She was visibly shaken. Mrs. Braun, our second grade teacher, recounted the day President Kennedy was assassinated. "One day," she concluded, "time will stop for each of you, and history will never be the same." It was a late summer day in 1991.
On a late summer day 10 years later, Mrs. Braun's prophecy came true.
The day before it happened, I was a sophomore in college, an NCAA athlete and on an academic scholarship at a respected Christian university. My car proudly displayed a USMC bumper sticker, a gift from my brother who was, and is, a Marine. I could quote any line from the most American of shows, "The Simpsons," and an American flag headband tied back my long hair when I ran (which I still have -- the headband, not the hair). I was an American.
And then came that fateful late-summer day. Americans faced the horrifying reality of a hijacked nation. American-Muslims, in addition, faced the horrifying reality of a hijacked religion.
The day after it happened, I forgot what life was like before -- back when I was known as an American. Today, I was a "Paakistaani Moozlum." The bumper sticker and headband was a show. At airports I was the ideal candidate to randomly select for a search. "Driving while black" now became "driving while brown."
That blood is thicker than water was a theory on paper and, ironically, didn't hold much water anymore. American Muslims vigorously tried to wash their allegedly blood-stained hands. Self-proclaimed scholar bloggers, however, rose to fame and fortune on the baseless claim that hatred is in a Muslim's blood.
Between 9/11, two exhausting wars, domestic terrorism and extremist blogger-inspired terrorist Anders Breivik, more blood has been spilled than anyone could have imagined on Sept. 10, 2001.
And so, since 9/11, American-Muslims have remained on the defensive. "We condemn Nidal Malik Hasan," we'll say. "Islam demands loyalty; Faisal Shahzad doesn't speak for us," we'll insist. "Islam condemns terrorism, the Christmas Day underwear bomber is not who we are!" we'll repeat over and over again.
"Yeah? Then who speaks for you?! Do something about it!" comes the reply.
Enough of defense. This year, American-Muslims go on the offensive. Terrorists drew first blood a decade ago to take innocent life and hijack Islam. A decade later, American Muslims will draw first blood -- their own -- to save innocent life and take back Islam. This year, American-Muslims want your blood.
Enter Muslims for Life. This September, American-Muslims nationwide will transform their perceived blood-lust into their actual love of life. They will collect 10,000 blood donations to save 30,000 lives of their fellow Americans. And they invite you to join them in this true Jihad -- this true struggle.
The Muslims for Life campaign is a retort to every terrorist, every extremist blogger, and every would-be Breivik; it is a comfort for every person waiting for American-Muslims to take charge of their religion; it is an opportunity for every human being -- those of every faith and those of no faith -- to join forces against the elements of terrorism and bigotry and say with a resounding voice, "We will not let your hatred dictate our future!"
And we will not forget that Americans -- Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists -- worked together to build this nation. We will not forget that as a nation we overcame religious discrimination against Mormons, Catholics, Quakers and Jews, and we will overcome this challenge as well. Most of all, we will not forget that, as human beings, we all fundamentally want the same thing: peace. And to prove it, we will shed our blood -- together. To date, more than 230 blood drives from numerous Muslim, Christian and Jewish organizations are proving this point. Even Congress and the FBI are joining in on the Muslims for Life campaign with blood drives of their own.
Ten years later, a new blood emerges, one not looking to remain on the defensive -- but to take the offensive. One that makes the terrorists and the extremist bloggers blood run cold. This new generation demonstrates that love, not hatred -- life, not death -- runs through every sincere Muslim's veins.
We shall never forget the 3,000 who lost their lives on 9/11. Let us remember them, then, by saving 30,000 lives. And in saving life, let us make sure that history will never be the same.
This article originally appeared in the Virginian Pilot on Sept. 9, 2011.