On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a teenage student at a school for the memorization of the Quran (by heart) in Flushing, N.Y., 10 miles from the World Trade Center.
My class of about 25 students of varying ages from 8 to 16 years old and two teachers started at 8 a.m. as usual. An hour and a half later, we started noticing that something was not right. Our teachers had gone into the office and had not returned to class for almost 30 minutes. News reached the classroom that some plane had crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. We New Yorkers knew WTC well since we would always look up to find them if we were lost.
We started theorizing what must have happened. One silly theory was that a military jet had crashed into one of the buildings and, before crashing, it shot some missiles into the other tower. No one could have imagined how much more horrific the actual events were.
Eventually, our teachers came in the room and asked the older boys to come out and stand guard at the doors and windows of the mosque and shout if they saw anyone coming to attack the center. Everyone was now scrambling to get the kids home. Trains, buses, bridges, tunnels, highways and phones were shutting down. One elder with a large van volunteered to drop off kids in a certain direction and I found a ride with him. The mosque was also evacuating due to security concerns.
I reached home and found that my other relatives who worked in Manhattan were making their way to our place in Queens since we were closest to Manhattan and they had to walk all the way from there. We spent the rest of the day watching the news and trying to track down relatives. We eventually realized what happened and grieved about the loss of thousands of our fellow Americans and the extensive damage that occurred.
I could not then imagine how these events would change the trajectory of the world. However, I saw a glimpse of it the next morning when I decided to go to a store a few miles from my house. I was dressed in traditional Muslim attire. On the way, an older boy around 16 or 17 years of age, rode up to me on his bike and said, “Today we are going to slit the throats of any Muslims we see.” He then turned around and whistled to a group of friends and said, “Heyyy, we’ve got one here!” I started running while he waited for his friends to join him and then start riding toward me. I ran a few blocks and made some turns to get out of their sight and entered a barber shop. After hearing my story, they sheltered me inside until it was safe to walk home.
Since that day, as a Muslim, I have always had to be aware of my surroundings and suffer those piercing stares everywhere I go. I often get “randomly selected” for extra screening. I grew up under the shadow of Sept. 11. The 19 hijackers did not just hijack those planes. They hijacked my religion and my identity. Because of their evil action, a domino reaction started. Two wars were fought, and well over a million people died. The majority of the killed were innocent bystanders who had nothing to do with 9/11.
Since that day, every single Muslim in the world has been held responsible in one way or another and has paid a price for the events of 9/11. That’s why, in this month’s open house program at Islamic Society of Augusta, I addressed and clarified that Islam cannot and should not be defined by the actions of an extremely small group of Muslims. In a few days, we will have a complete recording of this session and announcements for future open house programs at facebook.com/ICCAOpenHouse.
Jawad Rasul is the Imam of the Islamic Society of Augusta. He can be reached at (706) 210-5030. Learn more at www.isaugusta.com.