by Ginella Massa On September 11th, 2001 I was a high school student just two weeks into a new school. I was running back to my locker to grab my gym clothes when the principal came on the PA system. She was making a lengthy announcement about something, but I wasn't really listening because I was already late for second period.
At lunchtime my sister found me in the cafeteria. "Did you hear? A plane went into the World Trade Centre in New York," she informed me. I didn't understand the significance. "What do you mean?" I asked. "By accident?"
"No, on purpose." I was confused. Why would anyone do something like that? I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea.
In English class, my teacher said she knew there were lots of rumours going around, but that we shouldn't jump to any conclusions until we knew the facts. "What does she mean?" I whispered to one of my classmates. "Some people are saying it was Muslims who did it," he explained. "Ohh." There was a large Arab and Muslim population in my Scarborough high school and she was making it clear that racist remarks would not be tolerated. I hadn’t heard a thing and wondered if she wasn’t overreacting.
As my sister and I left building that afternoon, we were surprised to find my step-dad waiting to pick us up after school. Apparently his office had closed early in light of the day’s events, and my worried mother had sent him to get us from school. As he explained more about what had happened in New York, it suddenly dawned on me that this about more than just a plane crashing into a building.
When I got home my mom was glued to the TV and I finally saw what everyone had been talking about. It would play over and over and over again: the planes hitting the towers, people jumping from windows to escape the flames, and the buildings crumbling to dust. The images would be etched in my mind forever. I felt sick. How could anyone do this to innocent people, especially Muslims? I had been taught that murder was a sin in Islam. In my mind, anyone claiming to do this in the name of God was clearly misguided. But I learned the rest of the world wouldn't see it that way. The impact of that day's horrific events would change the rest of my life significantly.
Before 9/11, Muslims flew relatively under the radar (no pun intended). We went about our lives without much hassle, other than a few questions about hijab, fasting in Ramadan, and our daily prayers. But in a post 9/11 world, hate crimes against Muslims grew. I became accustomed to the regular pat downs of my hijab at the airport. Any time an act of violence took place, I silently prayed it wasn't a Muslim who was behind it. My religion had been hijacked along with those airplanes and Islam became the new enemy.
Once, while walking home, a girl shouted an insult at me from the window of a passing bus. My mother told my sister and I that maybe we should consider taking off our hijabs. She was worried about our safety. We both refused. We wouldn't be bullied into denying our faith because of the ignorance of a few people.
13 years after 9/11, I’ve realized that along with the bad came some good. Our newfound infamy gave us a chance to tell the world who Muslims really are. I had more conversations about my faith in the months and years after 9/11 than ever before. I was always eager to answer questions about Islam because I realized that most of them came from a place of curiosity and willingness to learn. One more question answered meant one less ignorant person. Most people who once knew nothing of Muslims have come to learn that at the end of the day we’re just people, and we abhor the terrible acts that took place on 9/11 just like everyone else.