As an American Muslim, I felt the tension experienced by all Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet all Muslims were and still are suspects. The media put Muslims on the defense, and we are still trying to prove our innocence. Explaining Islam became an urgent necessity especially in view of the hatred preached by Islamophobia.
During that infamous morning, my wife was in our house in Fairfax, VA, with my two boys who were attending George Mason University. I was in Saudi Arabia doing a project for a Saudi prince. My wife suddenly called and asked if I was watching TV. I said, “No, I’m busy working on a business plan for a client.” But with a horrified voice she said, “Oh my God, a plane hit the World Trade tower and another plane is going to hit the second tower!” She sounded horrified, and she asked again, “Are you watching?!” Moved by the urgency of her voice, I turned to CNN to see the most horrifying event I witnessed ever. A plane hit the second tower as I watched the screen. Suddenly it dawned on me this is not an accident, but a disaster of colossal dimension was taking place in front of my eyes. Additional disastrous events took place that day to make it one of the darkest days ever for the U.S. and for American Muslims.
My wife and I spoke several times that day. We were confused, angry, and scared. That evening my wife called to tell me that she was afraid and worried about the boys’ safety. A friend suggested that she join other friends for a prayer meeting and to bring the boys with her. This was a first for my wife, but she and my boys were welcomed and felt among friends. The group started praying for the President and other government officials, and then my wife was in for the surprise of her life when the group started praying for Osama bin Laden’s forgiveness.
This was the first time this Muslim woman was exposed to the concept of loving your enemies. I remember the long conversation I had with my wife about that concept and about Jesus. Jesus was well known to us through the Qur’an, where his miracles are stated in details. Culture teaches us to hate our enemies while, Jesus teaches us to love them. Talking about Jesus and his teachings seemed to take our minds away from the tragedy that surrounded us to another dimension of love. While 9/11 was a disaster for many, it was my first exposure to love, Jesus-style. I was challenged to start reading the Qur’an with fresh eyes looking for the concept of loving your enemy. It says, “Good and evil are never equal. Repel evil with good, until your enemy becomes like an intimate friend" (41: 34). Muslims often read this verse, but the principle of loving one’s enemies is not a part of our consciousness and it should be.
“Why did they do that?” is a deceptively simple question by the media, which sadly opened a key phase in the U.S. engagement with the Muslims in the post 9/11 era. It is a distressing question because it immediately disclosed, through the simple use of the word “they”, an implicit and dangerous lumping together of Muslims, in all their diversity, with the perpetrators of these attacks. The fact that the perpetrators had invoked Islam in the justification of their violence made it all too inviting to connect all Muslims to the violence. Too many were sadly willing to take that which was committed by a tiny few and place the blame upon all. This error has again and again been refuted, but its effects clearly linger on, and forging this linkage has sadly been one of the greatest successes of those committed to terrorism.
In view of this threat, it seemed that American Muslims needed to take the initiative to engage others. Knowing Jesus makes a difference in the rules of engagements. You either engage your accusers with love or you engage them with hatred. I chose to engage them with love and prayed they do the same.
I spent six years working every day from sunrise to way after sunset to produce a Qur’an translation that is easy to read and understand but true to the Arabic original. While I was working on the translation, I met Dr. David Hungerford, an orthopedic surgeon who is a practicing Christian. He believed that the best way to show the commonality of Jesus’ message and the Qur’an is to find the verses in both that reflect the same meaning.
“When we met, Dr. Kaskas had this as a dream and [it was] something he had been working on in his mind,” Hungerford said. “We were both kind of prepared for this project (and the) collaboration just became so obvious to us, and we’ve been working on it together ever since.”
We discovered more than 3,000 verses in the Quran that have similar meanings in the Bible. The result was our book The Qur’an with References to the Bible. A labor of love that establishes common grounds for all those who are interested in following Jesus and those who see the Qur’an as a book preaching, above all, love of God and accepting others as neighbors. Our diversity, it teaches, is for us to compete in what is good (5: 48). Our ultimate purpose, it says, is for each one of us to be the best in the sight of God (1 Samuel 12: 24; John 17: 4).