As Mentioned elsewhere by Brother BHA1 this is an excellent initiative set up, by the local Ulemah in Dewsbury. The objective of this organisation, is to get the youth away from the influence, of Gang culture, drugs, crime violence and channel their energies in a positive manner towards community and Voluntary work, fundraisers for charities etc. To inculcate in the youth Love and respect and service towards others, and focus towards education and realising their full potential and much, much more.
We could do with alot of similar initiatives across the country.
Shaykh Dr Nadeem Qureshi (Db) as well as being a medical specialist in the field of pediatric medicine also happens to be one of the senior Khulafah of Shaykh Zulfiqar Ahmed Naqshbandi (DB), he is based in New York.
As part of his educational organisation Tawwabeen foundation....A funeral service is also offered called Tawwabeen after care. which helps muslims who have lost a loved one. But even more importantly helps those Muslims who have passed away and have no family and whose bodies remain unclaimed.
Tawwabeen After Care Burial of a Muslim is a Farz e Kifaya for all Muslims. Following services are offered by Tawwabeen under this division. Grief recovery, Grave Plots NY & NJ, Inheritance calculation, Will and estate planning, Sponsor a funeral program. Please participate generously to help the needy and unclaimed bodies through Zakat, Sadaqat and Khairat money.
Norwegians are stereotyped to all have blue eyes and blonde hair, but more than 3% of the population are Muslim, mostly immigrants and living in Oslo and nearby Akershus. The majority of these are of Pakistani descent. Norway’s Muslim population has grown in recent years but so too has negative media coverage. Events such as 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings have been reported in a way that communicates a troubling message; Islamic extremism.
Such attitudes were starting to feed through to the mainstream native Norwegian population and a silent but growing mental gap was being created between the two communities. Most troubling of all, this gap was creating space for the rise of extreme right wing politics with potentially damaging consequences.
The Anti-Racism Centre in Norway realised that although the number of Muslims were increasing, the amount of actual contact between them and native Norwegians was falling. On the contrary, native Norwegians were becoming increasingly wary of interacting because they had so little personal experience of the Muslim community. It was this lack of contact that was making the impression created by media coverage and the extreme right wing so powerful
The centre realised that just one contact was enough to break down barriers. It created focus groups to give a better understanding of what was needed to address the issue. Since native Norwegian’s believed that immigrants should take the lead in the integration process, the Anti-Racism Centre developed a mass invitation from Norway’s Muslim population to the rest of the country. It took the form of a traditional Muslim welcome, offering a cup of tea and the chance to meet them in their own homes. It was designed to appeal to Norwegian’s traditional love of home. The key media vehicle was the personal invitation itself, asking “Will you come to my home for a cup of tea?”
A two-part strategy was developed to organise tea parties across the nation whilst building awareness of the event among citizens who couldn’t participate. Firstly, the centre worked closely with Muslim community groups and leaders to sign up an army of inviters ready to welcome Norwegians into their homes. It then focused on promoting the message to those citizens who couldn’t participate. To maximise PR coverage, the Anti-Racism Centre reached out to high-profile citizens and the Royal family to invite them to attend events and ensure that key media covered the Muslim community’s determined efforts.
Since this was a social invitation, it leveraged Facebook as the main networker, connecting those who wanted to be invited with the hosts of the open homes. Invites were also sent to locals near the open houses to ensure that as many people as possible got the chance to meet their Muslim neighbours.
The initiative was adopted by Muslim communities across the country, extending the reach of the campaign significantly.
The official tea parties opened up more than 200 homes to over 1,000 Norwegians. Local initiatives ensured that there were more than 300 events in the first month alone.
The Queen took tea with a Muslim family and media coverage lasted several days, including national and local press as well as major TV news bulletins.
As a result of the campaign, the Norwegian government helped fund the Anti-Racism Centre to organise and administer tea parties, ensuring on-going contact between the two communities.
Research showed that negative attitudes to Muslims declined and the number of people who agreed with statements like “Muslims are not interested in dialogue” and “Muslims do not like Norwegian Culture” fell by 40%.
Muslim groups are putting their faith in food banks to help tackle poverty
The Sufra food bank, run from a small community centre on a north-west London housing estate, is in high demand. The Muslim charity's Wednesday afternoon session sees a constant stream of people coming to claim food packages: young couples, men on their own and mothers trying to keep toddlers quiet.
Ali Jawad, a 22-year-old business student and regular volunteer, takes some details from another Sufra "guest" and begins to fill blue plastic bags with cereal, soup cans, pasta, rice, biscuits and baby food. The amount given depends on the size of the family, but is designed to get each one through the next five days.
"It's been a real eye-opener," says Jawad. "You know poverty is out there, but you don't always see it. So to speak to single mothers who can't afford food for their child, or someone walking miles across London to get here, it can be heartbreaking. We try to be a friendly face as well as providing the food they need."
Food banks in the UK are overwhelmingly operated by church-affiliated groups, including the 421 outlets run by Christian charity, the Trussell Trust. Yet Sufra, meaning "come to the table" in Arabic, is one of a growing number of Muslim organisations also attempting to tackle food poverty.
Like many Christians motivated by their faith to help others, giving to the less fortunate is an important tenet of Islam. Voluntary donations and charity work (Sadaqah) among British Muslims have typically been geared towards poverty relief projects overseas. But Sufra organisers say many Muslims now "increasingly feel they have a responsibility to the wider community and the problems here in Britain".
Sufra and parent charity Al-Mizan (which provides grants of up to £500 to individuals in crisis across the UK) offer support to anyone in need, regardless of religion or ethnic background. Halal and non-halal foods are available: cans of pork sausages are carefully marked out with red stickers.
Stephen Lashbrook is a single father living in south Kilburn with his baby daughter, who is now almost two. Out of work following a construction work injury in 2010, this is the fourth time he has been forced to turn to Sufra for help.
"It's been a real struggle this winter," he says. "Money has been very tight. I get £71 income support allowance each week, and it's been tough making that stretch. We've got a pay-as-you-go meter for the utilities so you can watch what you're spending, but during the cold months you can't go without the heating. Once the rent and council tax are paid, food is the thing you just can't find the money for."
It was Lashbrook's sister who told him about the food bank. "It didn't matter to me about the background of the volunteers. I didn't even think about it. These guys have been a big help."
Mohammed Sadiq Mamdani, director of the Al-Mizan, says demand has gradually grown since they started in October last year. Initially, Sufra's 12 volunteers typically handed out 20 food packages each week, but in the past three months the number has risen to around 40. Since most attending the food bank have families of four to five, Mamdani calculates that the charity has provided food for more than 3,000 people in its first six months.
Some of the interest is down to word spreading around the local referring agencies: GP surgeries, housing associations, refugee charities and Brent council. But Mamdani rejects the idea promoted by some Conservative politicians that people are simply taking advantage of free food. He says that benefit cuts, delays and sanctions are having an increasingly painful impact. Sufra organisers have tried, sometimes in vain, to limit each guest to four food package vouchers a year.
"Benefit sanctions might last for a month or two, which means for some people there's a crisis in their life that will be going on for many weeks," Mamdani explains. "So we say to the referring agencies, "If someone needs a fifth or sixth voucher, talk to us."
"We don't encourage dependency," he adds. "We are simply responding to the reality of food poverty. What we have now is a situation where welfare payments are token contributions to people's needs. So it's not a problem that's going away until some of the wider economic issues change."
Sufra will soon be moving to larger premises where it will launch a "food academy" to train vulnerable young people – care leavers, ex-offenders and those recovering from addiction – how to cook and manage budgets. "It would have been naive to think the food bank alone is enough," Mamdani explains.
Muslim-run food aid projects across Britain have emerged from seasonal events held during Ramadan: mosques or cultural groups inviting homeless people to share in Iftar feasts. Muslim students organising on social media have dubbed the meals "flashmob Iftars".
In 2009, the Islamic Society of Britain started one-off eat 'n' meet events along similar lines. Last November, the society began helping fund a weekly Peace Centre food bank in a deprived part of Leicester.
"More than 90% of the people coming along are white, non-Muslim," says project co-ordinator Salma Ravat. "Some are upset, some are putting a brave face on it. It's not always easy for them to get past the stigma of using a food bank, but with benefit cuts, they are struggling."
Ravat believes this reflects the growing involvement of Muslims in "mainstream" voluntary work. "Increasingly, Muslims want to give time and energy to the community around them," he says.
Many mosques have acted as donation points for food going to local charities elsewhere, but Birmingham Central mosque now runs its own small food bank, distributing parcels to a handful of people each Saturday. "We've seen a significant increase in the last few years of needy people asking for basic necessities like food," says mosque administrator Muhammad Ali. "The poverty is rising for all sorts of reasons, sadly, and the Muslim community is part of those struggles."
In Blackburn, a food donation drive organised by One Voice Blackburn during Ramadan last year led to five mosques permanently hosting collection bins for the town's Trussell Trust food bank. "It's really encouraging that all communities are now part of the process," says Ros Duerden, chair of Blackburn Food bank.
Back in London, since February 2013, the Muslim Association of Croydon has organised a Friday evening "feed the homeless" soup kitchen on the forecourt of a hostel near the Croydon mosque. But many of the people queuing up for cups of lentil soup and chicken biriyani cooked by a local restaurant are not homeless.
"We've had people of all backgrounds and situations: some in emergency accommodation and some struggling to afford the rent. A few have said they are in work, part-time or on zero-hour contracts," says the group's general secretary Ashtaq Arain." They're still struggling to get hot food and pay all the bills so they stop by here."
Arain points to a younger volunteer. "Charity is very important to our faith, and second and third generation British Muslims are now beginning to take up voluntary work more actively. I have great hopes for the next generation."
Last year a Young Australian Brother Ali Banat a multi-Millionaire businessman was diagnosed with Cancer Doctors gave him 7 Months to live. He responded by viewing the Cancer as a Gift and a Blessing and he set up a Charity called Muslims Around The World Project, the project began its work in Africa in October at a rapid pace Supporting and setting up Orphanages, Building Masajid, offering food and digging wells and and doing Dawah to the local population several hundred locals have embraced Islam through its Dawah efforts.
Here is Ali Banats Inspirational video interview with Shaykh Muhammad Hoblos that has gone viral....(This is certainly a must watch.) youtu.be/bJoId1f4f3M
Emirati restaurant owner offers free meals to people on low incomes
Asmaa Al Hameli
October 22, 2015 Updated: October 24, 2015 10:59 AM
Down under the high-rise apartments, through the narrow streets and side by side with residential villas in the Khalidiya district, a foodie scene is emerging.
Japanese, British, Saudi and a host of other international restaurants have opened, but two stand out from the others.
“We offer our meals for free to those who can’t afford them,” a sign reads.
Written in Arabic, it appears in the windows of Kiwi Cafeteria and Moulouk Al Shawarma (King Shawarma) – two restaurants directly opposite each other on 14th Street.
“The cost of living is very high. Most expatriates, especially those hailing from Asia and India, refrain from eating out to cut their budget,” says the Emirati owner, who does not wish to be named. “I wanted my shop to give away free meals to these group of people.”
The 31-year-old opened his first restaurant in Dubai five years ago and now owns six across the UAE. All have the same sign on public display.
Travelling, he says, was the driving force of change in his attitude. He worked in a media company for two years and this led him to Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria and Jordan.
“These experiences were an eye-opener. The war has left many people unemployed, and others struggle to make a living for themselves. I witnessed the poverty and difficult life led by others and this really influenced me.
“Sometimes, the food we waste could be sufficient to eradicate their poverty.”
The sign offering free food was hung in the Khalidiya restaurants about a year ago, but before that he encouraged his staff to distribute leftovers to the poor in the neighbourhood.
“Every time we open a new branch, we make sure to distribute food and beverages to people for two days.”
This way people get to know about his new shop and also its mission of serving food for free.
The two restaurants in Khalidiya are known for their shawarma sandwiches and drinks, which he attributes to the talent of his staff: people from Syria, Egypt and Jordan work in both. A small shawarma costs Dh6 in his restaurants, but this is still beyond the means of many workers, who usually can only afford a tea and paratha roll for Dh2.
“The poor are free to pick any meal they wish from the menu. There is no restriction on them.”
And it’s not just labourers from South Asia who take up the offer; there are Arabs, too.
“Most of my needy customers are construction workers and [rubbish] collectors from Bangladesh, Nepal, and some Egyptians who work as security guards.
“There are also many Arabs from the Levant who live with very low salaries. They know my shops and my shops offer them free food regularly.”
More than 10 people come to both restaurants in Abu Dhabi every day for the free meals.
“We encourage people to take the free meal and leave. This way, they don’t get unwanted attention from other customers.”
He also plans to translate the sign into English and Hindi.
“I do not care if these people are Muslims or non-Muslims. At the end of the day, we are all honourable human beings.
“I pray that these people keep coming back, really,” he says. “You don’t lose anything by giving, instead, Allah increases your provision.”
Asmaa Al Hameli is a features writer at The National.
By Hassan Ghani
For the past three decades Pakistani firefighter Mohammed Ayub has been quietly working in his spare time to give children from Islamabad's slums an education and a better chance at life.
