My Obligatory Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 Post

Out of the Shadows of 9/11: Professor Hussein Rashid on faith’s role in social change from Kellie Picallo on Vimeo.

I haven’t written much the past ten years about my thoughts on 9/11.  In truth, the day marks a day of loss in a much different day. The first anniversary of 9/11 was the day my father died. I hadn’t seen him in 18 years with intermittent phone calls. But we reunited in 2000 only to drift apart again.  This is by no means a comparison to the those who lost loved ones the year before. But, I remember listening to a radio program on my way to my second year back at Santa Clara University. And the program reminded me that I needed to reconnect with loved ones. Since school hadn’t started, I worked pretty much full-time hours in the Dean of Student Affairs office. At some point of the day, I felt a profound sadness. This upped my anxiety and I couldn’t wait to get home to get on the phone and locate my father.   But when I got home, I heard a voice mail from my father’s cousin telling me to call her. I knew then that it was over, no second chances, I would never have a relationship with my father. He was gone.

My father was a Vietnam Vet who as awarded a purple heart. He suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome, which profoundly affected him and those who loved him. Even during my parents’ marriage, he could not hold it together and his life spiraled into an out of control cycle of drug abuse, unemployment, and domestic violence. My mother eventually left. I have heard that he had been to VA hospitals and some treatment programs. He never remarried and I was his only child. My cousin told me that the day he died, he spoke of my mother and me and said he wanted to contact me.

When he died, my father had no burial arrangements and I had no money as I was a struggling student. He stayed in the morgue for over a week as his family tried to figure out how to bury him. So, my cousins had to erase my existence saying that he had no next of kin on the forms. He was cremated and my cousins drove his remains to his home town of Columbus Ohio. Eventually, my cousin was able to hire someone to get my father recognized as a veteran who served his country so that he could have a dignified burial. I had to leave before he had a proper military burial. He was finally laid to rest a bit over a week after I left Ohio, but they mailed me the flag that they used on the coffin.  To this day it remains folded in an immaculate triangle, in a case my mother bought. While it is at my mother’s house, that flag is my one possession that I take most pride in. That flag is a testament of his service to our country, the friends he lost, the wounds received, and the price he paid. Yes, Vietnam was a senseless war, but it wasn’t his choosing. Still he paid a price, and ultimately our family did too. But this post is not about me feeling sorry for my family because of his PTSD, rather it is to point out that as a daughter of a veteran, as the descendant of people who sacrificed so much in this country, that no one can deny my Americaness.

When I met my father again for the first time after 18 years, he knew I was Muslim. He said he studied Islam and respected the religion. He respect my choice, as do my other family members. I have a number of family members who have served their country. And while we have different political views, they would never deny my right to belong in America. And never as a Muslim have I felt like I didn’t belong in this country. It was my birthright. And it is the right of other American Muslims to be able to grieve, live, and love in this country.

September of 2001 was an exciting year for me, as I finally picked up the pieces of my life and was going back to school. I knew I wanted to write, but figured I’d become a technical writer working on software training manuals and that I’d write fiction on the side. At that time, I was still trying to figure out my place in the American Muslim community. I identified as a Muslim, but I had no idea how that would ultimately manifest itself in my life. I didn’t wear hijab at the time and the only identifying feature of my religion was the  Arabic “Allah” necklace I wore around neck. But frequently I talked about my faith if people were curious. School hadn’t started, so I still had my regular 9 to 5 hours at MicroCenter. And as I turned on the radio, I thought I was hearing a joke. I changed stations because it wasn’t funny. But it was more reporting of the attacks. I could barely make sense of it, the towers, airplanes grounded, we were under attack.  As I passed the airport,  I didn’t see a single plane in the sky. Just a clear blue sky.  It was eerie because for some reason I tended to live near the landing and take off path and could always see airplanes in the sky. But it was just clear, empty blue sky. I didn’t know if any other cities were being hit. I didn’t know what was happening as I was stuck in my car and could only move forward to get to my job. I got to work and my co-workers and I were transfixed. Some of the guys tried to make some jokes and made an off color joke about our Arab co-worker parachuting out. I can’t even remember the rest of the day. All I remember was feeling doubly vulnerable as an American under attack and as a Muslim who would receive the backlash from those who would blame all Muslims. I wondered what types of wars would come of the attack and I feared the worst.

