Listen to Learn:
Join us this week for a special Patriot Day episode, where we revisit conversations with two guests who were deeply affected by the events of 9/11; the Reverend Doctor Stuart Hoke who recounts his experience at Trinity Wall Street on the day the towers came down, and Sophia Said, who's life as a Muslim was changed forever.
Born in Memphis TN, and raised across the Mississippi River in Blytheville AR, the Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke is a priest of the Diocese of New York who retired in 2008 as Executive Assistant to the Rector of Trinity Wall Street and Missioner to St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero. After graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Dr. Hoke attended the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he received the Master of Divinity degree. Ordained in 1972, Hoke has served congregations as a parish priest in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and New York.
Sophia Said was born and educated in Pakistan. At 20, she married Qayyim Said. The marriage was arranged by her parents. The first time she ever saw her groom was the night before their wedding. They moved to Utah in 1996 and she received her second Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Utah in 2007. Said, who had the highest GPA among economics majors, spoke at the University of Utah commencement. Later that year, the couple moved to Little Rock so Qayyim Said could teach health economics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
After coming to Little Rock, Sophia attended and graduated from the Clinton School of Public Service and became an American citizen in 2012.
In 2015, she was named Peacemaker of the Year by the Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice, and earlier this year, Said was presented with Just Communities of Arkansas’ Humanitarian Award. Currently she is the Program Director at the Interfaith Center located at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00: 00] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. This program and podcast always features unique perspectives from people who don’t usually have the time to share their full-life stories and thoughts.
On today’s program, you’re going to hear 9/11 talked about from two vantage points you may have never heard. One from the Reverent Dr. Stuart Hoke, episcopal priest at Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock who was actually at Trinity Wall Street in New York on the day of the attacks. And you’ll also hear from Sophia Said, the executive director of the Innerfaith Center at St. Margarets Episcopal Church in Little Rock.
It’s a special show. Thank you for tuning in.
[00:00:50] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of successful people. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny, and always informative weekly blog. There, you’ll read, learn and may comment about her life as a 21st century wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.
And now it’s time for Kerry to get all up in your business.
[00:01:22] KM: This show, Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, became an entrepreneurs in mind, a platform for me, a small business owner and a guest, to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way. As with all new endeavors, it’s had some unexpected outcomes. For instance, this show began with entrepreneurs and want to be entrepreneurs in mind. But we found it has a much wider appeal, because after all, who isn’t inspired by every day people’s American-made stories? Another discovery I find interesting is that many, many of my guests have a spiritual bind and the heart of a teacher, and last, that business in and of itself is creative.
My guest today is all of the above. He has an inspiring life story, knows a lot about creation, has a big heart of a teacher, and his spiritual bind is more than most, because he’s an episcopal priest who has held from all over the United States, including Wall Street, that became ground zero when the Twin Towers fell.
Today, we’re going to visit with Fr. Stuart Hoke, who recently moved back to Little Rock, Arkansas and became the assistant priest at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Little Rock. Dr. Hoke was born in Memphis, but raised across the wide Mississippi River in Blytheville, Arkansas. He is a mustang. I bet you hadn’t heard that in a while, having graduated from SMU, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He then went on to receive in master of divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fr. Hoke spent most of his ministry serving congregations in Arkansas and Texas. Until 1996, he got the academic bug and completed the master of sacred theology degree at New York’s General Theological Seminary. For the next 8 years, he would serve as executive assistant to the director of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City and missioner to St. Paul’s Chapel at ground zero. I can’t wait to talk to him about that.
For the past 30 years, Dr. Hoke has not only been spreading the good news of God’s grace, but also that of AAs 12-step recovery program, and his ministry of recovery, he has pioneered to nationally-recognized courses on the church’s role in the treatment of alcoholism and addictive illness. He is renowned for his workings with congregations an diocese of impaired clergy.
Dr. Hoke has now moved back to Arkansas, where he’s the assistant priest at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Little Rock, and he continuous his active participation in ministry in the 12-step recovery program. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table, Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke.
Blytheville, Arkansas. That means – Hell, father. I forgot to say hi. Hello, father.
[00:04:09] SH: Good afternoon.
[00:04:10] KM: Good afternoon. Blytheville, Arkansas. That means either your parents were at the Air Force base, they were farmers or they worked at the steel plant. Which one?
[00:04:20] KM: My father was stationed at the Army Air Force base during the second World War. Met my mother who was the daughter of one of the first stores in the city, the Hubbard Furniture Company.
[00:04:34] KM: Oh, you’re kidding.
[00:04:34] SH: So we were –
[00:04:36] KM: You’re rich.
[00:04:37] SH: We were just absolutely not rich, but we were comfortable.
[00:04:43] KM: Yeah. You were the small town furniture owner in a small Blytheville, Arkansas.
[00:04:47] SH: And you pronounced it correctly, Blytheville, Arkansas.
[00:04:49] KM: I have friends from Blytheville. I’ve been there. The Air Force base I think has moved out though.
[00:04:55] SH: Air Force base is gone now. The city is much smaller than it was when I was growing up.
[00:05:00] KM: But it’s got great fertile ground. It’s on the Mississippi River. It’s a great farming country. After reading about you, it seems like you always kind of knew you wanted to be a priest, because you went to college to be a priest. You went to SMU?
[00:05:12] SH: Went to SMU. I knew I wanted to be a clergy person long, long time ago. I didn’t tell anybody. That’s not the kind of thing you tell your teenage friends. But that’s what I wanted.
[00:05:23] KM: How’d you know that?
