The day the planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the lives of Muslims in America changed forever.
The event occurred 18 years ago, but the effects still resonate with the Muslim community today. Islamophobia was introduced on a greater scale that even young students born after 9/11 experience the residual effects.
A new wave of stereotypes categorized anyone with dark brown skin coming from Middle Eastern, Arab and South-East Asian descent as a threat and terrorist. There was an estimated 481 reported hate crimes in 2001 alone, which was a substantial spike from the 28 incidents in 2000, according to Public Radio International.
Broadcast and Electronic Communications Arts professor Dina Ibrahim remembers the event clearly.
“I was very afraid for my safety as a woman living alone at the time and a Muslim woman in Texas,” Ibrahim said. “Post 9/11, I had friends who are Muslim women who decided to remove the veil (hijab) because of safety concerns.”
She recalls the way the television networks portrayed Muslims. Her dissertation stated that there were two narratives: bad Muslims with dark brown skin and long beards and good Muslims who assimilated into Western values. This reinforced people’s ideas about Muslims as it is what the media showed.
While many students lived through the event and saw it on television as it happened, there’s a new generation that is learning it through history books.
Amal Egeh, 19, a junior studying biochemistry, first heard about 9/11 in eighth grade. She had just immigrated from Somalia to the U.S. in the seventh grade in 2011, but did not fully understand the events until a full year later.
“Even though I was not directly impacted by it, it’s always in the back of my head,” Egeh said.
Her parents warned her siblings to watch their surroundings and not to go outside unless it was absolutely necessary. Fear had been instilled on both sides.
“Americans feared Muslims and Muslims feared Americans because of the rise of hate crimes against Muslims and brown people in general,” Egeh said.
The event feels relevant to her because she is Muslim and believes she will always be viewed as a perpetrator of a terrorist attack.
Vasav Juthani, 18, remembers learning about 9/11 a few years after it happened.
“My family and I went to the crash site and we saw pictures of people in pain, injured people and firefighters and doctors, and that put an image in my head I can’t forget,” Juthani said.
Juthani, a freshman at SF State and mechanical engineering major, recalls learning about the event in elementary school during history class. His teacher showed the video of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center.
But he didn’t realize the effects it would have on him.
“I identify as Hindu, but I got bullied a lot from elementary to middle school and got called a terrorist,” Juthani said. “People would say I was related to Osama bin Laden or that I was a terrorist, which was extremely messed up.”
Ashar Abdallah, 17, a freshman majoring in pre-psychology who identifies as Muslim, recalls stories her mother told her after 9/11 happened.
“We went to a grocery store and an old lady stopped her,” Abdallah said. “Then she told my mom that I was going to grow up and become a terrorist.”
Growing up in San Jose, Abdallah didn’t experience as many derogatory remarks, but still believes there is a lot of work to be done in reversing the stereotype.
“As Muslims, I feel that we have had to prove even more that we’re upset over the event,” she said. “There’s older generations that experienced the event and have a photographic memory of the event and hold onto their prejudice.”
Abdallah felt herself stray away from her religion growing up, but now embraces being Muslim and believes it’s important to correct people’s stereotypical understandings of Islam.
Ibrahim emphasizes that in order to change the mindset around Muslims, the community needs to do more.
“The Muslim community needs to engage with people from different backgrounds or else people will never change their minds,” she said. “Muslims need to make a bigger effort to engage with communities that do not trust them.”