Sara S. & Wali Ahmad
For American Gen Z Muslims, 9/11 is a most perplexing day filled with mourning and unfounded guilt.
There’s something peculiar about pleading with your parents to let you stay home from school to avoid the inevitable stares of your peers; this experience is an annual occurrence. Every year on the 11th of September, American Gen Z Muslims collectively hold our breath in anticipation of the inevitable glares and stinging remarks. When the pledge of allegiance blares from the intercom that morning, you know the extended moment of silence will follow, with it the thick layer of implication that shrouds the room with every awkward glance from a classmate.
Marketing your patriotism seems like the only way to survive. Shrink your Muslim identity so that maybe you’ll be spared from the gruesome monster that is Islamophobia. These are just two of the rules in the ‘Guidebook to Being American and Muslim’, an instruction manual Gen Z Muslim Americans have memorized almost as religiously as Surah Fatiha.
But on September 11th, all rules fly out the window and your guidebook becomes a shield. Walking the tightrope between amplifying your condolences for the victims of the attacks and begging people to understand that ‘American’ and ‘Muslim’ are not mutually exclusive terms.
Anti-Muslim hate didn’t begin on 9/11 but it created the structural & institutional framework for our communities to surveilled, spied on, profiled, tortured, entrapped. On the ground, we were spat on, mosques were burnt down, children were bullied and our women were harassed.
— Rowaida Abdelaziz (@Rowaida_Abdel) September 11, 2020
Terrified to proclaim your exhaustion from constantly defending your humanity, because what if they call you a terrorist? What if they attempt to invalidate your Americanness because you happen to bow your head in prayer the same way that those men did?
So instead of standing up for yourself, you blanket yourself in an American flag hijab and look down in remorse when they make the same ‘Allahu Akbar’ joke as they have the past three years.
They seem to forget that I’m the daughter of a veteran. They seem to forget that my grandfather served over 20 years as a firefighter. They seem to forget about my uncle’s service in the police force. They honor them until they read the roster. Why? When they hear the stutters in my Teta’s broken English, they seem to forget that she came here for hope, not to deconstruct. When they see me cry for the lives lost that day, they seem to forget that I am an American too, that I was not yet alive 19 years ago and how could I have anything to do with the devastating loss of life?
Why do they seem to forget that you can mourn a terrible tragedy without turning those who share the faith of the perpetrators into accomplices?
I am afraid to speak about Islamophobia on a day like today. I’m afraid of being labeled as insensitive in the face of lost life. But nobody worries about sensitivity when ignoring the thousand upon thousands of civilian Iraqi and Afghani lives lost in the resulting wars. Nobody tiptoes around their Islamophobic remarks while scrolling past the endless hate crimes devastating Muslim American communities. And you definitely don’t censor your hatred even though you’re sitting next to a Muslim American that lost a loved one on 9/11 too. In the words of poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, “If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.”
I’m not here to defend the evil, senseless violence of September 11th 2001. I am here to make it clear for what seems like the thousandth time that Muslim Americans lost just as much as you on 9/11. Islam does not condone murder, and blaming an entire demographic based on the skewed actions of a select few is just as ridiculous as blaming all Christians for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, who also used alleged divine guidance to justify their own violent actions.
This year, let’s all stand together and mourn the lost lives of our fellow Americans… without displacing your pain on a group that’s hurting just as much as you.