As the years pass, there are more and more people who weren’t alive to witness the events of 9/11. Many are too young to remember — just like me.
Where do the events of 9/11 stand in my life? This is one question I have been asked over and over again by my friends, colleagues and professors as soon as they find out I am a Muslim American. Truth be told, I have asked this question to myself a myriad of times, but I have been unsuccessful at finding a clear answer because there isn’t one. What I have come up with is that 9/11 is the invisible source of why I feel different in this country, and that has been, at times, difficult to deal with.
I was merely two years old when the Twin Towers were hit and life for Muslims in America changed. My parents always tell me, “You don’t know what life was like before 9/11; there was no TSA, apparent hate or prejudice like there is today.” Whenever they say this, I think, “Is that even possible?” It is beyond my wildest dreams to think that you wouldn’t have to go through the violating security measures at the airport every time you need to fly, or that when I mention I am Muslim I immediately get biased, stereotypical questions.
Growing up, my family was the only brown family living in our neighborhood, but this rarely occurred to me. My first day of preschool, someone asked me my name and “Sanna” was immediately turned into “Sauna,” changing the meaning of my name entirely. This wrong pronunciation has stayed with me to this day. During religious class, my classmates and I would ask each other what our school names were and then tease each other about them. We found it funny; it was so normal for us that we never saw it as an issue. But as I began to go out in the world more and more, I would wonder, why is this the case? Why did I need to sacrifice my identity to fit in?
I was born and raised in Dallas, and I had assimilated with the community so well that all those years, I never even thought about race or ethnicity. All my friends and classmates were the same to me. Every Saturday at religious school, we were taught the same thing: we are all equal. We studied about the history of Islam, the culture, the traditions and the ethics which we should live by. We were well-informed on our faith and religion. The events of 9/11 did not come up until late middle school and early high school, around the time of the tenth anniversary, in history class. That was the first time I remember actually discussing it in a historical context. We watched the videos of the event, and those in my class, including me, were astonished by the footage. We were in awe to see that something like this had actually happened.
When I learned about those events, I was perplexed. I never thought of myself or my community as separate from Americans. I proudly said and still do say that I am a Muslim American. There is no patriotism attached to being Muslim. It is the belief in one God. The only difference is that in Arabic, God translates to Allah.
That is what went through my head and still goes through my head. To me, it is just as simple as it seems. I may have different languages, customs, traditions and physical appearances, but I am still a normal student, wanting to graduate, get a degree and have a successful career.
Sometimes, at first glance, it is hard to tell that I am Muslim since I am not a hijabi Muslim. I am afraid to tell people, especially in an environment where I am alone. Not because they will think I am a terrorist, but because I have to justify myself and my identity — sometimes to people who are here to attack, not to learn.
Today, as a student, Muslim and American, I continue to learn how to navigate both in terms of my faith and the effects of 9/11 that I still deal with today.
I can truly say that before creating notions, you should always ask questions. When people ask me genuine questions, free of bias, I am happy to answer. I am proud of my identity as both a Muslim and an American.