9/11 Anniversary: Muslim Americans reflect on life after attacks

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ByWill Jones via WLS logo
Thursday, September 9, 2021
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September 11, 2001 was a defining moment for Muslim Americans, and forever changed their lives in the years after.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Salman Azam grew up in Staten Island in New York City. He said 9/11 was a defining moment in his life.

"I went to funerals for friends' parents who worked in the World Trade Center or who were firefighters or police officers, it was a very emotional time," he recalled.

Not only as an American but also as a Muslim.

"I walked outside the mosque one day. And I remember a truck driving by telling me 'go back to where you came from.' And I'm thinking to myself I was born in Brooklyn. I'm just as American as anyone of you," Azam said.

Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent in America also faced racial profiling by law enforcement. Rana Jaber said at times she felt singled out at airports.

"I used to always get patted down. Oh you were randomly selected. I would be always randomly selected while I'm waiting to get on the plane," she said.

An ABC News review of FBI hate crime data from the past two decades found that the number of anti-Muslims incidents spiked nationwide following September 11, and they have never returned to pre-2001 levels.

Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR-Chicago, believes there has been some progress in raising awareness about Islamophobia since 9/11.

"Your average everyday Muslim is no different than any other citizen, someone who is working to put food on the table for their children," he said.

Rehab said Muslims are often unfairly held responsible for the actions of a few.

"When it comes to Muslims, there was still that understanding that ordinary Muslims are an extension of that aberrational bizarre behavior that none of us can relate to or even understand. That is a double standard. I think we are beginning to understand that double standard exists," he said.

Azam said many Muslim Americans lost their lives on 9/11 and many helped in the city's recovery, including his dad.

"One of the things I am most proud of is that my father, who was also an engineer, who works for the City of New York, was part of the rebuilding of the subway stations under the World Trade Center," he said.

Azam, who is now an executive board member of the Downtown Islamic Center, said representation is key. That's why he hopes more Muslim Americans run for elected office and win to make sure they have a say in public policy.