On Sept. 11, 2011, Americans commemorated the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States by the Muslim Al Qaeda organization. While news reports and online Website postings throughout the weekend demonstrated a nation still very much brewing with anti-Muslim rhetoric, African-American Muslims in Pittsburgh and across the nation were organizing to overcome the prejudice they continue to face in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
|MUSLIMS FOR LIFE—From left: Abur-rahman Shareef, head of media relations and Omar Shaheed at the Ahmadiyaa Muslim Community blood drive on Sept. 4. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“The people who did this act, we don’t believe they were Muslim. They weren’t actually following the teachings of the Holy Koran,” said Omar Shaheed, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “There’s no teaching in Islam or in any religion that promotes the killing of another human being. There’s no teaching in Islam that supports that kind of behavior. How can you claim you’re representing God when you’re killing your own people.”
In an effort to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launched the Muslims for Life campaign. The goal of the campaign is to collect 10,000 units of blood, enough to save 30,000 lives, throughout the month of September.
“We had a blood drive to commemorate the victims of 9/11,” Shaheed said. “If we look at what blood represents, no one can live without blood. When people need it here on earth, it’s our duty to help them. We thought that by giving blood, we know that we’ve done something that’s going to save lives.”
So far the organization has collected more than 4,000 pints of blood. In Pittsburgh the local chapter was able to collect 19 pints. Several other blood drives will be held throughout the month.
“One of the reasons we try to serve humanity is we want people to read Islam and ask themselves, does Islam teach hatred, which it doesn’t,” Shaheed said. “It’s going to take time; it’s not going to happen overnight. I think just getting to know the good Muslims—I think people should do that. The people who committed these acts, there was nothing spiritual about what they did.”
On Sept. 10 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Homewood, Your Sister’s Project, Inc. hosted “Islam in the Pittsburgh Imagination: Ten Years After 9/11.” The discussion examined the discrimination and prejudice against Muslims that has been perpetuated before 9/11 and exacerbated since.
“We used it as a discussion to talk about being Muslim and Black. During that time and to this day we were profiled and discriminated against so we used that time to talk about what has happened to us,” said Shirley Muhammad, Your Sister’s Project Inc. founder. “There are some people who are open and know that you can’t base your assessment of people on the actions of a few people, but there’s still discrimination, there’s still profiling. It’s changed our entire lives.”
Muhammad said Muslims are often discriminated against in the workforce to the extent they will not be chosen over a non-Muslim for employment. She also said Your Sister’s Project Inc., a non-profit human and social services organization, has been overlooked for funding from Pittsburgh’s foundations because of her personal religious background.
“I use my name and I’m proud of it; I’m not going to change because they want me to change. In the workforce, it’s terrible. The culture is anti-muslim. It’s like you’re isolated. There’s a bias,” Muhammad said. “The system doesn’t work for us. It’s not going to work for you if you’re Black and it’s not going to work for you if you’re Muslim.”
The event also featured a screening of “Mooz-lum,” a 2010 American independent film about an African-American Muslim family and their life before and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I think we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way still to go. I think the country is growing in terms of realizing the dreams of the four fathers, but still, the country is living with a lot of the prejudices of the past that hurts the dreams of the four fathers,” said Imam Walter Shaheed, a community activist and panelist at the Homewood library discussion. “If we can continue to give respect to the best values of this country, I think all of us will be very proud to be American.”
Shaheed commented on the recent resurfacing of Americans who believe President Barack Obama is a “closeted Muslim.” According to a poll released by the Pew Research Center last summer, more Americans believe Obama is a Muslim than when he was first elected.
“It’s reflective of past ignorances. It’s a reminder of an old era that has passed. It doesn’t reflect the best America. It’s been made very, very clear by President Obama that he’s a Christian. As long as people keep harping on a lot of the ignorant misinformation that’s being passed out, I think it harms the direction we as all Americans want to go. I think it’s very destructive,” Shaheed said. “We should be trying to minimize the hurt of the past. As African-Americans these are reminders of the experience we’ve been through in this country. I think it would do us all justice to minimize that type of rhetoric.”