Shazia Sohail stood before an American flag, waiting, along with a group of other Muslim women, to give blood in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks whose impact continues to be felt throughout the U.S.
For the last eight years, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA has hosted the initiative on Capitol Hill under the banner, “Muslims for Life,” as a way of remembering and honoring the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives on the tragic day. And while many Muslims continued to be misunderstood, unjustly harassed and often profiled for no apparent or valid reason, she took the journey from her hometown of San Francisco to the District, hoping to “build bridges of trust and appreciation across walls of separation.”
“It’s my job to be out there and represent myself — people can then make their own judgments,” said Sohail, national director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association.
“We do this because of our faith and our beliefs, not to project any kind of image,” she added.
The event, sponsored in collaboration with the American Red Cross, kicked off with comments from the Rev. Johnnie Moore, representing Presidential Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, followed by Imam Hammad Ahmad of the American Fazl Mosque, the first and longest-serving mosque in the U.S. capital.
Ahmad said he and his members came in efforts to illustrate “interfaith harmony” between Christians and Muslims during a time when Islamophobia continues to be a driving wedge in the U.S.
“We completely believe that Islam is religion of moderation, peace and love and we believe that it’s our responsibility to educate people,” he said. “If someone believes that Islam is a religion of terror, then we have to go the extra step to let people know that such a notion is false. We all live in America and like everyone else want to live in peace and harmony.”
The event, while promoted to be ecumenical in nature, attracted participants mostly from among the Muslim community, albeit in relatively sparse numbers.
Th blood drive first began in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a goal for the campaign to collect 10,000 pints of blood from across the U.S. — a total that could save an estimated 30,000 lives. Locations that year totaled more than 200 nationwide resulting in the collection of 11,803 pints of blood.
District resident Ibrahim Ijaz, the blood drive coordinator, noted that in the years since the project first began, “Muslims for Life” has collected close to 60,000 pints of blood, “potentially saving in excess of 180,000 lives.
“On a day like this, so significant in our country’s history, we remember the lives that were lost and sacrificed and come together as Americans in the spirit of service,” he said.
Every pint of blood collected makes a difference as “it’s the blood on the shelves that saves lives,” said Regina Boothe Bratton, American Red Cross External Communications Manager.
“Many times, giving blood is not on the top of people’s mind — not until they’re faced with an emergency situation or health crisis,” she said. “Even today, with Hurricane Florence predicted to cause tremendous damage in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the Red Cross has pre-positioned additional blood products and stocked many of our hospitals in those areas to capacity; we’re prepared to send more to ensure that the needs of patients are met.”
“That’s why community partnerships like this with ‘Muslims for Life’ are so crucial,” she added.
In other parts of the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean and Ward 3 City Councilwoman Mary Cheh visited Engine Company 16 to recognize first responders and honor their continued dedication and service.
Meanwhile, the president took part in a service of remembrance on the Pennsylvania field where the passengers and crew all died fighting to abort the efforts of would-be terrorists who had hijacked the airplane.
As the blood drive back on Capitol Hill drew to a close, one man who said he worked nearby, expressed how he felt compelled to give blood after walking by the hard-working volunteers and those preparing to give blood.
“I saw the sign and just had to stop and give blood. I mean, it’s 9/11 — how could I continue to just walk by? asked the young man, who identified himself only as Juan.