A decade ago, a tragedy that ranks with the Mongol sacking of Damascus, the burning of Rome by Nero, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred on Sept. 11. The idyllic innocence of America was shattered. From the acrid plumes of smoke and ashes of that day’s horrendous tragedy also arose the natural demons of hate. In early days and weeks of the tragedy, it appeared that hate was a desired emotion felt by every American toward the perpetrators. Hate — antonym to love — is a strong word as well as a harsh feeling, but in those unguided moments of spiritual emptiness, one could feel, fathom or express nothing but hate.
Hate was the dark face of evil that the nation saw in the hollow craters of Shanksville and the Pentagon. Unfortunately, before we knew, we allowed that natural human reaction to transform into induced hate. Soon it led to a blinding rage, only to manifest itself in two unwinnable wars. As a reaction to the mass murder on the U.S. soil, The New Republic Editor Martin Peretz summed up the situation by writing that “we are all Israelis now,” meaning now we can all be persuaded to hate Muslims — even if we’ve never met one. A decade later, we know that hate also bankrupted our nation financially and psychologically. In addition to our financial powerhouse status, we also lost our innate humanity, compassion and empathy.
That day, American people and institutions were the sole target of that attack. Soon, we knew Islam also was the victim. That day, we surmised that planes were hijacked, buildings were rammed into, and thousands of innocent people died. In the intervening decade, a storied faith was incessantly molested by some of its own in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all across the globe. Its more than a billion followers worldwide became pariahs and ostracized for as long as it takes for the fog of ignorance and disbelief to lift. This was the hate induced from within.
Personally, for me as a Muslim, the fabric of the very faith that taught me how the life came about in the first place and what constitutes its decorum was torn and its sanctity untethered. The precepts of Islamic creed forbid Muslims from taking life in a cowardly and unjust way — their own or those of others. The morality instilled by this single Qur’anic commandment made Abu Bakr, the successor to Muhammad, order his military commanders [who] helped make the Muslim empire once upon a time the largest in the world. He said: “I advise you 10 things. Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not demolish the sanctuaries and places of worship of other faiths nor harm the people in prayer therein. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.” (Al-Muwatta 21.3.10).
War is a business of sheer savagery and yet nowhere else in the entire history of mankind would one find such humane rules of wartime engagement!
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, my emotions are running high. I am reminded of that fateful day’s events and the following days and weeks, and how friends and strangers came together and formed a circle of hope around ourselves. Many offered me support, solace and affection instead of anger, hatred and abuses, as well as protection in their homes, lest I should be harmed in the frenzy of resentment against me because of my faith.
I’m a Muslim. I’m an American. And the past decade has given me plenty of reasons to be proud of being both.
On that fateful day, I mourned with you. I stand in hallowed silence with you today. And as we grieve, let us resolve that we do so constructively.
Azad is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering.