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Eboo Patel: From 9/11 to Jan. 25: America’s Changing View of Islam

20 February 2011 Huffington Post 4 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

A few years ago I did a cable television interview on the youth bulge in majority-Muslim countries. It’s a huge group, I told the anchor, and they have the potential to make a really positive contribution to the world.

The images played on the screen during my interview were of young people doing training exercises at a terrorist camp — images in total contradiction to my message. I was livid. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then everything I was saying was totally drowned out. When I brought it up with one of the staff he just shrugged and said it was likely just the B-roll most readily available.

That’s when it hit me. This isn’t just a problem with the type of B-roll cable television has handy, this is a problem with the B-roll most readily available in our minds. The images that come up in too many people’s heads when they hear the terms “Muslim” or “Muslim youth” or “the Muslim world” is of suicide bombers or planes flying into the World Trade Center.

Eighteen days in Egypt changed all that. The movement didn’t just overthrow a dictator, it gave the world a whole new psychological movie of the contributions of Muslim citizens to their nation. Protesters braving tear gas and police truncheons chanting ‘peacefully, peacefully’ as they marched through the streets into Tahrir Square. People holding up Quran’s next to crosses, chanting “Muslim, Christian we are all Egyptian.”

Makeshift medical clinics where doctors and nurses volunteered their time to bandage protesters wounded by thugs many said were sent by Mubarak’s regime. The interview with the young Google executive Wael Ghonim, just coming out of a week and a half where he was blindfolded and held in solitary confinement, saying that he was not done yet, that he was willing to die for his country (who was not reminded of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” when they saw that?)

I used to ask students when I lectured at colleges to tell me something that they admire about Islam or Muslims. I stopped doing it. The silence would last so long, it embarrassed both them and me.

There are very real consequences when entire populations are represented in the public imagination by their worst elements. Without a doubt, one of the reasons for the vociferous opposition to mosques in communities across America is some people think the suicide bomber from the evening news is coming to Friday prayers next to their grocery store. When they hear “Muslim” they think “Osama bin Laden.”

Well, no more.

9/11 is no longer the date that defines Islam for the world. January 25 gets that honor now.

(This piece was originally posted on the Washington Post Faith Divide.)

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Original post: Eboo Patel: From 9/11 to Jan. 25: America’s Changing View of Islam


  1. well said!

    Allahu A’lam

  2. I pray that you are right about a new awareness of Islam.

    >>I used to ask students when I lectured at colleges to tell me something that they admire about Islam or Muslims.

    On Eid ul-Fitr in 2008, I was manning a voter registration booth at our local, mid-west Mosque.

    I admired and recognized the family joy and celebration I saw that day. It was, of course, just like a major religious holiday at my own Christian church. Families gathering in community of God.

    And that day I had one of the most invigorating spiritual discussions I have ever had with one of the men of the Mosque as he gave me a tour.

    I admire the submission to God which I understand is the very heart of Islam.

    I admire the value of modesty which is promoted by Islam, which I believe is sadly lacking in much of American culture, and which is sometimes manifested at some cost and risk by Muslim women wearing.

    (Sadly, the day before that Eid ul-Fitr, at a local coffee shop I had asked a young Muslim woman wearing hajib to confirm that the next day was, in fact, Eid ul-Fitr – she initially reacted with some fear, obviously because she thought I was “targeting” her because of her headwear. My heart cries out that our country has reached such a state that her reaction would be a sensible one.)

    I am a Christian who worships the God of Abraham, and I too believe Allah akbar!

  3. no comparision!!! and to say that that other date gets the honor now? what a kick in the you know what! was 9/11 a date with honor? poorly said sir and disrespectful. i’m grateful that the egyptian people have gotten what they wanted but to even compare the two? what were you thinking?

  4. the problem i have with islam, is the same problem i have christianity, in so much as they both rely on outdated texts which often run contrary my sense of morality? the “gospel” and the “divine writ” seem less “godly” than even man and womanmade text of our time.

    sorry for making up my own word but i’m a postmodern structualist.

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