The tragedy touched me in different ways. A former co-worker’s mother had been in the vicinity and escaped the World Trade Center, someone I knew told me he had been in an adjacent building, Deora Bodley a 20 year old junior who died on Flight 93 would have graduated with me from Santa Clara University. There were memorials for Deora and several vigils. Someone even pointed out Deora’s boyfriend, who looked so broken and still in mourning.  During my first week of classes, 9/11 was all that people wanted to discuss. I was often the only Muslim, I would try to help my classmates and professors understand the socio-political situation in Muslim majority nations. I tried to explain the grievances that extremist Muslims had. I was well versed since that literature circulated widely and easily as different groups tried to radicalize us young Muslim student . I often thank God that I turned away from justifying certain actions early on and became more grounded in 1997 as I studied under Hamza Yusuf. And some of our more radical MSA members were finally able to see the logical outcome of their rhetoric and they too turned away from their extremist views. But many of us Muslims were all concerned that we had not provided a counter balance to extremist ideologies and there was a call “Where are the moderate Muslims?”

9/11 was my wake up call and ultimately it made me embrace my faith even more. I couldn’t be an invisible American Muslim, a Muslim of convenience. Under the encouragement Professor Gelber, I decided on a career in academia. Maybe my plans were lofty, to explore the history of Muslim societies and look for institutions and practices that were not reactionary but positive. I believed that by drawing on our historical and cultural legacy, that we Muslims could transform our communities and societies. I wanted to be a bridge, bringing together both sides of my identity. Bridges were needed as I saw my country become increasingly polarized. In retrospect, when you compare what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, American Muslims have had it so easy. But there was increased pressure for us to become public. Maybe I was lulled into a sense of comfort because I attended a Catholic University, which was anti-war and pro-interfaith dialogue. But praise God, we American Muslims didn’t receive much of a backlash. Yes, there were hate crimes, a burning of an Arab Christian Church, a random murder of a South Asian Fremont woman, some beatings, increased surveillance, etc.

Ten years later, it seems like America has become even more uncomfortable with American Muslims.   While I feel profound loss when I see the horrors of those events and often cry when I read or watch the personal accounts of people who lost a loved one, I also feel as if I am not allowed to mourn (at least not publicly).  Ten years later, people want me to apologize for 9/11, assume I have some agenda to take over this country, and spew hate and misconceptions about me and my co-religionists. I see the hate posted in the comments section of news articles. I have seen protest after protest against Muslim houses of worship. I have heard some people deny that my faith is even a religion. I fear that this country has gone down the path that the terrorists wanted us to go. Their actions were meant to provoke military aggression, to stir up fear and hatred, and to drive a wedge between peoples. Despite all the hatred, there are those like myself, whether immigrants, children  and grand-children of immigrants or converts or children and grandchildren of converts, who are committed to both our faith and country and see no contradiction in being American and Muslim.

While no one carries the sins of another, many of us American Muslims know that we bear an even greater responsibility now to be better neighbors and citizens than those who would deny others’ constitutional rights. We will be better than those who spew hate and try to intimidate others. I am glad that many Muslims are embracing and asserting their Americaness, when we were too timid to do so because we were once so steeped in anti-establishment rhetoric, in the anti-neo colonial discourse, or ethnic isolationism to feel like we could fully participate. When we can fully embrace our Americaness, we will not only be able to make a contribution, but we can also participate in the our constitutional rights and even spirit of protest to make this country better. We have a new generation of Muslims serving in this society, giving humanitarian aid, educating, healing, building, creating, even defending it in armed service.  I think back to my father’s flag and how that will eventually pass on to my children.  And I don’t mind working harder to contribute something to my community and society. Many of my American co-religionists feel the same. And we do this because this is where our future lies, were our children and children’s children will be buried. We do this, not because we are rabid nationalists or ethnic chauvanists, but because America is our home and part of who we are.


After reading a post on Why Don’t Our Mosques Pay for Themselves,  I posted this on my tumblr account:

I found this article by Muhammad Ashour cross posted on Steven Zhou’s blog. Hat tip to Steven Zhou for his thoughtful analysis on issues pertaining to Canadian Muslims and the Middle East.  Ashour’s article  is definitely a timely read and something that supports what I’ve been saying about the new mosque leadership.  Ashour brings up important issues of transparency when it comes to how funding is applied in various masajid and the need for social ventures in order to fund masjid operations. We had a such thing in history, the religious endowment or waqf. Unfortunately, Muslims are largely detached from their own history because either they think they are too forward thinking to look at pre-modern institutions or they deny the relevancy of any social institution or Muslim practice that can not be directly found in the Qur’an and Sunnah. But the religious endowment is an absolutely important institution that helped provide social services and humanitarian aid, supported students, and kept many masajid afloat. The only problem is that these days, Muslims want to see immediate returns on their investment rather than raising enough funds to start an endowment and then building. We keep fundraising for a new parking lot, or an addition, or to pay for a full time imam. Investing in an endowment results in sadaqah jariyah, but I’ll leave the fiqh issues to the scholars. Anyways, let’s start thinking long term folks!

My knowledge about the Waqf came from my Ottoman studies in undergraduate and graduate school. In a lecture I gave at Philadelphia mosque a few years ago I told the audience  The pious endowments, or Waqf, played an important role in Ottoman economic and social life.  Considered one of the highest of good deeds a Muslim could perform, it consisted of helping other people. Often the waqfs supports hospitals, bridges, baths, inns, hospitals, and markets. The wealthier the individual, the grander the waqf. Many of the audience members were elders, so they had gone through the transition from Nation of Islam to Orthodox Islam in 1975. They recalled that the mosque owned property and back then there were several thriving businesses. But much of this was dismantled during the later years of W.D. Muhammad. One audience member mentioned that there was still community property, they just had to figure out what to do next. I know there are many communities that look to buy property and develop it, and I have heard positive things about another Philadelphia community called Masjidullah. Unfortunately the website is down and I haven’t made it out that way. But they seem to have a lot of programming and I have been told they have a greater amount of transparency when it comes to their allocation of funds. Similarly, I have heard of other communities with development projects in the works, one lead by Imam Okasha in Southwest Philadelphia and another Masjid al Madinah in Supper Darby.  I don’t know if these communities have a long term vision of creating endowments or whether or not they have their vision grounded in the Islamic tradition of waqf. But it would be interesting to explore that in a series of interviews. I guess I have another possible research topic at hand.

But going back to my original quote on tumblr. Unfortunately, I was mistaken about the origins of the waqf. A waqf is an established practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). I did a brief search on information involving the waqf (pl. awqaf). I found this informative page, from a Malaysian organization, Khalifah Insitute’s  website. In the article, it details the establishment of the first Islamic religious endowment:

In the history of Islam, the first religious waqf is the mosque of Quba’ in Madinah, a city 400 kilometer north of Makkah, which was built upon the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad in 622. It stands now on the same lot with a new and enlarged structure. Six months later, Quba’ was followed by the mosque of the Prophet in the center of Madinah. Mosques and real estates confined for providing revenues to spend on mosques’ mainten­ance and running expenses are in the category of religious waqf.

Philanthropic waqf is the second kind of waqf. It aims at supporting the poor segment of the society and all  activities which are of interest to people at large such as libraries, scientific research, education, health services,  care of animals and environment, lending to small businessmen, parks, roads, bridges, dams, etc. Philan­thropic waqf began by the Prophet Muhammad too. A man calledMukhairiq made his will that his seven orchards in Madinah be given after his death to Muhammad. In year four of the hijrah calendar (a lunar calendar which begins with the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah in 622), the man died and the Prophet took hold of the orchards and made them a charitable waqf for the benefit of the poor and needy.  This practice was followed by the companion of the prophet and his second successor Umar, who asked the prophet what to do with a palm orchard he got in the northern Arabian peninsula city of khaibar and the Prophet said “If you like, you may hold the property as waqf and give its fruits as charity.” many other charitable waqf were made by the Prophet’s death in 632.

