September 18, 2021

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Islamophobia: Two decades after 9/11 and American Muslims continue to fight hatred – Roce Today

NEW YORK – A car went by, the driver’s window rolled down and the man spat out an epithet to two little girls wearing headscarves: “Terrorist!”

It was 2001, a few weeks after the World Trade Center fell, and 10-year-old Shahana Hanif and her younger sister were walking to the local mosque from their Brooklyn home.

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches, Hanif still remembers her confusion about how someone could look at her, a little girl, and see a threat.

“Not a nice kind word. It means violence, it means dangerous. It’s meant to shock whoever … is the victim, “he says.

Like Hanif, other young American Muslims grew up in the shadow of 9/11. Many have faced hostility, suspicion, questions about their faith, doubts about their Americanness.

They also found ways to fight prejudice, to organize, to create nuanced personal narratives about their identities. In the process, they built bridges and challenged stereotypes.

There is “this sense of being Muslim as a kind of important marker of identity, regardless of your relationship to Islam as a faith,” says Eman Abdelhadi, a sociologist at the University of Chicago.

Distrust of Muslims did not start on 9/11, but it dramatically intensified with the attacks.

America’s diverse Muslim communities have been put in the spotlight, says Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University.

“Your sense of who you were was becoming more formed, not just Muslim but American Muslim,” he says. “What distinguished you as an American Muslim? Could you have been completely both or did you have to choose? There was a lot of struggle with what that meant. “

In Hanif’s case, there was no blueprint.

“In fifth grade I was not naive or too young to know that Muslims are in danger,” he wrote in an essay on the aftermath of 9/11. “… Waving an American flag from our first floor windows didn’t make me any more American.”

A young Hanif gathered his neighborhood friends to write a letter to then-President George W. Bush asking for protection.

“We knew”, he says, “that we would become like the warriors of this community.”

But being a warrior often comes with a price.

Ishaq Pathan, 26, remembers when a boy told him he looked angry and wondered if Pathan was going to blow up their school in Connecticut.

He remembers feeling helpless when he was pulled aside at an airport for further interrogation upon returning to the United States after a university semester in Morocco.

The agent looked through his belongings, including the laptop where he kept a private diary, and started reading it.

“I remember having tears in my eyes. I was completely and utterly helpless, “says Pathan.

“You go to school with other people from different backgrounds and you realize… what the promise of the United States is,” he adds. “And when you see it doesn’t live up to that promise, then I think it instills in us a sense of wanting to help and solve the problem.”

He now works as the San Francisco Bay Area director for the nonprofit Islamic Networks Group, trying to help younger generations grow confident in their Muslim identity.

Born in Somalia, Shukri Olow fled civil war with her family and lived in refugee camps in Kenya before finding a home in a social housing complex in Kent, south of Seattle.

After 9/11, she remembers feeling confused when a teacher in America asked, “What are your people doing?”

Today he’s looking for a job on King County Council.

“There are many young people who have multiple identities who have felt that they don’t belong here, that they are not welcomed here,” he says. “I was one of those young people. And so I try to do what I can to make sure that many of us know that this is our country too. “

After 9/11, some American Muslims have chosen to dispel misconceptions about their faith through personal connections.

Mansoor Shams traveled across the United States with a sign saying “I am Muslim and an American Marine, ask anything”. It is part of the 39-year-old veteran’s efforts to counter hatred through dialogue.

In 2019 he spoke with students from Liberty University in Virginia; some still call him with questions about Islam.

“There is this mutual love and respect,” he says.

Shams wishes his current job wasn’t necessary, but he feels a responsibility to share a counter-narrative that, he says, many Americans don’t know.

Ahmed Ali Akbar, 33, came to a different conclusion.

Shortly after 9/11, adults from his community organized an assembly at his school in Saginaw, Michigan, where he and other students talked about Islam and Muslims. But remember his confusion with some of the questions: Where is Osama bin Laden? What is the reason behind the attacks?

That period made him feel like trying to change people’s minds wasn’t always effective.

Akbar ultimately focused on telling stories about American Muslims on his “See Something Say Something” podcast.

“There is also a lot of humor in the American Muslim experience,” he says. “It is not only sadness and reaction to violence and … to racism and Islamophobia”.

Amirah Ahmed, 17, was born after the attacks and feels she has been pushed into a fight that wasn’t hers.

A few years ago, at the 9/11 commemoration at her school in Virginia, she felt the students staring at her and her hijab.

For the upcoming anniversary, she wore her Americanness as a shield, wearing an American flag veil to address her classmates from a podium.

Ahmed spoke of honoring both the lives of those who died in America on 9/11 and the Iraqis who died in the war that began in 2003. He says it was a “very powerful moment”.

But he hopes his future children don’t feel the need to prove they belong.

“Our children will be (here) fine after the 9/11 era,” he says. “They shouldn’t keep fighting for their identity.”

Fam, who reported from Cairo, Egypt, deals with Islam for the AP’s global religion team. Henao covers faith and youth for the team. Hajela is a member of the AP team dealing with race and ethnicity. AP video journalist Noreen Nasir contributed to this report.

Associated Press religious coverage receives support from Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US The AP is solely responsible for this content.