Raihan Faroqui: Dying Before Dying

Raihan Faroqui is a NYC-based medical student and neurology clinical researcher with a passion for colorful storytelling and fighting the patriarchy.

Have you ever almost died? I mean..really…almost died. Now imagine that you were supposed to be in the Twin Towers on 9/11 for work. But something came up that day, and you ended up staying at home. That’s what I mean by almost dying.

Have you ever felt hot? I mean really really hot. Close your eyes. Imagine 9,500 gallons of jet fuel burning all around you. That’s what I mean by hot.

My uncle died on September the 11th. (I know…it’s heavy). He was 41 years young. Too….damn…..young. His name was Mohammed Shajahan. He worked on the 95th floor of the North Tower. Do you know which floors the plane hit? From the 92nd to the 98th. That means 95 was right in the middle.

Sometimes I wonder, what was he thinking in his final moments? Did he even get time to think?
Did he know he was going to die? Have YOU ever felt death?

The closest I’ve felt to death was a few years ago. My younger sister was in a terrible car accident. She was making a blind left turn, and a truck hit her driver’s side. The car FLIPPED  on the side. She was…hanging…. like this.

Miraculously, a volunteer firefighter saw all this happen from a nearby cafe, rushed to the scene, SMASHED through her window, and yanked her out within minutes.

When we went to get the car from the lot, I started crying. There’s totaled. And then there’s totaled. For some reason, I just wanted to get inside the car…. just for a little bit.

As soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat, I felt a cold…feeling…invade..my chest, like my soul…was slowly…being..sucked out ::out of breath::

I closed my eyes, and instantly felt the impact of the accident.

Just sitting in that driver’s seat, it was as if the accident happened to ME. I exited the car, my pulse racing. I felt SICK. That’s the closest I’ve felt to death.

Could you imagine being 95 floors up, having a 747 coming right at you?
Did my uncle think about his wife and 4 young kids? Did he think about me? Maybe he was saving someone’s LIFE. I like to think he was trying to save someone’s life.

We were one of the lucky ones. 2 weeks later, we received a phone call that they found his body. Alhumdulillah. Many families did not receive bodies. You know, they found his wallet – it had his NY state driver’s license. They found a picture of his family. They found his only credit card.

My father and my aunt had to visit Ground Zero to identify the body. Could YOU imagine having to do that for YOUR sibling or YOUR spouse? ID their dead body? Was his body mangled beyond recognition? I hope not. My father later told me that’s the closest he’s ever felt to death. He could barely look at me when he told me that story.

Shajahan was the son of a Bangladeshi village elder, who grew up on the outskirts of Dhaka. Everyone back home knew his story; the little Bengali guy who made it to the big twin towers. He was a computer programmer for a big company. What a dream come true.

Why is Shajahan’s story important? Why are we all gathered here today? He was a man of upstanding faith – every action of his was an act of worship. He didn’t make much money, but he donated to the needy. He was known in the office for his strong work ethic, and as someone who brought people together.

Many of you in the audience, some close to me, didn’t know this part of my life. What compelled me to speak now? what compelled me was This divisive election season. Rampant Islamophobia. Systemic and institutionalized racism and discrimination.

The death of an Imam and his assistant in Ozone Park. The death of an innocent Muslim lady, walking the streets of Jamaica. We can’t live like this anymore.

America needs to know that Muslims were victims on 9/11.

Maybe Shajahan’s story can make someone think twice about bigotry and intolerance.

Maybe…just maybe. Shajahan’s story can make us understand the real meaning of Eid al-Adha.

The meaning of sacrifice.

If you visit the WTC Memorial, you will see his pictures. He is wearing a white tupi, a brown vest, and he is smiling back at you.

That’s how I remember him to this day. That’s how I want you to remember him tomorrow.

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