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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Muslim students share what 9/11 means to them

On 9/11, hijackers crashed two airliners, the United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the George W. Bush administration declared a war on terrorism. As the nation began its campaign to punish the people responsible for the estimated 3,000 civilian deaths, the image of Muslim Americans was besmirched.

There have been numerous incidents of harassment and hate crimes reported against Middle Easterners and other Middle Eastern-looking people, particularly Sikhs. This is because Sikh males usually wear turbans, which are often associated with Muslims living in America.

Taji Abdullah became more aware of his identity as both an African American and as a Muslim after the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

"Sometimes you just see people looking at you, your name (if you have an Islamic name), or if you're wearing Islamic clothing," said the 23-year-old CSUN senior who is currently majoring in real estate and business law.

"I have a lot of respect for Muslim women who wear the hijab, covering their hair and dressing modestly, because they are subjected to this everyday," Abdullah said. "Men can mesh into society for the most part unless they have a huge beard."

People are more open-minded in Los Angeles because of the city's rich culture, Abdullah said. But because other people are misinformed about Islam, they believe terrorism is Islam, and this has negative connotations.

Agents from the FBI raided Abdullah's house in 2003. "This was a traumatic event in my life," he said. "I'll always remember that."

FBI agents questioned him and his stepmother, but they were really interested in his father, Abdullah said. His father is a lawyer, part African American, Native American and white, though he has been mistaken to be Arab. And his beard doesn't help stop the racial profiling.

"We believe the beard is mandatory," Abdullah said. "So he's not going to cut it off. He's not going to compromise his religious beliefs."

Detained for a few months, Abdullah's father was placed in San Bernardino, among other places.

It was "very disheartening to see my dad in an orange jumpsuit, seeing my dad go through that," Abdullah said.

Afterwards in the '80s, his father set up a nonprofit organization he called Holy Land Foundation that was suspected of being involved in acts of terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The organization's founders are currently on trial for such charges in Texas.

"Incidents like that take your innocence away," Abdullah said, referring to the FBI raid and his fathers' detainment. "Growing up as an African American, you are already the underdog and at the same time you are Muslim."

This situation brought Abdullah's family closer.

"You may have your parents today, but that doesn't mean that you'll be blessed to tell them you love them tomorrow," Abdullah said.

Some of the people working for the FBI are sympathetic and accommodating, but they need to do their job, Abdullah said They said, "'Sorry, this must be hard for you,' as they were putting him in handcuffs," he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they were watching me ... my dad. ... my family, or any other Muslim in America," Abdullah said. "I'm American. I can do things with confidence. I'm not afraid to be kicked off. I don't have the insecurity to assimilate into the American culture. I'm not hesitant or insecure about my nationality or ethnicity."

"I'm not doing anything illegal. It's not like I have anything to hide. If I'm comfortable, then I'll do it or wear it," Abdullah said. "It's a free country. I can do what I want, but within American and Islamic contexts."

Since the time of slavery, Abdullah's family has been here.

He's a first generation Muslim, as his father converted from Catholicism to Islam at the age of 25. His mother, however, was a devout Protestant.

Abdullah grew up in two different households when his parents divorced. He was in a Protestant household five days of the week and his mother tried to instill her religious beliefs in him by taking him to church and watching Protestant broadcasts. He visited his father's Muslim household on the weekends, where his father would talk about the fundamentals of Islam.

"It was confusing, but by the time I was 12 or 13, I knew what I wanted to be," Abdullah said. "Islam made more sense to me."

Another CSUN student who experienced firsthand how the world changed after the 9/11 attacks was 22-year-old Syeda Mudassarm, a CSUN junior majoring in economics, who was in Pakistan at the time.

In Pakistan, there's a difference in thinking, culture and religion seen in the region's clothing, and the role of women in society is all more conservative, Mudassarm said.

Mudassarm experienced how Pakistanis were unable to procure their Visas so they could be able travel to the West for the summer and winter holidays. On 9/11, she said she heard that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by religious extremists and that Pakistanis would have no part in it.

"In Iran, women have to cover up. In Pakistan, it's your choice," Mudassarm said. "The fundamentalists want you to cover up head to toe. They were even kidnapping non-Muslims and Chinese in Pakistan."

Mudassarm said, "I was so scared because they said that wearing jeans and shirts is non-Islamic. And if they saw a girl wearing it, they would kill her."

"This was not about Islam. This was about war ... about very scary things," Mudassarm said. "Everyone is supporting the same thing, against terror."

It's not just the West that's threatened, Mudassarm said. The organization called the Ral Masjid is creating problems for Muslims and non-Muslims.

"They're killing their own brothers and sisters," Mudassarm said. "They target young boys and girls. And it's working because the kids believe what they're told and they are from poor areas."

At CSUN, Mudassar lives in the dormitories and said she's never experienced such problems.

"It's very multicultural and they want to know what Islam is about. People accept me as a part of the American society," Mudassar said. "But I know the type of thinking that goes around that ignorant people think. I try to correct it, but there are so many."

"We are all normal people just like any Christian, any Jew, any Catholic," Mudassar said.

Every year after the infamous day in which terrorists attacked brings about memories of what happened when so many Americans were suddenly silenced.

Taiba Kator Mulk, 21, senior biology major at CSUN, said she remembers what her uncle told her on 9/11. "'The American government is going to go after Iraq.' I didn't know what that meant at the time, but now, six years later, I do," she said.

No personal attacks have been experienced by Kator Mulk since 9/11 because she said she knew the people around her very well. But she did hear about Sikh men who wore turbans being beaten because people they were though to be Muslims.

A change Kator Mulk noticed was that "people would ask me where I was from and then have follow-up questions about the political and social situation."

"I'm a pretty religious person. What bothered me was that the lines between religion and religious fanaticism became blurred," Kator Mulk said. "It offended me that people were calling this Islam." [Link]

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