Pedalling through Islamabad’s leafy streets on his bicycle, Mohammed Ayub comes across as just another ordinary working class Pakistani. What he’s chosen to do with his life, however, is extraordinary.
Each day at 3pm, after finishing his day job, he arrives like clockwork at a public park in Islamabad’s F-6 sector, a couple of kilometres from Pakistan’s parliament building. Around 200 children from different backgrounds are lined up and waiting for him at the park, ready to learn. They know him as ‘Master Ayub’.
It all started 30 years ago, after he moved to Islamabad and secured a job with the fire brigade.
“My family were staying in the village and I was here in the city alone, so I wanted to do something in my spare time that would be of some use,” Ayub told Al Jazeera.
With that in mind, he asked a young boy washing cars why he wasn’t at school. The response was typical: “my parents are poor, so I work,” the boy had told him.
“I brought him a notebook, gave him a pencil and an eraser, and started teaching him there and then, sitting on the ground.” Master Ayub had found his calling.
The next day, the boy brought along his friend. The day after, a couple more came. Within a week, and with a bit of persuasion, there were fifty children coming to learn to read and write after they had finished their work each day.
Now, with the help of former students and friends, Master Ayub’s park school accommodates around 200 children, a mixture of Muslims and Christians from poor families. Thousands have passed through in the last three decades, taking government accredited exams to allow them to go on to higher education, or secure decent jobs.
While many of the capital’s affluent residents may be unaware of what’s going on in this little park on their doorstep, for the impoverished communities in nearby slums the park school has become an institution.
Thirteen year old Maria has been at the school for five years, and wants to be a doctor. Although more articulate in Urdu, she’s keen to practice her English with us, which she’s learned at the school.
“When I first time come here [sic], I liked Master Ayub,” she says with a large grin. “It’s very good and very special.”
Mohammed Ayub’s own experience of poverty in his youth is what drives him to help others.
“My father died when I was still a young man. I was left responsible for my five brothers and three sisters. I would teach them, and also work hard selling newspapers, making bags, to earn a living for us all.”
Some of Master Ayub’s former students now have children of their own, and opt to bring them to the park for extra tuition after classes finish at government run schools.
While the school is changing lives, the headmaster’s day job as a firefighter is about saving lives. The scars on his hands are a reminder of how dangerous that work can be.
When the Islamabad Marriott hotel was hit by a massive bomb blast in September 2008, he rushed in to help survivors escape.
“Some people were stuck inside. When I went into the fire to pull them out, I received burns to my body and hands, but I took God’s name and went ahead and managed to get them out.”
Today, 58 year old Master Ayub’s role in the fire brigade is mainly administrative. When he retires in a few years, he wants to make the children in the park his sole focus. He dreams of building a real school, with classrooms and computers, and the children share that dream - each day before class they collect bricks and stones and pile them up at the entrance of the park, to use as building materials.
“God willing, within a few years, we’ll build a big school. And those students who are with us, and say they want to be like Master Ayub, one day they will [be just like him].”
SUKKUR: For Mai Jindo, the Gharib Nawaz Hotel is nothing less than a blessing as the hotel has been providing free meals to her family for more than 35 years now.
“Like a majority of the girls of my community, marriage proved a gamble for me, as my husband turned out to be a drug addict and, instead of providing livelihood to the family, has always remained dependent upon me”, Mai Jindo told The Express Tribune. “It was very hard for me to earn enough to feed so many mouths but I kept on trying.”
Her initial struggles were soon eased. “One day a woman in my neighbourhood told me about the Gharib Nawaz Hotel, near the Sukkur Clock Tower, which provides free meals to the poor and needy,” she said. “In the evening, I went to the hotel along with my four children and to my surprise, the hotel owner gave me so much food that it was enough for my family for dinner and even breakfast the next day. Since then, I come to this hotel every evening to get food for my family and now I don’t have to worry about feeding my family at least.”
Kamalan is also one of the regular visitors of the hotel. “Considering the high prices, poor people like us cannot afford to feed our children regularly but thanks to the Gharib Nawaz Hotel, we do not have to face hunger,” she said. “Hundreds of men, women and children visit this hotel in the evening to get free food for their families.” Kamalan is a widow and has seven children to take care of and though she works as a maid in two houses, she doesn’t earn enough to make ends meet.
Mashooq Ali used to earn a livelihood for his family through a donkey cart and while he was unable to afford the extravagant, he was doing sufficiently well enough for himself. But everything changed when Ali lost his left arm in an accident five years ago. He has been unable to work since then.
“I don’t have a son, otherwise I wouldn’t have come to this hotel,” he said, his pride hurt at being forced to accept charity. “I cannot let my five daughters die of hunger, therefore, I come to this hotel and get food for them.”
The owner of the hotel, Haji Shabbir Ahmed, told The Express Tribune that the hotel was established before the partition and was named the Gharib Nawaz [the carer of the poor] by his forefathers. “Since its establishment, it has been our practice to provide free food to the poor,” he said. “And with the passage of time, people have started giving money to us as charity to provide free food to more people. Now we can provide for hundreds”
The Gharib Nawaz Hotel is not the only hotel that provides free food to the poor but it is famous for its cheap rates even for those who can afford to pay. Most of the labourers working in the nearby markets come to the hotel to eat meals at the comparatively low rates and Ahmed said that due to the low rates, profits are a bare minimum. However, the owner is more than happy with the business model, saying that their main priority is to help the poor and not to make large profits.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.
Ordinary people who do extraordinary things inspire the rest of us. They are the real heroes, making the world a better place, one step at a time. Azhar Maqsusi is one such hero. A modest businessman in Hyderabad, Azhar has been feeding homeless people in his region for over 3 years.
Every afternoon a large number of homeless, destitute people line up under the Dabeerpura Bridge in Hyderabad. They collect plates, wash them and wait patiently for the food provided for them by Azhar every day.
Azhar recounts how he began his free-food camp venture, “It all started around three years ago. I hardly ever took that route but my tyre got punctured that day and I decided to catch the local train from the station under the bridge when I saw a physically handicapped woman with her feet amputated,” The woman was crying loudly, begging for food and not money; she hadn’t eaten in days. Azhar immediately gave her the food he’d packed for the day. “My father died when I was 4 years old and my mother struggled a lot to raise me and my siblings. I know what it is like to sleep hungry.”
The next day Azhar’s wife cooked extra food so that he could go back to the same place and distribute food. Initially food packets were distributed but as time progressed the food was cooked on spot, under the bridge.
In 2 months there were more than 50 people waiting for Azhar every day. It was then that he decided to hire a cook for this venture, paying him a fixed salary so that he could regularly cook large quantities. Azhar paid for everything from his own pocket, not asking for anything in return.
