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Sarah Sayeed, Ph.D.: An American Muslim Visits the World Trade Center Memorial

13 August 2011 Huffington Post 11 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Sarah Sayeed, Ph.D.

Sarah Sayeed, Ph.D.

“Urgent,” the message read:

“ATTIRE GUIDELINES AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER SITE: The World Trade Center site is an active construction site. Please read the following guidelines carefully. These rules are strictly enforced by on-site security personnel and you may be denied access if they are not followed.”

At the invitation of Professor Burton Visotsky at Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), I was about to join a small group of interfaith visitors on a personally-guided tour of the 9/11 Memorial with Architect Michael Arad. I had been fortunate enough to participate just a few weeks earlier in “Our Better Angels,” a discussion series co-sponsored by JTS and Union Theological Seminary which brought together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders and the public to discuss our faith-based approaches to trauma, mourning, and healing and to help prepare us for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. A visit to the memorial site seemed a natural continuation of the work.

Yet, as I imagined myself wearing a construction hardhat atop my hijab, it suddenly hit me that I was about to pay a visit to the 9/11 Memorial looking identifiably Muslim. Perhaps it meant nothing. Yet, I felt somehow that I was carrying the heavy story of 9/11 and terrorism in the symbol of my headscarf. I wondered how I would be seen by the architect, or the construction workers. As they engaged in the act of building up a space destroyed by people who are seen as Muslim, who claimed to be Muslim, would they see me and remember the perpetrators? Or would I be viewed as just another visitor, another human being?

The next morning, my Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu American colleagues and I met with Michael Arad. Putting on my construction vest and the hard hat, I shared my worry about standing out. I asked Mr. Arad if he had previously seen any other Muslim woman in hijab walk through the site. “I don’t think so,” he replied. He quickly added, “The site is not meant to exclude anyone though.” As he shared with us how he had been inspired by seeing spaces like Washington Square Park, where people came together in the days after 9/11, I was reassured. I understood then that it was really my own internalized anxieties coming to the fore — my worries about how others would see me reflected my grappling with how Islam and Muslims are seen as a result of 9/11. I know it is similar to the journey of many American Muslims, whose religious identity has become more salient, sometimes against our will.

Walking to the Memorial meant first crossing construction in progress below the plaza level. As we stepped into the mud and uneven ground, I was jolted by the pain of lost lives. I felt I could almost hear the panic and screams of those who must have suffered on that day, and felt tears welling up to suffocate me. It seemed almost too much to continue and I felt an urge to turn back, to escape the pain. But something kept pushing me forward. Only a few steps later, we climbed the stairs to the Plaza to view “Reflecting Absence,” the 9/11 Memorial designed by Mr. Arad.

The sight of trees and sound of flowing water transported us into another emotional space, one that is simultaneously empty and yet, healing. My eyes were drawn to the beginning of the waterfall on each side of the pool, where individual streams shimmered at their origin in the morning light and cascade into a larger pool. Looking down into the water, I remember that this space, now a void, was once full of life and the commerce of our World Trade Center.

Surrounding the pool, a continuous series of bronze panels with names has been covered with cloth and sturdy plastic sheeting, out of respect to the family and friends who will be the first to see these names. Each name is cut hollow into the metal, and night time visitors will see the lights below the panels shine through the carved letters, illuminating the void cast by the loss of each person. Mr. Arad also spoke of the many months it took to arrange the nearly 3000 names of those who died in 2001 and 1993. About 1500 family members responded to outreach, making specific requests about adjacent names. These names are grouped to show relationships between couples, colleagues, and friends. We felt reassured by his compassion and thoughtfulness, that as visitors come to the 9/11 Memorial, they will remember not only each unique person but also be comforted by the relationships and the community surrounding their loved ones.

Looking around, I saw reflections of the ongoing construction in the water, in the glass windows of buildings around us. Young oak trees with silver-green leaves are taking root all around the plaza. Set within the emptiness of missing buildings and missing lives, these small signs of change and growth bring a sense of wholeness, a reminder about the cyclical nature of life and death, that some of us must stay behind while others of us move on. Michael Arad was right: the Memorial is a place of togetherness, as it should be. It reminded me that while we may grapple with questions of identity and place, ultimately we are connected through our humanity.

Original post: An American Muslim Visits the World Trade Center Memorial


  1. Prime minister erdogan and his party is taking turkey into a conflicting situation with both western world and shia religious clerics.By going against asad regime in damascus turkey also have a big opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the people of arab streets.neo ottomanism have already is not only in the news articles!!!!

  2. @fahad..Turkey is part of the “western world”, whatever the hell that means anyway…But Turkey took an awful lot of time to respond to the dictator Assad brutalities…The arab youth in the street demanding political freedom and dissent living, need more than ever Turkey leadership, but also Indonesia and malaysia as well..

    NOW to this lady babbling about the new-york “ground zero”, we also must make a huge sanctuaries and a GIANT “grounds zeros” of the whole of Irak and Afganistan, part of Pakistan and yemen as well, since they’ve suffered repeatedly from the biggest terrorist attacks by the biggest terrorist organisation in the world and is NOT Al-Q….
    And oh! oh! ya! before i forget, NO church around those “grounds zeros”, i mean fair is fair isnt!! Check and balance that how the world turn…

  3. DISCLAIMER: (next 7 verses) i’m a weak reader and so as i’ve begun reading the koran 7 verses at a time, it hepls me to cut and paste them after i’ve read them because i then re-read them on this post. they may have absolutely nothing to do with this article. i welcome any input as to historical context or to whom some of the pronouns are refering.

