The devastating attacks of 9/11 had a profound impact on the spiritual lives of Americans. Aside from the brief bump in church attendance, the memory of lost lives, heroism and the role religious extremism played in the attacks has forced Americans of all religious backgrounds to reflect on their own beliefs and religious commitments.
We asked our community and bloggers to offer brief reflections on how their religious beliefs have changed in the past 11 years. The range of responses represents the diversity of America, but they are united by the common cause of working together so that the tragedy of 9/11 may never happen again.
If you would like to submit your own 100 word essay on how your religion has changed since 9/11 please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will consider it for inclusion in the slideshow.
Rasanath Dasa, Hindu Monk
The unfortunate incident of the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 made me painfully aware of two facts – the potential for heinous acts that existed in the human heart, including my own, and the fragility of our “sophisticated” civilization. In both cases, I recognized for the first time, my own vulnerability and the desperate need for God’s grace and protection to help me act only from a place of love so that I can make the most use of my unpredictable existence in this material world. It completely shifted my mood of prayer and my personal relationship with God.
Frank Fredericks, Interfaith Activist
Growing up outside of Portland, it seems like everything I learned at church was about my relationship with God. It was <em>my</em> salvation, <em>my</em> walk, <em>my</em> testimony. The only place others fit into my faith was in proselytizing, condensing my faith into a 8-page track in hopes of converting someone for Jesus points. It always felt awkward. 9/11 shook our community, even though we were 3,000 miles away. Initially, it seemed healthy that as Americans we recognized our shared destiny for the first time. But our fear of other <em>Other</em>, Muslims, revealed how we let fear take over. So after 9/11, my faith inspired me to stand up for those from other faith traditions.
Valarie Kaur, Director, Groundswell
I grieved as an American on Sept 11, 2001. I grieved as a Sikh when my family’s brown skin and turbans became targets for hate in the aftermath. For many organizing is a choice; for some it’s a matter of life or death. My faith showed me how to fight. The Sikh ideal is the warrior-saint: one who walks the earth devoted to the Divine and committed to fighting injustice. I picked up a film camera and law degree as my modern-day sword and shield. I learned how to wield storytelling and advocacy to help fight not just for my own people – but Muslim Americans, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ people and all still struggling to live with dignity in caring and safe communities. Eleven years later, some say not much has changed. The horrific massacre of Sikhs in Wisconsin is perhaps the largest racially-motivated mass shooting in recent U.S. history. But something has changed: a groundswell of people held hundreds of vigils and sent thousands of letters. One cannot fight a battle alone, and we are not alone anymore. On this 9/11 anniversary – when hate groups are on the rise, guns are easily accessible, and political rhetoric hateful – I pray that we pause in the thick of election season and renew our commitment to fight for a world where all people live, work, and worship without fear.
Qasim Rashid, Ahmadi Muslim Writer
As I learned to cope with the pain of 9/11, I recognized the need for education and cooperation to counter the growing ignorance and distrust of Islam. I was not sure where to begin. But a year later, a colleague re-launched the Muslim Writers Guild of America (<a href="www.muslimwriters.org">www.muslimwriters.org</a>). Muslim Writers served to dispel myths about Islam and Prophet Muhammad, extending new opportunities to learn about Islam in a neutral public forum. Since 2002, we have published nearly 1000 letters, op eds, and scholarly journals to champion religious freedom, mankind's equality, and Islam and Prophet Muhammad's true examples of peace. But in addition to talking the talk, 9/11 motivated us to more passionately walk the walk. In 2011 we launched Muslims for Life—a nationwide blood drive to honor 9/11 victims (<a href="www.muslimsforlife.org">www.muslimsforlife.org</a>). We coordinated 260 blood drives and raised over 12,000 blood donations, potentially saving over 36,000 lives. This year we have coordinated 340 blood drives with hopes to break last year’s blood donation record. The 9/11 terrorists spread fear and took innocent life. As a Muslim, I see my life purpose to spread peace and understanding through the pen, and to save life — even by shedding my own blood.
Rabbi Or Rose, Jewish Scholar
The horrific events of 9/11 and the backlash against Muslims in this country (and those mistakenly identified as Muslims) motivated me to intensify my engagement in interfaith dialogue. I wanted to participate in the development of a counter-movement that challenged the dangerous "us vs. them" mentality of the terrorists and, ironically, of those who viewed all Muslims as a threat to the safety of our nation. In the Jewish calendar, this is a time of intensive personal and communal introspection. As we prepare for the High Holy Days, I pray that the leaders and citizens of this great country work together to create a more secure and inclusive society, minimizing the threat of terror and hated, encouraging cooperation and goodwill across lines of difference.
