GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Dr. Sharif Sahibzada remembers what the Islamic Center of West Michigan on Burton Street SE was like before 9/11. He arrived in July of that year and remembers it to be a “very peaceful” time.
“Publicly it was a very nice time. We were enjoying [life], and this house was full at that time. I came and people were attending,” Dr. Sahibzada said during an interview on Thursday afternoon in his office. “As soon as 9/11 happened, everything went upside down and things changed drastically.”
Dr. Sahibzada said he was hurting during that time because of the tragedy itself and because his community was suffering. He remembers many in the Muslim community were afraid to go outside.
However, as difficult as that time was, he said, not many experienced hatred or Islamophobia.
“In Grand Rapids I didn’t notice any such hate, violence. Only there were one or two calls to me and I ignored it because that was hard time,” Dr. Sahibzada, who’s also the director of the center. “Everyone was facing very difficult [times] and problems. So, we have to bear it and show patience.”
Dr. Sahibzada said what he remembers most is the love from other people that helped him and his community get through the hard times.
“Christian people, they have the soft corner in their hearts and especially the church people,” he said. “One of the churches on Kalamazoo, close to 36th, they invited our whole community over there. And, we went there and they encouraged us.”
He said the women of the church also celebrated “scarf day” in honor of the Muslim women. They also did their shopping because the women were fearful of going out as well.
Moreover, years later, when former President Donald Trump implemented the Muslim Ban, neighbors in their community on Burton Street SE brought them signs of support that read “We are all immigrants. I stand with my Muslim neighbors” and “Our neighbors, we support you, we love you.”
“Things were becoming normal even though it was a very hard time for everyone, for all Americans,” he said. “But still there were some encouraging moments.”
That was one of them. Both signs hang in the building near the front doors for everyone to see as soon as they walk inside.
Throughout the years, Dr. Sahbizada spoke at various interfaith events around town, educating others on Islam, Muslims, and his culture. He’s passionate about education and encourages everyone to learn about one another so that unity can be achieved.
“We have to be united and live like brothers and sisters and try to understand each other,” Dr. Sahibzada said. “Don’t imagine or perceive anything without knowing, without experiment. That’s not the right approach. Go to reality. Then study it.”