Muslims Serve Detroit on the 9th Anniversary of 9/11

September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sarah Youssef doing weed work at Piquette Square.

On Saturday morning, the ninth anniversary of September 11th, Muslim Americans from across Metro Detroit gathered at Clark Park in Detroit. They were there to participate in “A-Ok Detroit: A weekend of restoration and remembrance”, a day of service in commemoration of 9/11 that was organized by state and local non-profit groups.

“Eid Mubarak. [Blessed Holiday.]” They greeted one another with hugs and kisses on the cheek. The night before, they had just celebrated the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid with friends and family, officially breaking 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting.

This year, Eid overlapped with the anniversary of 9/11, making the day particularly significant for Muslim Americans.

Rev. Barbara Clevenger and Iman Muhammad Mardini lead the opening prayer at "A-Ok Detroit" on the 9th anniversary of 9/11.

Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim woman to win a seat in the Michigan legislature, said that both 9/11 and Eid emphasize personal reflection, and that doing community service is a great way to pay respects to both occasions.

But this year, Eid and September 11th also come at a time when the American media is heavily focusing on “Islamophobia”, and when discussions of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero have sparked hateful rhetoric. According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post, approximately half of all Americans hold an unfavorable view toward Islam.

This surprises Christina Rountree, a Muslim American who joined a crew of volunteers who helped clean up Piquette Square, Michigan’s largest shelter for homeless veterans. “I’m frustrated,” Rountree said referring to the recent negative publicity Muslims have received, “but I’m not angry.”

She says anger can get tiring. As a young African American woman, and flight attendant, Rountree has been a target of discrimination not only for her religious faith.

Rountree says her personal philosophy is to “just do it”—to spend less time talking about the problems, and more time doing something about it. It’s this type of attitude that brought her out on a Saturday morning to help clean-up her city.

Volunteering beside Rountree was Imam Aly Lela of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD). “[Volunteering] is how [members of IAGD] chose to celebrate Eid, and commemorate September 11th,” he said, “9/11 happened to all of us as Americans. Instead of using this day to point fingers, we need to be more united.”

Sarah Youssef, a Muslim American who also came out to participate in “A-ok Detroit”, recalls where she was on 9/11. “When the plane hit the first tower, I was in high school in a classroom without a television.” While walking to her next class, still unaware of the terrorist attack, Youssef saw her friend get shoved against a locker and called “a fucking terrorist” by another student. She didn’t understand why until she arrived to her next class, where her teacher had the television on.

On that day, Youssef, along with many of her Muslim classmates, were pulled out of school early by their parents because of concerns for their safety. This confused and angered her. “I felt like I had nothing to hide. I did nothing wrong. I am an American. I was born and raised here. This is my country too.”

Since 9/11, Muslim Americans have experienced increased discrimination and profiling by the media and the public. But for so many Muslim Americans, life simply goes on.

Rountree makes a conscientious effort not to live her life on the defensive. Following 9/11, a friend asked her whether she is going to lead her life just talking about what Islam isn’t, or whether she is going to lead her life living out what Islam is. “That question really impacted me,” Rountree said.

Muslim American Zenobia Lee also volunteered at “A-ok Detroit”. When asked why, she said, “Because I care about my community.” It’s not because it’s Ramadan or the anniversary of September 11th, Lee says, service work is an essential part of her Islamic faith and lifestyle.

Muslim Americans who did community service on the 9th anniversary of 9/11 didn’t do so to make a political statement. It was not a publicity stunt to get positive attention at a time when the media is so focused on the issue of Islamophobia. They participated in acts of service because that’s what they did before 9/11, and that’s what they will continue to do as concerned citizens.

After a day of weeding outside Piquette Square, Imam Lela will return home to celebrate Eid with his wife and three daughters. He will return to Clark Park early the next morning for another day of community service.

Iman Aly Lela of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit stands in front of flags half raised at Piquette Square.

Sarah Youssef and Christina Rountree

Taking a break from weeding

Taking a break from weeding.

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