Twenty years ago, I had been married barely two years, was two months into my freelance journalism work covering Muslim arts and culture in New York City, and had a one-year-old son toddling around our apartment. On September 11, 2001, I turned on the TV in my Midtown Manhattan apartment to find cartoons for my son to watch, only nearly every channel was tuned into smoke billowing out of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
And then, as I watched in horror, I saw a plane fly straight into the South Tower. Then the news reported a plane flying into the Pentagon and finally one more diving into a field somewhere in Pennsylvania.
It had taken ten years to build the World Trade Center. It took minutes for them to collapse.
I thought about my husband, who was doing his medical residency at his Midtown Manhattan hospital, and that he would not be coming home soon because of the survivors that would surely flood all the hospitals of NYC. I thought about my mom, who worked for the State Department in an eye shot of the Pentagon. And, I scooped my son into my arms and went to the roof of our building to see what could be seen towards downtown Manhattan.
What I remember was the smell. That acrid, burning, nauseating smell that would permeate the city as you got closer to downtown.
What I also remember was staying holed up in our apartment for four days out of fear for what may happen to me, a Muslim woman, if I went outside. But then I did a story assignment covering how Muslim students at New York University, which sustained some damage to some of their buildings, were faring. I spent the next year covering how the Muslim communities of New York responded to the horrible events of 9/11, including writing about antiwar protests, interfaith events, religious/racial profiling and many personal stories of loss, fear and resilience.
I didn’t wear hijab back then, That would come four years later. I also didn’t expect that Muslims in America and Islam would become my “beat” as a journalist/editor for the next two decades and counting.
My official HH photo taken in downtown NYC not far from the site of the World Trade Center memorial.
In 20 years of covering and coordinating stories about American Muslim communities – the last three focusing on Muslim women in my editorial capacity here at Haute Hijab – I’ve born witness to, written and shared countless stories about how the reverberations of what happened on September 11, 2001 and the years after affected Muslims in America, especially those who were visibly Muslim and/or public-facing in their work.
I’ve seen a deep growth of interfaith work, of performative and genuine allyship
, of rising Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism and more. I’ve written about increased of attacks on Muslims and other minority communities throughout the Trump presidency and have watched Muslim women – those who wear hijab and those who do not – be thrust into the position (when many weren’t even seeking it) of “representing Muslims.”
There’s a lot to unpack from the past 20 years, more than what we can fully do here on the blog. What we can do is continue our work in amplifying the stories of Muslim women and the issues and interests that pertain to us and our surrounding communities. And so we’re publishing a special series this month, with some of our HH writers and team members writing about their experiences as visibly Muslim women. And, we’re inviting you to share your stories with us
Our writers over at Mommying While Muslim
– Dr. Uzma Jafri and Zaiba Hasan – will be talking about raising unapologetically Muslim kids in post 9/11 America. And, we have other stories planned for you as well, like addressing anxiety around praying in public and best practices in keeping our unvaccinated children. Our fashion writer Hakeemah Cummings will be writing about how unapologetic, in-your-face jilbab fashion
is spilling out from the masjid into the streets.
There will be some lighthearted stuff as well (like how to coordinate a family photo shoot in the fall and the best places to go apple picking) – don’t you worry!
We pray that as our kids are back in school, everyone stays safe and keeps up their COVID protocols. We know life must go on, and our prayer continues to be for all of our protection, safety and happiness. As always, make good choices and always start with Bismillah! See you on the blog.