Twin Towers Viewed from A Western Minaret
When I became a Muslim a dozen years ago, it never occurred to me that one day I might feel like three different people. At the time, I was simply immersed in a process the textbooks call Spiritual Awakening. Little did I know.
For some people, inner transformation arrives with the speed of a lightning bolt, through a mystical experience. Or it develops in distinct, well defined stages by way of a particular teacher or formal practice. In my case though, it was more like a slow turning, the way a tree turns toward sunlight, the way a compass needle finds its North.
This long, semi-conscious inner relocation took more than twenty years. It began with my first exposure to Muslims while living in North and West Africa. And it continued, like water flowing underground, over many more years here at home while going about my daily life. Like most Americans, I came late to the basic facts about Islam, which naturally makes for difficulty. Only gradually, in the 1980s, did I finally discover that Islam is a practical religion, and not an exotic cult or a set of political responses. What's more, I found that this underrated faith had generated a sophisticated literature as well as a rich vocabulary of spiritual practice, including a form of prayer joined to physical postures that I found satisfying to perform.
At this point, I think, it finally dawned on me that I was engaged in deep religious change. Until then, I had considered myself a cheerful skeptic, spiritual in a general way, but without a truly religious bone in my body. Sometimes, the patient is the last to know. Even then, becoming a Muslim didn't strike me as a radical step. I had to wait for others to point that out. To me it seemed natural, if somewhat surprising. Islam respects the prophets of Judaism and Christianity, and broadly speaking, it is cut from the shared theological cloth of prophetic monotheism. It also has a sacred book, the Qur'an, that on first reading seemed to stand in a plain relation to the Old and New bibles, which I loved.
I had American-born friends who had become Hindus, Buddhists, and practitioners of Zen, all traditions a light year away from their actual cultural roots. Islam, by comparison, felt familiar.
Becoming a Muslim satisfied me in personal ways, too. For one thing, a concrete and meaningful practice had emerged from my years of seemingly aimless travel. It is not every day that a wayward youth winds up rewarding your spirit in lasting ways. It took other people to make me think I had done something strange by becoming a Muslim. Indeed, until just the other day, it was only when faced with their joking remarks and quizzical expressions that I felt at all uneasy in my skin. Among Muslims, and on my own, I have always felt at home with the decision. Then, a few days ago, a trio of passenger jets slammed into the New York Trade Center towers and into the Pentagon, and things changed.
The unrecorded suffering of the thousands dead in New York and Washington D.C., and the life-long agony those left behind must live with, will be the proper focus of our thought and prayer for a long time to come. And yet there is an undercurrent attached to these events, a potential for violence based on a lack of understanding, that is worth addressing quickly, before it surfaces more starkly in our society and darkens the lives of innocent citizens. Today, you might say, I feel like three people.
As an American, I am filled with horror by what has occurred. My shock derives from the violence of the actions and coldness of their execution. It isn't hard to feel the agony of having loved ones ripped from your side, so that a handful of fools can make a point. Like most other Americans, I am angry too. For one thing, we live in an open society; and now, in a couple of hours, a handful of desperate people have jeopardized the spirit of that society. I am also afraid that in the days ahead cooler heads will not prevail. Gandhi once said, "An eye for eye, and soon everyone will be blind."
Twin Towers Viewed from A Western Minaret
It is complicated enough to feel these things. Yet as a Muslim I have other, different feelings. As a Muslim, I'm appalled by the actions of the extremists who, very likely, will claim to have been acting, at least in part, in Islam's name when they committed these atrocities. This is a flagrant case of political desperadoes wrapping themselves in a religious flag. Islam teaches that when a person takes another life unlawfully it is as if he were killing all humanity. There is no political rhetoric that can reverse this moral law. The people who turned commercial airplanes into flying bombs and murdered thousands of innocent people will, in the imagery of the Qur'an, now burn in a spiritual Hell. Their families and remaining friends should confess their shame and ask God's forgiveness, for starters. The actions of the perpetrators have nothing to do with Islam. But some people in America obviously think otherwise.
