We Are All in This Together

17 October 2010

One of the premises underlying the current campaign to demonize, criminalize, and delegitimize Muslims as citizens of the United States is that of Muslim silence.  The orchestrators of that campaign of demonization, and it is indeed being carefully and skillfully orchestrated, assume there will be no Muslim response to the lies, distortions, misrepresentations and fallacious arguments being spread about Islam and Muslims.

Unfortunately, far too many Muslims believe that if they remain silent, keep a low profile and avoid any controversies eventually all of the hatred and bigotry being directed at Muslims will go away. This is a terribly misguided belief. Muslim silence in articulating the truth about our religion, our history in this country and the way the events of 9/11 have affected our community only helps to create a void that is being filled with falsehood. Eventually, in the absence of a countervailing narrative, those falsehoods will come to be perceived as the truth. In the words of Norman Daniel:

By misapprehension and misrepresentation, a notion of the ideas and beliefs of one society can pass into the accepted myths of another society, in a form so distorted that its relation to the original facts is sometimes barely discernable. Doctrines that are the expression of the spiritual outlook of an enemy are interpreted ungenerously and with prejudice, and even the facts are modified –and in good faith- to suit the interpretation. In this way is constituted a body of belief about what another group of people believes. A ‘real truth’ is identified: this is something that contrasts with what the enemy say they believe; they must not be allowed to speak for themselves. This doctrine about doctrine is widely repeated, and confirmed by repetition in slightly varying forms. [1]

The recent controversy around the Park51 Project in New York illustrates how this misrepresentation works at many different levels. The public frenzy surrounding that project is totally fabricated on the basis of lies and distortion. The “Ground Zero Mosque” is not at ground zero. It is not a mosque, and the location it is to be built on is not “hallowed” ground. It is in a sleazy area populated by strip clubs, bars, smoke shops and liquor stores. The allegation that the former name of the project, “Cordova House” is a symbol of Muslim conquest is also a lie. The name was chosen to reflect the tolerant, cultured society Muslims, Christians and Jews were able to create in Andalusia. That period endured for less than two hundred years. The city reverted to Christian control in 1236 AD and has remained under Christian rule since then. If someone were looking for a symbol of Muslim conquest, surely they could find one better than Cordova.

Another argument is that the project is a “slap in the face” of Americans who lost almost three thousand of their fellow citizens at the site of the World Trade Center on that fateful day. There are two insidious assumptions embedded in this argument. The first is that American Muslims are not “real” citizens. Hence, in the eyes of the anti-Muslim bigots, the lives lost that fateful day were “American” losses, not “Muslim” loses. From here it is a small leap to conclude that “Americans” have rights that can be denied to “Muslims,” because of “American” suffering.

The second is that no Muslims were killed that day. If there were, real “Americans” reserve the right to define for Muslims what those deaths should mean. These arguments are a slap in the face of every American Muslim who was grief-stricken and traumatized that day, like so many of their countrymen. They are also an affront to all of the Muslims who died that day as well as their families. Many of the Muslims who lost family members in the collapsing towers have had to deal with the loss of their loved ones and the insults, humiliation, and threats occurring during the ensuing backlash. [2] 

That Muslims died in the attack on the World Trade Center towers is undeniable. Here is a list of their names:

1. Shabbir Ahmed - 47 years old - Windows on the World Restaurant
2. Tariq Amanullah - 40 years old - Fiduciary Trust Co.
3. Michael Baksh - 36 years old - Marsh & McLennan
4. Touri Hamzavi Bolourchi - 69 years old - retired nurse on United #175
5. Abul K. Chowdhury - 30 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
6. Mohammad Salahuddin Chowdhury - 38 years old - Windows on the World
7. Jemal Legesse De Santis - 28 years old - World Trade Center
8. Simon Suleman Ali Kassamali Dhanani - 63 years old - Aon Corp.
9. Syed Abdul Fatha - 54 years old - Pitney Bowes
10. Mon Gjonbalaj - 65 years old - Janitor, World Trade Center
11. Nezam A. Hafiz - 32 years old - Marsh & McLennan
12. Mohammed Salman Hamdani - 23 years old - NYPD Cadet
13. Zuhtu Ibis - 25 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
14. Muhammadou Jawara - 30 years old - MAS Security
15. Sarah Khan - 32 years old - Forte Food Service
16. Taimour Firaz Khan - 29 years old - Carr Futures
17. Abdoulaye Kone - 37 years old - Windows on the World
18. Abdu Ali Malahi - 37 years old - WTC Marriott
19. Nurul Hoque Miah - 35 years old - Marsh & McLennan
20. Boyie Mohammed - 50 years old - Carr Futures
21. Ehtesham U. Raja - 28 years old - TCG Software
22. Ameenia Rasool - 33 years old - Marsh & McLennan
23. Mohammad Ali Sadeque - 62 years old - newspaper vendor at WTC, reported missing
24. Rahma Salie & child - 28 years old (7 months pregnant) - American #11
25. Khalid M. Shahid - 25 years old - Cantor Fitzgerald
26. Mohammed Shajahan - 41 years old - Marsh & McLennan
27. Nasima Hameed Simjee - 38 years old - Fiduciary Trust Co.
28. Michael Theodoridis - 32 years old - American #11
29. Abdoul Karim Traore - 41 years old - Windows on the World
30. Karamo Trerra - 40 years old - ASAP NetSource
31. Shakila Yasmin - 26 years old - Marsh & McLennan

