keep the hate going.”

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« Reply #1 on: Sep 11, 2010 03:21 AM »

How many Americans who are opposing the construction of the Masjid will see this, read and rethink their stand? I mean, really, will they even read it? Or will they choose to remain ignorant, hijacked and hypnotized by what they see on TV? I used to think that Americans where people who would weigh what they have seen or read, research and then make informed judgement. But what I am seeing is reactionism just as the Muslims do every time Islam is insulted or attacked.

Whatever happened people's individual thinking power? They are fed lies and half-truths by the media and they fall for it  hook, line and sinker!

The Almighty Allah says,

"When a servant thinks of Me, I am near.
When he invokes Me, I am with him.
If he reflects on Me in secret, I reply in secret,
And if he acknowledges Me in an assembly,
I acknowledge him in a far superior assembly."

- Prophet Muhammad (SAW), as reptd by Abu Huraira
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« Reply #2 on: Sep 11, 2010 02:45 PM »

Visiting Ground Zero, Asking Allah for Comfort

Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré, a 9/11 widow, with her sons, Siaka, left, 9, and Souleymane, 11. Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Published: September 9, 2010 NY Times/NY Region

Nearly every Sept. 11 since Sept. 11, Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré has made sure that her three children were dressed in their best clothes, and taken them from their tidy brick home in the Bronx to the pit where the World Trade Center stood, and where her husband, their father, worked and died.

Abdoul-Karim Traoré was one of about 60 Muslims believed to have died on 9/11. He was photographed with his sons Souleymane and Siaka.
After the attacks, all that was found of Abdoul-Karim Traoré, a cook at the Windows on the World restaurant, were his leather wallet, his identification cards and a few coins.

“I like to go down there and pray and see the place and remember,” said Mrs. Traoré, a native of Ivory Coast who came to the United States in 1997. “When I go there, I feel closer to him. And him to me. I pray for him, too.”

When she prays, she calls God Allah. Mrs. Traoré, 40, says praying in the pit feels entirely natural, even if some of those standing with her — widows and widowers, parents and children — blame her religion for the destruction of that day.

“That’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not because of Allah that these buildings fell.”

Mrs. Traoré is the widow of one of roughly 60 Muslim victims — cooks, businessmen, emergency responders and airline passengers — believed to have died on 9/11. It is a group that has been little examined, and no precisely reliable count of their ranks exists. But their stories, when told, have frequently been offered as counterweights in the latest public argument over terrorism and Islam.

Mrs. Traoré works the overnight shift as a nurse’s assistant at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. She loves to cook: peanut sauce and doughy fritters are her specialties. She has a wide smile and a raspy laugh. Her life, a juggling act of homework, bills and prayer, is one Sept. 11 story — the kind of personal account Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others have sought to highlight amid the debate over a planned Islamic community center near the pit where Ms. Traoré prays every September.

Over the past nine years, Mrs. Traoré has lived a kind of dual life. She is a 9/11 widow struggling to raise her children, cope with her loss and tame her anger. The trials of her days would ring familiar to single mothers and fathers from Staten Island to Washington. But she is also a Muslim woman, both devoted to her faith and conscious of the discomfort it can evoke in her adopted homeland.

She wears Western clothes when she shops at Costco. But she wears a robe and head scarf when she visits her mosque in the Bronx. When she is in her religious attire, she can sense a shift as people on the street appear to regard her with suspicion.

“When people run away from me, I feel sad,” she said. “But I understand why they’re doing that. What happened was terrible.”

Her two sons, Souleymane, 11, and Siaka, 9, attend a Roman Catholic school near their home. During prayer, they sit in the back of the classroom with the few other non-Catholic students. They feel comfortable there, but they, too, have hidden their religion from schoolyard bullies. Mrs. Traoré received government money from the Sept. 11 compensation fund, and she said she was both unsurprised by and grateful for the American generosity.

Mrs. Traoré is also frustrated and troubled, she said, that so many Americans find it impossible to separate the pious of her faith from its fanatics. But it has not buckled her beliefs.

“I’m proud to be Muslim,” she said. “I’m going to be Muslim until God takes my spirit.”

Africa and New York

Mrs. Traoré met her husband in 1990 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He was a handsome mechanic, she worked at a health clinic, and they quickly fell in love. They married in 1992, and she was pregnant the next year. Before their daughter was born, however, Mr. Traoré moved to New York in search of a better life. Mrs. Traoré followed four years later.

They lived, at first, in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. She braided women’s hair and spent most of her time with other West Africans. She felt comfortable in the city and never felt the need to hide her religion.

Mr. Traoré first worked delivering groceries; later he got a job as a cook at the restaurant inside the American Museum of Natural History, and then came the opportunity at Windows on the World. He worked the 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift, which allowed him to make extra money delivering USA Today in the early morning.

Mr. Traoré never met his daughter, Djenebou, a quiet 17-year-old who now looks after her brothers as something of a surrogate parent. Unable to move to the United States with her mother, she grew up with relatives in Ivory Coast, and came to New York in 2002 after receiving “humanitarian parole.”