    [2.280] And if (the debtor) is in straitness, then let there be postponement until (he is in) ease; and that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you knew.
    [2.281] And guard yourselves against a day in which you shall be returned to Allah; then every soul shall be paid back in full what it has earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.
    [2.282] O you who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things.
    [2.283] And if you are upon a journey and you do not find a scribe, then (there may be) a security taken into possession; but if one of you trusts another, then he who is trusted should deliver his trust, and let him be careful (of his duty to) Allah, his Lord; and do not conceal testimony, and whoever conceals it, his heart is surely sinful; and Allah knows what you do.
    [2.284] Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is Allah’s; and whether you manifest what is in your minds or hide it, Allah will call you to account according to it; then He will forgive whom He pleases and chastise whom He pleases, and Allah has power over all things.
    [2.285] The apostle believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers; they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His apostles; We make no difference between any of His apostles; and they say: We hear and obey, our Lord! Thy forgiveness (do we crave), and to Thee is the eventual course.
    [2.286] Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and upon it (the evil of) what it has wrought: Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake; Our Lord! do not lay on us a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us, Our Lord do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear; and pardon us and grant us protection and have mercy on us, Thou art our Patron, so help us against the unbelieving people.

  4. sahra,

    you are the true face of islam.

  5. micky…LOL!..You’re makind me blush! but thanks for the compliment, i appriciate..

  6. sahra,

    can you do me a favor? looks like loonwatch has booted me for some reason? anyways i don’t want skhan to think i’m ducking the question. if you could post this for me i would appretiate it.


    “Corruption refers to killing people”, but the verse already says you can kill someone for killing someone. why say “OR” corruption?
    “Drinking is not punishable by death. Fornication can be forgiven” sorry didn’t mean to confuse capital crimes with non capital “crimes”. so you agree that adultery is punishable by stoning to death? fornication gets you 100 lashes and drunkeness 80 lashes?

    ” And as far as divine punishment goes, if you don’t believe in Islam, why do you care aBout what it says about the a afterlife?” i don’t, i care about this life.

    “The righteous Christians and Jews will go to heaven, according to verse sura al baqara 2:62.” you forgot the sabians. what about the buddists, hindus, zorostians, bahai’i, animists, sikhs, shinto, janis, ahmadiyya, etc.

    “Lastly, don’t troll.” i don’t know what that means?

    skhan you seem knowledgable about islam, hope to hear from you on islamaphobiatoday. they seem more open to freedom of speech. also tell tariq i read his quardian article. very interesting, would love to discuss.

  7. Great article. Mike, if you have questions about Islam, it is good to ask someone who is knowledgeable and who can give you the context (as context is very important in understanding the Quran). Sohaib Webb is a well respected Sheikh in the Bay Area who could answer your questions about Islam and give you the context for different Ayas in the Quran: I hope that this helps Insha’Allah (God willing).

  8. noor,

    thanks, i’ll check it out. will it be ok to cut and paste?

    anyways what do you think of sahra’s comments? “NOW to this lady babbling about the new-york “ground zero”, we also must make a huge sanctuaries and a GIANT “grounds zeros” of the whole of Irak and Afganistan, part of Pakistan and yemen as well, since they’ve suffered repeatedly from the biggest terrorist attacks by the biggest terrorist organisation in the world and is NOT Al-Q….
    And oh! oh! ya! before i forget, NO church around those “grounds zeros”, i mean fair is fair isnt!! Check and balance that how the world turn…”

  9. lol miky.. having problems with check and un/ba$$$$$blance analogy?? dont you balance your checkbook! cause it seems NOT..

  10. sahra,

    no i don’t balance my checkbook. can’t remember the last time i wrote a check. all my bills are autopay and i pay my credit card online. i have a running total of my checking account in my head, and if i’m not sure i check it online. not sure what any of that means. i guess you are saying that there should be monuments equal or greater to the 9/11 monument throughout the middle east. ok, the iraqis, pakistanis, afghans, yemenis (if that is what you call people in yemen?) can build what ever monuments they want. i just thought that there might be some muslims out there who found your comment about the woman’s “babbling” about shared humanity in poor taste. guess i was wrong.

    that’s right, i keep forgeting it’s “us vs them”.

  11. noor,

    i asked:

    Ask Question
    has stoning of adulterers been abrogated by the 24th surah? or is rajam still the law of god? do you speak arabic? if so how would you translate zina?

    they answered:

    Wa Alaikum Assalam Brother,

    As for Zina, it is translated directly into English as adultery. Stoning of adulterers is the law of God, but there are certain conditions that must be met. To be stoned, one (either a male or female, it doesn’t matter in this case) must have been previously married (either currently married or has been married at a time in his life), the authorities (government) must be an Islamic government that also declares to the people that rajam is the law in place for zinah, and to be considered an adulterer that is punished through rajam, four people must see the individual committing the act of zinah. Currently, rajam is not law anywhere, and there is a big sin for those who commit adultery, as rajem is the punishment and cleansing for the adulterer so that he does not get punished for it in the Hereafter.

    If you have any further questions or need more clarification, please email or call me at (408) 247-7570
    Jazaka Allahu Khairan

    Shaikh Ibrahim (Abu Moath)
    MCA Santa Clara, USA

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