A year and a half later Azhar’s venture got a boost when an Indian national living in the US decided to help him. Today, Azhar receives 16 25-kg sacks of rice every month from his well-wishers. He rejects any cash donations and accepts only those in kind.
Today over 100 homeless people are fed by Azhar. Nearly 25 kg rice, 1 litre oil and 2 kg pulses are required every day. It costs Rs. 1500 – Rs. 1700 daily, but Azhar paid for everything from his own pocket, not asking for anything in return.
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Washington Dc Restaurant offers free meals to homeless
WASHINGTON (ABC7) — On a dreary morning in Franklin Square along K Street in Northwest Washington layers of donated clothes keep the homeless warm. Finding shelter and food defines their day. Dawud Proctor knows the struggle of homelessness all too well.
“Yeah it’s tough. I see people laugh at the homeless and might look down on them but if you really look at it a lot of people are just one step away from being this way,” says Proctor.
Franklin Square is one of the many places in the nation’s capital inhabited by those without a home. It sits two blocks from two very different houses: The White House to the west and Mayur Kabab House to the east. Mayur Kabab owner Kazi Mannan came in early on this particular day.
“With every dish the magic is how much you have to stir it,” says Mannan.
He and his staff are preparing a special feast for customers at his Pakistani-Indian restaurant along K Street in Northwest Washington.
Mannan says on the menu will be, “Potato and cauliflower, chicken tandoori, naan bread, chick peas and vegetable biryani.”
But these dishes are destined for an audience that’s rarely welcome in elegant eateries. You see, for the past few months Mannan has opened his restaurant to the homeless.
Mannan says, “Sometimes they come 15-20. Sometimes nobody. We are waiting God please send somebody, you know.”
For lunch on this day nearly 20 people who have no home came in from the elements to eat. And they’re treated like any other guest expect for one key difference. They eat for free.
“Yes it’s shocking to me because I didn’t think there were brothers out there who would help support the needs of the homeless,” says Proctor.
Darren Staton, who has been homeless for a couple years, says this meal and Mannan’s gesture is a blessing from God.
“So we appreciate this guy bringing this food down here for us to eat. Sometimes on Sundays it is slow. Sometimes we got to go around and beg or we get a cup and try to make money to try to find a way to eat and survive out here,” says Staton.
Vancouver mosque operates as homeless shelter due to cold
'If the need is there, we will be open,' says Al Jamia Masjid mosque trustee
By Bridgette Watson, CBC News Posted: Dec 25, 2016
The Al Jamia Masjid mosque on W. 8th Avenue in Vancouver has been providing meals, blankets and a place for people to seek overnight refuge from the streets during December.
Vancouver's oldest mosque is operating as an overnight shelter for anyone in need of refuge from the streets during the winter cold.
Members of the Al Jamia Masjid congregation opened the mosque on Dec. 18 when temperatures fell below freezing. The plan was to close the space, located at Eighth Avenue near Cambie, after a week, but if the demand remains, that deadline is flexible.
"If the need is there, we will be open," said Haroon Khan, president of the Pakistan Canada Association and trustee of the Al Jamia Masjid.
"This year, the emergency was really acute and the interfaith community has been mobilized. We really felt like this was the right thing to do, especially at this time of year," he said.
Youth helping youth
Jessy Rai (left) and Bhavraj Saran are two of the dedicated youth volunteers helping out at the Al Jamia Masjid mosque while it provides meals, clothing and shelter to those in need. (Erin Sandhu)
On average, the mosque has sheltered 10 to 15 people per night, including many youth. They are kept company overnight by volunteers, mobilized by Haroon's nephew, 22-year-old Abubakar Khan.
Volunteers are primarily youth themselves, many of them Abubakar's friends, whom he said "wanted to help because they had been hearing about the homeless crisis and fentanyl deaths."
"We just started brainstorming and we said, let's open the mosque for a week and it just started flowing, more and more [volunteers] started joining," said Abubakar, who has spent nearly every night since then sleeping at the mosque.
The volunteers have been working to deliver meals, blankets and care packages to residents in the Downtown Eastside, as well as sitting and sharing stories at the mosque overnight.
Some people who have sought shelter have cell phones and have remained in touch with the volunteers they connected with at the mosque. Two volunteers are planning to reconnect with a man they met at the mosque to help him create a resume.
Humbling to serve
Haroon said it has been humbling to serve neighbours in need and that sometimes, it is just one bad decision, or one paycheque, that separates people from each other.
Al Jamia Masjid was founded in 1963 by Haroon's father, Riasat Ali Khan. It is located at 655 West 8th Ave.
Anyone in need is welcome to seek shelter between 7 p.m. PT and 9 a.m. PT. Food and clothing is also provided.
The following article brought tears to my eyes...!
'I know they are going to die.' This foster father takes in only terminally ill children
Mohamed Bzeek holds the hand of his 6-year-old foster daughter, who was born with a rare brain malformation and cannot see, hear or speak. He has cared for terminally ill foster children in L.A. County for more than two decades.
The children were going to die.
Mohamed Bzeek knew that. But in his more than two decades as a foster father, he took them in anyway — the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system.
He has buried about 10 children. Some died in his arms.
Now, Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. She’s blind and deaf. She has daily seizures. Her arms and legs are paralyzed.
Bzeek, a quiet, devout Libyan-born Muslim who lives in Azusa, just wants her to know she’s not alone in this life.
“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” he said. “I’m always holding her, playing with her, touching her. … She has feelings. She has a soul. She’s a human being.”
He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.
— Melissa Testerman, Department of Children and Family Services intake coordinator
Of the 35,000 children monitored by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, there are about 600 children at any given time who fall under the care of the department’s Medical Case Management Services, which serves those with the most severe medical needs, said Rosella Yousef, an assistant regional administrator for the unit.
There is a dire need for foster parents to care for such children.
And there is only one person like Bzeek.
“If anyone ever calls us and says, ‘This kid needs to go home on hospice,’ there’s only one name we think of,” said Melissa Testerman, a DCFS intake coordinator who finds placements for sick children. “He’s the only one that would take a child who would possibly not make it.”
Typically, she said, children with complex conditions are placed in medical facilities or with nurses who have opted to become foster parents.
But Bzeek is the only foster parent in the county known to take in terminally ill children, Yousef said. Though she knows the single father is stretched thin caring for the girl, who requires around-the-clock care, Yousef still approached him at a department Christmas party in December and asked if he could possibly take in another sick child.
This time, Bzeek politely declined.
Bzeek is a quiet, religious man who wants his foster daughter to know she's not alone in this life.
The girl sits propped up with pillows in the corner of Bzeek’s living room couch. She has long, thin brown hair pulled into a ponytail and perfectly arched eyebrows over unseeing gray eyes.