As an American Muslim, I am, therefore, shamed by the language and attitudes I find some of my fellow Americans using about Islam. In a few short days we have seen pigs' blood thrown at the door of a mosque in San Francisco, 300 marchers waving flags and shouting "USA" as they tried to descend on a mosque in Chicago, a disturbed individual wearing what looked like a bomb in the parking lot of a Muslim school in Silicon Valley, gunshots in Texas, and mosques vandalized in Washington D.C. Electronic hate mail has flooded the chat boards of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. (Example: " It's time to eradicate Islam.") It is no surprise that huge misunderstandings persist in this country concerning Islam, but there is greater ignorance afoot. The ignorance of assigning guilt by association, for instance, as though a political murderer's claim to your religion must automatically tar you with his convictions. We also hear people making a lot of noise about "Martyrdom" and Islam these days.
Concerning this confusion, try to remember that Christianity, America's mainstream religion, has in common with Islam a well developed conception of religious sacrifice, that people of both faiths hope to be rewarded after death for good actions, that they believe they may reach a better place by being better human beings. It is a belief that has sustained billions of people over the centuries, guided their actions and illuminated their lives. It is also, as we know to our cost, a belief that is easily twisted: by rulers (beginning with the medieval Crusader kings), by millenarian, self-serving, misguided 'leaders' (think of Jim Jones) and desperate social revolutionaries (Nat Turner, John Brown). In terrible times, religion has been invoked for the greatest crimes, genocide (Nazism, the destruction of Bosnia) and organized racism (the Ku Klux Klan). Yet Christians do not consider their religion tainted. And they are right.
If this is a time of mourning, it is also a time for acts of imagination. If, for example, you are an 'ordinary' American, try to imagine how it must feel right now for any of the 3.5 million Arab Americans or the 6 million American Muslims, citizens all, simply to stroll down a crowded city street on the way to school or a bakery or a hospital. We have all just been reminded how fragile human life can be. Perhaps we can draw on that knowledge to bring some comfort to people who, in addition to their grief over what has occurred, must also walk in the shadow of guilt by association. Try to remember that there are Arab Americans serving in the White House, six Arab Americans in Congress and that, side by side with all the others, approximately two hundred Muslims were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when the airplanes struck on September 11.
Muslim Americans have the same job before them. If you're a Muslim, try to imagine how frightened a blonde, blue eyed woman might be, this morning, as she stands in line at the airport about to board an airplane while a perfectly innocent Arab or Muslim couple stand in line in front of her? What can you do for her? Can you think of some way to erase the line that separates you and offer some human gesture that she may recognize?
A friend of mine writes: "Brutality (the use of power to degrade and to wound) is the essence of social misery. And increasing the acceptability of brutality, whether through self-indulgence, evasion, or outright lie, is criminal. I can think of no human reality which it is necessary to rise above other than brutality. I can think of no human misery -- personal, political, economic -- to which it is not central."
Let good sense prevail. Let Americans see this terrible action for what it was -- criminal terrorism perpetrated by extremists. The plotters and actors may call themselves Muslims, but they are religious failures. They have smeared the good name of a peaceful faith. We should pray for protection when emotions run high. May God bring us sudden good and protect us from sudden evil.
Topics: Islam, New York, World Trade Center
The most appalling thing i saw after 911 was total silence from the Islamic people. Yah some governments said "oh that was evil and bad (sugar coated more)...we're so sad for the loss of life"
But the American Islamic movements/organizations all started posting 800 numbers on their web sites if they're being treated unfairly. Legal council numbers etc. Not a single damn thing was said on the American based, major web sites i ran across about denouncing the actions of the Terrorists. Not one.
It was many months before the media collected stats on the average Muslim's feelings about if the USA had it coming, was it ok to like Osama etc..
ur sugar coated article obviously ignores all those sorts of statistics.
The percentage of people like you (American Muslims that think 911 was bad) was/is almost insignificant to the average Muslim's view of 911, if the USA had it coming and the justification of the 911 terrorist actions.
You should write an article, not justifying, but explaining why a majority of Muslims liked Osama after 911, explain why the world of Muslims thought America had it coming, etc etc.
of course you wont, just like any gathering of Muslim clerics or organizations in the US would not have booths denouncing terrorist actions against the west or bringing up the subject of why so many Muslims think that Jews were behind the 911 attacks.
Like you not writing an article, you'll not see Islamic organizations getting together, discuss those fallacies.
i have nothing to say but i thank god for america's punishment, and that i hope it will stop aiding israel.
as an american muslim, as a wife, as a sister as a health care professional i grieve, not only for the victims but also for our ummah for that the guilt by associotion is very real and i felt it too, in fact i was so confused at what to feel i felt numb and fearful for the first 24 hours. i thank you for your article for it let me know i was not alone, and your spiritual journey seemed very familiar and enticing. thank you for your article.
