National Geographic News
A year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Nationalgeographic.com sat down with a group of young Muslim students at the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg to discuss how their lives have been affected in the past year. The students, ages 14 to 17, attend Sunday school and receive religious instruction at the center; most of them attend public schools in the area. The three female students in the group wear traditional Islamic dress (hijab).
NG: Where were you last September 11, and what was your reaction to the terrorist attacks that day?
Nasir: I was in school and I just didn't believe it. It didn't sound real to me until I saw it on TV.
Wali: I was also at school. When they first announced it over the PA system I did not think it was that big of a thing. Then, as they kept explaining what was happening it got bigger and bigger. When I got home and saw it on TV, then I really realized what a big event it was.
In the beginning there was a lot of speculation about what happened. When it was reported that it was Muslims who had hijacked the planes, what were your feelings?
Wali: It was really, "I just hope it's not Muslims who did this," because it was, like, Muslims were kind of already in trouble and I did not want to get in more trouble.
Fasiha: I remember them announcing on the PA system, around 10:00, that two planes had crashed into the twin towers and it didn't occur to me that it was terrorism at the time. The overlying feeling, what stopped me from totally immersing myself in the sadness of it, was the feeling that "There is going to be a backlash." I just knew right away that there would be a backlash and that made me angry because it didn't allow me to feel sad. It was as if I was them, and you can't feel as sorry when you feel like you are under attack yourself.
Sherene: I was in my world studies class. A teacher came into our room, one of those teachers who like to joke around. He told us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and everybody knew it was a jokewe never took it seriously because he's that kind of teacher. But then, our principal came on the PA and told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center and a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then we took it seriously and just sat and watched it on TV.
Aysha: I had stayed home from school because I was sick, so I watched it on TV. The next day when I went to school, a lot of people were kind of staying away from me because they knew I was absent on the 11th. They were kind of, like "OK, where was she?" That just kind of reminds you that there are a lot of ignorant people out there.
Fasiha: Yeah, I remember sitting in a class and one kid saying "It's probably Iraqis, let's go bomb Iraq." Then they looked at me and asked, "Are you Iraqi?" I said, "No, I'm from Bangladesh" and they were, like, "Oh, OK," as if that was any better.