.ili-indent{padding-left:40px !important;overflow:hidden}
Article written by Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D.  Acknowledgments: Mariam Rasheed, MSW; Fatyma Karamoko, B.A. Special thanks to Amina Barhumi for her review of the toolkit.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of September 11th. The world mourned the loss of life and destruction of that day. It was also a pivotal moment in the history of Muslims in the U.S. and across the world. Anyone identifiably Muslim joined the list of communities singled out amidst a rise in hate crimes, expansive national security and surveillance policies, and an overwhelming sense of otherness and being “Un-American”. The Muslim community experienced what the Prophet (PBUH) experienced as their religious identities came under attack.  As parents, you may be concerned about what your children and teens may experience in schools and social circles during this upcoming anniversary. From worrying about them experiencing hate and bullying to the desire to counter-narratives, there are many emotions that could be going on. Fortunately, research on Muslim American youth shows that they don’t get negatively impacted when they experience Islamophobia if parents have supportive conversations with them. So your talks and open ears matter! In this article, we discuss strategies to help your children cope and navigate this historical event.

Process your own emotions first

You may be feeling anxious about potential hate incidents, worrying about your family’s safety, or getting re-triggered by the media.

  • ●  First, take a moment to steady yourself. Remember what you do have control over and focus on that!
  • ●  Take a break – including unplugging from news and social media, and take care of yourself. Many adults experienced trauma in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • ●  Try various coping strategies for yourself if you are experiencing traumatic stress.
  • ●  Reach out to people who can help you process your thoughts and feelings. While you may be stressed for good reason, it is important to not pass it on to your children.
Understandably, there is a lot of pain and hurt with this anniversary. However, recognize that there is a lot of resilience that Muslim Americans have shown in the face of immense tragedy.

If you need a refresher on how the world changed after 9-11 from hate crimes on a personal level to structural Islamophobia, and examples of resilience, please check out the “Use the opportunity to teach” section below.

Help them make meaning

By openly discussing the tragic events of 9/11 and preparing children for what they may hear, you can help them make meaning of the incident and its impact on Muslim lives. In your conversations, incorporate the following strategies:

  • ●  Find out what they know
    • ○  For children who are too young to know and process the attacks, ask them to find out what they know.
    • ○  Not all children can tell you verbally–they may show it in their play or interactions with others.
    • ○  For older children, start a conversation and listen to their facts and opinions (even if wrong). Hear them out!
    • ○  Check out this guide for age-specific suggestions for discussion
  • ●  Use active listening skills
    • ○  Validate how they feel-
    • ○  Pay attention to their nonverbal behavior and body language.
    • ○  Ask open-ended questions (“What would you like to know?” “How does this make you feel”)
    • ○  Once you’ve listened, share your own feelings about the day of 9/11. This will build trust in your relationship.
    • ○  Check your own emotions in these conversations–take a break if you need to.
  • ●  Keep your child’s temperament in mind.
    • ○  Children process and express emotions differently.
    • ○  Tailor your response to each child’s temperament. Some children may want to talk things out but others may want to play a board game with you and have unstructured conversations
    • ○  Be on the lookout for changes in mood, behavior, and daily habits (appetite; sleep)
  • ●  Avoid the following language when talking to them:
    • ○  “Islamic terrorists,” “jihadists,” or “radical Islamic terrorists.”
      • ▪︎  This language validates the claims of the 9/11 attackers by associating their acts of mass murder with Islam and Muslims.
    • ○  “Terrorism” for everything.
      • ▪︎  There is much disagreement about what terrorism means and it’s often used in a biased manner
      • ▪︎  Instead, use exact terms: white supremacist, surveillance, acts of mass violence
    • ○  Use “the endless wars”.
      • ▪︎  The term “endless wars” captures the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other ongoing physical wars, as well as the never-ending harm, inflicted upon innocent Black and brown people.
      • ▪︎  It reinforces the fact that the wars abroad and at home have no clear target, and only harm Black and Brown communities.

Use the opportunity to teach (for older children).

Muslims experienced the aftermath of 9/11 in many different ways, even to this day. Some experienced negative emotions (anxiety, hate) and incidents (Islamophobic acts). Others felt the need to defend Islam and counter the anti-Muslim narrative. As you use this event to teach your child and develop their critical thinking skills, keep in mind that each person has had their own personal journey with the events of 9/11. Make sure you center your well-being and your children’s well-being–reading or watching too much content about how 9-11 changed the world can be stressful, triggering, and re-traumatizing.