Dr. Deepak Sarma, Hindu Scholar
After 9/11 my relationship with Hinduism did not change but my relationship with other traditions certainly did. It became clear that this particular set of theological squabbles that led to 9/11 did and does not involve Hindus or Hinduism. After all, the intra-religious complexity that I witnessed on that terrible day was, is, and continues to be an Abrahamic one and not a Hindu complexity. "Hinduism" (though "Hinduism's" purported genesis is not without controversy) is a different system altogether that does not consider Abraham or anyone else to be a founding patriarch. Hindus such as myself are merely watching from the sidelines. We are <em>sakshis</em>, witnesses, (or are we voyeurs, or rubberneckers?) of a 2000-year-old (epic, antediluvian, hoary, futile) theological battle between members of the Abrahamic <em>parampara</em> (lineage). As spectators we have been neutral at some times, and biased at others --when it is convenient or strategic. Of course, sideline-spectators can sometimes be killed when they inadvertently or reluctantly become participants. Hindus ought to be very careful not to be induced to stand closer to the field of play. After all, it is not in our <em>dharma-kshetre</em> (field of dharma).
Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life at USC
Growing up, I was shaped and nurtured by the pluralistic wisdom of the <em>Rig Veda</em>, Hinduism’s most ancient sacred text, which states: “Truth is one but the wise call it by many names.” This passage inspired me to study, experience, and appreciate the world’s great religions. After 9/11, I realized that religious pluralism is not a luxury but a necessity, and that I needed to translate theory into action and scholarship into practice. Accordingly, since 9/11, I’ve aspired to bring together the spiritual and the scholarly in my life by promoting and facilitating interfaith engagement, multifaith literacy, and religious reconciliation. I now understand the pluralistic wisdom of the <em>Rig Veda</em> as both descriptive and prescriptive.
Harsha Sharma, Interfaith Activist
As a Hindu, the events of 9/11 have had a profound impact on the way that I engage with those of different faiths and view interfaith action. For me, it has been a wake-up call to the responsibilities that faith communities have to collectively counter the divisive narrative of extremism. Together we are a stronger force for good and together our voices of tolerance will drown out those of the intolerant. Eleven years on from the atrocities of Sept. 11 2001– I seek comfort in the flourishing and powerful interfaith movement we see today, worldwide.
Simran Jeet Singh, Sikh Scholar and Activist
9/11 forced many of us to ask the basic question: how could a loving and powerful God allow such suffering? I began studying the Sikh worldview, which led me to deeply appreciate its unique perspective on calamities and pain. I learned two major lessons. First, Sikhi understands suffering as a mental construct. One who is spiritually connected with the Divine does not suffer, whereas one who is disconnected suffers constantly. Sikhs characterize connectedness as seeing divinity in all aspects, and this vision translates into a sense of perpetual optimism (<em>chardi kala</em>). Second, while the Sikh tradition frames suffering as a condition that humans can transcend, it does not suggest that the resulting pain is illusory. Rather, Sikhi understands suffering to be a basic reality of human life and calls upon people of all faiths to help eradicate injustice and violence through social justice. These two aspects – constant remembrance of the divine and social justice – encapsulate the basic approach of the Sikh tradition. Sikhs are called upon to work earnestly, give freely, and constantly remember the divine.
Joshua Stanton, Jewish Interfaith Activist
On Sept. 11, 2001, I found myself emotionally disconnected, probably in something of a state of shock. I could not comprehend the events and was doing everything I could to avoid feeling the profundity of the situation -- in all of its shades of pain. In the middle of the afternoon, when sitting and reading in my room, I found myself swept up by the need to pray. While my eyes stayed dry, my heart poured forth its grief inside. In those sacred moments of prayerful pain, I not only reconnected with myself and the world around me, but also discovered the meaning that I find in prayer. Sometimes it is not our minds but our hearts that need to be activated. The prayer practice that I have since developed uses as a point of reference those moments of solitude amid such chaos and national tragedy.
Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder
On 9/11 I was living in Maplewood NJ, in viewing distance of the Twin Towers. That day as we watched the smoke rise and listened to the stories of those who returned home, we thought we understood. The real meaning set in the next day when we found out that a one-year-old in my daughter's day care had been left motherless because of the attack. I had been thinking about becoming a rabbi for a long time, but still in my 30s always assumed that there would be time. Now I felt the immediacy. There was no way to take away the pain of the loss from 9/11 but there was a role for clergy in being there with those who were experiencing the loss. Soon after I sent my application in to the seminary and the following year I began my studies that set me on my current path. September 11 was about religion used as a tool of destruction and exclusion, my rabbinate is dedicated to inclusion and community building.
Before 9/11, I was in a spiritual and religious fog. Like many LGBT people who grew up in religious households, I was angry with God for showing me the wonders of faith as a child, only to yank these away from me as I matured into adulthood and discovered my sexuality. For me, 9/11 brought clarity and a re-dedication to faith. As I looked for a place to grieve the horrible events and confront the meaning of religious extremism that I witnessed first-hand, I discovered the Episcopal Church. The Church offered me a place to grieve and be comforted and welcomed me as a gay man with open arms. Awakened to the notion that God loves me unconditionally, I rediscovered the simple and pure essence of Christianity: We are instructed to our fellow human beings unconditionally as well. This radical notion of unconditional love has transformed my life.
Craig Considine, Ph.D Candidate In Sociology
The events of 9/11 triggered my curiosity in Islam, a religion which I knew nothing about, and allowed me to learn that Islam explicitly rejects the killing of civilians and declares that there is no compulsion in religion. Because of 9/11, I learned that Islam holds a special place for Jesus Christ in the Qur'an and recognizes Moses as one of the greatest prophets of the Abrahamic tradition. Because of 9/11, I learned that Islam has its own wise Prophet (Muhammad), who stated in a <em>hadith</em> that 'the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr', which clearly stresses the importance of <em>ilm</em> (knowledge) over the use of physical violence. Ultimately, 9/11 taught me that it's unjust to judge a religious community based on the activities of its minority and that Islam has much to offer American society, if only Americans learn more about it.
Aden Dur-e-Aden, University of British Columbia Student
Every year on 9/11, I dread going to college. It is because I can tell beforehand what we are going to discuss in our political science class, the arguments that would be given by non-Muslims against Islamic fundamentalism and then the defenses of Muslim students in response. When I saw the twin towers crashing down on the screens of CNN at my home in Pakistan millions of miles away from the actual site, I never thought that this was about religion. I have lived for the majority of my life in a country with millions of other Muslims and never for once felt that we were all barbaric, savages, terrorists who hated the modern, civilized world. However, as the discourse of almost every major political event after that became more and more related to religion, specifically about Islam and its “moderate” vs. “extreme” elements, I was left in confusion as to how come such simple discourse is seen as enough to explain complex problems that have affected and continue to affect the lives of millions of people living worldwide, from US to Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sept. 11 didn’t change my perspective on religion, but it changed my perspective on people, who I thought would be much more critical before forming opinions based on simplistic spurious facts. They proved me wrong.
Ulrica Hume, Author
After Sept. 11, I questioned everything: myself, and what I believed. As a writer, I became intrigued by the idea of “the other”—someone whose ways and beliefs are different than my own. I began to research different faiths. There was much that I assumed, or thought I knew; I wanted to open my view and look beyond a religion’s façade. What I found was common ground. Prayer is of a similar substance when stripped of dogma. And a mystic is no more immune from doubt than an atheist. Still, we turn from the mirror of the other with misunderstanding and a lack of compassion. The inhabitants of this world carry grudges centuries old, and sometimes it seems that no change is possible. But of course it is.
Saud Inam, Anti-Islamophobia Activist
9/11 for me initially made me realize just how little I knew about my own faith. It forced me to go back and educate myself about my own faith and allowed me to explain it to others. Previously I had not been involved in very much interfaith dialogue, but after the events on 9/11 occurred it made me realize just how important interfaith dialogue was to remove misunderstanding and misinformation about Islam and Muslims as well as the importance of building bridges of understanding and tolerance.
