Niang ’15: The erasure of Muslim American victims of 9/11 in the media

9/11 was a tragic day in which many Americans suffered the loss of loved ones. As a nine-year-old, I remembered seeing images and videos of victim’s families showcasing their devastated faces. These devastated faces represented the different faces of America, but these scenes left out a group people that also shared this same experience: Muslim Americans. Following 9/11, most of the Muslims that were shown on the popular news channels were those who were behind the attacks or the people chanting and dancing because America had suffered. These images were the only representations of Muslims in the media after 9/11 but, it never showed the images of Muslim American families who also lost loved ones as a result of the terrible attacks on 9/11. There were Muslims that died at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, apart from the terrorists. Many of these Muslim Americans had only known America and called this great country of ours home. They shared the same citizenship and love for America but the media gave their deaths lesser value compared to that of other victims. The fact that the 9/11 attacks were the acts of those that identified with the Islamic faith fueled the media’s misrepresentations of American Muslims who had suffered at the hands of these murderers.

Every Friday, my father and I would attend Jummah prayers at our mosque in Harlem, NYC. We would pray and listen to the Imam’s lecture on a wide range of subjects that were on ethics, religion or current events. On the Friday following 9/11, my small mosque had a different mood which was different from the often vivid and lively faces that I would see every Friday from the congregation. As I entered the mosque, I could see that the faces of people were dismal and filled with confusion. I overheard voices saying, “How could this happen?” or “Shame on those murderers for killing innocent people in the name of our religion.” Finally, after leading the prayer service, the Imam stood on the podium and said, “What happened on Tuesday is a tragic loss for all humanity and we have lost a member of our community from it.” I could not fathom the fact that a member of my mosque had died in the attacks of 9/11. I had seen so much of the media’s portrayal of non-Muslim victims and their families that I found it hard to imagine there were Muslim victims as well.

That particular Friday prayer service became a vigil for all of the people that had died from the 9/11 attacks, both Muslim and non-Muslim. We joined in prayer honoring the victims and comforting the family of our lost member. When I reached adulthood, I realized the significance of this Friday prayer. It forced me to question why my mosque never made it to the media. In fact, many mosques across the United States held vigils for their deceased members. The media covered many of the Christian ceremonies that held funerals for victims and their families, but the many funerals and vigils that were held for Muslims were often ignored. Ultimately, Muslim American pain and loss became invisible. Many were led to believe that 9/11 did not affect the Muslim American community on the same equal level as those of other Americans.

The attacks of 9/11 affected all of America and not only the privileged majority. The life of every human being is a precious virtue that we should all share. If we are truly the land of the free and the home of the brave, no American’s experiences should be ignored or silenced.