Imagine waking up one day to learn a group of people–who share your religion–plotted terroristic attacks, killing thousands in the name of the God you worship.
Not many people outside of your family and close friends understand the basics of your faith, and now have painted you with the same brush as the men who carried out their mission on Sept. 11, 2001.
For Sarah Iftekhar, a 2001 graduate of West Morris Central, her life–and community–changed that day.
“There was a marked difference of perception after the attacks,” Iftekhar said. The now-Chicago resident was enrolled in Northwestern University in Illinois that day, but her parents and two younger siblings still resided in Long Valley.
Iftekhar considers herself and her family observant Muslims, and the children in her family have been spiritual from an early age. Iftekhar’s family is from Pakistan, and she still has many aunts and uncles in the South Asia country.
But the perception of the Muslim community after 9/11 was hard to understand, Iftekhar said. “We felt there was a bad perception of us,” she said. “People are looking for you to answer for another group of people that were just so foreign to us.”
While Iftekhar was in Chicago, which boasts a strong Muslim-American community, her family back in New Jersey was going through a different experience.
Iftekhar’s brother, Osman, a student at the time, received a phone call at home from a classmate and neighbor. The peer said, “Look at what your people did to us.”
The youngest of the family, Sarah’s sister Nadia, received similar treatment from a friend after the attacks. “She said to Nadia, ‘Why do you even care what happened? You’re not American anyway,’” Iftekhar said.
“At that age, kids are very open with their feelings,” Iftekhar said. “But there’s so much misinformation out there and a lot of misunderstanding. When I say I’m Muslim now, there’s a lot attached to it.”
Reading or watching the news became seldom, at most, after the attacks. “We didn’t expose ourselves to the criticism that was out there, and we really shied away from the 9/11 stuff,” Iftekhar said.
A sigh of relief
Nearly nine years and seven months later, the mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, was on May 1, 2011.
“It was an interesting set of emotions,” Iftekhar said when she first heard the news of bin Laden’s capture. “There was relief–it felt like this chapter in history was now over. It was a sigh of relief for the Muslim community, but on a human level, it’s difficult to celebrate anyone’s death.”
Iftekhar said the community around her shared those sentiments, but that there was no rejoicing in the killing of another person.
The positive political activism on behalf of the Muslim-American community was a major factor in the community regaining a better outside perception, Iftekhar said.
While the last decade has been one of personal growth and happiness for Iftekhar, a wife and mother who recently enrolled in law school, it’s had plenty of rough stretches for her and the community she is part of.
But now, a decade later and two wars lived through born from those attacks, she feels the Muslim-American community can move forward, and hopes that her children won’t have to be subjected to the same in their lifetime.