It is difficult to believe that September 11, 2001 was some twelve years ago. It really did seem like another seemingly innocent day in September. A light blue sky conspicuously cloaked the horrors in a New York City skyline. I remember I was in sixth grade at May Grisham Elementary in Santa Maria. It was early in the morning and my classmates and I were waiting in line to enter class.
We were young and we did not have a clear idea of what was going on. We just knew that some accident occurred. I did not know that the people who claimed to be behind the terrorist acts were Muslim. I did not know that the ringleader of this terrorist gang was usurping the beauty of my first name.
When I first introduce myself to others, their interest piques when I tell them my name is Osaama. I think there is a natural assumption that growing up with such a name post-9/11 comes with its own unique set of challenges. I won’t deny that it does. But I can say that I am fortunate to have grown up in Santa Maria and in the larger Santa Barbara community. People seem to forget that besides being known for our pleasant weather and commitment to making the best tri-tip sandwiches, our community is also known for the warm, welcoming people who live here.
After 9/11 occurred, I was called into the principal’s office. I was a fairly well-behaved student, and would dread even having my card flipped for minor classroom misdeeds. I was, then, rather concerned to be called into the principal’s office. When I got there, I was surprised when Mr. Tift asked how I was feeling. If anyone bothered me about my name, Mr. Tift told me, I should let him know. At the time, I didn’t know what to think of this meeting. I was grateful for the principal’s kindness, but now I realize how kind this gesture really was. This warmth, which is embedded in our Central Coast community, encourages me to protect our community from baseless attacks on Islam, and to show Islam’s true message of peace and inclusion.
It goes without saying that Islam today is often portrayed in the media in a negative light. The media cannot entirely be blamed. Muslims of the past were integral in many of the world’s advancements, but recently have been lagging – it’s not like Muslims of today invented the iPhone. But at the same time, there is a deep disconnect between what is often portrayed about Islam and the reality of Islam. Islam, whose literal definition means “peace,” is often portrayed as a violent religion.
American Muslims have the unique privilege and duty to condemn violent extremism and to show Islam’s true face of peace. After all, unlike in France, Muslim American women are allowed to wear their head scarves. Unlike in Switzerland, mosques in America are allowed to have minarets. While other Western countries practice democracy, only in America is true freedom of religion seen.
Twelve years after 9/11, our beloved nation is still suffering from ignorance and misinformation about Islam. The terrorists on that dreadful day did not only destroy buildings and take the lives of innocent people, but they attempted to hijack Islam. The purpose of this column is to defeat those terrorists and anyone else who attacks Islam’s true peaceful image. By fighting back with the pen, and not the sword, we show that rationality and logic prevail over the sharpness of any sword.
Osaama Saifi is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the oldest Muslim organization in the United States. He was raised in Santa Maria, earned a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Berkeley, and is pursuing a law degree so that he can combat blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan and protect religious minorities through out the world.