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Shadia: 9/11 leads to rediscovery of faith

Do you know the feeling when you have a parent or relative that you keep at a distance for one reason or another, but then they become severely ill, and you can't help but forget all your differences and stand beside them?

And through it all, you rediscover their true nature and you laugh at, even regret, what kept you apart?

I do.

That parent I kept at a far distance was my religion, Islam.

And then 9/11 happened.

I had only been in the United States for three years that month, and although I still identified as a Muslim, it's fair to say that it was my most distant — and troubled — time with my religion.

And to be honest, being Middle Eastern or Muslim in America didn't matter much before 9/11.

I was standing in our living room, about to head out to Crafton Hills College, when I spotted on television the attacks on the Twin Towers, the smoke and the chaos in New York. Those initial images remain vivid in my mind to this day.

I didn't immediately understand what was going on, but I felt very troubled and secretly hoped "Muslims" or Middle Easterners weren't responsible.

I held onto that hope on my way to school, but it wasn't long before I had to face the facts.

And suddenly, I felt as though I had to make a choice: Stand beside my religion or dissociate myself completely.

I obviously chose the former. Though it wasn't the easier choice, my innate sense of curiosity and the responsibility I felt as a human being to stand for justice — in itself a basic Islamic principle — wouldn't have allowed otherwise.

9/11 tumbled the already shaken grounds beneath me.

It also led me to a lot of questions.

Was the source of all my principles flawed? Does Islam really encourage violence, and if it does, why was I taught otherwise and, even more critical, why did I feel differently?

Was I that naive?

Being forced into choices can bring up a lot of hidden insecurities. But unfortunately, sometimes it takes crises to bring about a change.

I wasn't exactly the most qualified to answer specific questions about my religion.

All I had were my principles — the very ones Islam taught me. All I had was my story.

For a while, I would feel very offended and deeply hurt by those who would attack Islam and Muslims for the acts of terrorists.

And apologizing for a bunch of criminals was out of the question.

What and who would I be apologizing for?

It's not like those pathetic losers were my family members or friends. And, by all accounts, we obviously didn't share the same principles.

I began looking for answers. It was a journey that led me to rediscover Islam. It has solidified the grounds on which I stand and it continues to crystallize them.

I can understand those who might find this offensive. "9/11 made her a better Muslim?!"

But you see, for me, my country and people weren't just senselessly attacked by a bunch of criminals on 9/11.

That's just the half of it.

The other half was that my religion — my entire core and belief system — was hijacked, left exposed to be picked apart, twisted and turned by anyone who felt like it, and by those who called themselves "experts" on Islam.

Turning a negative into a positive isn't so bad.

I didn't just turn a negative into a positive here. I essentially accomplished the exact opposite of those terrorists' aim.

I bet you they'd be nauseated with the dignified and intellectual Islam I so proudly possess.

I bet you they didn't expect me, and certainly thousands of others like me, to rediscover Islam for myself and to unabashedly prove them wrong every single day.

I bet you they didn't expect me, or thousands of others like me, to define Islam in America and become the Muslim Americans that we are today.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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