9/11 Strengthens US Interfaith Relations

Feeling the warm atmosphere in their city, Pittsburgh Muslims were keen on teaching non-Muslims about the true message of Islam

Heartbroken by the growing misconceptions about their faith, American Muslims in Pittsburgh have found the 9/11 anniversary a unique opportunity to introduce the true message of Islam and strengthen interfaith relations inside their community.

“September 11 was a pivotal point,” Hassan Bakri, a dentist from Monroeville, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, September 4.

“Before 9/11 Muslims and other people of good will wanted to do interfaith work. After 9/11 we realized we have to.”

Arriving from Syria in 1989, Bakri worked hard to build strong relations between the community’s different faiths.

Yet, twelve years of work collapsed over the 2001 attacks.

“It was a devastating experience. Some wouldn’t dare to come to the mosque. Especially the first few days, they wouldn’t even leave their home. Some ladies were threatened on the street,” Bakri said.

“But the response from the interfaith community was a high note. It was tremendous. We felt the outpouring of support, of empathy, unity; standing as one family of believers against a strange and inauthentic action.”

Unlike other states, non-Muslims in Pittsburgh supported their Muslim neighbors, bringing flowers to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh as well as offering to guard it.

Moreover, some non-Muslim women donned veils in solidarity.

“I think that there were two things happening,” said Karen, the widow of late Farooq Hussaini of Avalon, an energetic Muslim figure in Pittsburge interfaith work.

“There was a large body of people who said, ‘Look, we don’t believe for one second that the acts of a small group of people represent the faith and beliefs of the whole.’

“And then there were people who were just so angry that they didn’t want to think or ponder that what occurred wasn’t a reflection of the faith.”

The support was also offered from Christian and Jewish religious leaders, including Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill and Rev. Daniel Valentine, the longtime interfaith director for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.


Feeling the warm atmosphere in their city, Pittsburgh Muslims were keen on teaching non-Muslims about Islam.

“Due to many factors in Pittsburgh, the spirit of inclusiveness is tremendously high,” Bakri said.

“We also felt the serious urgency to educate Muslims about the long tradition in Islam of religious tolerance and the respect of freedom of choice of faith,” he said.

“This is not only the bedrock of American life, but a universal message of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”

Such support is still offered by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee (PAJC) which organizes for the second year Bridging Faiths, which brings high school students of different faiths together to learn about each other’s beliefs.

“9/11 teaches us that religion can’t be ignored in global politics. It is the defining divide of this century and generation,” Deborah Fidel, the PAJC executive director, said.

“If we don’t engage religious leaders and take into account religious and cultural sensitivities in whatever we do, then this vacuum will be filled by ugly, extremist, hateful voices on all sides.

“Religious, ethnic and cultural intolerance comes back to bite us all in the end. Nothing is to be gained by targeting anyone.”

Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.

Anti-Muslim frenzy has grown sharply in the US in recent months over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.

Moreover, US Muslims have been sensing a growing hostility following a hearing presented by representative Peter King on what he described as “radicalization” of US Muslims.

Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes. source