INDEPTH: SEPTEMBER 11|
9/11 and my Muslim friends
Zarqa Nawaz | September 11, 2003
"Is that a gun?" the panicked bellboy asks as he backs towards the wall. The bellboy is an African American man who is at least six feet two.
"No, it's a cell phone," I stammer lifting my shirt to reveal the bulge under my clothes. I'm attempting to check out of the Sheraton Towers in Chicago without causing an international incident. I am not doing well.
I'm smiling so much my face hurts. I'm trying to convince everyone that I'm your friendly, harmless Muslim.
I've just finished shooting some footage at the Islamic Society of North America's annual convention. I'm making a documentary about how Muslim women are struggling to regain their political rights in their communities. Rights that were granted to Muslim women during the time of the Prophet but have been eroded over the centuries.
It's becoming a lot harder then I thought.
"Why don't you do a documentary on the evils of the West instead?" one of my Muslim friends asks. "There has been no other time in our history when we're under so much scrutiny. This is the worst time to be exposing our dirty laundry."
I try to convince her that it would be useful for both Muslims and non-Muslims to see how our communities are dealing with the issues of women's rights within Islamic discourse.
I commiserate with my best friend Rahat Kurd. "The faultlines of the Muslim community are being exposed," she tells me. "Muslims are afraid to talk about the issues that divide us. It will look like there is disunity and disharmony in the community."
My sister-in-law Suzanne Muir has noticed a distancing of second-generation Muslims from newly immigrated Muslims in the past year.
"I was at a dinner party where people were talking about the 19 Pakistani men who were arrested in Toronto. Someone asked, 'How do we know they're not guilty? You know they're crazy over there,'" she tells me. "'We're trying to create our own subcategory of Canadian Muslims who never consider blowing people up. We want to feel safer and not fit the 'profile'."
My friend Itrath, a second-generation Muslim woman living in Vancouver, didn't think she fit the profile either. Then a CSIS officer came to her door this summer and asked to have a "chat." She declined and called her lawyer.
"After that call, they were no longer interested in talking to me," she said, but the experience affected her.
"How secure am I in Canada?" she wanted to know. "Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, is in a Syrian jail being tortured as we speak. How do I know that won't be me next time I'm on an airplane? What is my government going to do about it?"
Itrath has spent a great deal of this year being involved in the anti-war movement. She hasn't been impressed by how many Muslims were involved.
"Initially after 9/11, there was a big surge of openness on the part of Muslims, but after they saw their civil rights take such a nose-dive, they became more afraid of speaking out."
Maliha Chishti, a second-generation Muslim woman who is a doctoral candidate in International Development at the University of Toronto remembers the reaction she got this summer when she gave a very political speech at a local Toronto mosque criticizing American foreign policy. The audience consisted of first-generation Muslim men.
"After I finished, a Muslim man came up to me and said 'Not a single man here could get away with what you've just said. We're so scared, we felt that we couldn't even nod in agreement with you'."
Tracy Abdou a Canadian convert to Islam started wearing the hijab (head scarf) this year while living in Regina. She was sitting outside with her mother one evening when a car drove by.
"A young man about 17 leaned out and hollered out the window 'You Bitch!'" she said. "It probably was because of my scarf but I brushed him off as just a kid. But my mom is worried about how I'll be treated now that I'm a visible Muslim."
Many second-generation Muslims are taking no chances. A friend who asked not to be identified told me how he travelled all through the Middle East last year.
"I had stamps from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. I decided to conveniently 'lose' my passport and get a clean one. A lot of my friends are doing the same thing."
Zeba Hashmi worries about the career choices her young children will make in the future.
"Forget about one of them becoming a pilot or going into any business where they would have to purchase chemicals like say crop dusting … okay may be not a good example but you have to worry about those things now."
Her husband, a Pakistani-born Canadian, is leaving for San Diego and will be in the U.S. during the 9/11 anniversary. "I'm afraid for him," Zeba told me. "People are going to be watching all those documentaries about the twin towers going down and the feelings of hate against Muslims, Arabs and immigrants are going to start all over again."