I was born in the year 2002, making me apart of the graduating class of 2020. 2002 was a year of political, economic and social turmoil. 2002 was also the year after September 11, 2001, thus making 2020 the first graduating class to have not lived through 9/11. It’s very hard to even fathom what happened on that day, the many lives lost and all the families affected, here in my hometown, New York City. It’s even harder to fathom what happened after that day, the many lives lost and all the families affected indirectly, not only in New York City but the whole world.
Most, if not all people have been in some way influenced by events in their life, whether it be “good” or “bad”, in the most subjective way. It could be the day they got their pet dog, the day they met their best friend or the day their grandma passed away. These events shape people, their character, their reputation and give them a sense of identity. We, as humans are nothing without all the things that make us, without these unique, individual narratives we’ve constructed in our head about ourselves, without them, we are simply just walking bodies. Most of you probably can think of an event that has shaped your life, you can remember the day, the time, who was there. But that’s not the case for 1% of the population in the United States of America; the 3.3 million people that identify themselves as Muslim, especially after September 11, 2001, a day where 2,996 people died and millions more suffered.
Of the Muslims living in America, most were not present at the time the event took place and none them here were involved, but ever since that day their whole life, their safety, has been influenced by an event that they too, like the rest of their fellow Americans, had no clue about. They cried the same tears, they wept, they too had lost, but for some reason, we were not like the others. We were the big bad wolves, we were the bane of all evil, and we were not American.
Where was I on September 11, 2001? I was a fetus in my mother’s womb. My mother had come to America, in hopes of raising a child that would make her American Dream come true. She was a woman who had left her whole life, a good job, a nice house in Pakistan to come to New York, with a dream and nothing more. After September 11, 2001, my mother was a woman who had a dream but was now afraid to welcome her child into a world that thought I was a monster. A world that did not consider me or her a part of this American Dream, that every parent wants their child to fulfill. My mother had left Pakistan, left behind her family and her husband, my dad, who later came as well, for the sole reason that she thought I would be safe here, and now this too was not something she was sure of. I was later born in April of 2002 and although times were tough, my parents had faith in the good of this world, they had faith in the people, and it’s why they named me Iman, Arabic for faith.
I wasn’t alive on September 11, 2001, but I was alive every other September 11th since, and it’s a day that I truthfully dread. September 11, is usually a day that takes place during the first week of school, and most teachers speak of 9/11, which they should. However, I went to an elementary school that wasn’t very diverse, and it wasn’t really inclusive either. Being the only South Asian kid in your class, and the only Muslim, on 9/11 was one of the most nerve-wracking things I dealt with as a kid, I would even go as far as to pretend to be sick just so I could miss that one day. On that day, whilst the teacher was teaching us about 9/11, I would feel the glares of my fellow students, they were just looks but I felt them ripping my skin apart. Sometimes they would ask me about 9/11, questions, answers that I too did not know because just like them I was not born, I too feared the same people they feared, I was no different but I don’t think they ever got that. My stomach would sink every time my teacher said that number. 2,996. The amount of people that died on 9/11, and just for a second I would feel guilt, almost as if I had been responsible for each and every one of their deaths, and for a long time I hated myself because of it. Thankfully I never had to deal with anything more except a few glances, a few ill-mannered questions and a couple of bullies, but I know that’s not how it was for every other Muslim. I had the privilege of living in a city that generally welcomed diversity, a lot of others didn’t, and after 9/11 many Muslims and even non-Muslims were targeted under the suspicion they were terrorists. After 9/11 simply looking like a “terrorist”, whatever that meant, was enough to get you hurt. If you were Afghan, Indian, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Bengali, a Hindu, a Muslim, to ignorant people we were all one. The American Dream no longer applied to us, and it seems as if we were no longer American. It seemed almost impossible to be both a practicing Muslim and an American, like if these two were contrasting things.
9/11, the aftermath and the outcome influenced a lot of people all over the world, however, it seems like many people don’t focus on the impact it had on American-Muslims. Muslims that called America home, followed its laws, paid their taxes, were good humans but still were considered to be on an opposing team, like they were for this terrorism. Growing up post 9/11 I saw a lot of microaggressions and I saw a lot of Muslims and South Asians/Middle Easterns being the victims of hate crimes. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy, and I feel so hurt for those who lost their lives and for the families who lost relatives, but one of the greatest tragedies, that’s not talked about enough, was the fact that 1.6 billion Muslims in this world now had their actions, their beliefs determined by an event that they had no connection to, and for me, an event that took place when I was not even alive. There are many victims of 9/11, but the victims rarely spoken about, are the victims of Islamophobia, who paid the price for a crime they did not commit. It seems like no matter how much, we as Muslims condemn terrorism and attacks, there will people pointing fingers. Muslims shouldn’t have to condemn a terrorist attack committed by some person who had a twisted and false view of their religion because it is not our fault.
9/11 has influenced Muslims, many like myself, in an obviously negative way, but the one thing it did do that was not negative, was introduce me to social activism and educating myself. One thing I’ve learned is that in today’s world, especially being a minority, you can’t afford to be ignorant because ignorance has a body count. I’ve realized a lot of people are going to think of me in a way that is completely inaccurate, and I guess I’m going to have to keep proving them wrong. It took a long time, but I eventually did find peace within myself and accept who I am, not the negative stereotypes that are attached to my religion. I realize that today, with our government, and president, that Islamophobia still exists, and maybe it always will, but with all of this, I’ve also seen an outpour of American-Muslims taking a stand against injustice, that make our society better, that have done so much for us, and it’s people like them that inspire myself and many others.