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Should we reach out to American Muslims on 9/11?

September 8, 2016
by H. Steven Moffic
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Every anniversary of 9/11 is important to Americans as well as a source of collective grief for the lives lost. This year, as our so-called War on Terror continues, marks the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.

Coincidentally, the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha was suppose to fall around the same time this year, depending on the sighting of the moon. It is a joyous holiday for Muslims and honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of submission to God.

Potential conflict

Most anyone in the mental health field can anticipate the potential problem and conflict: a joyous Muslim holiday coinciding with an American tragedy that is associated with the actions of some Muslim extremists.

Given that Muslims have received increasing attention around the world for some recent terrorist attacks, the potential for hate crimes toward the people as a whole is likely to increase, let alone the micro-aggressions that have occurred toward them since 9/11. Some of these micro-aggressions can include endorsing the stereotype of all Muslims as potential terrorists; assumption of Islamic homogeneity; mocking language; and calls for expulsion. Islamaphobia, the fear of Islam that is not based on reality, seems to also be increasing.

It now seems like the Muslim holiday will actually fall on September 12 this year, as conveyed on September 2 by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, that may not lessen the potential for problems.

What, if anything, is the role of mental health caregivers and our institutions in such situations? What, if anything, can we do to help? As the American Psychiatric Association's ethical principles state, we have a secondary responsibility to the well-being of society besides our primary one to our patients. Although it may be wise to try to do our best in the next few days, such recommendations as these should be relevant for the foreseeable future.


1. Anticipate that both anniversaries may trigger traumatic memories in some of our patients.

2. We can send out a positive message to the mainstream Muslims in our communities that we recognize and appreciate their positive contributions to American life.

3. We can offer an open house in our institutions to foster alliances with Muslims in our community.

4. We can try to establish mutual educational programs on mental health and Islam.

5. We can convey that it is a sign of mental health to be able to take in both the sadness and joy of such different events.

In this regard, let us know if your setting is doing anything special over these next few days. Next week, let us process the aftermath, then continue to try to build bridges together toward safety, dignity and cross-cultural understanding.



H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...