Now, back the situation of our ailing communities. Why can’t our mosques pay for themselves? That is because we are not following the established sunnah of how to fund our most central social institution. And down the list, with our short sightedness, we fail to fund endeavors that would have a long term positive social impact. I found this section especially insightful:

With regards to use of waqf revenues the most frequent purpose is spending on mosques. This usually includes salaries of imam [prayer leader and speaker of friday religious ceremony], teacher(s) of Islamic studies, preacher(s). With the help of this independent source of financing  religious leaders and teachers have always been able to take social and political positions independent of that of the ruling class. for example, upon the occupation of Algeria by french troops  in 1831, the colonial authority took control of the awqaf property in order to suppress religious leaders who fought against occupation (Ajfan, p.325).

Although religious education is usually covered by waqf on mosques, education in general has been the second largest user of waqf revenues. Since the beginning of Islam, in the early seventh century, education has been financed by waqf and voluntary contributions. Even government  financing of education used to take the form of constructing a school and assigning certain property  as waqf of the school. Awqaf of the Ayubites (1171-1249) and the Mamalik (1249-1517) in Palestine  and Egypt are good examples. According to historical sources, Jerusalem had 64 schools at the  beginning of the twentieth century all of them are waqf and supported by awqaf properties in     pales­tine, Turkey and Syria. Of these schools 40 were made awqaf by Ayubites and Mamalik rulers  and governors (Al cAsali, pp. 95-111). The University of al Azhar is another example. It was  founded in Cairo in 972 and was financed by its waqf revenues until the government of Muhammad  Ali in Egypt took control over the awqaf in 1812 (Ramadan, p. 135).

Waqf financing of education usually covers libraries, books, salaries of teachers and other staff  and stipends to students. Financing was not restricted to religious studies especially at the stage of  the rise of Islam. In addition to freedom of education this approach of financing helped creating a learned class not derived from the rich and ruling classes. At times, majority of Muslim scholars  used to be coming from poor and slave segments of the society and very often they strongly opposed the policies of the rulers (al Syed, pp. 237-258).

The third big beneficiary of waqf is the category of the poor, needy, orphans, persons in  prisons, etc. Other users of waqf revenues include health services which cover construction of  Hospitals and spending on physicians, apprentices and patients. One of the examples of the health  waqf is the Shishli Children Hospital in Istanbul which was founded in 1898 (al Syed, p. 287).

There is also waqf on animals whose example is the waqf on cats and the waqf on unwanted riding animals both in Damascus (al Sibaci). There are awqaf for helping people go to Makkah for pilgrimage and for helping girls getting married, and for many other philanthropic purposes.

  Thinking about these passages, I am reminded of how some our brothers and sisters are mistaken in their view of the past. Not long ago, I had a conversation with a sister who said, “Why study history? It is boring? It is dead. It is passed. It is the past.” But the forgotten model of endowment/waqf is why we should examine our history closely. We might see the more Islam in practice in models that worked, as opposed to being reactionary. We can be a constructive community, moving forward and addressing real social and spiritual needs. Let’s just think about the potential if we pool our money together to build endowments and hire trained people to manage them. Instead of each year our communities begging for what they need,  the continual fundraising can help us thrive and flower. 

Muslim Habitus

Over the past years, I realized that much of the spiritual problems I faced were largely due to my inability to bridge the disconnect between my intellectual knowledge and application of important principals.  The knowledge I gained was not transformative, so where was the misunderstanding?  Ali ibn Abi Talib said:

O you who carry knowledge around with you; are you only carrying it around with you ? For surely knowledge belongs to who ever knows and then acts accordingly, so that his action corresponds to his knowledge. There will be a people who will carry knowledge around with them, but it will not pass beyond their shoulders. Their inner most thoughts will contradict what they display in public, and their actions will contradict what they know.

Knowledge has not entered your heart until your legs, arms, and entire body act accordingly. There is a difference between knowledge and Muslim habits. The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said: “I was only sent to perfect good character” [Muwatta’ and Musnad of Ahmad]. The primary purpose of knowledge in Islam is so that it can influence the individual to the correct course of action. And the correct course of actions should be guided by an intention to do that which is pleasing to God. This contrasts with doing that which is pleasing to oneself or others and guided by one’s own inclinations.

How does knowledge of the traditions of Muhammad become part of the character of the average Muslim? It is through understanding, or as we educators tend to emphasize, application and practice of that knowledge. One of the most powerful ways of understanding this came to me while I was in graduate school and looking at Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of “habitus.” The simplest and most digestible definition of Habitus can be found on wikipedia:

Habitus is the set of socially learnt dispositions, skills and ways of acting, that are often taken for granted, and which are acquired through the activities and experiences of everyday life.

