Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Muslim Cashier Disarms, Converts Robber

There are many instances of bad people using religion as an excuse to do evil. There are also instances of people finding their own path to goodness in a hate filled world. A Muslim shop keeper turned the tables on a bat wielding man who was attempting to rob him. He could have beaten the would be robber. He could have handed him over to cops. He did something completely different.

WCBS TV reports as follows about the strange turn events took in Mohammed Sohail's grocery.

"When a baseball bat burglar threatened bodily harm, deli owner-victim Mohammed Sohail unexpectedly turned the tables and pulled out a shotgun.

"But is empty, is empty," Sohail said.

The weapon wasn't loaded, but the desperate thief didn't know, as security cameras rolled, catching every second of the incredible crime.

"He tell me, 'give me your money.' I say 'hold on, drop weapon get down,'" Sohail said.

The would-be thief suddenly surrendered, got down on his knees, blubbering and sobbing like a baby.

"He was begging, crying 'I'm sorry. I have no money, no food, no job. My family's hungry,'" Sohail said. "He's really crying, 'please don't call police.'"

Sohail recounted what happened next. He made the man promise never to rob anyone again. The man gave his word. Sohail then tossed $40.00 from the cash register. Touched by the shopkeeper's generosity, the man said he wanted to convert to Islam. Suhail had the man raise his hand and make a declaration of faith. They shook hands. Suhail gave the man bread and milk. Eventually, the man was frightened and fled. The cameras in the store caught the whole incident. Sohail's compassion mixed with firmness brought honour to his faith. A man who came to him with hunger of the body eventually spoke of the hunger in his soul.

How many of us have an opportunity to bring honour to what we believe in. Whether you are Muslim, Jew or Christian, you have to admire Sohail for finding a crack in the walls between men that had room for a sliver of compassion.

There was another incident when Muslims acted with honour and attracted people to their path. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Christians were slaughtering Rwanda's Tutsi minority because of the Hutu-Tutsi tribal rift in their country. Many Rwandans who were appalled by the collaboration of Christian clergy in the genocide. Many lost their faith. The New York Times reported as follows of the crisis in faith in that country.

"Roman Catholicism has been the dominant faith in Rwanda for more than a century. But many people, disgusted by the role that some priests and nuns played in the killing frenzy, have shunned organized religion altogether, and many more have turned to Islam.

"People died in my old church, and the pastor helped the killers," said Yakobo Djuma Nzeyimana, 21, who became a Muslim in 1996. "I couldn't go back and pray there. I had to find something else."

There was an oasis of goodness in 1994 in the Rwandan capitol city of Kigali. It was the Muslim quarter. Despite countless instances of Christians killing Christians during the genocide, not one Muslim killed another Muslim. In addition, many Rwandan Muslims gave shelter to Tutsi Christians fleeing the killing squads. The New York Times reports the brave stand made by Muslims defending their neighbourhood in Kigali.

"With killing all around, he said, the safest place to be back then was in a Muslim neighborhood. Then as now, many of Rwanda's Muslims lived crowded together in the Biryogo neighborhood of Kigali.

During the mass killing of Tutsi, militias had the place surrounded, but Hutu Muslims did not cooperate with the Hutu killers. They said they felt far more connected through religion than through ethnicity, and Muslim Tutsi were spared.

"Nobody died in a mosque," said Ramadhani Rugema, executive secretary of the Muslim Association of Rwanda. "No Muslim wanted any other Muslim to die. We stood up to the militias. And we helped many non-Muslims get away."

Since1994, the population of Muslims has doubled in Rwanda, fueled by a surge of conversions from Christianity to Islam that were fueled by gratitude to the Muslim community and disgust with Christian collaboration. Mosques today are packed to capacity. There is a surge in the construction of new Muslim houses of worship.

The Muslims in Rwanda, like other Rwandans have seen the bloody toll of ethnic hatred. The country is still recovering from the genocide in which close to a million Rwandans were killed. It is for this reason that Al Qaeda and other militant forms of Islam have little appeal to Muslim Rwandans. Despite the aid given by Muslim donors in Saudi Arabia and Libya, there seems to be no departure from the inward looking approach favoured by most Muslims in Rwanda.

The world is full of people who "go with the flow", who play along to get along. What sort of person makes a wreath of honour in a forest of shame? Who can pass the tough tests in an age of madness?

My brother stayed in an old woman's home in Amsterdam. She was a fun loving lady who liked to drink beer. She was adept at putting teenagers at ease. My brother noticed that she had eight or nine locks on the door, although she usually locked only one. During the war, she had hidden Jews and others who were fleeing the authorities. When the secret police came looking for people who might be hiding, my brother's friend would laboriously unlock all of the locks. By the time she opened the door, everyone had a chance to hide in a well concealed spot.

What motivated the woman with all of the locks on her door? Never did she preach to my brother. They never discussed religion. She liked her beer, she hated hurting people and she liked to be helpful. She did the right thing when the opportunity presented itself. She never boasted. She simply never removed the locks, even more than twenty years after the end of World War Two.

Heroism can be found in unlikely places. John Rabe was a fervent Nazi in Nanking China in the1930's during the infamous Japanese "Rape of Nanking." Day and night, he devoted himself to rescuing Chinese victims of Japanese barbarism. He chronicled and lobbied in Berlin. He saved lives and wished he could have saved more.

Oscar Schindler liked liquor , women and making money. he ended up devoting himself to rescuing Jews, creating jobs to prevent deportations. He was not a preacher, he was a doer. He saved almost 1200 Jews.

Short of saving a life, there are ways to go against the tide. Buying a homeless person a meal instead of rushing by, putting a quarter in a meter to save someone a $50.00 ticket, refraining from office gossip and changing the subject instead of joining the fray. All of these are very small but significant ways to go through life with one's eyes open for opportunities to swim against the tide of apathy and choose kindness.

Mohammed Sohail and the Muslims of Kigali gave the world a profound lesson about seizing the moment and standing tough in a time of fear. Their deeds are worthy of study and emulation by people of all faiths. They preach an eloquent sermon in the language of deeds. In a generation that has seen much apathy and cruelty,I thank them for the light they have brought to the world. Sphere: Related Content

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