He stared death in the eyes while blood poured from his face and head after being viciously attacked in a hate crime, but ten years later Bangladeshi-born Rais Bhuiyan (37) said he has never hated the person who shot him. Exactly ten days after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001, most commonly known as the 9/11 attacks, Bhuiyan was working at a gas station in Dallas, Texas when a suspected robber approached him. Bhuiyan immediately told the armed man, clad with a bandanna, dark glasses and baseball cap that he could have the cash register, but that is not what he was interested in. Then came the strange question from a gun-wielding Mark Stroman: “Where are you from?”
“Excuse me?” asked a shell-shocked Bhuiyan, who later felt the sensation of a million bees stinging the right side of his face, followed by an explosion. “Images of my mother, father, siblings and my fiancé appeared before my eyes and I was not sure if I was still alive,” said Bhuiyan, recalling the events that took place on that fateful Friday. “I looked down and I saw blood was pouring like an open faucet from the right side of my head and I thought that I have to keep my brain from spilling out… so I put my hands on my head.”
Bhuiyan screamed for his mother and saw Stroman staring at him. He then pretended to die, as he felt this was the only way he could save his own life. “So I jumped on the floor and at the same time I was reciting from the Holy Quran … I was crying and telling God ‘You are the only one who can help…please help me. I don’t want to die today’.”
Eventually Stroman left the garage store. “I didn’t know how many seconds I had left before I passed away so I had to stay positive … and not give up my hope.” Bhuiyan then grabbed the phone and ran to the barber shop next door. He begged one of the people there to call 911. “For the fist time I could see my face in the mirror. It was a horror face full of blood…I looked terrible and I asked for God’s mercy.”
Stroman, who already had a criminal record at the time of the shooting, is said to be a white supremacist who was angry with Muslims after his sister died in the 9/11 attacks. He then launched a series of attacks on Bhuiyan and two other Muslim men, Pakistani Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant. The other two men died. On 5 April 2002, Stroman was sentenced to death row and is due to be executed on Wednesday, 20 July 2011.
Over a number of years, while Stroman was incarcerated, Bhuiyan had to endure several medical procedures for the injuries he sustained. After a number of eye surgeries, doctors were able to save his right eye, but the vision was lost. There are still 35 pillars in the right side of his face and head.
Bhuiyan said his religion and his strong Islamic upbringing taught him to forgive and not to harbour any hatred for another human being. He forgave Stroman for nearly killing him and has also been campaigning extensively to stop the execution from going ahead. Many would think that the death sentence is justifiable for Stroman after the heinous crimes he committed, however Bhuiyan feels differently. “My upbringing and my Islamic faith teaches me that forgiveness is the best policy,” he said. “When I was a little kid my mother taught me that if somebody hurts you, you don’t hurt them back. If you hurt them back you are going to create a cycle of violence and if you hurt them back they will hurt you again.”
“He [Stroman] was ignorant and he was not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Hate comes from ignorance,” said Bhuiyan. “If we execute him what are we getting out of this? We will simply lose a human life without eliminating the root cause…which is hate. If we save his life it would give him a chance and he could become a spokesperson and raise awareness of hate crimes.”
Bhuiyan said he genuinely felt that Stroman is a changed man. “He did this crime, he has changed and now he is a different person … let’s give him a chance and educate other people who are as ignorant as him.” Through documentary filmmakers, Stroman passed on his message of remorse to Bhuiyan. He had also written letters to Bhuiyan and the families of the other victims explaining the reasons for his actions and how sorry he was. Bhuiyan said Stroman did not have a support structure while growing up, which led to him living a troublesome life.
Bhuiyan has since created a website www.worldwithouthate.org to raise awareness about hate crimes and also the pending execution of his attacker. Before embarking on the campaign, he sought guidance from a local imam, the families of the other two victims and his parents. He has requested to meet with the members of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in attempt to have Stroman’s sentence reduced from death to life in prison. Bhuiyan is yet to receive a response.
He has also travelled through Europe, engaging with various media organisations, hoping they would in turn put pressure on the TDCJ. Bhuiyan remains hopeful that the execution will not go through. As a victim, he has the right to go through a mediation process with his attacker – something that has not been given to him. He also applied to the parole board to have Stroman’s sentence reduced. Bhuiyan said his rights as a victim were violated. He has since filed a law suit against the governor of Texas, Rick Perry.
“After being behind bars for nine and a half years he has changed and he is no more a monster, he is no more a cold blooded murderer and he learnt from his mistakes,” said Bhuiyan. “He had a chance to change his heart and we can save this life and help other people on the street who are as ignorant as him. We all want to live in a peaceful world and in a better society and if this guy can contribute towards that why shouldn’t we take that.”
Should Stroman’s execution go ahead on Wednesday, Bhuiyan said he would continue to do his part in eradicating ignorance which leads to hate crimes. Now post-9/11, is Islamaphobia the new 21st century form racism, especially in the United States? “September 11 did two things – something good and something bad,” said Bhuiyan. “Because of September 11 a lot of people were interested to learn about Islam. A lot of people came into Islam and at the same time it did some damage. It caused a lot of unknown fear,” said Bhuiyan.
“Islam doesn’t teach any kind of hate or killings…none of the religions teach hate. It’s the people. We people take advantage of the religion for our own personal gain. The fear caused after September 11 can be overcome but we just need to reach out to others. We need to open our eyes and get out of our comfort zone to understand what Islam teaches.”
This article originally appeared here.