91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
Muslim-American Teens
Proud to Be Part of U.S.
By Karen Fanning

Aziza Hussain with friends in her backyard in Boston, Massachusettes. ( Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/2002 Boston Globe)

Just two days after the terrorist attacks on America, Mehdi Alhassani drove to his mosque in Wayland, Massachusetts, for a service. His stomach sank when he saw a police car parked outside. But as he grew nearer, his fears quickly disappeared.

"There was a church group holding candles outside the mosque," says the 18-year-old. "I was really struck by that. We all went inside and had a discussion. It was very moving."

Although Muslims were the target of suspicious stares, threats, and even beatings in the days following September 11, teens like Mehdi and Satnaam Mago insist that the positive experiences have outweighed the negative ones.

"Right after September 11, American people were understandably shocked," says 18-year-old Satnaam of Bartlett, Illinois. "They just wanted to lash out. They were acting first and thinking later. Now, they are thinking about their actions."

In fact, many Americans have taken action to learn more about the religion of Islam, a gesture that has comforted many Muslim teens.

"There have been so many non-Muslims who have come to the mosques to learn more, to educate themselves to try to stop the ignorance," says Aziza Hussain, a junior at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Massachusetts. "We've done a lot of interfaith events. We talk about the basics of the religion and how Islam calls for peace, tolerance, and justice."

In the wake of September 11, Aziza founded Illuminations, a magazine for young Muslims. Each issue tackles a different theme, from Ramadan to leadership to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The magazine, which is published four times a year, features articles, poems, and stories written by teens.

"After September 11, I wasn't really sure of who I was," says Aziza. "People were telling me I wasn't American. It was considered bad to be a Muslim. I knew I wasn't the only one feeling that way, so I wanted to do something for others who felt that way. I wanted young Muslims to be comfortable with who they are."

Yet, venturing out to unfamiliar places can still be an uneasy experience, despite the fact that nearly a year has passed since the terrorist attacks.

"I wear a scarf," says Cymyrrah Mohammed, a senior at Belmont High School in Belmont, Massachusetts. "I wear teenage clothing, but it's all long sleeves and baggy. When I go to cities where I don't know people, some people stop and take a second look. Some people feel very uncomfortable."

Because teens like Cymyrrah do face unique challenges as young Muslims, 17-year-old Azum Ali helped organize a conference in June. Held at Harvard University, the event attracted 120 Muslim teens from across Massachusetts. During discussions, they spoke openly about current events, spirituality, and the future of Islam in America.

"We heard a lot of kids come out with stories about how the speakers made them feel good about being Muslims and inspired them," says Azum.

As he reflects on the tragic events of a year ago, Mehdi says he is inspired by the unity and compassion Americans demonstrated in the days, weeks, and months following September 11.

"The whole country came together," he says. "Everyone mourned together. Everyone realized that petty differences don't really mean anything. That was the thing I was most proud of to be an American."