By Robert Salaam
9/11 is a day of reflection for me for several reasons.
On 9/11 I found out that:
1. I really was a Marine
2. I was willing to die for my country
3. Islam is in fact not only a religion of peace, but the truth
Most people have no problem with 1 and 2 when I ordinarily re-tell this story, but number 3 is always met with hostility. Without going into the story again as I have a thousand times, I just want to cover the main points.
1: When I joined the Marine Corps in 1998 it was a different world per se. Most of my peers joined the military as an alternative to staying home or not going to college. Many like me joined the Marine Corps simply to be part of the best miliatary organization on the planet (sorry Army). However, that was it in a nutshell. There were no dreams of war and combat no matter how much warrior training I had. It was good stuff to know, it felt good to know I could if I wanted to, but I was content behind my desk and flying with President Clinton to the Harley David factory in Pennsylvania or to South Beach, Miami. That was the extent of my career until 9/11.
That day, I found out that I truly was a Marine, that day the warrior in me came alive and I wanted nothing more than to fight the scum that dared attack the USA the greatest nation on Earth!. That day I found out that even a bunch of spoiled, Presidential, airwingers, were still Marines and we were ready to go and do what Marines do.
That day that Eagle, Globe, and Anchor took over and the true warrior that I didn’t even know existed came alive. That day more than any other day, I was a Marine!
2: Given the gravity of the day, I knew something had to be done. I didn’t know what, but I knew it had to be something. I began to think of all the medal of honor winners who gave their lives in the service of others. I never truly understood that, but on 9/11 something came over me. I knew that if fanatical killers were willing to do this, than I had to be equally willing to do whatever it took to defeat them.
I didn’t know what to think, but I knew one thing, if I had to die, I wanted it to be in the service of my country. I never felt that way before, on 9/10 I wore a uniform, but it was just a “job” to a degree, but on 9/11 I swore by that uniform and what Marines have lived and died for and was ready to join their ranks if need be.
I remember around 10 am before the base phones shut down calling my mother and she answered crying, the most I could muster was “Mom I love you, tell everyone I love them, but now I have to do what I get paid to do” right there out of no where in one line I told my mother that our conversation may have been the last, and in that moment of clarity there was peace. I knew what had to be done and I truly didn’t care about the costs, as long as America won.
3. This has always been the most difficult thing to explain and it still is. On 9/11 we were on “standby” for more than 14hrs. We didn’t see any “action” and we just hurried up and waited, and waited, and waited, and then it was 9/12. As things started to develop and get sorted out after that horrible day, I began to reflect. Mostly about 1 and 2 but then I began to ask myself questions: Who were these people that did this? Why would they do this? Are their beliefs that crazy that they are willing to kill themselves and many others for it? I asked myself these questions over and over.
My only solution was research. I wanted to know my enemy so that I may be better prepared to kill them. As a devout Christian, lay leader, bible study leader, etc. I wanted to see this murderous book for myself so that I may be able to inform my friends, group, and congregation. I never met a Muslim in my life all I knew was the church, so I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth…the Quran.
As things were eased on the base in the following days, I decided to go to the bookstore and I bought a Koran. My first one. It was in complete English, no Arabic in sight. So with a scornful look and disdain in my heart I began to read… The very first thing I read was:
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:
Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe.
The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
King of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help
Guide us to the straight way;
The way of those whom you have blessed, not of those who have deserved anger, nor of those who stray.
In the name of God, the Most Gracious and Merciful! What in the world! I thought I’m supposed to be reading about killing Christians in the name of some other god or something. Where’s all the violence and advocation of such against America? This opening sounded much like my prayers, so I began to read on…
As I read on I learned many things like God is One, fighting is only ordained in self-defense against oppression, respect for others religions and places of worship, Muslims believed in the Prophets of the Bible and in Jesus albeit a little differently, but heh there were Christians that believed the same things about Jesus too! In other words I found none of what I expected, I found no smoking gun, what little so-called violence I did find was nothing more than historical happenings, that didn’t shape the larger context of the books call for patience, prayer, and balance. It didn’t read purely as a historical book although there was history in it, it didn’t read purely as a book of dogma, although there was dogma in it, to me the most remarkable thing to me was that the author seemed to be speaking directly to me and not through 3rd and 4th parties. For every question I asked there was an answer, for every answer given, the text itself asked me a question.
The book forced me to think, challenged me, and reasoned with me. This was a book of reason, this was a book of discussion, this book made me stronger in my desire for God. Any book that could do that in of itself, without the aid of a person reading it to me had to have divine Origins!
Of course, this began to baffle me. Emotions began to be confounded at times, I didn’t know what to think, but I knew one think, I believed in this text and I wanted to be part of those who did. Obviously those murders couldn’t have read the same book! We must be reading two different things.
I began to care less and less about the murderers and what they got out of the text and more and more about what I got out of the text. Somehow they got murder and intollerance, I got love for God, man, and peace. No more did I have to believe that those who didn’t believe as I did were bound to hell, now I could believe in the unity of faith, I could believe that all of mankind was destined to God and God loved everyone not just an elect group!
Naturally, all of this shook me at my foundation, my core, so the best I could do was share these thoughts with my mentor and pastor, my grandfather. I expected him to chastise me and tell me Satan was confusing me, but instead, he said he believes Islam to be on the same path as Judaism and Christianity, he believed that they all have a central Origin and a central destination. He believed that while the family of Abraham (pbuh) didn’t always agree on many points, they are still family nonetheless.
At that point, slack jawed, I realized that my new ways weren’t a hindrance or some kind of satanic confusion, but another path and journey God had put me on, He knows what he is up to.
This all happened within weeks of 9/11. Imagine the surprise to all those I knew when I told them I was converting to Islam. Imagine the surprise when I had my dog tags and records changed from “Christian” to “Muslim”. Many didn’t take it well, and many don’t today. But faith is like that. We don’t often have as much control as we would like to believe. If we truly believe then we will be able to carry our cross no matter what.
And talk about a cross to carry! I have been called it all: Naive, Traitor, fake, etc. I have been told that I never was a Christian or good Christian to begin with and that’s how I left so “easily” as if they know! I have been asked how I could change to the enemies religion while my country was under attack, my service has been questioned, my loyalty, etc. etc.
The problem is many can’t or won’t seperate the religion from the people, unless of course the religion is Christianity or Judaism!
Never mind that I served another 3 years honorably in the Marine Corps as a Muslim. Never mind that I have worked for this nations highest office as a Muslim, nevermind that since the Marine Corps I have worked and served in agencies many other Americans only dream about, can only see on the outside, and in many instances don’t even know where they exist! All this as a Muslim.
But I digress…All these years, not much has changed. Many still hate Islam and Muslims, many Muslims still defend their faith and themselves, and many Muslims still commit the actions that help fuel the flames of this hate.
I just pray on this day of reflection, that we as Americans, that we as humanity begin to reflect more on our similarities then our differences. I pray that we overcome our prejudices and ignorance and learn to work together. I pray that we come together to destroy radicalism and extremism in all it’s forms. I pray that we realize that it is our differences that not only make God Great, but give us a reason and drive to want to get to know one another.
“O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” [Quran 49:13]