Victor Ghalib Begg has spent his adult life fighting stereotypes.
In the 1980s, the Bloomfield Hills-based businessman founded the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. In 1993, Begg founded the Muslim Unity Center mosque Oakland County. And on Sept. 12, 2001 in Dearborn–the first day what would eventually become the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit met–Begg was there, leading the charge to ensure that 9/11 didn't mean that they had to start over from scratch.
"We met the day after 9/11 in a Dearborn mosque and decided we were going to do an interfaith service," Begg recalls. "At that meeting, I raised my hand and said, ‘We’ve got to think of doing more than a prayer service. Prayers are good, but we’ve got to do more.’"
Begg says now that he realized immediately the gravity of what happened on Sept. 11, and how it would affect Muslims and Arab-Americans.
"I came here in 1969 when the (Twin) Towers were going up," Begg says. "Then 30 years later, they went down by people claiming to belong to our faith. Life between the rise and fall of the Twin Towers was very different from the point after the destruction of the towers.
"That was the first day of a new calendar in my life and in the life of our community and, I would say, for America."
Since then, Begg says he has seen the community both come together, and be ripped apart by hate.
Interfaith services and federal efforts to understand and embrace Islam as part of American life became common. So, too, did the voices of people like Terry Jones and the leaders of Westboro Baptist Church, both of whom travel the country–including stops in Dearborn–to spread animosity toward, among other things, Islam.
And while Begg and other local religious and community leaders embraced the unified response from those who sought peace, they knew they had to fight back against hate.
"(The Muslim community) had to stand up–especially people like me, who were active–and our full-time focus then became to stand up for our American values," Begg explains. "Our community became very active in defending our faith and denouncing terrorism."
Begg says the InterFaith Leadership Council and Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan have done just that for the past decade–by being visible in the community, by working with local and state law and political officials, and by encouraging accurate portrayals of Islam in the media.
But perhaps the best showing of their strength, Begg says, was when the groups orchestrated a massive response to of this year. Held at the , it of all faiths to stand against hate.
"(Muslim Americans) are a minority–we can’t fight these things by ourselves. We need friends," Begg says. "Never before in history have we had the kind of display of unity (we had when Terry Jones came to Dearborn)."
But although progress has been made, Begg believes that the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 should yield much more.
"This 10th anniversary is a time for remembrance, of course, because we remember those who died and give tribute; and reflection," he says. "And the time for renewal. Let us hope this 10th anniversary will initiate a new era of less divisions, peace, less destruction. People coming together ... to refocus and rebuild and understand."