It could have been my father.
The images of two of America's foremost monuments, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York city, falling into ashes, fire and dust amazed and shocked me. The sight was so strange and grisly at the same time. But from the photos on my computer screens on sites like CNN's, I could see the people.
Initially, like many Muslims on this continent, I was afraid for my safety and that of my loved ones. My thoughts were on what harassment I may face and how to protect myself.
Although pangs of sadness about the terrorist attack did hit throughout the day, they didn't overwhelm me as they should have, given the nature of the tragedy. I don't think I fully grasped what was going on at the human level.
Maybe it was because I didn't see the human carnage on TV. Nor did I witness the people jumping from the 30th floor of the towers as they preferred to die by crashing into the ground instead of being burned to death by a 1600 degree Farenheit fireball. Whatever the reason, it didn't really hit me until early the next morning how truly horrific this event was.
Perhaps it was that contemplative Fajr prayer mode that led me to realize. In the still and quiet of the early morning, with no deadlines to meet (yet), no honking traffic or blaring radio, in front of Allah, I was able to picture the victims and how they must have suffered in the moments before their terrible deaths. I cried throughout Fajr, feeling the pain and sadness I had held back from a day earlier.
What also turned things around was when I thought about my father. I imagined him working not in his office in Canada but in this New York City office tower of steel and glass. He would have been following a usual on-the-job routine, settling into another day of work when suddenly, a boom, a crash and a ball of fire in seconds burn him to death. Or, like other victims, he chooses to jump 50 floors downwards to his death, his glasses slipping off his face as he struggles to escape the hellish ball of fire, hopefully saying the Shahadah before he dies. I can't stop crying when I think of this scene.
Yes, it's a horrible thought. But until I pictured this happening to him or anyone else I love, I didn't fully grasp the reality of how much pain and unspeakable misery the victims and their families must be facing today.
We, the Muslims of America, must, pardon the cliché, put ourselves and our loved ones in the victims' shoes. We must remember that our father, mother, daughter, son or sibling could have been in the twin towers on September 11, 2001. They could have been there for work, an appointment or just sightseeing. Regardless of the reasons, they could have been one of the hundreds if not thousands of innocent people who died.
Let us remember the victims not as strangers, but as those who were parents, spouses and children who could have been our own.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Image-Sept_11_monument_in_NYC_2_-_August_2004.jpg