Wajahat Ali:

When 9/11 happened I was a 21-year-old student at UC Berkeley. And unsuspectedly we had joined up the Muslim Student Association and I was elected as a board member. Little did we know that the two towers would fall and the narrative would change. And Muslim Americans would be placed under a microscope, and even America itself would be placed under a microscope and forced to re-examine who we are and re-examine our identity. That's an experience where I remember vividly, where you learn what it is to be an American because America, like any other country, has its good side and its bad side. And we have our history. And our history kind of caught up with ourselves as Muslim Americans.

As a board member, sitting there, on my sofa, 20 years old, seeing those two towers fall, I knew the narrative would change forever. You could see five years down the line and you could say, "You know what, before it gets good it's going to get a little bit bad. Before it gets better we're going to have to suffer a bit." It's not a victimization card, but I knew that this was our time to either sit there in our isolated cultural cocoons or bust our of those cocoons and really engage, and grow as a community, both as a Muslim and as an American. And like I said before they're not mutually exclusive. And the vivid memory I have, which is positive, is that I went on campus and people I'd never met before who knew me as one of the leaders of the Muslim-American community from Berkeley, I had a priest come up to me, a white man, who said, "If there's anything I can do for you and your community let me know." Japanese Americans came up to us, who I'd never met before, and said, "We've been through this also. We know what it means sometimes to be profiled. Our parents were in the internment camps. Let us know how we can help." People of all different races and ethnicities and different faiths came together and said, "let us work with you."

There are also voices of extremism that still exist to this day who use opportunities of tragedy and violence for their own political agenda, on both sides: both the Muslim extremists, if you will, and unfortunately, domestically. But we also see the true sprit of America come out, where people of all different races say, "You know what? We know our history, we know our values, we know our ideals, and we know the country that we can be. And even though we have these moments in our history where we do intern Japanese, where we do say things against Italians at the turn of the century. There is racism, there is slavery. At the same time, we're still evolving, we're a young country." And I think that entire 9/11 memory for me as a young Muslim American really showed me what it means to be an American, the fact that we have so much potential, and inshallah, so much farther we can go still.