Sex Roles, Vol. 51, Nos. 5/6, September 2004 (
In the Shadows of the Twin Towers: Muslim Immigrant
Women’s Voices Emerge
and Kathryn Quina
The senseless attacks of September 11 left marks of sadness on us all. In a focus group, seven
young women immigrants of the Muslim faith shared incidents and reﬂections on the special
effects the attacks left on them. Their discussions shed light on important issues and dynamics
in their lives, counteracting stereotypes of them as passive or uneducated. In addition, sources
of stress, primarily from discrimination and media stereotyping, were discussed. From their
insights, the authors offer recommendations to help feminists raise awareness about, and
acculturate to, these women in their quest to achieve without losing their culture.
KEY WORDS: Muslim; immigrant; women.
“Murderer!” she was called on September 11 as she
hastily walked her little sister from school. “I act like
I didn’t hear it and my sister was like, what did you
A bit of personal background may help illuminate this work. The
ﬁrst author of this study moved to New York City 2 weeks be-
fore September 11, to teach psychology as part of her ﬁrst aca-
demic assignment at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
She was still at the euphoric stage, while consumed with New
York City’s diverse social fabric and vibrant way of life, when
tragedy struck. As a survivor of civil war that shredded her home
county to pieces, she experienced a reappearance of ﬂashbacks
and nightmares of those years. Although not a Muslim, she is ed-
ucated in the Muslim faith, and very familiar with the culture
and ways of life. So when the college asked her for help, she
developed a support group for Muslim women affected by the
tragedy. The lessons learned from these women convinced us that
this study, however preliminary, was needed to open more eyes
of professional psychology and of feminists to their world post-
September 11, 2001.
It is ﬁtting that this issue is dedicated to Sue Rosenberg Zalk,
a mentor to both authors, since it was in her name that a small
group of us met at BMCC on September 8, 2001, in the shadow
of the glistening Twin Towers, to discuss ways to promote safety
for refugee women, and peace in the Middle East.
Department of Psychology, Borough of Manhattan Community
College, New York, New York.
Department of Psychology, University of Rhode Island,
Kingston, Rhode Island.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, Borough of Manhattan Community College, New
York, New York; e-mail: mhallak@BMCC.CUNY.edu.
The events of September 11, 2001, are an inte-
gral part of this story. Before that date, they were
seven young Muslim women students and an Arab
American faculty member at a community college in
lower Manhattan, next to the Twin Towers, which
served as a symbolic beacon to their education. On
September 11, several witnessed the planes crash-
ing into the towers, and their horrible collapse. All
were caught up in the chaos of a city under attack. In
this paper, we explore their experiences and how we
came to understand the shadows still cast over their
lives by the Twin Towers.
This study was undertaken to learn more about
the issues young Muslim women have experienced
after immigrating to the United States, to examine
the impact of the events of September 11, 2001, and
to suggest ways to assist them in ﬁnding a comfort-
able place in their chosen home. College women
were selected for this study because they represent a
signiﬁcant cohort in the future of American Muslims,
the “bridge” generation from the traditional culture
of their parents to the Western culture they now call
home. This particular group was sampled because
their lives were personally disrupted by the terror-
ist attacks. Additional insights come from the ﬁrst
author’s experiences as an Arab American working
with Muslim women, the psychology of immigration,
and the small but interesting body of writings on the
2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.