I tried talking with my father today about the 9/11 attacks. There have been some wonderful specials on TV recently, and as I tried to relate these to him on a level his Alzheimer’s might allow, I realized he didn’t remember the attacks on America at all. But he was alarmed to think that our defenses had been compromised and innocent lives lost, so he asked me to tell him what happened.
For the next 15 minutes, I did my best to describe the attacks as I saw them unfold on the news 10 years ago. The twin towers collapsing. Parts of the Pentagon destroyed. A field in Pennsylvania ablaze. It tore my insides to remember these images, and retell them to my Dad as vividly as his inquiries demanded.
My father was very concerned over what I told him, as if it had just happened. Suddenly I felt sad for the hundreds of families who certainly were reliving that event today, but unlike my dad – who has likely forgotten our conversation by now – these families will keep on remembering. Perhaps what they will remember most is the hatred spewed at Americans in the name of Islam. And because of that one event, many Americans’ view of Muslims has forever been tarnished.
I must confess I fell into that camp initially. I vividly remember walking into a Red Cross blood bank shortly after 9/11, and walking out again when I saw a family of Muslims waiting in the lobby to donate blood. The fact that they were there should have been a sign to me of their love for America, but I wasn’t receptive to that at the moment. I was still plenty angry.
My anger and fear grew over the ensuing months, as Americans learned more about the small rebel band of Muslims called Al-Qaeda who claimed responsibility for the attacks. I wanted nothing to do with Muslims, but God had other plans. That winter, my husband needed emergency by-pass surgery. He did not recover well, and remained in the CV-ICU unit of the hospital for well over a week, unconscious most of that time. In the bed in the next room lay a Muslim woman, an immigrant of Afghanistan, who had suffered a massive heart attack the same day as my husband’s heart attack and by-pass. She also was unconscious, and soon, members of her family began arriving from around the world to be by her side.
The small lobby of the CV-ICU unit grew smaller with each passing day. Not only because of the growing number of people filling it, but also because of the cultural and social tension that hung like a thick fog in the air. It felt like we were all sandwiched together inside a Mini Cooper, headed for the same destination. Finally there was no way to avoid speaking…there were just too many of us in that small space.
I don’t remember who began the conversation, but over the next few days I got to know the woman’s three daughters and their husbands. I heard stories about their mother, lying in a bed just a few feet from my husband, and they heard stories about my husband. We were there for hours on end, and as we grew more comfortable with each other, we began sharing meals together. Slowly our thoughts turned to our different faiths. It was easy to acknowledge our common ancestry in Abraham, and I heard for the first time about Islam in a nonthreatening setting.
One day the Muslim woman grew significantly worse, as my husband began to improve. Her family knew I was a praying person, and they asked me if I would pray for their mother. I responded certainly, as long as I could pray in the name of Jesus. Standing at the woman’s feet, my hands resting gently on her, I poured my heart into that prayer. It was easy to do as by then I felt I knew this tiny woman personally. Sadly, she passed away sometime later that night. If you have never heard Middle Eastern mourning it is something to behold, and I was right there in their midst. As we parted ways, I realized the honor the family had bestowed by allowing me to share a special moment in their mother’s life, lifting her up before her heavenly Creator. Where is she today? I don’t know, but I’d like to think I made the introductions.
It’s impossible, when you have the mindset of Christ, to hate those you have looked in the eye. Remember that the next time you meet a Muslim, and don’t turn away. You may very well be looking into the eyes of the King himself (Matt. 25).