That is what this article has shown; in which the true soul of an American is defind and needs to be followed.
This article gave me a better insight to Islam than I think I ever would have known. I am greatful I have had the chance to see how a fellow American who is muslim feels about this horrible tradjedy.
However I think it is very important that America think very hard about the kind of action they take in this hard situation. First of all the public have been told the terrorist atacks were the act of a muslim group. However at the same time the public have not been shown clear evidence that infact it was an islamic group behind this. So therefore this causes citizens to think every muslim is a terrorist. While this is clearly not the case, Islam is a peace loving religion which strongly prohihits such behaviour.
Suicide is considered an extremely bad action and is clearly not allowed in islam, as all my fellow muslim brothers and sisters know this.
We must all act in a sivilized manor about this act. A military response will only make things worse as it is not known if Usama bin Laden was behind this. If he isnt wich I (personally belive he wasnt) and military action is taken America is no better than the terrorits who did thisin the first place.
I belive a slow an calm step should be taken in the fight against terrorism, Fisrt of all America must act justly and fair in the crisis taking placein Palestine. The Americans Must act fair between the isrealis and Arabs. I have never seen such outright indecency, the isrealis are killing dozens of young inocent palestinians every day, they take their land, bomb unarmed youths who only want to make a demonstration. I mean you dont see the rest of the world using tanks and helicopters aginst people who only want to make a demonstration. The Americans should think long and hard at what the victims of the holocoaust (isrealis,jews) are doing themselves, which is obviously another holocaust and genocide but in a lower manner.
America shouldn't sit back and wtch this, they should act on this,for humanity for Gods sake.
To the writer of this article:
From a muslim born and proud to be 1
Firt of all, since you seem to believe that the attacks on sep 11 was caussed by muslims, what makes you think that a muslim will not iam for a jew rather than christians and muslims in the twin tower?? since after the attacks it was reported that 4000 jews did not attend work for fear of explosion, and that the first suspects that were arrested had been 5 jews?? it has been also reported that the proven war criminal sharon was on his way to NewYork when jewish people adviced him to stay because they suspected an explosion on the twin tower, dont the American citizens wonder themselves if Bush is careless of investigating into the attacks and jumping into conclusion because he has a deep hate for muslims and this is the only blame he could afford against muslims??
and may i ask you a Q?
since you call your self a muslim, what makes belief the media that is 100% owned by Jews who have the chance at blaming everything at the muslims when they themselves have caused the attacks?
"As a Muslim, I'm appalled by the actions of the extremists who, very likely, will claim to have been acting, at least in part, in Islam's name when they committed these atrocities".
by the actions of hte extremists???
how do you know it was the actions of the extremist since this term is used to describe the practicing and the faithfull muslims? what makes you think that a practicing muslim would cause such an act in order to recieve martyrdom when they know that in islam you are not a martyr unless the kufars you are fighting are aware of the war??
what makes you think that a muslim will kill themselve in suicide bombs when in fact in islam its haram to kil your self and you goto hell fire for doing so??
i advice u to think again and think logicaly and get your sources from different types of media, dont just get glued to the 1 media that is owned by jews (may allah destroy them all and give victor
I think this article marks a good starting place for thinking about how we; human beings of all races,religions and nationalities, should react to terrorism. We all need to think very hard now about the particulars of making justice happen without creating even the hint of further injustice. How do the vast majority of human beings who wish to see terrorism banished from the world go about crushing it without causing more hate?
As an American convert to Islam and as a New Yorker, I have felt exhausted the last 19 days trying to reconcile myself with what has happened. I so feel myself in that "guilty shadow" that Michael Wolfe writes of that it sometimes hard for me to breathe. Mr. Wolfe has been a great voice for American converts as anyone who has seen his Hajj special for CNN can attest to. I am thankful that he has written this article from an overlooked perspective; that of the American who chooses the faith of Islam as a guide for life. This is a trauma that will have far-reaching implications. What will it mean for my infant daughter to be an American Muslim as she grows here in Brooklyn, where the ash from the carnage covered our cars for days? I am sure that our neighbors will not soon forget the blow to the gut that this has been for all Americans, but especially for those of us who had brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives and sons and daughters that were killed or have forever been traumatized by having to run, screaming from the debris of glass, metal and human bodies in order to survive. It has changed not only the view from my minaret, but the landscape of my reality.