The number of Muslims who died that day at the site of the World Trade center is a contentious issue. The number mentioned here is the most conservative count. This number [3], compared to the 2,752 people who perished in New York that day, mirrors the percentage of Muslims in the overall American population. Hence, by this measure, the loss to American Muslims that day was just as great as the loss suffered by the country at large [4],  if we choose to look at the issue in this divisive fashion.

In an ironic twist of fate, the first child born to a 9/11 widow was a Muslim,  Farhad Chowdhury, the son of Mohammad S. Chowdhury, born two days after the criminal attacks of 9/11.

He is pictured below with his mother, Baraheen Ashrafi.

Baraheen Ashrafi.


Are we to tell this child that his father’s death is meaningless; that because of his religion he is not entitled to all of the rights accruing to the Christians or Jews who perished on that awful day; or that the site of the collapsing towers is not “hallowed” for him, even though his father perished there? I would think not. Therefore, in fighting for the rights of Muslims to build a Masjid anywhere in this country, we are honoring the memory of Mohammad S. Chowdhury and all of the other Muslims who died that day.

It is also worth noting the existence of an informal mosque on the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. [5] That space was also destroyed in the attacks of 9/11.  This only emphasizes the fact that Muslims were a vital part of the life of the World Trade Center and as such should be a vital part of the future of the site and any memorials that are erected in honor of those who died there.

Our country is being usurped by lying warmongers who do not hesitate to twist the truth if it serves their twisted agenda. It is time for us to stand up and say enough is enough. This country does not belong to the neo-fascists who are attempting to use the fear of Islam to mobilize people to disregard the suffering caused by neo-liberal economic policies, rapacious banks and the other entities devastating the lives of hardworking unsuspecting people. It is time to remove the excuse our silence gives to people to ignore their economic interests and then vote for neo-fascists politicians that only place them in a deeper hole that is being dug by highly propagandized, but essentially meaningless cultural issues.

We are all in this together. Either we will join forces to begin the kinds of serious discussions we need in order to put an end to the slow erosion of not only the foundation this country was built on, but the erosion of the foundation of fundamental human dignity itself. Our coming together is the greatest tribute any of us could pay to the memory of those who perished on 9/11.

Imam Zaid Shakir - Author



[1] Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2000), 12.
[2] Consider the following examples of such abuse. Salman Hamdani, a New York City police cadet who perished in the collapsed towers, while working to save the lives of others, was subsequently accused of being a terrorist. See http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/humantoll/hamdani.htm (accessed 9/24/10). Family members of Rahma Salie were placed on a no fly list and not allowed to attend a memorial service for her. 
See http://islam.about.com/od/terrorism/a/Muslim-Victims-Of-9-11-Attack.htm (accessed 9/24/10).  BahareenAshrafi was taunted with calls, “Let’s go for a Jihad.” See http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20199602,00.html (accessed 9/24/10).
[3] This list is taken from the following website: http://islam.about.com/od/terrorism/a/Muslim-Victims-Of-9-11-Attack.htm (referenced 9/24/10). While the final number of Muslims who died in New York that day that day is debatable, some lists mention as many as 60 Muslims perishing that day. I prefer the more conservative figure.
[4] The small percentage of Muslims in the overall United States population belies the idea that there is an imminent threat of Muslims taking over America or being poised to impose “Shariah” law on the country. The tiny size and corresponding weakness of the Muslim population is one of the reasons it is being targeted and scapegoated the way that it is. There is little danger of any negative political, financial or physical consequences for the aggressing parties.
[5] See Samuel G. Freedman, “Muslims and Islam Were Part of the Twin Tower’s Life,” New York Times (9/10/2010). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/nyregion/11religion.html.