[00:05:24] SH: Well, my parents were active Episcopalians. We were in church every Sunday. The episcopal priest in town even in that little town was always the educated [inaudible 00:05:33]. He knew the –
[00:05:35] KM: The what?
[00:05:36] SH: [inaudible 00:05:36].
[00:05:37] KM: Yes. See, these episcopal preachers, they’re just so educated. What does that mean?
[00:05:41] SH: He knew his salad fork from his entrée fork, ate well. He took me to the opera in Memphis. Just a man like that, educated, worldly, who’d been around, gave me a good model. I said, “I want to do that.” So I did.
[00:05:58] KM: So it’s a lot of responsibility for you guys to follow in his footstep.
[00:06:02] SH: Went to SMU. My father insisted that I’d be an engineer. I fixed that by making my first and only D in calculus. So that was the end of my engineering career, and I wanted to study religion and language. My father thought that was not a good idea, whatsoever.
[00:06:20] KM: So, Latin, I guess?
[00:06:21] SH: Latin and Greek. Yeah. Latin and Greek and religious studies at SMU. Most exciting courses I’ve ever taken.
[00:06:28] KM: After you graduated from college, you decided to go on and get a master’s, and you went to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[00:06:36] SH: I did. It was the Vietnam War. I had a medical disability, because I tried to go under the service, and that was not possible. Went to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Dallas, Texas in the fall of 1968, right on the middle of it, and was in Cambridge for four years doing all the riots and the colleges and the nation. Happened to be on the street when teargas fall on two occasions. So I really learned something about the life of the church and the streets as well as in the church building itself.
It was the war, and we were really doing whatever we could to see that the war could stop. So of my friends had died and so many more were going to die. So we were very sensitized to that at the time. A great place for theological education during that period.
[00:07:26] KM: Did you work while you were there?
[00:07:28] SH: I did. I worked. I was a chaplain, student chaplain at the Bunker Hill Community Mental Health Center, which was in Charlestown, Massachusetts. It was an Irish ghetto it was called at the time. My job was to go around and meet the community and introduce them to the health center as well as to some dynamics of spiritual living, spiritual health. There was a lot of talk about alcoholism at the time, because Charleston was full of it.
I wanted to know as much as I could about it. In fact, I got a job, my first job in Cambridge, Massachusetts was a student chaplain at the Long Island Center for the Chronically Alcoholic. These were the Skidrow bums. And my first job there was to be an orderly, help clean them up after they got off the streets.
[00:08:18] KM: Were they Vietnam vets a lot of them?
[00:08:20] SH: Yeah. Some of them.
[00:08:21] KM: Seems like that’s a lot of the homeless people are veterans of some sort. I think this is probably a great place for us to take a break. When we come back, we’ll continuous our conversation with Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke, assistant priest at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. We’ll hear about the role, his New York City Trinity Church when Wall Street played after the fall of the Twin Towers that became ground zero. Stay tuned. More to come.
[00:08:47] Announcer: Friends of Dreamland are proud to sponsor Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Dreamland Ballroom, located on the 3rd floor of the blagandbanner.com building in the historic Taborian Hall is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing back the music, the history and the party of the Dreamland Ballroom.
Our annual fundraiser, Dancing into Dreamland, will be a tournament of past champions to celebrate the 10th year. Mark, Friday, November 15th at 7PM on your calendar. The night will include a dance competition, where audience members text their votes for their favorite acts, a silent auction, free horderves, cash bar and your opportunity to experience the magic and imagine the music of the legends that played on the Dreamland stage, like Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and many more.
Tickets available at dreamlandballroom.org for the 10th Annual Dancing into Dreamland. Be a part of the history of Dreamland.
[00:09:42] KM: I’m speaking today with Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke, episcopal priest at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Before the break we were talking about how Dr. Hoke became a preacher. How he kind of always knew he wanted to be one, and it’s not really in your family. But it’s in you, and that people in your life can really affect how you grow up to be, and that you had a great example of an episcopal priest in Blytheville, who really set a great example for you on how to be.
So now after receiving your masters of divinity degree in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you work and ministered all over Arkansas and Texas before you moved in New York City and 9/11 happened. So how did you go from Cambridge, Massachusetts back to Texas and Arkansas to minister?
[00:10:30] SH: I was ordained at the diocese of Oklahoma. By hook and crook, Iwas invited by the bishop of Oklahoma to be a part of that crew over there. And he stationed me after ordination in a church in Tulsa. I was there for two years. Then a man from Little Rock called me and said, “I want you to come work over here.” The bishop over here said, “I want you to move across the state a lot.”
[00:10:55] KM: Who was the bishop?
[00:10:55] SH: The bishop was Christoph Keller.
[00:10:57] KM: Oh yeah.
[00:10:58] SH: So I moved to Arkansas, and this is home for me, and it felt so good. I was at St. Mark’s here in Little Rock for three years and then I moved to St. John’s Church in Harrison, and was there for six years.
[00:11:09] KM: Arkansas? Oh, really?
[00:11:11] SH: Yeah. St. John’s in Harrison at the time was a very conflicted church, and I had grown up in a conflicted family, and I knew some of the dynamics of how to fix situations like that. So I employed them.
[00:11:25] KM: Did you fix them?
[00:11:26] SH: Oh! They fixed me.
[00:11:29] KM: You can’t fix humans. We’re just unfixable.
[00:11:32] SH: Yeah. Then I had a call to a big church in Texas, and I moved to Amarillo, Texas. Spent 10 years there, after that, in Houston. After 29 years in parish ministry, I got the education bug and I thought I would really like to go back to school. Fear that I couldn’t even write a footnote, but I thought, “Well, I’d love to do that –”
[00:11:52] KM: How old are you now?