I thank Mr. Wolfe for the article.
I HAVE READ YOUR ARTICLE ' TWIN TOWERS VIEWD FROM A WESTERN MINARET'. AS YOU HAVE DONE, I SHALL REFRAIN FROM JUDJING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF YOUR STORY BEFORE I HAVE HEARD YOUR EXPLANATION. PERHAPS YOU HAVE MORE KNOWLEDGE THAN I, AND THEN AGAIN PERHAPS NOT. ONLY ALLAH KNOWS ALL. IT DISTURBED ME THAT YOU DID NOT HAVE THE WISDOM TO THINK AS A MUSLIM FIRST AND AN AMERICAN THENCE, (AFTER ALL, A NATION BELONGS TO ALL HER SONS AND DAUGHTERS REGARDLESS OF RELIGIOUS FAITH, COLOUR, RACE, CREED OR PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES.) ISLAM IS BORDERLESS AND THEREBY NATIONAL BOUNDARIES ARE INVISIBLE TO OUR BELIEF - YET EXIST TO THE EXTENT THAT WE ARE BOUND TO PROTECT IT WITH OUR LIVES. THERE I BELIVE WE SEE ABUNDANT BEAUTY IN ISLAM.
MY GRIEVANCE PERTAINS TO THE FACT THAT ALONG WITH THE MANIPULATIVE ONE-SIDED MEDIA YOU HAVE HINTED QUITE STRONGLY AND ALMOST APOLOGETICALLY THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOT THE ATTACKS WERE IN FACT MUSLIM. THE REINFORCING ELMENT BEING THE CONFESSIONAL TONE YOU ADOPTEDED. PERHAPS YOU WERE BUT DEFENDING ISLAM WITHOUT 'FINGER-POINTING' I AWAIT YR RSPONSE FOR CLARITY ON THAT. BESIDES PROJECTED CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, HOW IN THE ALMIGHTYS NAME DO YOU OR ANYBODY KNOW BEYOND DOUBT, THAT FOLLOWERS OF THE ISLAMIC FAITH WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS ATROCITY ON SEP 11? ENOUGH NOT TO EVEN BRING UP THE POSIBILITY THE PERPETRATORS COULD BELONG TO ANY OTHER PARTY PERHAPS EVEN WITH THE INTENT OF 'FRAMING' MUSLIMS. INSHAALLAH, THIS MISINFORMATION WILL EVENTUALLY EVAPORATE AND SHOULD LEAVE BEHIND ONLY THE BARE TRUTH.
May Allah be with you.
From what I've read, terrorism is against Islam. If this is true, then what Muslims everywhere must do is take a stand against terrorists along with Americans.
Declare a holy war against terrorists! Declare that Islam condemns murderers! I don't care what it is, but this evil must be stopped. You declare that "they have smeared the good name of a peaceful faith." Simply being peaceful and passive is a sin when you have the power to stop evil.
Peace loving muslims must take back their position as the image builders of the faith and see it as a worthy cause to undertake.
Is this the "peaceful" religion I hear being claimed? Can you rationalize the antipathy Islam has with Christianity and the claims of Islam's peace and love?
Alot of wisdom, in a few words
May Allah bless you
I have searced in the islamic websites and search about the JEWS in America they almost control the economy of America.They supported Israel by giving weapons while our brohers in Palestine uses rocks as their weapon.
I sympatize to those people died in WTC they are but a victims only.
I have read your book regarding HAJJ/UMRA and like it very much also few years back I saw you on Nightline TV. Thanks for everything.
I too am an American Muslim born and raised here in the states. It is an odd thing to see the country I love so misguided when it come to the faith I love so dearly.
I enjoyed reading what you have written and felt a great joy in watching your journey to Mecca. Your service to Allah and Islam is spilling over on our nation and our world. Well done!
For me, coming into Islam was akin to walking in a spring shower - the water cleansing away the decades of untruthes and falsehoods, and the sunlight shining the light of truth and oneness of Allah into my spirit. As for many Muslim converts, nothing will ever replace this feeling nor the desire to continue to bathe in the purity of Islam. Although this tragedy has beset our country at this time (and other parts of the world in the past, let's not forget), the clear evidence will come and truth will be the winner in the end.