Habitus is a complex concept, but in its simplest usage could be understood as a structure of the mind characterized by a set of acquired schemata, sensibilities, dispositions and taste.

We are all creatures of habit (good and bad), but how do we develop them? How do we develop our tastes, dispositions, and inclinations?  These are important questions that we need to ask ourselves, especially if we are concerned with personal and moral development. Many of our habits are learned, while other arise out of our own inner inclinations. We can learn through mimicking others or through experience. At the same time, we can supress our inclinations and habits in order to yield different results.

But breaking bad habits or developing healthy habits can be a difficult thing, especially when we come to accept certain behaviors as part of our personality. For those of us who are self-reflective and want to change for the better, we have to make some conscious efforts to change many things that are often not really thought about.

The way we think shapes our actions, but our knowledge does not really penetrate our hearts until we set about a course of actions to embody those principles. I believe this is the problem with the over intellectualization of Islam. It is also the problem with the tendency of many Muslims to focus on political or social identity issues. There is a lack of embodiment of some important concepts. So, the way we should think about things is not changing our actions. At the same time, the ways we are doing things are not changing the ways our mind works. Somehow, our thoughts and actions become hollow. That embodiment only happens through rigor and training, which can take spiritual, mental, and physical components.  While we accept anyone who declares shahadah as Muslim, we recognize that there are different gradations of faith. In Surah 49 The Private Apartments, verse 14 God says:

The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

This verse is very profound, because it highlights the key for that spiritual development. Faith is developed through obedience. And even if we are struggling, by taking those steps, we will be rewarded by the Most Forgiving and Merciful. Sometimes the steps can be small, the most prominent example is salat. In actuality the combined time for the salat is about 17 minutes. Even then, I see people struggle with the idea of submission and it becomes apparent in their forms of resistance to the requirements of ritual prayer.  How have you developed Muslim habitus, if you as a man would never come to a job interview in sagging shorts that expose your butt crack, but you will come to the King of all worlds dressed inappropriately? The perfection of the Muslim habitus is worshipping your Lord as if you see Him, but you cannot, knowing that He always sees you. This is Ihsan, or the perfection of faith. And many, myself included, have a lot of work in that area.

Moving away from outer garments in order to wrap up this discussion, I want to talk about a simple way to develop our Muslim habitus. The first friday sermon I heard my husband give shed light habit-practice-application. He brought up Michael Jordan and asked rhetorically what does he think when he was about to make a play. Marc answered that MJ doesn’t think. His body knew exactly what to do from all those hours of practice. This is the true meaning of understanding, a real embodiment of that knowledge in a way that it becomes a part of you. Without thinking, MJ knew exactly what to do at a given moment.  It reminds me of the final moments of a former principal of Philadelphia’s Clara Muhammad School.  She was in a car accident in Egypt and her family reported that while she awaited medical attention she remained in constant remembrance of God. Although she was in pain, her thoughts were on her Lord. In that moment during her final true test, she faced death with courage and grace. And I wondered how I would react. I thought about some words, which I won’t repeat here, that I’ve said when I had a close brush with death or something traumatic. I think back to the times I experienced severe pain. I wondered would my last act be recorded as having yelled vulgar language, crying about why me, or would I remember my Lord instead.  I realized that only through constant practice of remembrance and prayer that I out of habit, I would just do the right thing without thinking about it.

We practice and practice so that during a real moment when we are tested, our habitus goes into auto-pilot and we know just what to do without thinking. So as part of that development, I’m not going to ask God to damn the thing I stubbed my toe on. Instead I’ll say something glorying Him  (in English or Arabic). Whenever I get frustrated with something or someone, I’m going to avoid cursing at it.  I will ask God to help me deal with the situation with dignity and grace.  And importantly, I will learn the appropriate prayers for the appropriate times so that constant remembrance become a habit, therefore my Muslim habitus. By bringing God into center focus throughout the day, I can make steps towards embodying all that I have learned over the years.  This is the cognitive shift that happens with real transformation. My hope is that more of us move from just being members of the I verbally proclaim to submit (I’m just a Muslim)club , to become those who truly believe and  try to ultimately perfect our faith.


Quran Sahih international