Feeling heartsick and helpless nearly 4,000 miles away from the attacks, trauma physician Rushdi Abdul Cader spent Sept. 11, 2001, paging through his Quran in search of guidance.
He feared a backlash against Muslims, though it would be a few more hours before the phone began to ring with menacing callers, including one who asked, “Are you happy now?” And it would still be a couple of days before friends offered to do the grocery shopping in case his wife, Nisha, was afraid to leave home in her headscarf.
Mainly, though, he struggled to understand how any Muslim could read the same sacred book he was holding and interpret it as condoning slaughter. Scanning the Quran at his home in San Luis Obispo, his eyes locked on a verse about how Muslims shouldn’t defend anyone who tries to justify “treacherous and sinful” conduct.
Finding those words, Abdul Cader said, was like “God talking to me.” On that day, he vowed to wrest his faith from a radical fringe whose attacks have turned Islam into the most vilified religion in the world.
Fifteen years later, Abdul Cader has come to personify mainstream America’s idea of the “good Muslim” – the guy Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has in mind when he says American Muslims “have to cooperate with law enforcement;” the ally Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is referring to when she talks about Muslims as a “coalition at home,” an “early-warning signal” and a “first line of defense against radicalization.”
Abdul Cader rolled out a counter-extremism program to deter young Muslims from militancy a year before the White House introduced a national approach. He volunteered as a trauma doctor on the local police force’s SWAT team, positioning himself as a bridge between the authorities and local Muslims. He set up an online portal where Muslims could safely report suspicious activity. And he created slideshows to present at mosques along the California coast, teaching parents how to stay vigilant for signs of radicalization.
WHEN 9/11 COMES AND WE REMEMBER IT, FOR ME THERE IS NO LONGER A WOUND IN MY HEART ABOUT IT BECAUSE I BELIEVE I’M DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.Rushdi Abdul Cader
The warrior who emerged from 9/11, however, is fighting a lonely battle.
Abdul Cader’s decision to speak so forcefully against extremism alienated would-be Muslim allies, who deride him as a sellout for his close relations with police and federal agents at a time when authorities push – and sometimes cross – constitutional limits with their surveillance of Muslims. At the same time, some non-Muslims have publicly questioned his loyalties, either out of raw bigotry or skepticism that he’s representative of a religion they see as inherently violent.
His predicament shows the conundrum American Muslims have faced since 9/11 cleaved their lives into two distinct periods: a before, in which they were largely invisible, and an after, of unrelenting scrutiny.