  • ●  Build their critical thinking skills.
    • ○  Team them how to navigate fake news and misinformation
    • ○  Use this guide and this handout to teach them how to counter 5 myths about American Muslims
    • ○  With your child, read this review on the events set in motion post-9/11
  • ●  Teach them how to show compassion.
    • ○  Model compassion in your interactions with those who have lost loved ones or were personally affected by 9-11.
    • ○  Practice role-playing compassionate interactions with them
    • ○  Teach them about the rise in kindness and compassion after 9-11
  • ●  Educate them on the aftermath of 9/11- again, do not overdo it for your and your children’s well-being.

Recognize the impact on their identity.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the identity of Muslim Americans became under siege. Questions like “Am I American” “Can I be Muslim in this country” “Can I be both” came as part of the daily struggles of many Muslims. Your children are similarly being raised in an environment where these questions still speak to what they go through in their schools and workplaces. Now is the time to strengthen their identities to improve their well-being.

  • ●  Learn about internalized racism and Islamophobia- these terms describe the phenomenon where we believe and internalize the negative messages we see about Muslims and Islam. Some examples:
    • ○  Resenting our religious practices or traditions
    • ○  Learning to laugh along with racist jokes
    • ○  Adopting less “Muslim” sounding names
    • ○  Needing to prove your American-ness

Help them cope.

    ●  Model positive behavior.
    • ○  Do not sit in front of the news all day.
    • ○  Engage in a relaxing activity if you feel overwhelmed
    • ○  Find an activity that helps you give back to the community
    ●  Learn and recognize signs of anxiety or distress:


    ●  Work with them to come up with coping strategies
    • ○  Remind them of their safety and support system (family, friends, relatives, etc.)
    • ○  Prioritize self-care: eat a balanced meal, engage in physical activity, have a proper sleep schedule, relax, spend time in nature, limit screen exposure, spend quality time with family.
    • ○  Journaling: Writing or drawing one’s feelings can ease the mind.
    • ○  Try any kind of physical activity
    • ○  Engage in serving the community

Channel their energy!

Children who feel helpless about a situation can end up feeling cynical and angry. However, when they feel there is something, anything, they can do to make a difference, they feel empowered. When speaking with your child, brainstorm the different situations they are worried about and identify different ways they can choose to react. Rehearse until your child is comfortable. Be your child’s role model. Show them through your actions and educate them through resources available in the community.

  • ●  Recognize that some communities are at more risk—children and families who have experienced trauma or loss are at higher risks of experiencing distress
  • ●  Teach them how to disagree in a civil and cordial fashion starting at home with siblings, parents, and peers.
  • ●  Teach them to be actively engaged and responsible members of our society. Educate your child about their rights as American citizens, history of social change and movement, and help them find opportunities to make an impact.
  • ●  Teach your children an anti-racist perspective, if you are not familiar with this, it may be good to educate yourself first. The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative is a great place to get started.
This is not the first or last time in history that challenging events have taken place. Policies enacted after 9/11 are just the latest rendition of policies inspired by xenophobic and white-supremacist ideologies that many Black Muslims have been experiencing since the foundation of this country. Post 9/11 policies just expand the experience to a broader population of non-Black Muslims. If you are part of this newly exposed and affected population, this may be a good time to educate yourself further about the history of oppression and how to build resilience. We highly recommend Sapelo Square, an online forum that places Black Muslims at the center as a place to start.

Advocate

If you haven’t already, be your child’s advocate at school. It is much better to have an established relationship with your child’s school’s administrators and teachers than to approach them after an incident occurs.

  • ●  Talk to your child’s teachers and let them know your concerns about the upcoming anniversary. Explain to them how it may have a more personal impact on your child because of his/her Muslim identity.

  • ●  Ask your school what they are planning for the upcoming anniversary
  • ●  Share CAIR’s guide for schools which contains:
    • ○  A letter to school leadership
    • ○  Tips for teaching lesson plans about 9-11
    • ○  Educational resources that teachers can reference

Keep on Marching

Although 9-11 and its aftermath will stay in our collective memory and cause some very real frustration and anxiety, it is also a teachable and character-building moment to reinforce within ourselves and within our children why we are doing what we are doing. As parents, it is important for us to practice self-care. Avoid overstimulation by constantly checking your newsfeeds. Remember, we are doing everything for the pleasure of Allah, the Most High. He is in full control and is the best of planners. We are being tested to see how we will react. We must hold fast to our principles and values, and continue the work that we need to be doing to improve our nation.
“O you who believe, persevere and endure and remain stationed and protect yourselves with Allah that you may be successful.” – Qur’an 3:200
9/11 Anniversary Response Guide For Parents