by Abeer Gaber
I felt an extreme sense of relief, along with my fellow Americans, when I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been brought to justice for his horrendous crimes. Islam advocates accountability and justice, and they have been delivered. I feel strange celebrating the death of a person, even if that person is one of the most evil and cowardly people who ever lived. However, I understand the need of those who lost someone on 9/11 to celebrate the retribution of the person responsible for their death.
On September 11, 2001, I was in my first week at an all-Catholic high school, Bishop Alemany in Mission Hills. High school, as one can imagine, is a place where one struggles to find his or her identity. This was made difficult as the only Muslim in an all-Catholic high school, and even more so when an ‘adherent’ of the religion I practice has just committed one of the worst atrocities of the 21st century and besmirched the name of Islam within a matter of hours. This is not to take away from the horrible losses people suffered on 9/11, but just to preface the guilt-by-association I felt afterward.
The attack happened in the morning as my brother and I were getting ready for school and my mother was getting ready for work. We had a couple of televisions on at the same time in different rooms. One was turned to the ABC7 news network, and the other Al-Jazeera Arabic. I saw Al-Jazeera first and, as a result, I initially thought when I was seeing the Twin Towers disintegrate that it was in some Arab country. I had never heard of the Twin Towers before, so I had no idea they were in New York until I saw them on the ABC7 network. I also had no concept of what a real terrorist attack was, especially on that scale. I had heard about small suicide bombings in Palestine and Israel, but their significance never resonated with me until I witnessed this attack on American soil. Although I was still able to make friends and succeed in high school, I have worked ever since to combat misconceptions about Islam. This is a mission that every Muslim has for the rest of their lives.
I am a practicing Muslim who was raised with the basic tenets of Islam. The horrific attack and the hatred of the participants was nothing like the Islam I was familiar with. All my life, either through my family or my Islamic center, I learned about community service and giving back and helping others. When my family and I immigrated here, we had very little and my parents worked their way up and were able to achieve the “American dream”. I was constantly reminded to be appreciative of what I had. In my opinion, this is the essence of Islam – to appreciate everyone and everything that you have because it could be taken away from you at any moment. There is also an emphasis on constantly striving to be the best person that you can be, even if those around you are tempting you to be something else. We are taught as Muslims to respect one another and to respect the sanctity of life. In Islam, the most precious thing is a life.
Before September 11, 2001, there was little knowledge of Islam in American mainstream media. This is despite the fact that Muslims of all nationalities and races have been living here for a long time. Many of the Africans who were forced into slavery when they were brought to America were originally Muslim. Thus Islam has been a part of our nation from the very beginning. There are Muslims who were born into the religion, who converted, or who were ‘born again’ later in life. There is no one categorization of a Muslim man or woman.
Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have tried to cultivate an idea of Islam in which Muslims are called to violence to reach their aims. It is ironic that his death came around the same time as non-violent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen. I think this juxtaposition will be helpful in clearing up misconceptions about Islam. Whenever someone thinks of Osama Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda as the face of Islam, they can be reminded of these non-violent protests in which people gave their lives trying to achieve the same freedoms that Americans fought for during the Revolutionary War.
Abeer Gaber is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Above Picture Used with Permission:
by rommy ghaly