9/11: The Plow for U.S. Islamic Growth?

I have a near debilitating fear of needles. They are sharp, painful, and I still don’t understand why impaling myself is the best way to receive medication. The reality is that, in some cases, what’s good for us does not always come in a pretty package.

September 11th, 2001 was one of the ugliest packages in History.

Before September 11th, I didn’t know a thing about Islam. I’d never seen a Muslim in person, and probably wouldn’t know one if you had pointed them out. After that day however, I knew enough to join the Marine Corps. and want to kill them. Many in that time of national stress and pain shared my feelings, but not everyone.

Prior to these attacks, there were an estimated 1.2 million Muslims in the United States, with a rate of about 25,000 conversions a year. Afterward…

“Non-Muslim Americans are now interested in getting to know Islam. There are a number of signs… Libraries have run out of books on Islam… English translations of the Koran head the American best-seller list… The Americans are showing increasing willingness to convert to Islam since September 11… Thousands of non-Muslim Americans have responded to invitations to visit mosques, resembling the waves of the sea crashing on the shore one after another…”

Ala Bayumi, the Director of Arab affairs at the Council for American Islamic Relations, said that in the London newspaper, Al-Hayat, in November of 2001.

So just that we are on the same page: A healthy portion of Americans actually looked into Islam after September 11th? Wouldn’t most Americans simply hate the faith? Well, many did, in fact there was a time where I think we were only a step or two away from the Japanese-American Internment Camps during World War II following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Although we curtailed this fate by remembering its cruelty and recognizing that our war was not against Islam, public awareness of Islam skyrocketed just as opinion for the religion plummeted. So why the increased conversions in the years to follow? If public opinion was so bad, why the interest?

Because by this time, Islam become a curiosity–something novel and foreign. The same thing happened during the Vietnam mess when G.I’s brought home heroine and South Asian culture (including wives). Remember the 70′s? Similarly in World War II, service men from conflict theaters in Japan, Italy, and Germany brought over the very culture we were fighting against in the war. Why? Because culture is no respecter of persons, it’ll stick to whoever is willing to carry it.

And war is a great way to share culture.

The same thing happened with Islam. An influx of Muslim Americans by numbers is a tricky business to handle. The statistics are all over the place depending on which poll you look at. Truth is, people are curious, and have been since the towers fell. 80% of Muslim converts in the U.S. come from a Christian background. In many cases, converts made their shahada (declaration of faith) because of the moral code within Islam. This does not suggest a lack of morality within Christianity or any other faith, but it is telling of a relative slack in the representation of those ideals. In many cases, U.S. Christians are so only by association, so when something like Islam comes along with its highly visible practices (hijab, 5 daily salat, etc.), the distinction is made.

Many opponents of Islam like to say that the religion was spread by the sword. This is wrong, but only on the surface. Islam cannot be spread by the sword because the Qur’an clearly states freedom of religion and non-compulsory tactics (Sura 6: 70, 2: 272). What many in the West don’t understand is that the wars of the early Caliphate were not a spread of Islam, but an Arabic invasion of the surrounding territory. Within one hundred years, the Caliphate spanned from Iberia on the Atlantic coast, to the borders of India. And what did the Arab armies marching through these lands have to share? Islam. Sure, there are those who were coerced into the faith, however many cultures actually viewed the armies as liberators, which lends credit as to why the territory spread so quickly.

War paves the way for cultural exchange.

As you can see, while war and violence is painful (like the needle), it often opens borders and people in ways we might not otherwise achieve. I by no means condone fighting, but facts are facts. In so many cases in history, we fight the enemy “over there” and import their very culture and ideals to our own shores. In this way, the September 11th attacks represent a bittersweet scenario of Islam in America. On one hand, many resident Muslims suffered persecution by their fellow Americans for atrocities they themselves had nothing to do with. On the other, the spike in converts to Islam are the highest the country has ever seen, and because of mass media and the internet, global awareness of Islam after September 11th was probably the highest since those Arabic armies marched across the known world.

Does the end justify the means, religiously speaking? Was the attacks on the U.S. the painful “shot” that paved the way for Islam? Remember, as painful as wars like WWII and Vietnam were, the culture they imported molded and shaped the very society we enjoy today. What would Islam mean to the West if not for those 19 so-called “Muslims” who hijacked those planes that day? I’ve often thought of God making lemonade of the lemons life hands us. Perhaps September 11th was one of those examples…

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  • http://kaweah.com Dan Jensen

    Interesting, thought-provoking thesis. I think that one can always reap good from evil seed, but of course that doesn’t make evil acts good. Whether we make good of evil is up to us.

    On the side: I’m not an expert on the early expansion of Islam, but I have studied it, and I would not characterize it as a secular Arab invasion.

    The “Arab Conquest” was an Islamic conquest. It was inspired by Islam and facilitated by Islam. It was driven by the fanatic tendency of monotheists to put the world under the law of the One True God. There was some tolerance for “People of the Book” (as well as some focused vitriol), but Heaven help the peoples whom Muslims regarded as idolators, such as Zoroastrians.