[00:11:53] SH: I’m 72.
[00:11:55] KM: Not now, but I mean then when you decided to go back.
[00:11:56] SH: 49.
[00:11:57] KM: You’re 49 and you decided to go back and get a Ph.D., I guess? Right?
[00:12:01] SH: Yeah. Got a master’s degree just to try it out. See if I could do it. Then spent the next 4 years working on Ph.D., like a Ph.D., or in doctorate. Yes. And had no idea what I would do with that, but it’s opened so many doors. Just so many doors. It gave me a credential that I’ve needed in order to do some of the things that I’ve done. Not only write, but preach and teach, heather and tether, and the degree has helped do that.
[00:12:32] KM: So you were in Amarillo, and then you moved to Houston to another big church. You got the academic bug.
[00:12:39] SH: Moved to New York City.
[00:12:41] KM: Then you moved to New York City.
[00:12:42] SH: Absolutely loved living in New York.
[00:12:43] KM: In your early 40s.
[00:12:45] SH: Yeah. In my late 40s.
[00:12:46] KM: In your late 40s. Went to school for how long?
[00:12:48] SH: Went to school for 6 years until I was 55. That’s when I was awarded the doctoral degree. And, simultaneously, got a job at Trinity Church Wall Street, which is probably the biggest Episcopal Church in North America as far as outreach.
[00:13:10] KM: I’ve been there actually. I went to service there one time. It may have been you that was there. It’s been so long ago, because it was right after 9/11, and we went to church in there. But there wasn’t hardly anybody in it.
[00:13:19] SH: After 9/11, it was scary what had happened. No one was coming down. Now it’s packed to the gills on Sunday morning.
[00:13:26] KM: That’s nice.
[00:13:27] SH: Yeah. So many of our people died in the tragedy, and so much fear about being down on Wall Street at the time. So it had a blow a year before it was back in full swing.
[00:13:39] KM: So you had been there for how long when 9/11 happened?
[00:13:41] SH: I was there for a year, and I lived on the upper west side of Manhattan. Took the subway to my office every day. The office was about 75 yards from the first tower, from the north tower.
[00:13:56] KM: Where were you when the planes had hit –
[00:13:57] SH: I was on the subway when the first plane hit, and the subway conductor said, “We are approaching Chamber Street, where you’ll need to get off on get on the other side to take the local train to get to Wall Street.” The he said, “Stay on the train. There has been an incident at the first tower.” Then he screamed, “Stay on the train.” So all of us stayed on the train. We had no idea what was going on. Got off at Rector Street near Wall Street. Came up out at the subway tunnel. It was a beautiful day when I gotten the train, and it was very cloudy when I got off. There was debris in the air. There were women’s clothes coming down from the sky, and people were screaming. A friend of mine said, “Aa small plane has just hit the first tower. Let’s go down and see what’s happened.” I said, “Well, let’s go.” I mean, I always want to see what’s happening.
We went down, and if you know, New York had stood always stood at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty Street. At the entrance of the north tower, watched the south tower burn three floors. Kept hearing people saying, “It’s only a small plane that’s hit it. It’s only a small plane.” And yet we could see three entire floors engulfed by flame.
And about that time, it was two minutes till 9:00. Another plane from the west came from out of the blue. It was right over our heads a thousand feed above us. Hit the tower at an angle right where we were standing, and the debris began coming down. The women next to me had the most incredible question. She said, “Is this is a setting for a movie?”
[00:15:46] KM: Oh my gosh!
[00:15:47] SH: I thought immediately Bruce Willis. I thought, “Well, of course. This is one of his disaster movies.” I said, “Yes.” We just stood there until another friend came up to me, shook me literally by the scruff of my neck and said, “Stuart, run for your life.” And it dawned on me. I was in trouble and I ran for my life. Many didn’t. Some of that debris covered some of the people with whom I was standing.
[00:16:15] KM: Killed them?
[00:16:15] SH: Mm-hmm.
[00:16:16] KM: With whom you were standing?
[00:16:18] SH: Not too far away. All of that debris from the impact of the plane and what came down the jet fuel, and the debris. I ran into the basement of the American Stock Exchange and then the church office was right next door Trinity Wall Street. Trinity has been there since 1689. So it’s been a fixture on Wall Street. Ran in there and the director said to me, the director is the pastor. I was his assistance. And he said, “People are streaming down Broadway.” Broadway, the major street in the city, “and they’re looking for shelter and they’re running into the church. Go over there and do something immediately.” I said, “What do you want me to do?” He said, “I don’t know. Just get there. Go over there.”
So he spotted the organist and he said to the organist, “Go with Stuart. Go to the church, and you all do something immediately. People are coming in.” And we went over and we did a spontaneous, impromptu service of scripture readings and hymns and prayers mostly as crowd control. You could hardly call it worship, and yet it was that too, and some really amazing thing happened in that 45-minute segment between us getting there and the fall of the first tower. When it fell, the windows fell out of Trinity. The lights went off. People got under the pews. Some of the people got under the pews. So we had 45 really good minutes there to sing and to pray and to read saintly at pieces of scriptures like the 23rd Psalm. I read the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my sphered; I shall not want.” And there was a man at the congregation who did something I have never have done in all my years of ministry. He jumped up and said, “Do that again.” He loved that portion of, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow.”
[00:18:17] KM: Though I walk through the valley of death. It’s very comforting. It’s so comforting.
[00:18:19] SH: Yeah. He appeared again, but I’d never had anyone do that, especially in an episcopal service.
