Almost a full 10 years after an angry, American flag-waving mob marched from Oak Lawn to an Islamic mosque in Bridgeview in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Oak Lawn clergy are hoping that an interfaith worship service involving Muslims and Christians will help residents move forward as a united community.
The “Remembrance, Renewal and Hope” interfaith service scheduled for Thursday (Sept. 8) at is being organized by faith leaders from the area’s Muslim and Christian communities. The purpose of the worship service is to first remember those who died in the attacks 10 years ago, but also to demonstrate a united front, bringing together residents across racial, ethnic and religious lines.
Phil Leo, president of the Oak Lawn Clergy and Religious Worker Association, and pastor at , recalls hearing an angry crowd shouting and chanting at 95th Street and Southwest Highway a few days after the terrorist attacks.
“I could hear them all the way from my house,” Leo remembered. “It was a warm night. They marched down to the mosque (in Bridgeview), which is quite a walk. There were police and fire officials putting up barricades and keeping the crowd at bay.”
Leo called the event an “eye opener” to the divide of religion and ethnicity that separated Arab Americans from other families in the same community.
“That’s why a service like this is important,” he said. “It’s a chance to start relationships and put a face on our neighbors. The fear is the worst part of it.”
Oussama Jammal, vice president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, was traveling on business on the West Coast the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. His first reaction was: “My God, I hope it’s not Muslims,” before it became apparent that the country was under attack by Islamic terrorists.
Unable to fly home to be with his family because planes had been grounded, Jammal rented a car and drove non-stop to Bridgeview from Nevada.
“I felt scared every time I stopped to refuel my car. Going through small towns I felt people looking at me,” Jammal said. “Listening to radio talk shows from all different perspectives, I could tell that this was something that was going to shake our nation for years to come.”
As an angry crowd was held back by a large contingent of police, Jammal said that members of the Mosque Foundation came out carrying the American flag showing their displeasure with the Islamic hijackers.
“The Muslim community has suffered more than anyone else in the fallout of this tragedy,” Jammal said.
Despite the anti-Islamic response of some community members, who Jammal believes were just reacting in the heat of moment, other citizens sent flowers and cards of support to that mosque that balanced out the “negative effects.”
“There were great American citizens and friends that talked to their Muslim neighbors and volunteered to do their shopping or take our women to the grocery store,” Jammal said. “They understood that we had nothing to do with it.”
The anti-Islamic reaction also served as a wake-up call for the Mosque Foundation. Members realized they needed to reach out to their non-Muslim neighbors to bring about a greater understanding of Islam.
"If anything positive came out of this it’s that the Muslim community realized how important it is to reach out to our neighbors," Jammal said, "the more the community gets to know the difference between the hijackers and the peace-loving Muslims in their neighborhoods."
The Oak Lawn Clergy and Religious Worker Association, Genesis Therapy Center/Oak Lawn Family Services, the Mosque Foundation and American Muslims for Palestine are organizing Thursday’s ecumenical worship service.
The service will began with a moment of silence for the 9/11 victims and their families, followed by Christian and Islamic speakers and prayers. The Oak Lawn High School Chamber Singers will also lead attendees in the singing of the National Anthem.
The hour-long “Remembrance, Renewal and Hope” interfaith worship service starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, at Oak Lawn Community High School, 9400 Southwest Highway.