American Muslims and 9/11: A Community Looks Back.And to the Future

Article excerpt

Riad Z. Abdelkarim, M.D. is Western Region communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

As our nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims around the country will join their fellow citizens in pausing and reflecting upon the horrors of that day and its aftermath. While commemorating the event in their mosques, Islamic centers, and schools, America's estimated six to seven million Muslims also will ponder the aftermath of the attacks on their community--and indeed on the larger issue of Islam in America.

Initial Response

Muslims were shocked, saddened and outraged at the vicious attack on our own soil--and they did not hesitate to voice their unequivocal condemnation.

In fact, American Muslim and Arab-American organizations and leaders were among the first to react in an organized fashion to condemn the terrorist attacks on that very same day, long before it became clear that individuals calling themselves Muslims were involved in the attacks.

On Sept. 11, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest grassroots American Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, distributed a statement which read: "We condemn in the strongest terms possible what are apparently vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. No cause could ever be assisted by such immoral acts. All members of the Muslim community are asked to offer whatever help they can to the victims and their families. Muslim medical professionals should go to the scenes of the attacks to offer aid and comfort to the victims."

CAIR also urged Muslim relief agencies to "offer support in the recovery efforts." Individual Muslims were asked to donate blood and cash.

Similarly, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) issued the following unequivocal statement: "We feel that our country, the United States, is under attack. All Americans should stand together to bring the perpetrators to justice. We warn against any generalizations that will only serve to help the criminals and incriminate the innocent. We offer our resources and resolve to help the victims of these intolerable acts, and we pray to God to protect and bless America."

And, in a Sept. 11 letter to President Bush, American Muslim leaders stated: "American Muslims, who unequivocally condemned today's terrorist attacks on our nation, call on you to alert fellow citizens to the fact that now is a time for all of us to stand together in the face of this heinous crime." This letter was signed by the leaders of the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, CAIR, MPAC, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Alliance in North America, and American Muslims for Jerusalem.

Despite the unanimous and vocal condemnations by American Muslim and Arab-American groups and leaders nationwide, however, some media pundits were not satisfied. In subsequent weeks and months, numerous unsubstantiated references would appear in newspaper opinion columns and on television talk shows about American Muslims' "silence" after the terrorist attacks. Such claims were clearly not based on facts, but rather were the products of either outright ignorance--which is inexcusable--or deliberate defamation--which is utterly deplorable.

Backlash

Following the initial hours of shock, grief, and anger--when it became apparent that the suspects in the attacks were Arab Muslims--American Muslims and Arab Americans braced themselves for an anticipated vicious backlash.

For American Muslims and Arab Americans, the tragedy that befell our nation was doubly painful. First, like the rest of the country, we watched in stunned horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. …