I came to New York in February, 1979 with my 13 month-old son, Salman Hamdani, whom I lost 22 years later in the 9/11 Al-Qaida terrorists attacks at the North Tower. He had graduated that summer from Queens College and was aspiring to become a medical doctor. Salman was also a New York State certified Emergency Technician and a Cadet with the New York Police Department.
Who was Salman?
Salman was an extremely compassionate and humble young man. He was very proud to be an American. As a child, he would bring sick birds home and nurse them. As a youth, he helped common people whenever he could. As an EMT, he visited one of the patients he transported to the hospital at his residence because, he told me, “The man has no family, mama.” He was a blood donor and also a bone marrow donor. A Star Wars fan, you were not an American, according to him, if you don’t know the Star War saga, and his license plate read, “Yung JedI.”
In college, he sang The Messiah with his music class and was known by his friend as Sal. He was the oldest of 3 boys and their Bhaijaan, or Big Brother. He was also his father and my husband Saleem’s best friend. We lost him that day, and with him our happiness, our joys and our standing as American citizens of Muslim faith.
Salman responded to the call of duty voluntarily, rushed to rescue his fellow Americans and gave the ultimate sacrifice. His heroism is acknowledged in the notorious PATRIOT Act, Sec 102.6:
Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a 23-year old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing.
Sadly, Salman’s adopted country, my adopted country, instead of honoring Salman’s sacrifice, tried to demonize his actions by casting a shadow of suspicion, which by the Grace of God, I was able to dispel, cleared his name and redeemed his honor.
Salman’s remains were found by the North Tower in 34 pieces. Honor to him was departing from this world under the American flag, and that is how he departed this world on April 5, 2002. The NYPD honored their own. The funeral was held at the 96th Street Mosque in Manhattan, which Salman attended frequently for Friday Jumma prayer. Family, friends and dignitaries spoke at his funeral. His funeral was attended by Police Commissioner R. Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg and Congressman Ackerman.
On the day of the attacks, we realized that this is not going to be good for the Muslims, and my husband Saleem predicted 50 years or more would be needed to overcome the discrimination and prejudice we face as American Muslims. Saleem died of a broken heart in July, 2004. And I was left alone to face the world.
The change that has overtaken the American psyche since 9/11 is not only serious but dangerous, as is evident from the events around the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and the anti-Muslim rhetoric which translated into physical attack on a Muslim cab driver in Manhattan, whose face was slashed. We need to restore the Rule of Law, which is curtailed by the PATRIOT Act. Our civil liberties are in danger. Guantanamo Bay Prison, torture’s dark chamber where prisoners are held indefinitely without due process, needs to be closed. Americans need to understand that these laws are applicable and are being applied to US citizens. The PATRIOT Act has to be repealed.
The community most impacted negatively by the 9/11 attacks is, of course, the American Muslim community. They have carried the 9/11 cross since that day and it is time put it down. American Muslims also died in the attacks. They serve on the frontlines defending our nation and are as much a part of the American family as any other community. To scapegoat and ostracize a whole community for the actions of foreign terrorists is wrong and goes against our American values. Every American has a right to pray according to his or her own choice, protected by the Constitution under the First Amendment, and we are not going to capitulate our rights.
Salman was a casualty of 9/11 not because he was an EMT, or an NYPD Cadet, or for being a Muslim. He, like the other 2,700 victims, was a casualty of 9/11 because he was an American and cherished the American values of Democracy, liberty and freedom to pursue a faith of his choice. Hence, the best way to honor all the victims of 9/11 is to uphold these American values. We, as a nation, have to unite and overcome the ugly monster of prejudice and ignorance via forgiveness and reconciliation. It is imperative for each of us as individuals, as well as a nation.