    Muhammad conquered a great deal of territory during his brief ministry. He may not have been out to conquer the world, but he set some bloody precedents. I understand that he had justifications to conquer his neighbors. He lived in a hard time; but he set the precedent just the same. When it came to these conquests, religious coercion was the rule. If people didn’t convert, they were lucky if taxation was their only punishment. And when peoples backslid into their old religions, they were often treated quite harshly. Cities sometimes had to be converted several times over. Of course there must have been cases where religious coercion was a lesser evil, and Islamic conquest must have been welcomes by some, but that does not justify such cultural aggression.

    I do not hold all this against Islam, so long as Islam in permitted to change and grow, but to permit oneself to justify every act of Muhammad and to purge his religion of all blame in such a bloody history I find unconscionable.

    • abowen


      No, it was not entirely fueled by an “Arabization” attempt, because Islam and the Ummah are nearly interchangable. That said, I wanted to focus on the oxymoronic nature of seeing these conquests as mass conversion opportunities simply because the concept is anti-Quranic. Thanks for pointing that out though…

  • http://www.myownashram.wordpress.com Niki Whiting

    I started applying for graduate school in theology in 2002. I went to a Harvard info session and was told that applications to ministry and religions programs had sky-rocketed after 9/11. People wanted to learn more, there were job openings for people who knew Arabic and had knowledge of the religious implications of the war, and/or people wanted to find meaning in their lives and careers. After a look at my resume and speaking with me, I was told that whereas I might have been a shoe-in for Harvard 2 years ago, with applications up my chances had been reduced by 2/3. I applied, but did not get in to Harvard.

    Interesting, no? Conflict can open our eyes and minds, if we let it.

    • abowen


      I noticed that as well, Niki. What seemed to have started as a “Know thine enemy” impetus actually captured the spiritual imagination of many who later converted/reverted.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Austin Faux

    I do believe God can make lemonade with the lemons we make for ourselves, but I don’t know how I would feel if my religious faith gained a ton of converts because of the death of 3,000 people?

    I remember hearing a publistist(I think it was for Paris Hilton…ick) saying something like, “All publicity is good, even if it’s bad.”

    I know the terrorists considered themselves Muslim, but do other Muslims consider them Muslim?

    Austin Faux-

    • abowen


      Indeed, the mass slaughter of innocents isn’t worth anything by way of conversion. I simply made the point that those 19 men ushered in a raging curiosity toward Islam that peaceful introduction would have taken far longer to match. Very interesting question. Most Muslims I’ve spoken to and read about have one of two thought on those men. They were either A) Muslim, but misguided, or B) not Muslim at all.

  • http://Pavedawayandopeneddoors! Robin Mazhar

    You’re absolutely correct. Everytime the news goes ‘anti-Islam’ (9/11, the first Gulf War, the Bosnian crisis, the time we called muhajjadeen ‘Afghani freedom fighters’ because they were fighting the USSR) people show up at the mosque doors looking for information. In the days following 9/11, many Muslims seriously feared a backlash/reprisals from the general public. Instead, the mosque was overwhelmed with calls from churches and individuals offering to support and protect Muslims. Someone smashed the windows out of a local mosque and the members of the church across the street stood guard (with signs guilt-tripping bigots) until the windows were repaired. But the biggest ‘silver lining’ of 9/11 is that Muslims realized that their communities could no longer isolate themselves from American society. Within a couple months hundreds and hundreds of mosques held open house events and invited the public in to see that Islam was just another Abrahamic faith. 9/11 woke Muslims up and made (the immigrant communities especially) them step out and finally take the effort to become part of the American fabric. There will always be bigots and haters. There may always be people who blame all of Islam for the actions of 19 individuals. But, as devastating as 9/11 to America and American Muslims, it did result in more openness and understanding, too.

  • http://History? Robin Mazhar

    This is in response to Dan Jensen:

    There’s a quote from Winston Churchill: “History is written by the victors.” The history we learn (in the West) is filtered through the politics of the country we live in. England still refers to the American revolution as a colonial uprising — that’s the perspective of their country. The overwhelmingly Christian West (Europe/America)puts it’s own spin on the Crusades, the ‘reconquest’ of Spain and other historical periods the West clashed with Islamic empires (in Spain, India, Turkey…etc.). If you read the stories of the Crusades from Arabic sources, though you couldn’t hold the Church accountable for all the bad blood, there was an equal amount of justification going on in the name of religion that spilled a lot of blood throughout history. (Not to mention the inquisitions, the witch hunts, justification of slavery, etc. etc.). How unconscionable is THAT?

    I often wonder why people don’t see ‘Onward Christian soldiers’ as a threatening song? How different is that than praising jihadis?

    We all have cultural/religious biases. Best if we get objective and accept we have a bias. (Wasn’t it Jesus who said ‘You can’t remove the splinter from your brother’s eye until you remove the plank from your own’…or was that just Godspell?)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Robin

    Soon Americans will realize what the Islam really is. But it will be too late.