Muslim chaplain reflects on 9/11

Xavier’s Tala Ali spoke about the effects of 9/11 on the Muslim community

Photo courtesy of Xavier University

Since July 1, Tala Ali has served as the new full-time Muslim chaplain on Xavier’s campus. This position, along with that of a full-time Baptist chaplain and Jewish rabbi, were all created by the Center for Faith and Justice (CFJ) after last-year’s decision for the CFJ to absorb the Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement.

Previously, Ali had worked as the part-time Muslim chaplain. In this new position, she has been working as a full-time employee of the CFJ.

Ali sees the expansion of her role as a reflection of Xavier’s mission to be welcoming of all.

“There is a sizable Muslim student population here at Xavier, and that’s growing,” Ali said. “They created this position so that they can have someone who is relevant to their spiritual tradition and who can help them and advise them.”

As a part of her job, Ali will fill many roles for Muslim students, including spiritual provider, friend, confidant and the leader of weekly Muslim services on campus.

The significance of a Muslim chaplain is particularly important in light of today marking the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Ali explained that 9/11 in particular can be a traumatic time for Muslims.

“What happened in New York City on Sept. 11 happened to American — Muslims included,” Ali said. “Muslims are not people that are outside of the American experience. We’re very much a part of the American experience and have endured all the traumas that are imposed within this country.”

Reflecting on her personal experience, Ali explained that on her way to work she had to cross through Fountain Square to get to her place of employment.

“I remember it was full of people walking around or just standing, but I remember, you could hear a pin drop. No one was talking, no one knew what was happening,” Ali said. “But I felt like my body and my presence was so loud, like I was just reverberating through the silence. Like everyone’s eyes, like, followed me across the square.”

She even recalled witnessing the event on the news, thinking to herself, “Please don’t let them look like me. Please, don’t let them be Muslim.”

In the midst of this dark day in recent American history, Ali remembered a moment of empathy on her bus ride home.

“There was an elderly black woman when I got up to get off the bus at my stop, and she put her hand on my hand as I was grabbing the rail to stand up. She said, ‘You be careful. You take care of yourself,’” Ali recalled.

Ali also felt as though she could anticipate the surge of Islamophobia that was to follow the 9/11 attacks.

“There tends to be, in the media, a vilifying of (Muslims) because when you vilify and dehumanize people, it becomes easier to impose sanctions and drop bombs on them because they’re no longer people in other people’s eyes,” she said. “I don’t think it’s OK to convict an entire faith tradition because some people use religion as political rhetoric to push their own AWOL agenda.”

Finally, Ali spoke to the lasting effects of 9/11 on Muslim-Americans.

“Muslims want to mourn like everyone else, to remember and honor people, but I think there is trauma that incurred with Sept. 11, and we are so busy trying to get through that we’re not able to partake or experience it in other ways since we have our own trauma associated with that.”

Jumma, the Muslim weekly prayer service, is held on Friday afternoons at 3 p.m. in Husman Hall’s Interfaith Chapel.

Ali’s office is located in the CFJ on the third floor of Gallagher Student Center.

By Aleya Justison | Guest Writer