The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks showed our vulnerability as a nation and thrust religious questions into headlines and dinner-table conversations that had given very few Americans pause prior to that day, according to Don Stevenson, a retired pastor of Christ's Reformed Church in Hagerstown.
"When we were bombed, it brought America to its knees," said Stevenson, who is adjunct professor of philosophy, ethics and religion at Hagerstown Community College. "We as a nation, we were kicked in the stomach, so to speak; we were at ground zero in our psyche.
"I think we were totally ignorant of the world until 9/11," he said. "It was a turning point, in my opinion."
According to the Associated Press, 2,977 people died as a result of the attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. The figures do not include the 19 hijackers aboard the four airplanes involved.
"I think, certainly, things changed after 9/11. There is no doubt about that," Salih Yumlu of Hagerstown said.
Yumlu, a Muslim since his birth in a village outside Istanbul, Turkey, said he has been a citizen of the United States since 1976.
For him, there was little difference being a Muslim in Turkey, the United States, or even in London, where he earned his doctorate in engineering.
"I went ahead and practiced my religion the best I knew," he said. "Don't lie, don't cheat, don't harm and so forth; these are basic tenants (of Islam.) Wish on others what you wish on yourself."
Islam in the spotlight
The events of 9/11 suddenly thrust Islam into the spotlight, with media reports casting the religion claimed by the extremists responsible for the attack as a form of terrorism, rather than the religion of peace it is among most of its followers, Yumlu said.
"Muslim-terrorists and Muslims, it is hard for some Americans to differentiate the two," Stevenson said. "What we are dealing with is fundamentalism, which is an attitude of arrogance, rather than an ideology."
There are acts of terror performed in the name of any religion, he said. For example, centuries ago, Christian fundamentalists waged war against Islam during the Crusades, he said.
"People are people," said Zada Yumlu, Salih Yumlu's wife. "There's good and bad (people) in every race, every religion."
God's many names have been cited as justification for some of history's bloodiest acts, fostering the opinion that religion is the basic cause of war, Stevenson said.
In the days after 9/11, anger toward Muslims, and not so much a desire to understand their religion and culture, prevailed, he said.
And those practicing the Islamic religion faced ridicule, persecution and anger, Salih Yumlu said.
Calls for tolerance of Muslims also followed 9/11, as the hum of non-Christian religions, cultures and spiritualities became a sound our country could no longer ignore, Stevenson said.
A decade later
The list of names of those who died on 9/11 includes at least 31 Muslims, according to a list published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Mohammad Salman Hamdani, 23, was a part-time ambulance driver and New York City police cadet. His remains were identified six months after 9/11 when he was found with his emergency medical technician bag beside him, CAIR reported.
Abdu Malahi, 37, of Brooklyn, was of Yemeni descent. An audio visual manager at the Marriott World Trade Center, Malahi helped many people safely evacuate the hotel before the first tower fell and took his life, CAIR reported. He was honored by Marriott for his heroism on that day.
Muslims were not just among the dead of 9/11, but among its heroes, according to CAIR. Still, 10 years later, many Americans measure Islam as a religion of terrorism, using the exhortations of the late Osama bin Laden and the fundamentalist beliefs of al-Qaida as their yardstick, Yumlu said.
"All you have to do is read the Quran ... (to) realize there is nothing like that in it," he said. "I do not consider them (al-Qaida) representing the religion, definitely. Then, of course, the people tag these people (al-Qaida) as the representative of the religion. You know, I wish bin Laden never succeeded."
Upon learning of the attacks, he said his reaction was non-belief. "I could not believe this could happen," he said.
When the planes struck the twin towers, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania soil, the terrorists responsible for those acts, in many ways, hurt Muslims more than others, Yumlu said.
Those acts condemned young Muslim children to ridicule, mosques to vandalism, innocent passengers with names like Salih to profiling and scrutiny at airports, and a mostly peaceful people to hatred, discrimination and fear, he said.
Yumlu recalled a trip he and his wife took last year to Alaska. Upon their return, the couple stopped in Vancouver, British Columbia, he said.
At the airport, the couple was flagged — for which he credits their names, Salih and Zada Yumlu — and pulled aside to a restricted area where they and their luggage were thoroughly searched, he said.
Then both were taken to the full-body security scanners, which produce images of the nude-like body.
"They took a picture of my wife and I ... like nudes, which is against my religion," Yumlu said of the images.
Reflecting on the situation from his home, the scene was cloaked in irony for Yumlu.
"Can you imagine, (an) old couple (goes) to a vacation and on the way back they build a bomb somehow while they were visiting places?" he said. "... Of course, this is the result of 9/11."
Spirit of forgiveness
As communities across the United States gather to remember the events of 9/11, Stevenson encourages all Americans to come together, not waving the flag in a newfound zeal for retaliation, but in vulnerability, prayer and a spirit of forgiveness.
"Forgiveness is, in part, holding the pain rather than putting it on others," Stevenson said. "We must hold the pain and not pass it on, or we risk becoming what we hate."
What our nation needs now is to appreciate, to affirm our Islamic brothers and sisters, not merely tolerate them, he said.
Just as forgiveness is a basic tenant of Christianity, so it is also of Islam, Yumlu said.
The similarities between the two Abrahamatic religions — monotheistic faiths that can trace a shared origin to the prophet Abraham — do not end there.
Catholics will recognize the translation of a common greeting among Muslims, "Assalamu alaikum," and its response, as it is similar to the salutation passed during Mass.
"God's peace be with you," Yumlu said, translating. "In response ... same to you, peace of God."
Christians may recognize some teachings of Jesus reflected in the words of the prophet Muhammad.
The prophet was recorded as saying among his teachings that one should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
"If we could just begin to see that there is one light in many candles," Stevenson said. "And that for me, to take my candle and burn you with it is divisive."
"We should make the effort to show not the differences but the commonality," Yumlu said. "It will be far better if everybody does that, then this will avoid being discriminated against."
Politicians, police and other professionals share what lessons were learned from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.