Their home, a jumble of New York and Africa, is filled with the laugh track of Disney Channel sitcoms and the smell of peanut stew. A pile of shoes lies by the door — leopard-print Timberland boots, shiny high-top sneakers, slippers, sandals and high heels.
Enlarge This Image

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Mrs. Traoré‘s husband, Abdoul-Karim Traoré, who was killed on 9/11, in a family snapshot with Souleymane, left, and Siaka.
 Backstory with Sam Dolnick

Mrs. Traoré keeps hand-drawn Mother’s Day cards taped to her bedroom door and posters of Mecca taped to the living room walls. Those walls could use a fresh coat of paint, and the ragged carpet has seen better days. But the family is busy, and the house is well loved, a refuge from the rough streets of Hunts Point outside.

Mrs. Traoré is strict — she keeps her children indoors or in their small backyard — and she tries to limit television to an hour a day. Djenebou spends much of her time checking Facebook and juggling instant messages, but her sessions are routinely interrupted by the call to prayer, which Mrs. Traoré has set to issue from the family laptop’s speakers.

Mrs. Traoré wants her children to pray, but that can take some nudging. They pray together in her bedroom, and they have long, quiet conversations about their religion. And on Fridays, they visit a ground-floor mosque nearby on Southern Boulevard that sits opposite a graffiti-covered junkyard, down the street from El Mundo Department Store.

“I tell them we have to believe in God, you have to pray,” she said.

While she finishes her overnight shift at the hospital, the children get themselves up and prepare their bowls of cereal. She calls when she is five minutes away so they can jump in the car and race to school. “We’re always late,” she said. “Always, always.”

She sleeps until 3 p.m., and then picks them up from after-school programs, prepares dinner, reviews homework and checks backpacks before leaving for another night shift.

“I’m the father and mother now,” she said.

‘He Went to Work’

Mrs. Traoré can barely discuss Sept. 11, 2001, without tears pooling in her eyes. “He went to work,” she said. “That’s it.”

She remembers her husband praying and getting dressed for his first job of the day, delivering newspapers, but it was too early for them to speak. She woke up at 8 a.m. for what was to be her second day of formal English classes. Though she had spent four years in New York, she knew only rudimentary phrases.

As she was hurrying to leave, her brother-in-law called to ask if Abdoul had gone to the World Trade Center. Yes, of course. Like always. He told her to turn on the television.

She saw the towers burning, but she could not understand what the newscasters were saying. She began crying, dialing her husband’s cellphone “again, again, again.” Relatives rushed to the apartment to translate the TV for her.

For two weeks, Mrs. Traoré barely slept. She called her husband’s phone repeatedly and visited a string of hospitals in search of him. She did not tell her children what she most feared.

“I just said he went away,” she remembered. “I said he’s coming, he’s coming.”

Souleymane, then 3, struggled. He insisted, for whatever reason, on sleeping on sheets that were perfectly white. A social worker advised her to tell the children what happened, and nine years later they still have not made peace with their father’s death.

“I want to ask why they did that,” Souleymane said on a recent afternoon. “If they were mad at somebody, they could have sorted it out instead of starting a war.”

Mr. Traoré’s remains were never found, but his wallet was recovered intact, as if he had only forgotten it on the nightside table. For years, Souleymane kept it as a totem.

Soon after the attacks, the family moved from Parkchester to a three-story home in Hunts Point that Mr. Traoré had found before he died. His brother, a taxi driver, lives on the top floor. A family friend from Ivory Coast lives on the second floor. Mrs. Traoré has support. She is not one to live in the past, even if her busy life allowed for more reflection.

“Life has never been normal, but it’s better,” she said. “I still miss him. But it’s not horrible like before.”

‘Everything Has Changed’

If the attacks forever upended her family, they also altered her understanding of America, and her place in this country.

“After 9/11, everything has changed,” she said. “At the beginning after 9/11, they were saying terrorists are all Islamic people. But terrorists and the religious people are different. God doesn’t say kill people.”

At home, the river of mail and bills never stops, a deluge her husband managed so smoothly. She still struggles with English. Perhaps the one part of her world that has remained fixed is her faith.

“My children are Muslim and my parents are Muslim,” she said. “I read the Koran and I am proud.”

Islam, indeed, acts as the ballast of her life. “It puts me in the right direction, and it protects me from doing bad things,” she said.

She does not blame God for her husband’s death. “That was my husband’s destiny,” she said.

If they had stayed in Ivory Coast, she reasons, perhaps he would have fallen fatally ill. “I’m praying to God to make me strong to protect them and raise them,” she said of her children. “I believe God is helping me because my children here are growing and they’re healthy and I’m doing my work.”

“I move closer to prayer, closer to God, and I thank him,” she said. “I keep praying to God to make me strong.”

On Friday, she will have a birthday party for Siaka. He has asked for ice cream cake. On Saturday, Sept. 11, the family will return to ground zero. And she will pray to Allah.

The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another:  [9:71]
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