Rais Bhuiyan and The Power of Forgiveness

When Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive divine” he probably didn’t imagine being shot in the face and left for dead as the act one would be forgiving.  Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi American, did exactly that, and in doing so turned an American tragedy into an opportunity to build bridges and heal. 

Shortly after the tragic events of 9/11, while working at a Dallas conveniene store, a masked man walked in and asked Mr. Bhuiyan where he was from.  Before he had an opportunity to answer, the man short him in the face with a shotgun.  His attacker was Mark Stroman, a white supremacist who believed he was taking revenge for the attacks of 9/11 on anyone he saw who appeared to be of middle eastern descent.  As a result of the attack, Mr. Bhuyan remains blinded in one eye and carries 35 shotgun pellets in his face.  At least two others, Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan, were killed by Mr. Stroman.

As Bhuyan told NPR:

I had to go through several surgeries and finally the doctor could save the eye, but the vision is gone, and I’m still carrying more than 35 pellets on the right side of my face. Once I touch my face, my skull, I can feel it’s all bumpy. It took several years to go through all these painful surgeries one after another one.

Despite the suffering Rais Bhuiyan and his family went through (his father suffered a stroke upon hearing of his son being shot), he found solace in the peace and forgiveness taught by his religion, Islam:

According to my faith in Islam, there is no hate, no killing. It doesn’t allow anything like that.  Yes, Mark Stroman did a horrible thing, and he brought a lot of pain and disaster, sufferings in my life. But in return I never hated him.

Rais Bhuiyan took what would have shattered the life of a lesser man and turned it into an opportunity to better the lives of those around him.  He established a website entitled World Without Hate in order to educate people about hate crimes and to prevent them.  He also works with Amnesty International and had worked with Mark Stroman’s defense team to try to thwart his execution, which took place on July 20, 2011.  Mr Bhuiyan says of his motivation: “My faith teaches me that saving a life is like saving the entire human race.” 

Bhuiyan was joined by the widows of Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan in forgiving Stroman.  Said Nadeem Hasan, brother in law of Waqar Hasan, “We decided to forgive him and want to give him a chance to be a better person.”

Bhuiyan’s efforts didn’t go to waste.  Before his execution, Mark Stroman seems to have changed his position:

I received a message that Rais loved me and that is powerful.  I want to thank him in person for his inspiring act of compassion. He has forgiven the unforgiveable and I want to tell him that I have a lot of love and respect him.

Mr. Stroman, who, according to court documents, suffered abuse and neglect as a child at the hands of his alcoholic parents, stated shortly before his death,  “It is due to Rais’ message of forgiveness that I am more content now than I have ever been.” 

Most recently, Rais Bhuiyan has been involved with the Islamic Circle of North America’s campaign, Defending Religious Freedom, and was named one of Esquire magazine’s Americans of the year for 2011.   

Islam is a religion of forgiveness.  One of the 99 names of Allah is Al-Ghafur (“The Forgiving”).  In a famous hadith Allah says:

O Son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O Son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me ascribing no partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.

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