Sitting in my middle school history class on Sept. 11, 2001, I could hear the muffled chatter in the hallway, the pitter-patter of jogging feet, sounds I’d later find were panicked parents coming to extract their kids from their Formica- topped desks, into minivans, and to the nearest church to pray and hope for the best. I had no idea what was happening– my teacher wouldn’t turn on the TV, wouldn’t make a peep about the twin towers that had, or were about to, collapse.
The truth is, I didn’t know much about the twin towers; I’d never been to New York, but I had been to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, various places in the Middle East. When I got home, I asked my mom what was going on, and she had obviously been rubbing her face and crying for a while; she wrapped me in her arms, telling me everything would be okay. My dad came in that night, and as the four of us– my parents, sister, and me– sat at the dinner table, eating our spaghetti, all we could do is stare at our plates. My mom broke the silence, “So, are you going back?”
“Back” was Algeria, where my dad worked as a petroleum engineer. “Why not?” he asked, clearly rhetorically. I mean, why would he worry? We were in Sana’a, Yemen in 1991 and could see the scuds above our bungalow. We left Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1995, just before some half-wit bombed a building just three miles from our old home. What would stop him from going back now? The dollar signs clearly were his logic at that point. So he went back two weeks later, while we worried we’d never see him again.
Of course, we did see him again, plenty of times until he decided he didn’t want to see us anymore, until my parents divorced. He broke my 13-year-old heart, and what little bit of Christian faith I had died with my parents’ divorce. If that didn’t put the last nail in the coffin, my grandfather’s death two months later definitely sealed the deal. I was a bona-fide rambler then, searching for a God to pull my life together and somehow give me hope to praise him and find the worth of my life.
Little did I know, almost ten years later, I would find it in Islam. I had searched Christianity for years and just couldn’t make sense of it. Who would think, after living in the Middle East for a large part of my childhood, I’d find faith in Islam? For some reason, I had never picked up a Qur’an, but as soon as I did, I immediately questioned why I hadn’t before. It was beautiful; it made sense to me! I yearned to know more about Islam, and most of all, I yearned to be Muslim! I took my shahada shortly after deciding this, and I can assure you, while I shot marbles in my Khobar compound a decade before, listening to the athan ring, I never thought I’d be inside a mosque while that same prayer call played so beautifully.
Though I prostrate and sing praises to my Creator five times a day, I’m American, through and through, born in the Bible Belt. I hear you whispering “Go home!” in the mall. I am home, and I’m not responsible for what happened nine years ago on that horrible day. Most of all, I know Islam is only peaceful, and those men used it as a horrible excuse for murder. I, on, the other hand, know it’s my life’s purpose.