This Sept. 11 marked 20 years since the horrific event that changed our country, the United States, forever. Americans mourn everyone lost that day. The country is awash in melancholy as we honor and remember those who gave their lives that day. This tragedy also led to an unfortunate consequence, however; a terrifying time for many Muslim Americans, whose appearances were similar to the perpetrators of 9/11.
My father, a Muslim Pakistani-American, used to travel a lot for his work. Following 9/11 there were many changes for the boarding process. The color of his skin and the sound of his name made him susceptible to countless moments at the airport where he was searched for no reason.
“I would get randomly selected to have my luggage checked even after I went through screening,” said my father, Iftikhar Bhatti.
On other occasions, the airport workers would request to see his ticket, even after he was cleared. My father expected this every time he went to the airport, even though he was an ordinary passenger like everyone else.
Some months after 9/11, my grandparents were traveling to visit Pakistan. My grandfather had a blue passport issued by the Pakistani government, but from the outside, it looked like an American passport. The TSA agent thought it was fake, so the agent went back to speak with the managers.
The agent came back and said that my grandmother’s name had been found on a “no-fly list.” Airport security surrounded my grandparents for hours until an FBI agent finally came.
The first thing the FBI agent said wasn’t to security but to my grandfather. “Sir, I am so sorry this is happening to you guys,” he said. Thankfully, the FBI agent took action and removed my grandmother’s name from the list.
My grandparents were two elderly people, in wheelchairs, trying to board their plane just as everyone else. They were clearly not the people from which the country needed to be protected.
Hate crimes against Muslims rose to a terrifying number after 9/11, to the point where people were afraid to leave their homes. My grandmother wears the hijab, and after 9/11, my family wouldn’t let her leave the house, in fear that something would happen to her.
“We were scared to let her go out of the house,” said my mother, Hala Elhage.
This fear lingered for months until my mother’s family realized that they couldn’t hide forever.
Many Muslim-Americans were arrested for no reason other than people’s suspicions. My mother’s cousin, a Lebanese Muslim-American, went to jail for a while after someone had reported him, simply because he had a beard and was involved in his mosque. He went to jail for nothing. Although they found that he was innocent, even now he can’t leave the country to go see his parents back in Lebanon.
The months after 9/11 were extremely scary for my family living in New York. One time, in the middle of the night, Homeland Security showed up to my family’s home, pounding on the door, scaring them all immensely.
The only reason Homeland Security there was because, according to them, my dad’s cousin had a suspicious sounding name.
Although the terrorists who were accountable for 9/11 claim to follow Islam, their doings do not follow the teachings in any way. Many people believe the false claim that Muslims support the actions of 9/11 because of jihad. However, the Arabic term jihad literally translates to “struggle or effort” but is interpreted in Islam as the spiritual struggle to stay close to God.
In Islam, killing is forbidden. In chapter 5, verse 32, of the Quran, it reads, “Whoever kills a soul… it is as if he had slain mankind entirely,” further proving the actions of the terrorists were not correlated with the teachings of Islam.
No one will deny that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, devastated this country and altered the way in which we live our lives. Unfortunately, it also altered the way Muslim-Americans were perceived. The stereotyping that Muslims faced in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and still face today is harmful. Blaming an entire religion for the actions of terrorists that don’t follow Islam is unrealistic and unfair. As we say, “Never forget,” let’s also remember this.