Photograph by Beenish Chaudry

I was not sure what to do on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11. I did not plan to attend any events, but I still found my mind full of thoughts. I had the urge to remind myself that 10 years ago we all witnessed an attack on humanity and a gross representation, in fact a clear misrepresentation, of Islam.

Muslims have been trying to actively engage in an open dialogue with people of other faiths and of no faith for the past 10 years. I don’t know how far we have actually come. It will be nice to know if we have made any headway. I had no idea how to get these questions answered until my car rolled out of the parking lot of the local Islamic Center.

I like to think of Santa Claus as an angel who brings gifts on the eve of Christmas to children who have been good throughout the year. Little did I know that I would be meeting him on Sept. 11 in front of the Islamic Center. Well, it wasn’t him, exactly, but an old man with a long white beard and a red t-shirt. He stood at the juncture of East Atwater and Clifton Avenues.

I was stunned for a second, trying to make sense of what was going on. Finally, my mind cleared up. Santa Claus, hmm… The old man was holding a peace sign and waving at the cars as they passed by. I drove up to him to say hi and ask what he was doing. “It is about time people make peace with Islam and Muslims," he said. "This is my contribution towards protecting my Muslim neighbors.”
"Finally, I knew what I had to do, and I knew how to do it perfectly, as I had grown up with it."
I was completely overwhelmed. “Wow, this is awesome.” I paused to ruminate the impact of his action on me and everyone else who had seen him. “I am so thankful. I really respect your gesture.” He smiled back and kept waving at the passing cars. “Can I take your picture?” I finally asked. “Sure,” he said. “Let me grab my bigger peace sign.” I flashed the camera on his face, thanked him once again and waved him goodbye.

Finally, I knew what I had to do, and I knew how to do it perfectly, as I had grown up with it.

Make friendships with people of other faiths and treat that friendship as sacred – as a gift from God. Remember how Muslims helped Hindus and Hindus helped Muslims during the partition of the Subcontinent? Remember how those people put their own lives in danger to save the lives of their friends of different faiths?

This is how we need to live in America, where so many religions exist. The time for dialogue has ended, and the time for action has begun. People of different faiths need to act and produce living proofs to strengthen trust and build friendships.

This is the Sept. 11 message that I received from an angel.

Beenish Chaudry can be reached at binishchowdry@gmail.com.