Loyola University Chicago

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Eid and 9/11

September 14, 2016



Assalamu Alaykum Dear Students,

 

I hope you receive this letter with the best of health and Iman.

 

This weekend was both troubling and auspicious for what we commemorate.

 

Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11/01.  It is strange to me (and those of my generation) that most of you do not have a memory of that day, save for the countless replays of various moments of that day.  It was a terrifying day, one of the most terrifying of my life.  

 

As you and I know, we (Muslims, as well as those confused for being Muslims, like Sikhs) were doubly attacked on that day. Our home was hit. Then, a wave of hostility against us was unleashed.  To be fair, the hostility began long before 9/11/01. We can trace it at least back to the first Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990s.  Nevertheless, things became amplified on that day 15 years ago. I dream of a day when I no longer have to regard 9/11 as a shadow looming over me or us.  It has altered the course of my life in multiple ways, including career direction.

 

Further, for the entirety of your intellectual lives, America has been at war, with Muslims.  When I was a child, the movies were about Vietnamese fighters hiding the steaming jungle, or stiff Soviet officers seeking to dominate America.  Now, the sentiment zeroes in on Turbaned or Hijabed Muslims hiding behind sand dunes, also seeking to conquer America. Nevertheless, that’s the moment we are in, and we know that certain politicians are exploiting the moment.

 

That day, and the fifteen years since than have been a test for each of us, Muslim or not. We are taught that a difference between a hypocrite and a true believer is that a hypocrite is like a stalk of wheat that gets bent as it gets knocked down, and is never able to come back up. The true believe is like a stalk that gets knock down and steadily rises again.  In other words, the hypocrite falls into despair, and the true believer never gives up hope, even if s/he has to will him/herself back up purely on hope.

 

We are also taught that the figures most tested are the Prophets, may peace be upon them, which brings us to the other commemorations this weekend. Sunday was Yawm al-Arafat, “The Day of Arafat.” It is the day when millions of Muslims from across the globe congregated just outside Makkah (Mecca) in performing their pilgrimage (Hajj).  For those not in the vicinity of Makkah to perform the Hajj, it was an immensely meritorious day to fast.

 

Then, the next day, Monday, was Eid al-Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice). As you know, this day commemorates the event in our Tradition where Allah tells the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, may peace be upon them. Among Ibrahim’s greatest objects of love were his long await son.  The test then, was for Ibrahim to see whom he loved more -- Allah or his son -- and we know that he passed the test. Taken together, these two events are a commemoration of the story of Ibrahim and family, including Hajar (his wife) and her quest to find water for her son, the building of the Ka’ba, by father and son, and then, this moment of sacrifice.

 

At the same time, the pilgrimage is a reminder or rehearsal of the beginning of the Day of Judgment, where we will all be swarming together awaiting Allah’s accounting for us.  

 

And, of course, at the same time, it is a commemoration of the story of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, on the same ground. After two dozen years of calling people to God, witnessing the rejectors among his cousins torturing his followers, exiling him, going to war against him and them, and eventually giving in, the Prophet was finally able to perform the Hajj near the end of his life.  When we perform the Hajj, we follow the footsteps that he walked, which follow the footsteps of Ibrahim.

 

It was in the Divine will that all of these things landed at the same time. They can be events that split our personalities, requiring them to go in opposite directions. My suggestion is to consider each of them as a pathway to Allah, either through fear, sorrow, remembrance of His favors, or love.

 

And Allah knows best.

 

Omer M