Sept. 11 was the first day in my life that I felt “Muslim.” I was no longer simply an American. I wasn’t a 6th grader, a starting point guard, or even an honors student. I wasn’t even “Hammad” anymore. On that day, I became who they talked about on TV, who they said was responsible for the attacks, who everyone was angry at. I became different. Throughout the last 11 years, my being Muslim has meant that I have lived under a different set of civil rights, that I have dealt with funny looks and discomforting remarks too many times, that I have been asked to apologize on behalf of 1.7 billion Muslims because of the decisions of only a handful of deranged men as a matter of routine. But it has also meant that I have had complete strangers walk up to me and tell me that they appreciate and respect my faith. It has meant that I have had the opportunity to work with countless religious, political, and social organizations to do everything from interfaith dinners to making lunches for the homeless. It has meant that I have had people I would never expect stand up for me, speak out for me, and defend me in a way that will leave me forever in their gratitude. Since that tragic day over a decade ago, I have grown to be more proud of my identity not only as an American but as an American-Muslim. Looking forward, I see an American-Muslim community poised to contribute to the quilted fabric that is America. I see a community ready to take back the reins of our narrative from the hands of terrorism and propaganda. I see a community committed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I accept that many people are naturally disposed to becoming "religious", and indeed, there is some evidence that this is in fact the case. I also accept that religious belief is comforting to people in ways that I do not fully understand, and thus has a positive, helpful, or therapeutic role for them. This is probably a good thing. But as a skeptic (read: atheist), it is hard for me to see the events of 9/11 in any way that does not further detract from my already low opinion of religion. Having said that, I don't think it's fair to condemn all of religion -- no matter how much I may disagree with it -- based on the acts of a small group of religious fanatics who were not, I suspect, acting solely and entirely on religious motives. My opinion didn't change: I still don't have any need for religion.
Michael A. Mowatt Jr., Atheist
Watching people killed by the thousands for a concept which they deem unquestionable (questioning the concept being punishable by death) -- I sat on my ex-girlfriend's bed, fighting to comprehend why a god would allow others to act this way in Its name. Which loving parent/guardian would sit by, watching as their children clawed at each other's throats in their name? "Mommy loves me best; die!" I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why can't they see that any parent who would watch their children kill each other would never be worthy of love, nor worship?" Sept. 11, and the multitude of incredible illogical events which it spawned, made attempting to understand the nature of irrational beliefs very important to me. Now, I seek to confront, and rid myself of as much irrationality as I may come across within my thinking.
I watched the television in shock as the second tower tumbled down on 9/11. Minutes later I walked over to the campus Multicultural Students Center where I waited with others as news trickled in. "Allah please don’t let the hijackers be Muslims," I prayed silently. No joy. They were Muslims! I was scared. My dorm in Maine was a few kilometers away from the hotel where two of the hijackers spent the night before the attack. Things could not get any worse. I was wrong. A Sikh was shot dead four days later in Arizona, and Muslims and mosques were attacked. I was frightened to walk off-campus days after 9/11, and always took the university shuttle bus to class. Today, 11 years later, Sikhs were shot dead in Wisconsin last month while worshiping, and Muslims and mosques are still attacked, but I’m not afraid. I’m defiant.
Sept. 11, 2001: I was sitting at my family's dinner table working through some school assignments when my older brother came ripping through the door, "Guys! Come quick!" My family then sat there in terror staring at the television set as the great tragedy unfolded. Silence and disbelief filled the room as we watched the second plane strike in a billow of flame and smoke. This tragedy was taking place just three hours away from my home in our beloved United States of America. I had to make a choice that day; let my heart freeze over and harden like the cold act of terrorism that had taken place in the name of Allah. Or, choose to have faith in God and believe that He is sovereign over all things. I chose his sovereignty that day and everyday. And I choose to worship the One true God, Christ Jesus.
The Sunday after 9/11 we went to our church, believing that in that fellowship we would find the way to process the grief of that day. Instead we were confronted with vengeful diatribes from the pulpit about the evil “other” who had dared to invade our country. There was no processing of grief, no remembrance of those fallen victim and certainly no reflection of why it was done. Our church’s response to 9/11 forced us to look deeper into our faith, beyond the civil religion expressed that day—the unholy marriage between nationalism and the way of Jesus—and to pursue the depths of Jesus’ words about loving your enemies and everything that might mean. We were forced to confront that in a way we had never had to in the past. Ultimately, 9/11 changed our religion and created new radicals of us, not of hate, but of love.
