Maha Elgenaidi’s Speech at 9/11 Peace Picnic


9/11 Peace Picnic Speech:
Santa Clara County

mahastaffOn September 11th, 2014, Maha Elgenaidi, ING trustee, delivered these remarks at the annual 9/11 Peace Picnic for Santa Clara County, which was held at James McEntee Plaza in San Jose. The event featured a multifaith service, children’s performances, a light dinner, peace dove release, and a candlelight vigil. The Peace Picnic was sponsored by the American Muslim Voice Foundation, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, and Friends of Human Relations of Santa Clara County. ING was a co-sponsor along with other religious and civic organizations.  

Salam alaikum – peace be upon all of you!

I think I can safely say that there is not a person here or throughout America who cannot remember where we were that fateful and tragic morning 13 years ago on September 11th. Like other Americans, I awoke to images of burning and soon of falling towers which shock our minds and our senses to this day.

After the dust had settled and the horrible reality that this was not a bad dream or horror movie had set in, another reality also became clear to me: among the victims of the horrible actions that day were not only the 3,000 who had lost their lives and their families and friends, but also those whose identity was blackened by the identity of the criminals who perpetrated this horrific act.

It was a turning point for me because for the first time I felt that I was not the ordinary American I had believed myself to be my entire life, but was now “the other.” I no longer felt like an American but like a stranger, a foreigner.

In addition to the unprecedented increase in requests to ING for presentations about Muslims and their faith, we also had to respond to ongoing questions about and accusations relating to terrorism. Standing at the forefront of an onslaught of information and misinformation about Islam and Muslims took its toll; over the next few months, like other Muslims on the front lines that year, I had to be treated for anxiety that rendered me helpless.

But thank goodness, there was also the positive side of this tragedy as it opened up avenues and doors for people to learn about Islam and Muslims. Interfaith engagement for Muslims quadrupled after 9/11 as people reached out to learn about Islam and Muslims and came to the realization that the enemy is not all Muslims, but extremism in all faiths.

Individuals and organizations reached out to American Muslims in an unprecedented manner, and Americans of all faiths expressed a sincere desire to learn more in an attempt to both understand and express tolerance and support. Among them is a remarkable project by a group of people that was most impacted by the tragedy of 9/11. A group of 9/11 families is launching a project this year which takes a stand against Islamophobia with a new bus ad campaign designed to promote religious tolerance and interfaith unity. “Islamophobia is not pretty,” the ad reads. “Let’s build bridges, not walls. Hate hurts, hope heals.” Peaceful Tomorrows Project Director Terry Greene, whose brother died aboard United Flight 93, told HuffPost, “We believe that unity and interfaith tolerance are the path forward to a more peaceful tomorrow.”

Unfortunately this was a lesson not learned by those who make decisions at the highest levels as we see the negative impact of the militarism of the last decade that has only produced more hatred and violence. It has become increasingly clear that we cannot look to our governments alone to take up the mantle of peace – it is up to ordinary people like you and me to say with one voice that we reject endless war and violence and that we embrace love, tolerance, and peace.

May God be with you.