Because of confidentiality laws, the girl is not being identified. But a special court order allowed The Times to spend time at Bzeek’s home and to interview people involved in his foster daughter’s case.
The girl’s head is too small for her 34-pound body, which is too small for her age. She was born with an encephalocele, a rare malformation in which part of her brain protruded through an opening in her skull, according to Dr. Suzanne Roberts, the girl’s pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Neurosurgeons removed the protruding brain tissue shortly after her birth, but much of her brain remains undeveloped.
She has been in Bzeek’s care since she was a month old. Before her, he cared for three other children with the same condition.
“These kids, it’s a life sentence for them,” he said.
Bzeek, 62, is a portly man with a long, dark beard and a soft voice. The oldest of 10 children, he came to this country from Libya as a college student in 1978.
Years later, through a mutual friend, he met a woman named Dawn, who would become his wife. She had become a foster parent in the early 1980s, before she met Bzeek. Her grandparents had been foster parents, and she was inspired by them, Bzeek said. Before she met Bzeek, she opened her home as an emergency shelter for foster children who needed immediate placement or who were placed in protective custody.
The key is, you have to love them like your own.
— Mohamed Bzeek
Dawn Bzeek fell in love with every child she took in. She took them to professional holiday photo sessions, and she organized Christmas gift donation drives for foster children.
She was funny, Bzeek said during a recent drive home from the hospital. She was absolutely terrified of spiders and bugs, so much that even Halloween decorations creeped her out — but she was never scared by the children’s illnesses or the possibility that she would die, Bzeek said.
The Bzeeks opened their Azusa home to dozens of children. They taught classes on foster parenting — and how to handle a child’s illness and death — at community colleges. Dawn Bzeek was such a highly regarded foster mother that her name appeared on statewide task forces for improving foster care alongside doctors and policymakers.
Bzeek started caring for foster children with Dawn in 1989, he said. Often, the children were ill.
Mohamed Bzeek first experienced the death of a foster child in 1991. She was the child of a farm worker who was pregnant when she breathed in toxic pesticides sprayed by crop dusters. She was born with a spinal disorder, wore a full body cast and wasn’t yet a year old when she died on July 4, 1991, as the Bzeeks prepared dinner.
“This one hurt me so badly when she died,” Bzeek said, glancing at a photograph of a tiny girl in a frilly white dress, lying in a coffin surrounded by yellow flowers.
By the mid-1990s, the Bzeeks decided to specifically care for terminally ill children who had do-not-resuscitate orders because no one else would take them in.
There was the boy with short-gut syndrome who was admitted to the hospital 167 times in his eight-year life. He could never eat solid food, but the Bzeeks would sit him at the dinner table, with his own empty plate and spoon, so he could sit with them as a family.
There was the girl with the same brain condition as Bzeek’s current foster daughter, who lived for eight days after they brought her home. She was so tiny that when she died a doll maker made an outfit for her funeral. Bzeek carried her coffin in his hands like a shoe box.
“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” Bzeek said recently. “I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God.”
Bzeek’s only biological son, Adam, was born in 1997 — with brittle bone disease and dwarfism. He was a child so fragile that changing his diaper or his socks could break his bones.
Bzeek said he was never angry about his own son’s disabilities. He loved him all the same.
“That’s the way God created him,” Bzeek said.
Now 19, Adam weighs about 65 pounds and has big brown eyes and a shy grin. When at home, he gets around the house on a body skateboard that his father made for him out of a miniature ironing board, zooming across the wood floor, steering with his hands.
Adam studies computer science at Citrus College, driving his electric wheelchair to class. He’s the smallest student in class, Bzeek said, “but he’s a fighter.”
Adam’s parents never glossed over how sick his foster siblings were, and they told him the children were going to eventually die, Bzeek said. They accepted death as part of life — something that made the small joys of living all the more meaningful.
“I love my sister,” the shy teenager said of the foster girl. “Nobody should have to go through so much pain.”
About 2000, Dawn Bzeek, once such an active advocate for foster children, became ill. She suffered from powerful seizures that would leave her weak for days. She could hardly leave the house because she didn’t want to collapse in public.
The frustrations of her illness wore on her, Bzeek said. There was stress in the marriage, and she and Bzeek split in 2013. She died a little over a year later.
Bzeek chokes up when he talks about her. When it came to facing the difficulties of the children’s illnesses, the knowledge that they would die, she was always the stronger one, he said.
On a chilly November morning, Bzeek pushed the girl’s wheelchair and the IV pole that carries her feeding formula into Children’s Hospital on Sunset Boulevard. She was wrapped in a soft pink blanket, her head resting on a pillow with the stitched words: “Dad is like duct tape holding our home together.”
The temperatures had been bouncing up and down that week, and the girl had a cold. Her brain cannot fully regulate her body temperature, so one leg was hot while the other was cold.
On the elevator, her face glowed bright red as she coughed, her throat filled with phlegm, screaming for air. People in the elevator looked away.
Bzeek rubbed her cheek playfully and held her hand, waving it playfully. “Heeeey, mama,” he cooed in her ear, calming her down.
For Bzeek, the hospital has become a second home. When he’s not here, he’s often on the phone with her many doctors, the insurers who fight over who’s paying for it all, the lawyers who represent her and her social workers. Any time they leave the house together, he carries a thick black binder filled with her medical records and pages of medications.
Still, Bzeek — who had to be licensed through the county to care for medically fragile children and receives about $1,700 a month for her care — is not able to make medical decisions for her.
Roberts entered the exam room, smiling at the girl’s frilly socks and brown dress with fall-colored leaves.
“There’s our princess,” the doctor said. “She’s in her pretty dress, as always.”
Roberts has known Bzeek for years and has seen many of his foster children. By the time this girl was age 2, Roberts said, doctors said there were no more interventions to improve her condition.
“Nobody ever wants to give up,” she said. “But we had run through the options.”
But the girl, who is hooked to feeding and medication tubes at least 22 hours a day, has lived as long as she has because of Bzeek, the doctor said.
“When she’s not sick and in a good mood, she’ll cry to be held,” Roberts said. “She’s not verbal, but she can make her needs known. … Her life is not complete suffering. She has moments where she’s enjoying herself and she’s pretty content, and it’s all because of Mohamed.”
Mohamed Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for the bedridden child. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Other than trips to the hospital and Friday prayers at the mosque — when the day nurse watches her — Bzeek rarely leaves the house.
To avoid choking, the girl sleeps sitting up. Bzeek sleeps on a second couch next to hers. He doesn’t sleep much.
On a Saturday in early December, Bzeek, Adam and the girl’s nurse, Marilou Terry, had a celebratory lunch for the child’s sixth birthday. He invited her biological parents. They didn’t come.
