Editor’s note: Hamid Dabashi is the author of “Iran: A People Interrupted.” He is the Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York.
New York (CNN) — Dear Mr. President: How good of you, sir, to have personally telephoned two New York heroes whose timely diligence prevented a lunatic from causing a catastrophe in Times Square.
We New Yorkers are happy to hear you called Mr. Lance L. Orton Sr. and Mr. Duane Jackson to thank them for their vigilance. But there is a third vendor, Mr. President, whom you forgot to call. His name is Alioune B. Niass, and he is an immigrant from Somalia who said he was the first person to notice the smoking Nissan Pathfinder.
“I thought I should call 911,” Niass later told a reporter, “but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn’t call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer nearby.”
Here in New York, Mr. President, we are not particular about which one of these great New Yorkers saw that deadly car first, alerted the police and prevented a disaster. The Big Apple has a big heart, and the magnificent city of New York has room for plenty of heroes. But we are also very fair people. So we would be grateful if you could kindly call Mr. Niass and thank him for us.
There is another reason besides fairness. Mr. Niass is a Muslim from Somalia, and some of us Muslim-Americans have a suspicion that your staff might not have brought him to your attention because the idea of a Muslim hero in New York does not quite dovetail with the stereotype.
If there is an American of Muslim descent who commits, or tries to commit, a criminal act, as Faisal Shahzad apparently did, we Muslims feel we are all suddenly suspects. We feel we need to explain ourselves. Yet if there is a hero among us whose love for our city does not fit the stereotype, he is ignored. This is not fair, and we believe you, as our president, can do much to alleviate this burden on us and our children.
Imagine millions of Muslim children who go to school across America every day, just like your own children. Imagine how proud they would feel if you were to call Mr. Niass. That pride of place, that we and our children deserve, would go a long way to alleviating the pain of the bigotry and racism that is aimed at us. We too would feel at home here and be even more diligent in safeguarding and protecting our cities from criminal atrocities.
You recall, Mr. President, during your presidential campaign you were, and still are, repeatedly “accused” of being a Muslim — as if being a Muslim were a crime. We were hoping every time you denied being a Muslim that you would add, “and if I were a Muslim, there is nothing wrong with it.”
Finally, it was former Secretary of State Colin Powell who came out and said so when answering people who claimed you are Muslim: “He’s a Christian; has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?'” We were relieved and grateful.
We, too, Mr. President, are America. We have our share of criminals amongst us, as do any other people. But we are not all terrorists, and we are tired of feeling false guilt or shame every time a criminal among us does something insane and stupid. We are ordinary people — soldiers and scientists, scholars and students, homemakers and teachers, businessmen and lawyers, physicians and engineers, greengrocers and vendors. And you are our president too.
We who claim Mr. Niass as one of our own also have a dream. We dream that our children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the faith of their forefathers but by the content of their character.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — the visionary who said these immortal words I paraphrase — uttered that phrase for the first time in 1963, scarcely anyone could have imagined that you would be our president today.
But now you are and can do your share to change perceptions. It is possible that a Muslim might become president some day. For all we know, that president might be an American kid of Afghan, Pakistani, Arab, Iranian, Somali, or Indonesian parentage who is reporting to school this morning. Imagine how proud she would be if you were to call Mr. Niass today and thank him. His business is located on the corner of 45th and Broadway, two tables down from Lance’s. I can give you his phone number.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hamid Dabashi.
My Heart Shook In New Zealand
One would imagine that a person would be dead-tired and ready to crash in his bed after a grueling, 36-hour journey from Christchurch, New Zealand to Washington, DC. And I will admit, that was the way I felt. Yet somehow, all my somnolence vanished as soon as my head rested on my pillow and I closed my eyes to rest. A wave of recollections fell over me: memories of the survivors, the emotions they expressed, and their feelings of an uncertain future as they planned their lives after the loss of their family members. These feelings instantly took away all the desire to get rest and sleep. I sit upright now and begin writing this reflection of a once in a lifetime experience- a voyage of grief and hope to Aotearoa- land of the white cloud as the indigenous people call New Zealand.
With lost baggage, long flights and too many connections, at times it seemed unlikely that my eldest son Moaz and I would make it to Jumm’ah and Janazah prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. But Allah accepted our prayers so that we could fulfill the guidelines set by our beloved, the Prophet Muhammad . We were able to fulfill one of the rights of a Muslim over the others; that when he is sick visit him, and when she dies, offer her funeral and be part of her burial.
Hagley Cricket Ground was supposed to have a cricket test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand that Friday. Commentators reckon that it would have been the final day of that test match. But the 22nd of March 2019, brought a much bigger crowd to this world-famous cricket ground than what anyone would have seen on the final day of that test match.
Officials and security directed us towards the VIP area as they wanted to pay respect to the guests who traveled all the way from the USA, Canada, and Australia. The environment of love, solidarity, and respect, coupled with the hijab-clad women standing in solidarity with Muslims in that enormous crowd, created an impact which cannot be articulated by mere words. Every single uniformed female officer was carrying their firearm while donning a hijab; creating a welcoming gesture in a rather somber and gloomy atmosphere.
I do not have the words to thank the leadership of Charity Australia and the Islamic Forum of Australian Muslims (IFAM) for providing us with logistics, facilitating meeting the families of the “shuhudaa” (martyrs) and arranging to visit those injured in the tragedy. ICNA, Helping Hand, and Charity Australia banners highlighting the slogans of “American Muslims stand in solidarity with Victims of Christchurch New Zealand” were the center of attention for thousands of local New Zealanders gathered in solidarity that day. Their hugs, sincere prayers and tearful eyes were the greatest gift that I want to share with everyone reading these reflections.
