|Like many, I am still in a state of shock that the evil attacks that took
place on September 11, 2001. But unlike some, I have a number of different
perspectives on this:
I am an African-American Muslim.
My mother was missing during the attacks.
My husband served in the United States Navy.
For the first 24 hours following the attacks, my mother who lives in New York
was missing and unaccounted for. I had no clue where she was. For 24 hours
I suffered the fear of the unknown that others are still living with daily.
I was one of the lucky ones though.
I remember immediately following the Oklahoma bombing the finger of blame was
pointed at "so called" Arab terrorists only to learn the hate was born and
bred in this country in the name of Timothy McVeigh. During that time I lived
in Richmond, Va., what some liberals still jokingly refer to as the "Capital
of the Confederacy." I lived in an area where a Muslim wearing Islamic dress
was not the norm so quickly I was singled out. Now living in the Washington,
D.C. metropolitan area where thousands of Muslims live and work yet I am
appalled to find the level of ignorance and hate that is rearing its ugly
While visiting a local Target with my daughter, who was also wearing Islamic
dress, a lady rammed her shopping cart into mine. My initial reaction was to
think this was an accident. That thought quickly disappeared when I looked at
the lady expecting an apology and saw a face of pure rage. After sucking her
teeth and shaking her head and stomping off, my mind was literally caught in
a battle of do or don't. Do I respond with anger and knock her out. Do I ask
her what the problem is? Do I ignore her?
The look of worry and concern on my daughter's face answered that question
and because she was with me I walked away. But now I regret that decision and
believe that would have been the perfect opportunity to really get an inside
look at what she was thinking and why she felt fighting hate with hate was
the answer. What made it especially sad was the fact that she was an older
African-American woman; someone who should know the suffering caused by
discrimination and oppression. I also regret that I did not report the
incident as I have read of Muslims - and anyone wearing a turban - becoming
victims of hate crimes across the country. But on the other hand a part of me
understands that human nature forces us to try to put a face on the source of
our pain in order to deal with it and heal. Sorry lady, wrong face.
The overall feeling of hate and fear actually kicked in while on assignment
covering a vigil at the University of Maryland the day following the attacks.
But I did not immediately recognize it. In my 13 years as a journalist I have
worn my Islamic heard scarf (known as a hijab) and wear a number of
traditional Islamic outfits, including clothes from India, Pakistan and
Morocco. Because of my fair complexion, most people are surprised to learn
that I am from this country. Some even seem surprised that when I open my
mouth to speak, nothing but perfect English (minus any foreign accent) comes
out. But in the 13 years of reporting, this was the first time I have ever
felt uneasy when approaching someone for comment.
While at the vigil I found myself literally feeling like a loner in the
throng of over 8000 people, many of whom glared at me with hate and disgust.
That is when it all really kicked in. This situation is about to get really s
erious and life is about to change for everyone! And so it has. Not just
Muslims, but many are living in a state of fear, afraid to travel, afraid to
go to work and afraid to return to life as usual despite our president's
requests for us to do so.
An Israeli lady was interviewed on a news program recently and made a good
point. She said that they live in fear of suicide bombers on a daily basis
and it had become an unwelcome way of life. We as Americans are in so such
disbelief since we thought, in a sense we were "unbreakable."
Just to give you an idea of how impenetrable I thought we were the day of the
attacks I remember learning about the first plane and thinking "Wow what a
really bad accident. Then my faith immediately calls me back and tells me
another pane hit the other tower." Still in a state of disbelief. The words
hijack and terrorism never crossing my mind I said to myself: "Something must
be wrong with air traffic. How in the world could two planes hit the same
When it sunk in that America had been attacked, admits rumors of the state
department on fire, the Sears Tower in Chicago being bombed, I had an
overwhelming feeling that could only be described as fear. I prayed and
prayed and prayed there would be no connection to anyone Arabic because I
knew that immediately would direct people's anger towards Muslims but that
was not to be the case.
I am literally starting to feel like I am living in the pre-civil rights era
when blacks were lynched simply for being on the streets at the wrong time,
or for looking at a white person the wrong way. Because of fear for myself
and my children, I have toned down my style of dress -- I am still covered
but I dress modestly. I struggle with this every day I leave the house
because I feel like a piece of me has been torn away. I struggle with the
thought that I am giving in to hate and letting others control how I dress.
Then I remember the look on my daughter's face at Target. I do not want to be
in a position where I am forced to get physical with someone to protect my
But out of bad comes good. People are learning more and more about true
Islam, a religion of peace, a religion that does not condone terrorism.
People must not confuse the political ideology of one mad man with religious
beliefs. Dying by one's own hand is not permissible in Islam, and I feel
sorry for these people who believe themselves to be martyrs. A martyr is a
person who dies for a cause, not commits suicide for a cause. Al Hajj Malik
Al Shabazz (Malcolm X) was a martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King was a martyr,
Medgar Evers was a martyr and countless others whose lives were snuffed away,
not by their own hands.
Maishah Asante-English is a staff reporter for a weekly newspaper based in
Maryland. She is a mother of two and has been practicing Islam for 13 years. To comment on this or any other story by Maishah Asante-English email