Bzeek crouched in front of the girl — wearing a long, red-and-white dress and matching socks — and held her hands, clapping them together.
“Yay!” he said, cheerfully. “You are 6! 6! 6!”
Bzeek lit six birthday candles in a cheesecake and sat the girl on the kitchen table, holding the cake near her face so she could feel the warmth of the flames.
As they sang “Happy Birthday,” Bzeek leaned over her left shoulder, his beard gently brushing the side of her face. She smelled the smoke, and a small smile crossed her face.
With all the Islamaphobia going on around the world we often forget that the one of the simplest responses is to follow the sunnah of Love, mercy and compassion towards others.
The article I have posted above has received an extraordinary response, from non-muslims one reader of the La Times a Jewish lady was so touched that she set up a fundraising page to help support the Brother Mohammed Bzeek for the sacrifices he is making in looking after lonely sick children, in less then 24 hours people donated a $100,000
The News paper itself has been overhelmed by letters and e-mails about this story here is selection of letters posted by the News Paper...!
Readers Letters LA Times.
Opinion Trump should read about the Muslim foster father who cares for terminally ill kids
“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” Mohamed Bzeek says.
“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” Mohamed Bzeek says. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
To the editor: Thank you so much for the moving article about foster father Mohamed Bzeek and his tireless, compassionate care for the babies and children suffering from terminal diseases and disabilities. I am humbled. (“'I know they are going to die.' This foster father takes in only terminally ill children,” Feb. 8)
How I wish our current self-proclaimed Christian president, cabinet members and Republican-dominated Congress would read his story and rethink their current actions to take away healthcare from millions; meditate on their zeal to rip away environmental, food and animal welfare protections; cogitate upon their haste to shut out the suffering; and regret their decisions to put the greediest denizens of Wall Street in charge of our nation’s financial security.
This is Christianity in name only. Meanwhile, a Muslim man from Libya gives everything he has for the neediest beings of all. Mr. Bzeek, you are the definition of courage and compassion.
Cathy Goldberg, Seal Beach
What courage, what sacrifice, what devotion this lovely man exhibits as he cares for those who would otherwise suffer and die alone.
— Lisa Schmitt, Bell Canyon
To the editor: Growing up in a family that also provided emergency foster care to children, I have experienced the power of loving these kids as your own. Reading about the binders of medical information Bzeek carries to doctor appointments brought back memories.
Sleepless nights with sick kids, surprise arrivals and emotional departures were part of the journey. Keeping in touch over the years with many of the children I knew showed me how important that unconditional love was to their young lives.
Bzeek reminds us of how love becomes even more meaningful when it is given freely. Even though his young charges may never know the gift of time or perspective, I have no doubt they feel his love.
The world needs more Mohamed Bzeeks.
Jim Garfield, Santa Monica
To the editor: I am not religious. But I was introduced to an angel in your article as I cried my way through it. Bzeek is perhaps the most selfless, loving human being I have ever encountered. It is not surprising his young son is as loving as his father.
Bzeek deserves all our esteem and heartfelt thanks for taking care of the little girl referenced in the article and all the children he has fostered. What courage, what sacrifice, what devotion this lovely man exhibits as he cares for those who would otherwise suffer and die alone.
This story will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Lisa Schmitt, Bell Canyon
To the editor: There were tears in my eyes as I read the article about Bzeek, a very bright spot among all of the unpleasant business of today’s world. This lovely man devoting his life to caring for these helpless children is an example to all of us.
Then I realized that as a Muslim from Libya, he would not be allowed to enter our country now. He would be banned because of his religion and country of origin — a ban ordered by a president who as far as I can tell has never done a kind thing for anyone.
Patricia L. Moore, Los Angeles
To the editor: Thank you for bringing Bzeek’s dedication to light. He and his deceased wife are the very embodiment of compassion and an inspiration to all who work to reduce the suffering of the most vulnerable.
Whilst doing research for this thread, I came across a lot of work and positive initiatives done by individuals inspired by the Mashaykh of Tassawuf, from Imam al Ghazali, to Shaykh Abdul Qadir al Gilani to Maulana Rumi it is the misfortune of us Sunnis that we have all but neglected those teachings..!
So I thought I would include the following story of Azim Khamisa because it is a truly remarkable story... Mr. Khamisa is originally from an Ismaili background.
but was inspired by Sufi teachings, in an extraordinary journey of Forgiveness and social activism after his son was murdered.
Heart of Darkness
--by Megan Feldman, syndicated from spiritmag.com, Dec 04, 2012
Azim Khamisa smiles when he spots a round-faced man with spectacles striding into a sun-dappled courtyard on the campus of San Diego State University. Like Khamisa, the man wears a pressed white shirt and polished black dress shoes. The two embrace. They’re here to deliver an unusual talk, one that, over the years, they have presented to millions of students across the country.
Minutes later, inside a warmly lit amphitheater, Khamisa takes the stage. “I’d like to introduce to you a very special man in my life,” he says. “My brother, Ples Felix.” When introducing Felix, he always uses that word: brother.
Khamisa and Felix, both in their 60s, are not related. Khamisa is the son of successful Persian merchants who settled in Kenya and practiced Sufi Islam; Felix was born to a blue-collar black family in Los Angeles and raised Baptist. Khamisa studied in London and became an international investment banker; Felix studied in New York and became an urban planner.
Yet their lives show striking similarities. For one, both men turned their backs on violence. As a young man, Khamisa fled persecution in Kenya at the hands of the Idi Amin regime in neighboring Uganda, eventually settling in the U.S. Felix left South Central L.A. by joining the United States Army and served two tours in Vietnam before foregoing a military career to attend college and pursue a civilian profession. On separate continents, they both learned to meditate—Khamisa from a Sufi friend in Africa; Felix from a Buddhist monk in Southeast Asia. Both made it a daily practice.
But none of these commonalities are what brought them together. They met 17 years ago after Felix’s only grandson murdered Khamisa’s only son.
On January 22, 1995, a Sunday, Azim Khamisa stood in the kitchen of his condo in La Jolla, California, straining to comprehend the words coming from the phone. “Your son … shot … dead …” Surely there was a mistake. He hurried the detective off the phone and dialed his 20-year-old son Tariq’s number. No answer. He called Tariq’s fiancée, Jennifer. She answered but was crying so hard she could barely speak. Khamisa’s knees buckled. He fell backward and hit his head on the refrigerator. As the phone crashed to the floor, he was enveloped by pain that he would forever describe as “a nuclear bomb detonating” in his heart.
