Faith Becomes More Public for Muslims After 9/11
Muslims now called upon to be experts and ambassadors in the community.
This story is part of a Patch series examining the Muslim experience 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Read other stories in the series here.
When Rizwan Kadir would leave his downtown office during lunch on Fridays to pray at a nearby mosque, he told very few coworkers where he was going. He wasn’t deliberatively secretive about his Muslim faith with his fellow investment bankers. He just considered religion a private issue.
That was before September 11.
In the 10 years since the attacks, Kadir and other area Muslims have been compelled to go from quietly practicing their faith to becoming public ambassadors of Islam, giving presentations to religious, educational and civic groups in the area.
“We Muslims came out of our comfort zones, our cocoons if you will, after Sept. 11,” said Kadir, who lives in Glenview and worships in Morton Grove.
He was first asked to speak to non-Muslims within a couple months of the attacks, he said, and requests have continued since then, spiking during anniversaries of the event.
Although Kadir warns fellow Muslims that outreach is a timely volunteer project that requires an end to Sunday golf games, it’s a job he’s committed to doing.
“I felt we had to play a role,” post-Sept. 11, he said. “I would rather it be us than someone else defining our role.”
'You, God and your community'
Habeeb Quadri, the principal at Morton Grove’s MCC Full Time School, said he’s delivered at least 100 presentations on Islam to schools across the country. His school has also hosted visitors curious about Muslim education.
The experience has changed the way he views his religion.
“Your faith is not just you and God,” he said. “It’s become you, God and your community.”
It’s a reality he hopes to impart upon his students. While the school has always fostered volunteerism and community involvement, they’re doing more now. Eighth graders give sermons to younger students, in part to teach them to be good public speakers on Islam.
One of the people who asked Quadri to speak about Islam was Gary Zabilka, superintendent of Park View School.
Zabilka and the other 10 superintendents in Niles Township get together once a month to discuss district business. Six years ago, they acknowledged that they didn’t know enough about Muslims, who are a steadily growing group in their schools.
“Many of us, even though we’re educated people, didn’t fully understand the Muslim faith,” he said.
Zabilka knew Quadri to be an engaging, down-to-earth speaker, and asked invited him to talk to the group. The superintendents gained a better understanding of Islam, which has trickled down to staff and students, he said. For example, Park View now has a room where Muslim students who are fasting during Ramadan can sit during lunch so they don’t have to watch their classmates enjoying hamburgers and pizza.
“It made all of the administration aware that [Muslims] too are just trying to practice their beliefs, which in this country is something that we should embrace and celebrate,” Zabilka said.
That is exactly the message Quadri hopes his talks impart.
“It’s not about you just practicing your religion,” he said of Muslims post-Sept. 11. “It’s about you explaining it to others.”
More similar than different
Both Quadri and Kadir compare what American Muslims are experiencing to what other ethnic and immigrant groups have gone through. Like African Americans, Japanese Americans or Jews, American Muslims are now in the position of showing their neighbors and coworkers that they’re more similar than they are different.
“It’s our turn,” Quadri said.
Kadir points out how young the Muslim community is in the U.S., with the bulk of immigrants coming in the past 20-30 years. Kadir himself immigrated from Pakistan to attend Northwestern University. Quadri is a second generation American.
“Some of this would have happened naturally, like other ethnic groups,” Kadir said of forging dialogues and partnerships across religious and ethnic lines.
Indeed, Kadir was part of an interfaith dialogue with Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston that began a few months before Sept. 11.
Gordon Zerkel, an elder in the church, helped found the group because church members wanted to learn more about Islam and Muslim-Americans.
“To ignore this fast growing community would be foolish,” he said. “When 9/11 happened, it seemed all the more urgent.”
Zerkel, who became friends with Kadir, invited him to speak at the church Sept. 25 about what it’s been like to be Muslim in America during the past 10 years.
“I think it’s important that the folks in the pews know that it has not been a bed of roses for Muslims,” Zerkel said.
For his part, Kadir will continue to take his PowerPoint presentation on the road, explaining that the Muslims who attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon do not represent his faith as a whole. But he’s eager for a time when people are more interested in discussing the service projects his children are doing at their Muslim school than suicide bombers in the Middle East.
“I hope and pray over time we won’t have to talk about this,” he said.