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Friday, October 12, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW spends a day of reflection to ponder meaning of Sept. 11

Seattle Times staff reporter

They sat together — a campus peace activist, a senior in the Army ROTC and a Muslim student from Pakistan. Those in attendance at the University of Washington were captivated, or at the very least curious, to see how this discussion would play out.

"I am a fundamentalist Muslim," said Humza Chaudhry. "I believe that God exists. I believe in heaven and hell. I believe that the Koran is the word of God."

But don't let his skin color, religion and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks taint the fact that he is also an American, born in California, the 20-year old said.

Many students yesterday gathered around this political-science lecture hall and other classrooms across campus during the UW's Day of Reflection and Engagement. All morning and afternoon classes were canceled so faculty and students could reflect and discuss how their lives were affected by the attacks.

More than 70 teach-ins, lectures and workshops were offered at all three UW campuses — Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell. There were makeshift walls and bulletin boards to let students share their thoughts, their poetry and their artwork.

Considering the event fell on the same day as a Seattle Mariners' home playoff game, administrators were pleased to find thousands of staff, alumni and students packing lecture halls on topics such as Islam and the Middle East.

It underscored that setting aside their academic work for a day was "the right thing to do for a university," UW President Richard McCormick said.

For Chaudhry, head of the UW's Muslim Student Association, the event allowed him to dispel myths about Islam. Chaudhry shared the stage with student representatives from Christian and Jewish organizations, and leaders from campus military and peace groups.

There was no heated debate, no conclusions or consensus — just a cornucopia of opinions and contradictions.

Jerrold Castro, the ROTC student, called President Bush "my boss," and said he supports the war — that it's "my duty as an American" to protect the country.

But he added, "I don't want to lose my life. I have a wife and brothers and sisters. I will do everything to keep my family together."

Chaudhry said during the discussion that if Muslims were killed the way non-Muslims were at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he doesn't know if he could reach out to other Americans as they have to him.

"People say hi to me all the time around campus," Chaudhry said. "They feel they have to be inclusive. I appreciate that ... It touches me."

In a nearby lecture hall, professor Jon Conte of the UW's School of Social Work, said he was on a United Airlines flight Sept. 11 and didn't realize how lucky he was until the next day, when his daughter came home and he put his arms around her and cried.

"I realized how traumatized I had been, which is funny (because) I'm a trauma therapist," he said.

Tan Vinh can be reached at 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com.

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