Often conversations of that day begin with "where we were when we heard the news." The media reminds us each year with images of the twin towers collapsing, the second plane crashing into the second tower, smoke billowing from the charred ruins of the Pentagon, and scattered wreckage in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Yet, out of the twisted metal of the twin towers, the wreckage in Pennsylvania, and the billowing smoke of the Pentagon, Americans came together. The men and women who died on that Tuesday are unsung heroes, casualties of a war none of us knew we were fighting.
Ten years later, those of faith have come closer together. Others claiming to be men and women of faith have chosen competitive religion over compatible religion. This was the community shared by Ebrahim Rasool, Ambassador from South Africa to the U.S. at the 10th Anniversary Program at Masjid Muhammad in Washington, D.C.
On September 10, 2011, commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an esteemed and distinguished panel convened for an open dialogue called "Democracy in the Time of Crisis." Panel members included: a former civil rights freedom rider, Pastor Emeritus Reginald Green of Walker Memorial Baptist Church, Chairman of the Board for the Washington Post Donald Graham, Maryland District Court Judge Hassan El-Amin, Director of Marketing and Communication at the American Red Cross Cheryl Kravitz and South African Ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool.
"That which unites us is greater than that which divides us," Retired Air Force Chief Master Seargeant and Masjid Muhammad's resident Imam Talib Shareef said in his opening comments and added, "The men who killed three thousand people on 9/11 should not be called terrorists, they should be called criminal...would Prophet Muhammad kill innocent women, men and children? 'No'– therefore the criminals/terrorists cannot be considered Muslim or following the Islamic faith. Those who died are unsung heroes."
Ibrahim Mumin, who facilitated the panel, explained that a major objective of the program was to provide an opportunity for members of Masjid Muhammad to "tell their own story." He also mentioned that he had asked each of the panelists to respond to the findings of the Gallop Poll and the Pew Research Center report which said Americans' attitudes towards Muslims is more negative today than it was immediately after 9/11 2001.
Pastor Green used his experience as a 1961 freedom rider fifty years ago to draw upon America's situation today. "Today, 50 years after the freedom rides, we are still struggling as a nation, as a people with various spokes, like those on a wheel, to get to the center, which is G-d. How we get there defines who we are as human beings. G-d has made each of us differently with our own DNA with a responsibility of being harmonious with one another."
Growing up in the nation's capital, Donald Graham spoke about the "epidemic of certainty." He explained that "people no longer check facts and they assume they are right in their causes because of what they hear." This is evident with the Quran burnings--elected officials speaking irrationally against Islam. "Every religion over the centuries has failed, because others have used religion as a means for slaughtering others."
Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool told the audience about a khutbah, an addesss or public prayer read from the steps of a mosque, he gave in South Africa the week of 9/11 2001 and his comments brought a sincere global element to the occasion in particular when he said to applause, "It is time that we move from competitive religion to compatible religion."
Cheryl Kravitz who is also former Executive Director of the National Conference (formerly The National Conference for Christians and Jews) spoke of her history with the civil rights movement and the intolerance she has experienced raising a child with a learning disability.
Judge Hassan El-Amin mentioned in his commentary that 9/11 2001 was an "Act of war against the U.S." and the first military intrusion on the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812. "Did not Allah check one set of people with another, " he said, noting the Quran provides guidance.
"Allah is creating a more compassionate, considerate being. Hence mankind is creating a human being who is more kind, man-kind. Look at the life that was here before you. Look at your teeth, your fingernails. Look at the fossils, the big domineering creatures that used to exist. Look at how they used to exist and no longer exist. Allah doesn't want there to be a domineering creature. Life is evolving and creating a more compassionate being."
Often we don't see our humanity until after these catastrophic events. Days and months later, we revert to our divisions and differences. As Ambassador Rasool said, we need to move past "competitive religion to compatible religion." We have to move past competitive bias on all levels toward compatible human interests. This is how we will have the greatest democracy even in the time of crisis.
This article was contributed by Ibrahim Mumin, owner of Mumin and Associates, LLC., an economic development and community relations firm in the District.