Soon after, a close friend arrived. They sat in a daze at the dining room table. The artwork around them—a painting of an elephant, called “The Lone Tusker,” that reminded Khamisa of Kenya; another of a skier gliding down a snow-covered mountain that evoked memories of teaching Tariq to ski—suddenly seemed like artifacts from a past life. An investigator from the police department visited Khamisa’s home to tell him that witnesses reported seeing four teens running from the car where Tariq, felled by a single bullet that tore through his heart and lungs, drowned in his own blood. The cops were searching for the boys.
The investigator left, and an emptiness settled over the room. Khamisa’s friend shook his head. “I hope they catch those *** and fry them,” he said. He was thinking of his own son, who was 12, and how he would feel if anyone harmed him.
Khamisa’s response was slow and startling.
“I don’t feel that way,” he said. “There were victims at both ends of that gun.”
The words rolled out of his mouth and when he heard them, the meaning rang true. He felt they came from God.
On the morning of January 23, 1995, Ples Felix sat in his car outside a modest apartment building in the middle-class San Diego neighborhood of North Park, 15 miles southeast of La Jolla. Minutes earlier, he’d called the police to report that his 14-year-old grandson, Tony Hicks, had run away and was holed up here, inside the apartment where the boy’s friend Hakeem lived with his mother. Before watching the officers disappear through the front door, Felix warned them there were probably gang members inside.
Tony had stopped doing his homework and started ditching school. Felix, whom Tony called “Daddy,” had tried to talk sense into his grandson. But over the weekend he’d returned home to find Tony gone—along with Felix’s 12-gauge shotgun. A brief note read, “Daddy, I love you. But I’ve run away.” By Monday, Felix had been able to track him to this apartment complex.
Now, as he sat across the street, he prayed this would go smoothly, since, like many people from South Central, he’d grown up amid unsettling violence and hardship. At age 16, Felix had fathered a child—his daughter, Loeta. When Loeta was 16, she gave birth to Felix’s grandson, Tony, who spent his first eight years in gang-ridden chaos, which included witnessing, at age 8, his 16-year-old cousin’s remains being removed by the county coroner after the teenager was killed by rival gang members.
Loeta thought Tony would stand a better chance under the wing of his grandfather, so she shipped him off to the comparatively gentle environs of San Diego. With Felix’s guidance and structure, Tony went from struggling as a student to earning B’s—until adolescence, when rules began to grate and the approval of Tony’s friends took precedence over school and family.
In his car, Felix’s prayers were interrupted when the San Diego PD reappeared. As an officer led Tony away in cuffs, the boy engaged in nervous banter. Tony still resembled that imp who, before drifting off to sleep, used to whisper to his grandfather, “Good night, Daddy.” Felix took one last look and drove to work.
That afternoon, he was sitting at his desk in downtown San Diego when a homicide detective called. Tony wasn’t merely being held as a runaway; he was a prime suspect in a murder investigation. A tipster had led police to Tony and his friends, who apparently had dubbed themselves “The Black Mob.” The facts would soon fall into place: After fleeing his home on Saturday, Tony spent the day with Hakeem and Black Mob ringleader Antoine “Q-Tip” Pittman, playing video games and smoking weed. Later that evening, they called in an order to a nearby pizzeria, with the intent to rob the deliveryman.
Tony, who’d been bestowed the nickname “Bone” by the group, slipped a stolen 9mm semiautomatic handgun into his waistband and walked with Q-Tip and two other teen gang members to a Louisiana Street apartment complex, where the pizza was being delivered. When they arrived, Tariq Khamisa—a college student who’d recently taken a part-time job at DiMille’s Italian Restaurant to earn spending money—was leaving the building, still carrying the pizza. As the boys demanded that he hand it over, Tony drew his gun. Tariq refused, and clambered into his beige Volkswagen.
“Bust him, Bone!” Q-Tip shouted, as Tariq tried to pull away. Tony aimed and squeezed. The car rolled to a stop. The boys ran. As the blood drained from Tariq’s body, a father and grandfather were unknowingly drawn into a future that they never could have imagined.
A parent’s greatest nightmare is losing a child. When that loss is the result of a criminal act, we expect a turbulent reaction. Khamisa’s behavior after his son’s murder was so far from the norm that it made headlines. Ten months after Tariq’s death, Khamisa told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he forgave the alleged killer. Unlike most victims’ families, who track a case’s every twist in pursuit of justice, Khamisa told the prosecuting attorney that he preferred to leave the legal maneuvering to the state and focus on violence prevention.
Within a year of the murder, Khamisa started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, which teaches the virtues of nonviolence to San Diego middle schoolers and young people nationwide. TKF raises $1.5 million annually for educational, mentoring, and community service programs that target at-risk youth. The curriculum’s centerpiece features Khamisa and his surprise ally Ples Felix sharing their story at school assemblies. Educators who have opened their doors to the duo say that gang activity and discipline problems have dipped as a result. TKF has reached nearly 1 million kids in San Diego County through live presentations, plus another 8 million through Khamisa and Felix’s visits to schools in Australia, Europe, and Canada, and broadcasts on Channel One News (shown in schools across the U.S.). After launching TKF, Khamisa partnered with the nonprofit National Youth Advocate Program to create CANEI, or Constant and Never Ending Improvement, a program that teaches nonviolence and individual responsibility to young offenders and their families. It currently operates in seven cities. Forgiveness is key to both programs, and in addition to lecturing on the topic in cities around the world, Khamisa leads two-day workshops for individuals, therapists, and community groups entitled “Forgiveness:
The Crown Jewel of Personal Freedom.”
Forgiveness has, for centuries, been preached by prophets and inspirational leaders. Nelson Mandela popularized one of Khamisa’s favorite quotes: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
As it turns out, equating resentment with poison isn’t a stretch. Nursing a grudge means holding onto anger, and prolonged anger spikes heart rate, lowers immune response, and floods the brain with neuro-transmitters that impede problem solving and stir depression. In multiple studies, forgiveness has been shown to provide benefits such as lowered blood pressure and increased optimism, says Dr. Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, an ongoing series of workshops and research projects at Stanford University. Having developed ways to teach forgiveness in various places, including war-ravaged countries such as Sierra Leone, Luskin asserts that anyone—from jilted spouses to widows who have lost husbands to terrorism—can heal.
“When you don’t forgive, you release all the chemicals of the stress response,” Luskin says. “Each time you react, adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine enter the body. When it’s a chronic grudge, you could think about it 20 times a day, and those chemicals limit creativity; they limit problem solving. Cortisol and norepinephrine cause your brain to enter what we call ‘the no-thinking zone,’ and over time, they lead you to feel helpless and like a victim. When you forgive, you wipe all of that clean.”
