Do you know the feeling when you have a parent or relative that you keep at a distance for one reason or another, but then they become severely ill, and you can't help but forget all your differences and stand beside them?
And through it all, you rediscover their true nature and you laugh at, even regret, what kept you apart?
That parent I kept at a far distance was my religion, Islam.
And then 9/11 happened.
I had only been in the United States for three years that month, and although I still identified as a Muslim, it's fair to say that it was my most distant — and troubled — time with my religion.
And to be honest, being Middle Eastern or Muslim in America didn't matter much before 9/11.
I was standing in our living room, about to head out to Crafton Hills College, when I spotted on television the attacks on the Twin Towers, the smoke and the chaos in New York. Those initial images remain vivid in my mind to this day.
I didn't immediately understand what was going on, but I felt very troubled and secretly hoped "Muslims" or Middle Easterners weren't responsible.
I held onto that hope on my way to school, but it wasn't long before I had to face the facts.
And suddenly, I felt as though I had to make a choice: Stand beside my religion or dissociate myself completely.
I obviously chose the former. Though it wasn't the easier choice, my innate sense of curiosity and the responsibility I felt as a human being to stand for justice — in itself a basic Islamic principle — wouldn't have allowed otherwise.
9/11 tumbled the already shaken grounds beneath me.
It also led me to a lot of questions.
Was the source of all my principles flawed? Does Islam really encourage violence, and if it does, why was I taught otherwise and, even more critical, why did I feel differently?
Was I that naive?
Being forced into choices can bring up a lot of hidden insecurities. But unfortunately, sometimes it takes crises to bring about a change.
I wasn't exactly the most qualified to answer specific questions about my religion.
All I had were my principles — the very ones Islam taught me. All I had was my story.
For a while, I would feel very offended and deeply hurt by those who would attack Islam and Muslims for the acts of terrorists.