[00:18:24] KM: Yeah, right.
[00:18:27] SH: I did make a huge faux pas. At one point I said the next hymn we’re going to sing, I was trying to choose very familiar hymns, like –
[00:18:35] KM: Onward, Christian Soldiers.
[00:18:37] SH: Well, I wanted to do that, but I thought twice about that. I said the next hymn will be Nearer My God, to Thee. Well, this man said, “No! Not that one.” If you’re old enough, you remember that the first movie, the Titanic, as the ship was going down into the drink, the little rasp band was playing Nearer My God, to Thee. Well, a bunch of the people in the congregation remembered that.
Amidst all of this cacophony and craziness and sirens and the darkening of the church, people laughed occasionally, and it reminded me of something about humor and humanity and humility, and we were really depending on God’s grace to whatever what happened. But the humor was part of it, and it was – I think about that a lot. That was such a gift at that moment.
I was really involved in that day, and when that tower fell, I was leading that congregation when some of them got under the pews. It was a moment of horror, because the lights went out. It got dark. There was a women on the front row who was screaming at the top of her lungs, “Jesus! Jesus!” There was someone at the back of the church going, “Anthrax. Anthrax.” And me thinking, “Well, he is prescient? What’s he doing? Is he a mind reader?”
Then the verger, the guy that handles all the services in that big church, he was going, “Shut up. Shut up.” And it was my job to try to settle things down and to keep right on going and be faithful to what was at hand, and the policemen came in and he said, “You will need to get out of here quickly. If that second building falls,” and he told us what had happened, “this time, it may fall right on the top of Trinity. There are boats of all shapes, models and kinds down on the harbor waiting to evacuate the highland. So get down there as fast as you can,” and people fled.
[00:20:43] KM: I didn’t realize people fled the island.
[00:20:45] SH: They did. It’s now known as the biggest naval evacuation in the history of evacuations.
[00:20:51] KM: I did not know that.
[00:20:53] SH: Over 100, maybe 200,000 people were evacuated.
[00:20:56] KM: Did you evacuate by boat?
[00:20:57] SH: Mm-hmm. I did.
[00:20:58] KM: Where did you go?
[00:20:59] SH: What I did, I ran back into the office building before I went to the boat. We had a day school at the time, and it was early in the morning. We had 150 children. Only 90 had gotten there that day. If the terrors had come just a little bit later, so many more parents would have been in the World Trade Center.
Anyway, it was a cold day. It was the first cold day of the year. Staff members wrapped the little tiny babies and children up in their coats, and at a given signal, we ran down the street. We ran toward to Staten Island Ferry, and the second building fell at that particular moment. You’ve seen pictures probably of the dust basll that comes down the street, well it engulfed us. It was 240 miles an hour I think it was clocked that particular bowl of terror, and it knocked everybody all over the place.
[00:21:57] KM: So you all got separated.
[00:21:59] SH: We could hear babies crying and someone saying, “Am I dead? Am I dead?” We picked ourselves up, got our bearings, and thanks to a wonderful young business manager at the church itself, led all us again on the road to the Staten Island Ferry, and we got there eventually. There were boats of all kinds leading people to one place or another.
The fascinating thing is two busses came down the sidewalk. You have to imagine, all the streets were grid locked. People had jumped out of their cars, even leaving the cars running. They were everywhere, but two buses came down the sidewalks, stopped where we were, city buses, and said, “We can take your children and your day school teachers to shelter. We know a route up the FDR freeway. We will take them to St. Rose’s in the Bronx and there they’ll be safe. Use your walkie-talkies. Use your cellphones while they still last. Notify – Leave a message so that when parents calls, say that your children are located heather and tether.”
By 10:00 that night, every single children had been reunited with every single parent. Well, this was amazing, because 80 of our parents in that school were World Trade Center’s parents, and they had either not gotten to work or they were not in harm’s way when disaster hit.
[00:23:26] KM: 80%?
[00:23:28] SH: 80% of those children’s parents were World Trade Center parents. I went to Staten Island on a boat on the ferry. The ferry was so crowded they made us sit down and wear life preservers, which had not ever been used.
[00:23:44] KM: You probably over the limit in weight.
[00:23:45] SH: Absolutely, over the limit. There were rumors that Dallas has been hit, Washington, Baltimore, all kinds of rumors, and people were saying, “Who hit us? Who did this?” Even rumors about the Chinese Air Force possibly –
[00:24:02] KM: How long before you got back home?
[00:24:03] SH: I didn’t get home until the next day, because they wouldn’t let us back into Manhattan, and I had to sleep. I slept at the Marine Recruiting Station, because one of them saw me and said, “Are you a priest?” I had on my basic black, and he said, “You’re covered in all that dust.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, you look terrible. Why don’t you come in and clean up and take a rest?” I said, “Please tell me what’s happened.” So he filled me in and I spent the night there. The next day was able to get back into the city.
[00:24:33] KM: What was that night like? Could you sleep at all?
[00:24:35] SH: No, because my son lived in Washington at the time, near the Pentagon, and I was frantic trying to get in touch with him, and he, me. I had talked to another son and I talked to – I was married at the time. Talked to my wife, and we couldn’t find this other son. He called at 2:00 in the morning. The phone systems had opened up to an extent, and we just cried on the phone with each other just in gratitude that were alive and had been through hell.
[00:25:07] KM: Do you have lunch issues from it? Lung?
[00:25:10] SH: I have not had the lunch issues, although many of my contemporaries did. The Environmental Protection Agency told us that the air was fine.
[00:25:21] KM: Yeah. What was that all about?