Right after Jumm’ah, the majority of the crowd attended the collective Janazah prayer of 27 of the martyrs. In those emotional moments, I met with the most courageous woman on earth, the wife of 51-year-old Shaheed Naeem and the mother of 21-year-old Talha Naeem, the two spirited souls who gave their lives to save others in the mosque that day. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She mentioned that her husband, Naeem, was a person who lived the life of a man of service, always ready to help others. She described Talha as an angel who was too pious and too noble to be away from Jannah too long. We heard similar feelings from Naeem’s mother (grandmother of Talha) the next day when we visited their home.
The visit to the home of New Zealand’s national soccer team player, Atta Elayyan (33), was not only emotional but also deeply inspiring. Atta lost his life and his father (the founder of Al-Noor Masjid) was severely injured during this brutal and hateful attack. There were several scholars from the United States, including Sheikh Omer Suleiman, in the visit to Atta’s home. We could offer nothing to console the brave mother of this shaheed, who greeted us with words of courage and wisdom. We had no words to accompany the tears in our eyes, except prayers for the most noble young man who helped so many in coming close to Allah .
Our visits to Al-Noor Masjid and the Linwood Islamic Center were also filled with memories of love, harmony, and reverence. There was a continuous influx of hundreds of visitors, not only from New Zealand, but also from different countries including, but not limited to, Australia, Fiji, and Canada. Thousands and thousands of flower bouquets and other items of love were left by these visitors. I was really thrilled to see that local Muslims left many Qur’ans and flyers with basic concepts of Islam and addressing the common misconceptions about Islam for those visiting. I witnessed many people visiting these mosques were taking those Qur’ans and other books with them in order to learn more about Islam.
We also met Mr. Aziz, the unsung hero who repeatedly attacked the killer with different objects including an empty gun —which the killer had discarded. The terrorist fired on Aziz multiple times, but Allah not only saved him, but he also forced the killer to flee from the Linwood Islamic Center. Mr. Aziz was one of the reasons why the number of casualties in this mosque was only seven, compared to the 43 martyrs in Masjid Al-Noor. We also met certain individuals whom Allah saved miraculously. A young man showed his trousers fenestrated with holes of bullets but had no signs of injury. The husband and wife who entered the premises of the mosque and only to be showered with a burst of 26 bullets while in their car, leaving it completely destroyed. Yet Allah saved both of them while they took shelter in their vehicle.
The visit to the hospital’s ICU was simply heartbreaking but at the same time increased our resolve and commitment to help these families as much as possible. We encountered a Turkish brother who was in a coma for nine days and met his elderly parents, who spoke to us in the very little English they knew. The only thing which we could understand from their hushed voices was the request for du’a and tears of helplessness in their eyes. The 71-year-old father of a local Pakistani from Hafizabad, who had arrived two weeks ago to visit his son, was now on a ventilator fighting for his life. As a physician who has worked in ICU settings for a long time, I simply did not have enough medical reasoning which could have provided him any words of hope!! Similarly, I was not able to provide any glimmer of hope to a brother from Bangladesh whose wife will never be able to walk again and will be paralyzed for the rest of her life.
While I saw hope and felt resilience from every victim in that hospital, this hospital visit was brutally heartbreaking.
Lastly, I cannot imagine the pain, agony, and helplessness that the father of Mucad Ibrahim must feel after losing his 3-year-old son in his own arms. I gave him the longest hug possible, as he taught the whole world the meaning of Beautiful Sabr (Patience).
After seeing the devastation caused by the terrorist attack, and the work that must still be done to heal the community, Helping Hand USA, ICNA Relief Canada, and Charity Australia have formed an organization called the “Christchurch Family Support Network”. The operations have already begun, and our team is on the ground. The first group of mental health professionals with a background in Islamic Integrated counseling are set to leave to provide victims and their families immediate psychological assistance.
We ask Allah to accept our work, bring healing to the community, protect our brothers and sisters, and accept the shuhadaa’ in the highest level of Paradise.
Because Muslims Matter | Honoring The Martyrs Of #Christchurch
As the days go by, it is easy to forget the names and faces of the people who passed away. The horror of the act eclipses their memories. We do not want that to happen to our brothers and sisters in New Zealand.
اللهُـمِّ اغْفِـرْ لِحَيِّـنا وَمَيِّتِـنا وَشـاهِدِنا ، وَغائِبِـنا ، وَصَغيـرِنا وَكَبيـرِنا ، وَذَكَـرِنا وَأُنْثـانا. اللهُـمِّ مَنْ أَحْيَيْـتَهُ مِنّا فَأَحْيِـهِ عَلى الإِسْلام ،وَمَنْ تَوَفَّـيْتَهُ مِنّا فَتَوَفَّـهُ عَلى الإِيـمان ، اللهُـمِّ لا تَحْـرِمْنـا أَجْـرَه ، وَلا تُضِـلَّنا بَعْـدَه
Allaahum-maghfir lihayyinaa, wa mayyitinaa, wa shaahidinaa, wa ghaa’ibinaa, wa sagheerinaa wa kabeerinaa, wa thakarinaa wa ‘unthaanaa..
O Allah forgive our living and our dead, those who are with us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our menfolk and our womenfolk…