A Muslim’s Thoughts on 9/11

As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act.

But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me.

Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves from this minority within a minority makes it all better.

I probably don’t represent many (if any) Muslims when I say this but, pointing out that people who do violent and horrible things in the name of Islam don’t actually represent Islam isn’t enough.

At the same time, 9/11 isn’t something that can be “counter-balanced” through an equally sized positive act. It’s a scar that will live on in history. At least that’s what I feel. Many Muslims reading this are probably rolling their eyes right now.

I think, as a Muslim who feels like I do, all that one can really do is live their lives in the way that best represents one’s most sincere interpretation of the goodness, positivity, and peace-making that is within Islam.

These children in rural Bangladesh currently study in an open field (or, when attendance is lower, a small cramped Church building the size of a parking spot for a car).

It’s that belief that, for me, has brought me to this remote rural village in Bangladesh – where I am potentially the first Muslim to ever build a Christian (Catholic) School. In fact, I was able to come to Bangladesh to do this on a plane ticket paid in part by a Rabbi.

Me with Avraham Berkowitz in Brooklyn prior to flying to Bangladesh – partly on the Rabbi’s dime.

I don’t claim this modest school will change the world. It’s not meant to. Rather, all I want to do is create a tiny piece of the world I’d like to see. It’s a world where people embrace each other for their differences and get strength from diversity.

Bangladesh – in fact any Muslim nation – is better off with strong, protected, and thriving minority groups. This diversity enriches the Muslim world. Only through diversity, can we understand that which is different from us. And those differences curb our own personal extremes.

A Priest with the Catholic Church coordinates with villagers on construction of the school building, funded by people who have supported me and my work. This particular congregation’s approach to aid and development is well respected enough that they are the implementing partner for many major NGOs – including World Vision.

But beyond this village, beyond just Bangladesh, and beyond Islam – fundamentally, we enrich each other in this life not by merely co-existing but by seeing the value in each other’s existence. And, by helping each other grow, thrive, and prosper, we enrich ourselves.

Future students of this school participate in the ground-breaking ceremony. This school will serve Bangladeshi Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. And, given my family’s personal experience with the Catholic School System in Bangladesh, no student will ever be pressured or required to convert to Christianity.

Ultimately, this Catholic School will only serve a small handful of Catholics. It will mostly be helping local Bangladeshi Hindus. As the school teacher put it, “I’m Hindu, I plan to stay Hindu, I just want to teach”. You know what? I want to help her.

And so does the Priest who is helping to build the school.

And so does the Rabbi who sent a Muslim to Bangladesh.

And so does the Muslim who was insane enough to hatch this crazy idea.

And by helping each other, we’ve hopefully helped and enriched ourselves.

I couldn’t think of any other way I’d want to live my life on September 11th.

  • http://www.facebook.com/meghan.meredithburnell Meghan Meredith-Burnell

    Beatifully written. I have been following you progress with the JGS with my children so they can learn/see the true meaning of unity dispite deversity of religous views. My husband and I have always taught our children to be caring of everyone because kindness transcends everything. You are a great man and you make a mom of three hope my childre may some day be as kind as you. Much love.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.zarri.3 David Zarri

    This is a beautiful example of how people of different beliefs can work together for the common good ! We could say, “Christianity in action” ! I pray this will inspire many ! At the same time, the “other side of the coin” is the importance of peace-loving Muslims, such as this gentleman, publically denouncing the radical Islam which justifies violence and killing, including Sharia Law. All people of good will must do the same. We need to be people of “reason” and Natural Law if peace is to prevail. Most Sincerely, David Zarri

  • http://twitter.com/l2b1serval Lori Peters

    Great post, Shawn, sincere and well written. I think this is one of the best 9/11 related blogs/articals out there today because it focuses on reacting to something bad by doing something good.

  • Fed_Up18

    And this post illustrates something I have always said about bigotry: it hurts EVERYONE. Even though you were not the target of it, your pain is a direct result of religious hatred. & I am saddened because of the pain you feel. But, just as you and all the others of differing faiths mentioned in your lovely story also strove to make a positive difference, so are we all touched by goodness, wherever it occurs, because I am also glad to see that you are making the tragedy a jumping-off point for it. Thank you – & bless you.