[00:25:21] SH: Then they came back two years later and said we didn’t tell you the truth. It was very toxic.
[00:25:26] KM: No kidding.
[00:25:27] SH: So many of our people had the lung ailment and so many were afflicted with cancer, including me. A virulent form of – I had a virulent form of prostate cancer, which was a direct result of –
[00:25:40] KM: Of being there. How many days before you got back to the church?
[00:25:44] SH: I got back to the church in three days.
[00:25:46] KM: And started – Because you ended up working at the St. Paul’s next door?
[00:25:51] SH: Not immediately, but we were all there constantly. St. Paul’s that night on the 11th, the policemen and women, firemen and women, rescue workers, came in and took over that church. They thought, “Oh! We know this is going to be an open and friendly space.” They knocked the door down. They put Porta Pottis out front. Parishioners came illegally. Set up barbecue pits and began serving these guys and these women hotdogs and hamburgers. In 24 hours, that had become a respite center, and it continued for the next 11 months.
[00:26:30] KM: I thought that you were going to say that it was the church where they all — the firemen hung their boots on it while they change their boots out.
[00:26:37] SH: It was the church. That was the church.
[00:26:39] KM: So for our listeners, the firemen and the rescue people would come back, first responders would come back, change their shoes out and they would hang out their old boots on the iron fence there.
[00:26:52] SH: On the old iron fence, and there were 300 pairs of boots.
[00:26:56] KM: Then they never came back.
[00:26:57] SH: They never came back. They never came back.
[00:26:59] KM: And they left them there, because I saw them. We went up there to see ground zero a year later and aw them, and it is just overwhelmingly emotional.
[00:27:07] SH: It is. It is. And St. Paul’s chapel became that too. We had 40,000 visitors a week for almost a year. Because it was the only place to grieve. The city didn’t provide a place to mourn. The church was a safe place. People knew that they could cry there and no one would try to take that away from them. So it became quite a place.
[00:27:30] KM: Do you think it was providence that you ended up in New York when the towers fell?
[00:27:34] SH: You know, I do, in so many ways, because I was able to contribute immediately and right on target with a number of things, and we don’t need to go into what they were. But my pastoral skills, what I had been through in my own life, which is not been without struggle. I mean, I was able to just walk right into the situation and do good ministry.
[00:28:00] KM: How did you decide to leave and come back?
[00:28:03] SH: To Arkansas?
[00:28:03] KM: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:05] SH: This problem I had, my brother is a physician in the state.
[00:28:10] KM: Oh, your joint pain.
[00:28:10] SH: Aha! And I called him one day and I see, he said, “That’s serious.” And he said, “You’re going to need some medical help.” I said, “And I cannot get it where I am. I’m trying. So why don’t you come here? Why don’t you just move over here and I’ll navigate this world for you?”
[00:28:26] KM: Oh! Would somebody say that to me, please?
[00:28:29] SH: I called him back the next morning and said, “I think I’ll just move.” He said, “Well, that’s a great idea.”
[00:28:36] Announcer: That’s the Rev. Dr. Stuart Hoke of Trinity Cathedral in downtown, Little Rock. In a moment, another perspective on 9/11 and its aftermath from a recent Up in Your Business guest. A Muslim, Pakistani, Sophia Said, now leading her life in Little Rock Arkansas. She’s the executive director of the Interfaith Center at St. Margaret’s in Little Rock. Please stay with us.
[00:28:57] AM: Arkansas Flag & Banner is proud to underwrite Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. McCoy began this broadcast with the intention of offering a mentoring platform for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Kerry McCoy, founder and president of Arkansas Flag & Banner believes in paying knowledge and experience forward and develops this radio show as a means of doing so.
The biographies, life experiences and wisdom of her guests would likely go unheard if not for this venue. Rarely do people open up for an hour to an audience about their life mistakes, triumphs and pitfalls. This unique radio show allows the listener intimate access into the stories of prominent leaders in our state. I’m Adrienne McNally, manager of the Arkansas Flag & Banner show room and gift shop located on the 1st floor of the historic Taborian Hall on the corner of 9th and State Streets in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Open Monday through Friday, 8 to 5:30; and Saturday, 10 to 4.
[00:29:55] KM: Sophia Said was born a liberal Muslim in Pakistan. She met her husband, Qayyim Said the night before their arranged marriage. Three months later, she joined her new husband in Utah where he was studying to receive his doctorate. In Pakistan, Sophia and her father, both Muslims, were excited that Sophia had been accepted to a prestigious Catholic college there. Now in Utah, she found herself living amongst an attending college with Mormons. The cultural commonalities were striking, and her view of the world grew larger.
When she first moved to America in 1996, it was an easy transition. A safe place for Muslims. But since 9/11, things have changed, and so has she. Having once been taught that women should be quiet and invisible, Sophia has decided to step into the limelight not for herself, but for her children and for her community.
After moving to Little Rock so that she could follow her husband who got a job teaching at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences, Sophia attended and graduated from yet another school, the Clinton School of Public Service. In 2012, she became an American Citizen.
Today, as the executive director at the Interfaith Center located at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, this Muslim woman is spreading the word and reminding us to love thy neighbor. A common theme across all regions. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the Arkansas Humanitarian of the Year, Mrs. Sophia Said.
[00:31:30] SS: Thank you so much, Kerry. That is really generous by you.
[00:31:35] KM: That’s not even all of it. You were the valedictorian of your class. First Muslim women to every give the speech.
[00:31:43] SS: That’s true.
[00:31:44] KM: Graduated cuma sum laude. But today, when you say you work at the Interfaith Center as the executive director, what does that mean and what do they do?
