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Hurricane Ike, September 11 and Thoughts on Loss -Ruth Nasrullah

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angry_gulf_twcir_thu_eve.jpg I live in Houston and rode out the storm in my stepson’s apartment downtown.  Contrary to the logic behind evacuating from our Clear Lake home, downtown Houston turned out not to be the safest place, as it also suffered significant damage from Ike.  I live now in a city marked by disaster, where my neighbors happily announce that Sam’s Club now has milk and meat and where cows wander the barren streets of the Bolivar peninsula.

My hurricane Ike experience is a story of memory and sadness, of questioning and doubt. I start by thanking Allah that I suffered no more than minor home damage and no more than a couple of days without electricity,  and that I need little gasoline to go from home to work and back.

Ike’s aftermath reminds me of the days following the September 11 attacks. Obviously the nature of the two incidents share little in common, and I’m not asserting that they do. The September 11 attacks killed thousands and were the work of men; hurricane Ike killed dozens and was purely the work of God. My purpose is not to draw comparisons between the events and their outcomes, but rather to describe how each affected me personally.

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On September 11, 2001 I lived in my hometown of Montclair, NJ, which is about 15 miles west of Manhattan. The events of that day were personal for everyone I knew. We saw the buildings burning from our front steps. We worried over those who were missing, especially among suburban commuters to NYC.  In the hours after the world trade center buildings were attacked, things became chaotic. Phone, internet and TV service were spotty. At my daughter’s school, they made an announcement overhead that any students whose parents worked in the city should report to the office. By afternoon, there were still some children who did not know if their mom or dad (or both) would be coming home.

Although I was spared direct loss of death, job or home, I couldn’t avoid the knowledge that thousands around me had suffered and were suffering. During the week following September 11, I was unable to escape the sight of smoke continuously pouring from the spot where the world trade center had been. It seemed like it would never stop. I was unable to escape the sight of the ugly fracture in the skyline I had grown up with. The memorials and prayer services went on for days and weeks. Several weeks after the attacks I took the Hoboken ferry into the city; plastered all over the dock were posters with photos and “Have you seen this person?” “Missing: So-and-so; please call with information,” and so on and on.

In the same way, in these days after Ike’s landfall I pass long rows of cars whose drivers are waiting for gas or waiting their turn at the local PODs. I see news reports showing the virtual obliteration of places like Crystal Beach, of  discovered corpses and air rescues.  I wake up every morning knowing that I am surrounded by a world making its way through catastrophe at worst and hardship at best.

The after-effects of September 11 were profound for me in other respects than trying to manage my response to the grief. I went to several interfaith prayer services in the weeks that followed, and it was at one of those that my religious faith was rekindled. This subsequently led to my return to being a practicing Muslim.

In sad contrast, over the last week or so when I search for a sense of spirituality I come up bone dry. I don’t think it’s related to the hurricane, although I’d feel better if it was. I just don’t have the feeling, and its dearth has gnawed at me throughout this month of Ramadan, a time when my faith should be not just strong but overwhelming.

I went to the grocery store at 6:30 this morning in hopes of avoiding a line, which I did.  Of course, most of the produce section was empty, but I came across some lovely vine tomatoes. As I selected the ripest, it occurred to me that I never thought I’d be so happy to see tomatoes in my life, and that thought brought tears to my eyes. Then I realized that during Ramadan we Muslims go without fruits, vegetables, or food of all kinds, and although we do so by choice, the sense of sacrifice is still there, along with the choice to mourn or hope for the things we miss. Maybe in this post-hurricane world, a world where some are devastated and some are spared but all experience some loss, there is a Ramadan lesson for me which I just have to find a way to embrace.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Redwan Ahmed

    September 18, 2008 at 3:51 PM

    Ma’shallah, i love your articles

  2. iMuslim

    September 18, 2008 at 6:39 PM

    I am glad you came through sis… May Allah have mercy on you and your neighbours, Ameen.

  3. Amad

    September 18, 2008 at 10:32 PM

    Some absolutely amazing and crisp pictures here… they really lay the situation out:
    The short – but eventful – life of Ike

  4. ASC

    September 19, 2008 at 1:50 PM

    Mashallah, Jazak Allah for sharing.

  5. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    September 20, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    bismillah. may Allah subhanahu wata ala increase you in barakat. may He strengthen you in your iman. may He make your recovery from Ike complete and swift, and may He make it a means of coming nearer to Him.

  6. OM

    September 25, 2008 at 7:19 AM

    As Salamu Alikum,

    You assert at the beginning of your article that 9/11 was the work of men and Ike was the work of God. Leaving aside the problem I have with the use of work and God, I wish to question your equating of the cataclysmic event to God. This is because I’m skeptic about who is the cause of this event (no doubt that the Ahlus Sunnah ascribe all good to Allah SWT; as for evil,we don’t ascribe that to Allah SWT. However, I don’t wish to get into this). I’m inclining towards the view that Ike was not a natural hurricane. I have some serious questions to which I can’t really find answers?

    1- After Katrina, we saw massive coverage by the media regarding the damages, casualties, etc. However, the same isn’t true for Ike. I wonder why the coverage is so little. Also why has the media been banned from covering the Galveston?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge0dxJfxsa8

    2- Check out this military report:
    http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/volume3/vol3ch15.pdf

    3- Good Hurricane Ike cover up.

    As Salmu Alikum.

  7. OM

    September 25, 2008 at 7:26 AM

    ^3- Google Hurricane Ike cover up.

  8. Umm Reem

    September 25, 2008 at 5:16 PM

    I was talking to my cousin in Clear Lake and it seems like that many people still don’t have electricity! I don’t know how families with small children are surviving…
    She was also telling me how grocery stores don’t have everything available that people need. There were restrictions on milk per family. People are actually fighting in the stroes and stores are closing early. She was in Victoria and people gave her a list of grocery to bring from there!
    Traffic lights are still not fixed and the traffic starts to gather up esp. in the evening time.

    May Allah ease the situation there and bring life to normal soon.

  9. Umm Reem

    October 1, 2008 at 8:43 AM

    Some Muslims see outage as a blessing for Ramadan:

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/hurricane/ike/6026097.html

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