Six years ago, I drove to work with the image of devastation, panic and death on my mind. I was trying to come to terms with something horrific that occurred 3000 miles away. As always in September, I was meeting my new families and enrolling children, and I had a meeting with a father from Ethiopia. who was enrolling his son, Ahmed. I did not even think about the implications of the fact that he was probably Muslim.
After gathering my papers I went into the classroom were he was waiting for me. I was still a little rattled, but determined to get through the day in as normal a way as possible. He was a tall thin man with large dark brown eyes, light brown skin and close shaved hair. He stood and shook my hand and looked sincerely into my eyes and said, “I did not know if I should come. If you would be here.”
“Oh yes, you mean what happened in New York,” I stammered a little as his situation began to sink in.
“Yes,” and he sat and looked closely into my face as if trying to read something written in tiny writing, “What do you think of it?”
He spoke with a heavy accent, but his words were clear.
“I think it was a terrible thing, and I really don’t understand it yet,” I answered.
“I am very sad and afraid that people will see my son and think about that now,” as he said this his eyes glittered with tears and he took a deep breath.
I do not remember what I said, but I enrolled his child and talked with him about his fears of reprisals. I was amazed. Here was a man who understood the implications of being a Muslim immigrant in that fearful climate, and still came out of the safety of his home to make sure his son got into school.
I have worked with many Muslim families and had Muslim co-workers since then. They are all unique, from many countries, and have different ways of practicing their beliefs, but all of them, when they speak of what happened on 9/11/01 express their horror and shock that people that share their religion behaved in such a way.
Now I know there are Muslims who are fanatics and blow things up, but I think that fanatics can be found in all religions. The Muslim people I have known, worked with, taught and learned with, danced with, and ate with were peaceful and loved their children and families. They welcomed me into their homes and told me their stories, hopes and fears. Some where angry with American culture and its affect on their family, and we talked about the value of their beliefs and value of mine. It was always about how we could value each other and live in a community of respect.
What happened on 9/11/01 cost many lives, but it cost some much more because people overreacted and gave into fear. And that fear made monsters out millions of people for many Americans. I know better and will ever count my experiences with Muslim families as rich and warm and above all filled with mutual respect.