[00:31:56] SS: So, interestingly, Interfaith Center is actually a product of several people working together to promote peace in our community. What we try to do is we try to reduce the fear that exists between different religions, the prejudice that people of different faith feel towards each other and as, I don’t need to tell you, that it’s increasing because of the current social and political environment.
What we do is we try to bring people of different faiths together under one roof. Normally, they wouldn’t find themselves. I have them connect with each other, learn about each other’s faiths. Learn how to respect each other’s differences as well as the commonalities and build relationships with each other. Because after all, we’re all living in a nation, which is highly diverse. Not only racially, but also ethnically, religiously. If we don’t know how to live with each, like if we don’t know how to have interfaith cooperation, then we cannot work effectively with each other. It increases our own productivity. It increases our impact on the communities to learn how to coexist, and that’s what Interfaith Center does. Then I have lots of different kinds of programs, which I would love to share more.
[00:33:15] KM: You’re born in Pakistan, and you call yourself a liberal Muslim.
[00:33:20] SS: I am a Muslim. Yes, people call me liberal Muslim.
[00:33:24] KM: Your father taught you to drive.
[00:33:27] SS: Yes, my father taught me to drive. He’s very proud of me.
[00:33:30] KM: And you were very good in school, and thought because your father was pretty liberal, that you would follow in the footsteps of other family members and go to America and educated. But he kind of planned something different.
[00:33:46] SS: Yes. So that’s where the gender roles differed in our family, and in most of the families. I did see all my uncles and many male members of the family coming to U.S. for their higher education. So I aspired to do the same. But back then, at least, it was only male members of the family, not females, not girls or women.
[00:34:11] KM: But you did go to college.
[00:34:13] SS: I did go to college in Pakistan.
[00:34:15] KM: But only the males got to come to America to get educated.
[00:34:18] SS: Yes.
[00:34:19] KM: And you thought that would happen to you, but instead your father did what?
[00:34:23] SS: Instead he got married. He arranged my marriage.
[00:34:27] KM: That is fascinating to me. Some Americans cannot understand the idea of an arranged marriage.
[00:34:34] SS: Really? That’s the foundation of our society. One of the foundations of the – It’s a very common phenomena.
[00:34:43] KM: I know. Tell us about how it happened and how it came to be and why you like it. Why it’s acceptable? I’ve had other friends whose had arranged marriages, and I’ve heard what they have to say about it. I think our listeners would love to hear how it happened and –
[00:34:58] SS: You see, marriage is not a union of just two people. It’s coming together of two families who are going to be interacting a lot with each other and raising the next generation of kids together. So it’s important that families get along as well. So the way it happened in my case, which is true for many, many, many Pakistanis, if not most, is that my family started looking for a suitable groom for me and they searched all the other – Many other families are searching too and they were looking for a family which is similar to their own background and a family which has to offer what I wanted. They knew what their daughter wanted. They knew my personality. They knew what my goals and aspirations in life are. They were looking for a groom who is able to fulfill what I was looking for. I wanted somebody who’s highly educated, who would respect a strong and independent woman. Who would let me study after my marriage and who’s going to the United States, because I wanted to pursue higher education in the United States.
So lots of proposals would come, and me and my parents would discuss them together. Things that would work for them or things they would reject and things that I would reject. But eventually, and very soon we found this proposal, which we all agreed upon, because it has to offer the things that we both were looking for, me and my parents. So I said yes.
And my husband was in England at that time. He was doing his masters. So I never got to meet with him or visit with him. He came to Pakistan a couple of days before we got married. Yeah, but we’re still married, happily married actually and it works great.
[00:36:47] KM: Did they ask him what he wanted and he said, “I want –” all the same things I guess you just mentioned.
[00:36:54] SS: I am sure his family was looking for what their son likes in a girl and the things that he hopes for in a girl. That’s why the whole institution of arranged marriage works, because it’s not based on love, because you can fall in and out of love. It’s based on personalities. It’s based on a level of commitment and responsibility. When you make that commitment towards each other, the bride and the groom and the families, and you do your best to work hard in it and make it a success.
[00:37:29] KM: Who wants things better for you to be the best they can be than your parents? And who knows you better than anybody else than your parents?
[00:37:38] SS: That’s true, and their experience in the institution of marriage as well. I mean, I did not know before getting married that what are the things which will become issues after 5, 6, 10 years of marriage, dishwashing, or laundry. We don’t even think about those things. When we think about marriage, we think about love. But when parents are thinking, they’re thinking about all the practical things as well. Plus, it’s a joint decision.
People have this misconception that arranged marriage means your parents are going to pick somebody for you and get you off two married. It’s not like that. I mean, educated families talk to each other and they decide together.
[00:38:17] KM: How do they correspond with each other? Through emails? Send pictures back and forth? How does the family – The parents, I assume, arrange – Yes, how do the parents arrange it?
[00:38:27] SS: So we are distant, distant family relatives. So they met with each other several times and they communicated with each other through common relatives.
[00:38:40] KM: And then they go visit each other.
[00:38:41] SS: Then they visited each other. They visited me.
[00:38:44] KM: Did you meet your husband’s mother and father before you met him?
[00:38:49] SS: Ancestors and aunts.
[00:38:50] KM: All of them before you met your husband.
[00:38:52] SS: Yes.
[00:38:54] KM: I’m sorry, Americans. But I would love to pick all of my children’s life mates. I love your explanation of it. I think it dispels a lot of wrong ideas people have about it. But now you’re married. Your family and you have chosen a man that is going to be educated in America. That was important for you, because you wanted to come America to get educated. So you’ve moved, of all places, to Utah, and you’re going to school, getting a degree I believe in economics.
