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9/11 20 years later: lessons learned and unlearned

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“Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.” (Qur’an 22:40)

Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of one of the saddest days for America — a day appropriately dubbed “9/11,” the emergency number we call for help when our lives are vulnerable and in danger. This 20-year span includes two undeclared wars, the killing of thousands of American soldiers — not to mention the tens of thousands civilians killed. A war that left us with a spiraling, out of control financial debt into the trillions of dollars, but what have we really learned from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001?

Have we learned anything that we didn’t already know before this catastrophe? There have always been good people and there have always been evil people, and unless the good people rise above and unite against the artificial manmade barriers then the potential for more 9/11s is always a heartbeat away.

Interfaith relations in America became more popular as a result of 9/11 as people of many faiths sought to make sense of this unfathomable depth of evil; however, 20 years later we still have “Christian privilege” while people of other faiths in our society continue to struggle to prove their civility in the eyes of the general public. We even witnessed a boon in Qur’an sales in America for the first time since the 18th century when the Qur’an (Koran) was a best-seller right here in America, 200 years ago.

Today, 20 years later we still have to remind Americans that Muslims also were victims of 9/11. For many years the south tower, known as “2 World Trade Center,” housed a masjid (mosque), an Islamic space for worship on the 17th floor that included a wudu station (an area specially fitted for the washing ritual necessary before a Muslim prays). Yes, the Islamic faith was hurt, and the loss of Muslim lives was very much a part of one of the saddest days in America.

After 9/11 missed opportunities to learn that we have much more in common than the air we breathe, the water we drink or the sunshine we enjoy. We also have in common the need to heal from pain, fear and mistrust. Did we learn the lesson that we, regardless of our race, religion or our social and political status, all of us — drip by drip — contributed to the atmosphere that allowed that tragic event to occur on Sept. 11, 2001.

Yes, mainly through subtle, seemingly insignificant omissions we allow political fallacies to become the basis for errant rationalizations and reasoning. Despite the pain and sufferings of 9/11, in many faiths, we continue to allow an air of religious arrogance that teaches folks to think, “I have the whole truth.” An arrogance that blinds us to the fact that maybe we don’t have the full understanding of our “truths.” We still deny that racism has poisoned our ability to see “the others” as fully human. Within our own American homeland, we allow Americans permission to look at, work with and police over Americans while privately thinking and often times publicly saying, “Those people” are less than us “real Americans.”

It’s not too late to learn from the 20-year-old hurt and pain we are suffering. The attack upon our nation was more than the destruction of physical buildings, innumerable funerals and untold pains. The worse damage extends much further than the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Accumulatively, the unheeded lessons from that one single day are more damaging to our humanness, to our sense of faith in neighbor. Our 20-year refusal to properly respond to the “9/11” alert is a big unanswered concern.

The 9/11 call for help for our nation has not been answered only because you and I — Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and others, regardless of our political affiliations — we have not answered the call, the call to heed the lessons unlearned. They say that the teacher arrives when the student arrives. We know this means the teacher is already present and ready to teach, but until that student who is in denial accepts that now is the time to learn, that student will never respect the teacher or the learning environment; thus as Americans will we ever respect the lessons to be learned.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the “school bell” rang, and for 20 years it has been ringing and ringing, summoning us to learn the lessons that the physical wars of Afghanistan and Iraq can’t teach us.

Polarizing politics can’t teach us these lessons. Until good people rise and unite against artificial manmade barriers the lessons and the teacher will not appear — thus the No. 1 lesson from the terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001, goes unlearned — that all Americans must unite upon human excellence, with respect for the U.S. Constitution. We must unite with the firm intent of destroying all artificial barriers while encouraging self-accountability. Yes, Sept. 11, 2001, was a clarion call for us to unite as a nation but sadly still the lessons from that 9/11 emergency call has yet to be learned.

Michael “Mikal” Saahir is the resident Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. He can be reached at nur-allah@att.net or at 317 753-3754.

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