Rev. Daniel Storrs
The tragedy of Sept. 11 came only five days before my 18th birthday and would ultimately be much more of a defining moment than I ever could have imagined as tears and confusion crept in. Coming from a fundamentalist Christian background it took little time for the debate to arise within: was this God’s doing or "divine allowing" for the "sins" of our nation? Ironically, I would be ordained five days later to a conservative Christian ministry and spend the next 10 years battling within myself the idea of a God who would condone destruction, death and hatred. Thankfully 11 years later I have left that world of confusion behind in order to truly embrace and minister to all the words of Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself. I now serve a God who is the source of all love and in whom all those who lost their lives now find repose.
Reem Al-Harmi, Qatari Columnist
I was 15 when 9/11 happened and saw the breaking news on Al Jazeera. I was in Qatar then. Later I came to the US for college and every time I went to the airport for "random checks," I remembered the 9/11 attacks because I felt my religion was hijacked by a few terrorists. Despite the Islamophobic sentiment in the US, as a hijab-wearing woman, I had to represent my faith. It wasn't easy because people stared at me, but that didn't let me down. I became involved in interfaith dialogue. If we don't dialogue, we will never understand other people's faiths or our own.
Before 9/11, I knew little about Islam, and even less about Al Qaeda. Armed only with a Masters in International Relations and a love of travel and politics, I found myself, like so many, suddenly working on the 'war on terror." After 9/11, I found myself on a black hawk flying in to Baghdad for an 18 month stint. Then in to Afghanistan for another year. Despite the horror of both wars, the kindness of both Iraqis and Afghans has remained with me. Despite all our religious and other differences, we are humans. Humanity trumps religion. 9/11 led me on a journey that changed the course of my life. And opened my heart and mind to all the ways of being in our world. Now, when I visit New York City and the site of the World Trade Centre, my tears fall for all we have lost and for the hope of what we can now gain.
After 9/11, my religion changed. Literally. I had been the agnostic sister of a convert to Islam. I didn’t have a great opinion of the religion; it offended my feminism. But I loved my Muslim brother, and I wanted to defend him when Muslims were maligned because he was one of the best people I had ever known. I learned that there were many iterations of Islam, some legitimate, some (like terrorism) not. Eventually, Islam was not just something I could tolerate; I fell in love with it. I became a Muslim in 2005, and remain an interfaith activist-Muslim today.
Rev. David Wilson Rogers
On the first Sunday after the 9/11 attacks I stood in the pulpit and proclaimed, “Nothing in the Quran justifies this horrific assault on humanity.” As a devoted Christian pastor I wanted to believe that statement was true but later had to admit that I really did not know a thing about the Muslim religion. Consequently, as a result of 9/11 I purchased an English version of the Quran and began to study it. This led me to understand the beauty of Islam rather than fear its distortions by a few. My Christian faith in God profoundly transformed for the good!
On the morning of 9/11 I was a Lutheran pastor. I am no longer a pastor or religious. The idea that humans are naturally bent to doing wrong seems affirmed in the acts of 9/11. I find that it rather led us to 9/11. The belief that the good is only accessible in the right religion divides and blocks us from one another. Humans are good. Within us is the capacity to make choices that create good for ourselves and others. There is no need to divide, we all have it and when we affirm it we change the world.
Gregg Deehan, Seminary Student
The attacks of 9/11 didn't change my faith. The response to 9/11 deepened it. Many proclaimed the world to be irreconcilably divided between East and West in the wake of 9/11. Five years later, though, I found myself on civilization's fault line, working at an American university in Doha, Qatar. On 9/11, my Qatari students held a simple, impromptu moment of silence to show solidarity with the American staff, explaining "we'd want someone to do the same if it happened to us." At a time when Americans thought "they hate us," the "they" were embracing the golden rule. Their daily hospitality made me into a better Christian.
Rev. Jim Strader, Episcopal Priest
I celebrated my 44th birthday on 9/11/01 as a seminarian in Boston. We learned of the attacks from workmen who were rebuilding the chapel's roof as the aircraft were hitting the WTC. That visual metaphor is my vocational icon as an Episcopal Priest. God beckons us, especially during times of crisis to re-construct the sacred spaces of humanity's lives. Our neighborhoods extend beyond our divinity schools and parishes. Therefore, religious leaders must especially labor to connect with one another across inter-faith boundaries. We need to construct faithful beams that spiritually bind us to another. We must collaborate upon the implementation of concrete ideas to transform religious communities into sanctuaries of compassion, justice, and wisdom. I believe that Jesus the Christ offers us this Gospel work to accomplish.