[00:39:28] SS: I love being there. It was an easy transition to America starting from Utah, and then when my husband graduated from his PhD, then I decided to start school, which I always wanted to do. So I did my bachelor’s from University of Utah.
[00:39:43] KM: Well, I guess while you were there, 9/11 happened didn’t it? Yeah. While you were in Utah, 9/11 happened.
[00:39:49] SS: Yes.
[00:39:51] KM: How did that change your life?
[00:39:53] SS: Actually, 9/11 changed the lives of most of the Muslims, not me, if not everybody. In many different ways, the way we live, the way we perceive the world and the way the world perceives us. Everything changed. One of the big changes, I’ll tell you, that I never covered myself before 9/11. I started wearing my head scarf, hijab, after 9/11. Well, that was a time when a lot of Muslim women were taking off their scarves, because they were being persecuted for wearing the head scarf. But for me it was really important to embrace my religion and my identity at that time. So I decided to visibly look like a Muslim. And I also thought it’s a responsibility as Muslims to educate people around us about what our faith is. What are the true teachings of Islam. So I started a lot of education or public speaking in local churches to tell people about Islam. I started teaching children at the local mosque, because I also felt it’s really important for our own children, Muslim children, to know the true teachings of Islam so they do not get brainwashed or influenced by what extremists are doing, which is not Islam.
So I think for the first time after 9/11, I started thinking about myself. Who am i? What is my religion? Why am I Muslim? What Islam teaches me? So it was a journey of self-discovery, self-reflection. As I learned about my own faith, in a more intentional way, I started also spreading that awareness with people around me. Yes, it changed everything, especially when you have children who are going to school and who look brown, who are immigrants. You are facing issues day-in and day-out.
[00:41:50] KM: As a rebellious streak in you, you decided to start wearing your hijab.
[00:41:49] SS: Yes, that’s true.
[00:41:50] KM: That’s kind of like you said, the opposite of what everybody else did.
[00:41:54] SS: I remember I used to teach in the Sunday school at mosque, and when I was going, my husband said, “Please don’t cover your head.” I normally never used to. I would only cover it on Sundays before going to mosque, and that Sunday I said, “No, I will cover my head.” I remember when I driving to the mosque and when we’re stopped on the red light, the car next to me, the person rolled his window down and he yelled at me to go home, and I don’t belong here. But I think the more hatred and fear I saw in people’s eyes for Muslims, the more resolved I was, the more determined I become to embrace my identity and tell them that, no, that is not right. You have to know the real Muslims. Yes, that was a rebellious streak. Then it stayed with me. I mean, it’s been years now that I have been wearing that scarf.
[00:42:48] KM: You know that you could say the same about the extreme Christians that bomb abortion clinics and blow up government buildings in the name of Christianity. It’s the extremist, that if were an outsider looking in, you might could say that about Christians if you didn’t know that that’s not their religion either.
[00:43:12] SS: I’ll tell you, that’s true for every religion. I don’t think extremists have a religion. Extremists are there in Judaism, in Christianity, in Buddhism, in Islam. These are people who have extremist tendencies. It’s not the religion that makes them extremists. I don’t divide people as Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I think there are good people and there are bad people, and there are good people in every faith, and there are bad people in every faith.
[00:43:36] KM: When you said you wanted to go and tell what the Muslim faith was and renew your faith and then you felt it was your responsibility to go talk to children about what the Muslim faith was. What did you say the teachings were? What were some of the main points you said?
[00:43:55] SS: Islam, basically, in essence the word Islam mean peace, and it’s a religion of peace and a religion of love. That’s how I learned it. That’s how I practice it. Anything good that I do, it comes to me from my faith. All my contributions to my society, to humanity are because of my faith, because it inspires me to be a better person every single day. I thought that is what needs to be communicated out. The positive contribution of Islam and Muslims, the message of growth and opportunity, and peace, and non-violence that it gives out, which is unfortunately not given a lot of limelight of voice nowadays.
Islam is not a religion that started on 9/11. It’s a 1,439 years old religion, and Muslims, Christians choose, they use to live in peace and harmony with each other. Muslims have created amazing civilizations and art and science and history, and it seems to me nowadays that all that is forgotten just because of the actions of a few, or whatever the geopolitical conditions are. So I thought it’s really important that people look at Islam in its entirety as a religion, as sister religion of Judaism and Christianity, and that’s what I taught.
Also, I think it’s important that we see each other as humans and connect each other at human level. So that is another thing we do through Interfaith Center as well, that let’s look at the common human element in each other.
[00:45:35] KM: Love thy neighbor. Your husband’s taken a job in Little Rock, Arkansas. He’s working at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. Qayyim Said. And you moved here in 2007. You graduated in 2007. Gave the valedictorian speech, come home. He said, “All right. Honey, that’s over. We’re moving to Little Rock, Arkansas.” You said, “Let me get the map out. Where is that?”
[00:46:00] SS: Exactly. I did know that this is the Clinton state.
[00:46:06] KM: So you moved here. Tell us a little bit about that.
[00:46:10] SS: So I actually wanted to pursue my PhD after my bachelor’s. Initially, it was a bummer for me that, “Oh, we’re moving to Little Rock, and there is not a place where I can do my PhD.”
[00:46:22] KM: Did y’all hear? She said bummer. Okay. I just want to check that. Okay. Go ahead. She’s very American. All right. Go ahead.
