The moving funeral service for Jack Layton was not just a tribute to him but, in some respects, a tribute to the better human instincts within each of us. Many of the eulogies echoed the memorable closing lines of Mr. Layton’s final letter, inviting us to better this nation by reaching deep within our humanity. To care for each other, respect the dignity of others and, yes, to forgive. Our cynicism is doused on witnessing those who tread the path of compassion. In the process, we’ve been brought closer together by Mr. Layton’s shining example.
In the United States, Rais Bhuiyan is doing the same for Americans, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears.
A decade ago, Rais, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, was working at a gas station in Texas. On Sept. 21, 2001, Mark Stroman, a self-described “Arab slayer,” walked up to Rais, asked where he was from, then shot him in the face. Miraculously, Rais survived. But two other men – Vasudev Patel, a Hindu born in India, and Waqar Hasan, a Muslim born in Pakistan – were not so fortunate. Mr. Stroman, who was targeting Middle Eastern-looking men in revenge for the 9/11 attacks, said he shot all three out of a sense of patriotism. He was sentenced to death.
In a stunning turn of events, Rais mounted an intensive campaign to save Mr. Stroman’s life, with the widows of Mr. Patel and Mr. Hasan lending their support. His message captured America. In July, The New York Times published Rais’s story, and Mr. Stroman’s reaction to the bid to save his life: “i have The Islamic Community Joining in,” he said in a typewritten response, “Spearheaded by one Very Remarkable man Named Rais Bhuiyan, Who is a Survivor of My Hate. His deep Islamic Beliefs Have gave him the strength to Forgive the Un-forgiveable … that is truly Inspiring to me, and should be an Example for us all. The Hate, has to stop, we are all in this world together.”
Appeals to the courts and Texas Governor Rick Perry went unheeded, and Mr. Stroman was executed by lethal injection on July 20.
I recently spoke with Rais about his journey. The road to recovery, he says, hasn’t been easy. It took almost nine years to heal physically and emotionally. Without any family or health insurance in the United States, he relied on the kindness of friends. He remains partially blind in one eye.
He says he never felt any anger, and forgave his assailant immediately. He researched the Koran and the life of the Prophet Mohammed, finding overwhelming exhortations toward compassion. Yes, he had the right to take justice, but forgiveness is better. He recalled his parents’ advice to remain humble before God during life’s tests, never to ask: “Why me?” He made it his mission to combat ignorance with education, hate with compassion.
Once healed, he sought to save Mr. Stroman’s life, since “killing someone is not the answer for what happened on Sept. 11.” He wanted to meet Mr. Stroman, to convey that he deserved a second chance. But that didn’t happen. Rais says he’s even more determined to combat hate, and he’d like to do more for those families affected by Mr. Stroman’s shooting spree and, indeed, for Mr. Stroman’s daughter. “Let’s end the cycle of hate through teamwork,” he says.
I relayed the closing lines of Jack Layton’s final letter, and asked him to comment. Left momentarily speechless, Rais finally says: “These are beautiful, powerful words. We need this true message, for only through love and compassion can we improve our society.”