His smiling image has been cut out of a snapshot and carefully added to a photo of his father, so it looks as if the boy is standing beside the man. It smacks of a bad Photoshop job, but it gives the two a shared moment, even though they never met.
The boy’s sister, Fahina, created the montage. She is 15 and clings to scant memories and aging photographs. But Farqad, almost 10, has nothing.
She remembers sitting beside their father on amusement park rides, his words — “Look at my daughter; she’s so brave” — soothing her nerves; she still thinks of him whenever she’s on a rollercoaster. She leaned on his legs when he watched basketball on TV and imagined him cheering her on when she played the sport after he was gone. She recalls being driven to see Harvard University, before she even started elementary school, and dreams of attending an Ivy League school to make him proud.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, she woke up extra early on her own. After her father and mother finished saying morning prayers, the young girl took his face in her small hands and enlisted the promise of a Chuck E. Cheese visit. Father and daughter then kissed and said goodbye.
Farqad was born two days later, after terrorists hijacked planes and killed nearly 3,000 — including 38-year-old Mohammad Salahuddin Chowdhury, who worked atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The Windows on the World banquet server was a degreed physicist in his native Bangladesh and a U.S. citizen who aspired to do so much more in his adopted country. He kept a pager at hand that fateful morning, just in case his wife went into labor.
“I can’t imagine not having any memories,” said his firstborn, Fahina, unable to hold back her sobs. “Someday, Farqad’s going to search online and see everything. I have to help him understand.”
This teen’s uber-sense of responsibility extends beyond what she believes she owes her brother. As a young woman whose father was killed by men who dared to say they shared her Islamic faith, Fahina feels an obligation to speak up, to be the face of her often-misunderstood religion — even if she’d prefer not to be known for what she lost and how she lost it.
“For a Muslim person to go through this, it’s something no one can understand,” she said, the tears still falling. “Extremists used the religion as an excuse to do terrible things. It’s so much easier to be mad at people than to get to know them.”
Following an unmarked path
Reminders of that terrible day reverberate 1,300 miles from New York, inside a large, modern brick home on a quiet cul-de-sac just north of Oklahoma City.
From framed photographs scattered everywhere, Chowdhury’s dark, gentle eyes and thick lashes peer out at the family he left behind. These were the eyes that captured Baraheen Ashrafi when she first met him at their wedding in Bangladesh nearly two decades ago. She wondered whether she was marrying a movie star.
Theirs was an arranged marriage, and what she got in the match was more than a man with good looks. He had lost his parents and cared about hers as if they were his own. He taught her the value of forgiveness, the beauty of Islam and the gifts that come with love. He told her that she was brought to him through prayers.
She laughs when she remembers how clueless she was in the kitchen when she joined him in his beloved New York — a city she jokingly called “his homeland” — and how he marveled at her culinary progress. Though he didn’t find it funny, she giggles at the memory of putting lipstick on him while he slept and scooping his thick hair up into small ponytails. She smiles when mentioning the staring contests she made him play so he would look deeply into her eyes.
But Ashrafi breaks down when she recalls what he feared.
“He was very afraid of fire, very scared of burning,” she said, describing his complaints after mere steam from hot tea once left a mark on his hand. “He was like a baby.”
In the weeks after September 11, firefighters promised her that Chowdhury died from smoke inhalation before ever feeling a flame.
If there were a roadmap when it comes to grieving, the journey taken by Ashrafi and her children was unmarked.
She watched Muslim men, afraid to stand out, shave off their beards. Women removed their religious head coverings, known as hijabs. But even as she reeled from grief, Ashrafi somehow found the strength to respond differently.
Though she hadn’t worn a hijab in public before, her faith ran deep, thanks to her husband. Two weeks after she lost him, she decided it was time to put on her hijab.
That made her a widow who couldn’t count on the kindness of strangers. Her sadness was compounded by hate. Just months after the attacks, boys screamed “jihad!” at Ashrafi and a confused Fahina on a Manhattan street.
While other surviving parents struggled to explain September 11 to their children, Ashrafi faced an additional challenge: Fahina wanted to know why the TV said Muslims killed her daddy.
Chowdhury was one of 32 Muslim victims on September 11, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That distinction has put Ashrafi and her children in the spotlight. Adding to the attention, Ashrafi says, is that Farqad is believed to be the first baby born to a September 11 widow. (CNN could not confirm this, but the boy came into this world the morning of September 13, 2001.)
As the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks approaches, Ashrafi has fielded calls from around the world. A documentary unit from the United Kingdom visited their home. A reporter from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates sought a sit-down visit. An Australian TV crew is scheduled to fly to Oklahoma this week.
Reposted from CNN.com and the rest of the article can be found here.
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