[00:46:28] SS: But then when I did my research on Little Rock, I found Clinton School of Public Service, which is essentially going to teach me the same things or at least the work I’ll do after that would be the same. So I was actually pretty excited that we will see American south. I had traveled a lot in America. I traveled from coast-to-coast and border-to-border. I’ve seen not all, but more than 35 states, but not the south part. So I was really excited to be in American south. Then Clinton School of Public Service gave me an opportunity to do something different than PhD, but with several outcomes. So I was very excited. I came here. I pursued my masters. Both my children are in middle and high school, and I worked with some local organizations as an economist. But started more and more focused on interfaith work, because my children were growing and I thought there is a need to teach people interfaith – The skills of interfaith cooperation.
[00:47:30] KM: I’m sure it helped them cope at school.
[00:47:33] SS: Well, I hope so. That’s why I started my work, but I hope so. One day, my son came home, and at dinner table we would share stories of what happened at the school. So my daughter who’s younger than my son and who’s spunkier than my son, she told me that, “Mom, [inaudible 00:47:55], friend called him a terrorist again, today.” I asked my son, “What did you do about it, honey?” He was like, “No, mom. Nothing. You know people don’t know, and it happens every other day. No big deal about it.”
We were sitting at our dinner table and it really struck me that I’m doing so much interfaith work, and look at my child, he does not know how to respond to somebody who’s calling him an extremist, and the kid is born and raised in America. He does not even know what an extremist is. So I asked him that, “You should have responded with, “Don’t you know that this is not what Muslims are?” My daughter said, “Mom, don’t worry. I took care of it.” I said, “Really? How did you take care of it?” She said, “The child who called [inaudible 00:48:41] terrorist. He was a Hindu.” I said, “Okay?” “So I said, “If you think our God is mean and tell us to go and kill people, your God is so cheap you can buy it off retail store’s shelf. So I got right back at him, “If my God is mean. His God is cheap.”
And I was looking at my two beloved children that one of them does not know how to respond to a bully who’s calling him an extremist, and the other one is actually turning into a bully. So both of them lack the communication skills that they needed to talk about faith. So that’s how actually some of my work started. I thought it’s really important that we teach our young children and teenagers how to talk about faith and how can we do that if they’d never talk about faith to each other.
I started this program called Multifaith Youth Group of Arkansas back in 2011, and it’s a group of teenagers, high schoolers, who are from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist faiths, and no faith, and they come together twice a month. They have interfaith dialogue with each other. They talk about world issues. They talk extremism and terrorism. They talk about gun violence. They talk about tolerance and love and patience, and they do service projects together. So they started the group in 9th grade. They graduated in 12th grade. It’s been going on for years now. We have graduated several high schoolers. They’ve gone to different, amazing universities. But the key thing is we are creating the leaders of the future who know how to communicate with diversity, deal with diversity, how to respect each other’s differences and live in a positive, healthy, inclusive community.
[00:50:36] KM: Thank you. That’s wonderful. How do people get involved in that? How will they learn about it?
[00:50:42] SS: So if we go to theinterfaity.org, that’s our website, theinterfaithcenter.org. All of our programming will there. Multifaith Youth Group is one of the programs, actually the first program.
[00:50:56] KM: What was the name of the website again? Interfaith?
[00:50:59] SS: Theinterfaithcenter.org.
[00:51:04] KM: So the Interfaith Center has something called Love Thy Neighbor. What is that?
[00:51:10] SS: Love Thy Neighbor is an interfaith prayer service that we started 8 years ago on the anniversary of 9/11, because me, as a Muslim, I’ve always felt on 9/11 that there’s tension in the air. The Muslim community is literally, I'm not exaggerating, scared to go out, because anybody can say anything to them. People are scared of Muslim that day, and Muslims are scared of the larger community, and that needs to change.
So 8 years ago we decided that on this day, instead of people being scared of each other and not interacting with each other, let’s do something in which we can bring people of different faiths together under one roof and we can pray together and we can sing together and we can eat together and we can get to know each other and build relationships.
[00:52:01] KM: I love that. Praying, singing, eating. Is there dancing?
[00:52:07] SS: As of now, we haven’t practiced dancing in the prayer service. But this is our 8th year, and it’s intergenerational service of music, wisdom and prayers.
[00:52:19] KM: Like you said, you always hold your festival this year around 9/11, because it’s a fearful time for Muslims. But it’s not just Muslims that come to your prayer service. I have been to it once years ago, and you had speakers from several religions that year. Who are your participatory religions?
[00:52:40] SS: So Interfaith Center has participation from Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, Bahá'í. People who we call spiritual seekers who do not adhere to any one religion. Hindus, of course, atheist, agnostics. So we welcome everybody, and all these religions, and leaders from these religions have been a lot of our work.
[00:53:08] KM: And you named it Love Thy Neighbor, because –
[00:53:11] SS: Because I think that’s one common golden rule, common to all the different world religions. Every religion teaches you to love your neighbor.
[00:53:20] KM: That’s a wonderful mission for you to have.
[00:53:23] SS: My dream is that whatever we can do to protect the legacy of the American dream, to protect the values and the freedoms that this nation offers to its citizens. And we can only do that if we learn how to live with each other, how to interact with each other, how to communicate with each other. We cannot build walls among each other. We need to learn interfaith cooperation, to create inclusive communities.
[00:53:52] KM: Sophia, thanks for joining me and my listeners. This has been a great interview. I have enjoyed meeting you and talking with you so much.
I’m Kerry McCoy, and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:54:05] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio show and choose today’s guest. Subscribe to podcasts wherever you like to listen. Kerry’s goal is simple; to help you live the American dream.