Wiping the slate clean isn’t easy when it means forgiving the person who killed your son. The day Khamisa and his family buried Tariq in Vancouver, where both sets of Tariq’s grandparents lived, it was cold and rainy. Khamisa chanted prayers in a mosque with thousands of worshippers. In accordance with tradition, he climbed down into a muddy grave to receive his son’s body. A group of men lowered Tariq down. As Khamisa held his son for the last time, his feet sinking into the mud and rain pouring over his head, saying goodbye seemed so abhorrent that he lingered for a few long moments.
In the weeks that followed, Khamisa contemplated suicide. Just months before, he’d been going from one international business trip to the next and working 100-hour weeks; now he could barely rise from bed. Things like showering and eating lunch seemed to be enormous tasks. He couldn’t sleep, so he began meditating for four hours a day instead of just one. On a chilly day, three months after Tariq’s death, Khamisa drove to a cabin near California’s Mammoth Mountain. He hoped a few days away might help him break the grief that seemed to be drowning him.
When he arrived he built a fire. He gazed into the flames and memories surfaced: Tariq collecting stones at the beach; Tariq laughing at some clever joke, his joy contagious and in contrast with his father’s serious mien; Tariq asking for help balancing his checkbook. Khamisa had always loved numbers, acing accounting and preparing to run his father’s Peugeot dealership in his 20s. But Tariq had little interest in business. He loved music and art. Their differences caused friction, but the last time they saw each other—over breakfast, 12 days before the murder—they amiably traded stories about their divergent interests. Tariq said his recent trip to Kenya to visit family had strengthened his resolve to become a National Geographic photographer, and that he and his fiancée Jennifer—both art majors at SDSU—were considering moving to New York City.
Mostly, in the cloistered quiet of the cabin, Khamisa felt sadness, but anger, too—anger that he wasn’t somehow able to protect Tariq; anger that he had been killed over something as trivial as a pizza; anger, most pointedly, at his adopted country. How absurd that he’d left the chaos and violence of Africa only to see his son slain on the streets of America! Before, news of shootings seemed faraway and inconsequential, but now he applied his laser-focused business mind to sociology, obsessively studying the dire statistics of America’s street wars. His son and the boy who killed him were victims of something dark and sinister, something for which every American—including Khamisa—was responsible.
Maybe this was what the Sufi teacher had meant. Weeks before Khamisa undertook his retreat, a friend and spiritual guide told him that a soul was earthbound for 40 days before departing to a new level of consciousness, but that the journey could be hindered by unreconciled feelings of loved ones who remain behind.
“I recommend you break the paralysis of grief and find a good deed to do in Tariq’s name,” the teacher told him. “Compassionate acts undertaken in the name of the departed are spiritual currency, which will transfer to Tariq’s soul and help speed his journey.”
That was it. Khamisa wouldn’t just study violence, he would return to San Diego, consult the best minds he knew, and devise a plan to change the status quo. Somehow, he also knew that if he didn’t reach out to the killer’s family and forgive them—maybe even invite them to join his crusade—he’d forever be a victim of his anguish. When he drove back to the California coast at the end of the weekend on Mammoth Mountain, it was with renewed purpose.
In May 1995, a judge—in accordance with a new state law that allowed 14- and 15-year-olds to be prosecuted and sentenced as adults rather than juveniles—ruled that Tony, now 15, would be tried as an adult. Tony’s attorney notified Felix and asked if he would talk to his grandson. Tony was still posturing as a street tough (during interrogations he’d referred to Tariq as a “stupid pizza man” who should have just handed over the food), which wouldn’t serve him well in court. He faced 25 years to life if, in advance of a trial, he pled guilty to first-degree murder, or 45 years to life if he chose the trial route.
At juvenile hall, Tony sat sullen and silent in his blue jumpsuit while his attorney laid out his options, then left grandfather and grandson alone. Felix handed Tony an orange, and the boy began to cry—maybe because it reminded him of his grandfather’s ritual of talking over fruit, or maybe because the gravity of his predicament had finally hit him. As if he were 5 again, he jumped into Felix’s lap. “Daddy, I’m so sorry for what I did,” he sobbed. “I never wanted to hurt anybody, I was just angry, stupid.” He grew quiet after a moment and returned to his seat. He took the orange, peeled it, and gave half to his grandfather. Then, with his body shaking, he calmly spoke like a man twice his age: “I have to take responsibility for what I did.” Tony, the first juvenile prosecuted as an adult in California, took the plea bargain and was sentenced to 25 years to life.
Through all the complex legal wrangling, Felix prayed for a way to help Tariq’s family. And the invitation came at a wrenching time. Many North Park residents wanted Tony to receive the maximum penalty, and some, upon learning that the accused killer’s grandfather was managing a local redevelopment effort, demanded the city fire him from the project. The mayor refused, but the attacks had taken a toll.
Felix wore a suit and tie on the day—November 3, 1995—he met Khamisa for the first time. It was a moment Felix had anticipated for months. As he shook Khamisa’s hand in Tony’s attorney’s office, he said, “If there’s anything I can do to be a support to you and your family, please call on me.” He added that Khamisa had been in his daily prayers and meditations.
It struck Khamisa as fortuitous. He immediately felt close to this man. “We both lost a child,” he toldFelix, before detailing the particulars of his newly formed foundation and its goal of preventing children from committing violent crimes. Felix felt a weight start to lift.
A week later, Khamisa held one of the foundation’s first meetings at his condo. His parents had come in from Vancouver. Also there was his ex-wife, Almas, and their daughter: Tariq’s sister, Tasreen. Felix imagined the grief he would walk into at that meeting, and prepared with more meditation than usual.
Inside, some 50 people were gathered, and Khamisa introduced Felix to his parents. His father was frail but fixed Felix with an open expression, accepting his condolences and placing a hand on his arm in welcome. Khamisa’s mother, a devout woman who for decades served tea daily during 4 a.m. prayers at her mosque, said, “We’re glad you are with us.” Almas took Felix’s hand, and as he looked into her eyes, he could feel her trembling.
When he was invited to speak to the group, Felix glanced at some notes he’d made, then folded and returned them to his pocket. Looking around, he saw people of all ages—Khamisa’s friends, colleagues, neighbors. He was committed, he told them, to “support anything that promotes the precious value of our future: our children.”
Forgiveness, Khamisa likes to say, is a process, not a destination, and it doesn’t mean skipping grief. As the Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “The cure for the pain is the pain.” Even as he spent his days meditating and building the foundation’s programs with his daughter, Tasreen, Khamisa operated under a shroud of sadness. One evening while out with friends, nearly four years after the murder, someone told a joke, and he laughed—for the first time since Tariq’s death.
In the summer of 2000, five years after the crime, Khamisa traveled to California State Prison near Sacramento for his first one-on-one encounter with Tony. He had spent thousands of hours meditating to prepare, but as he made his way through the prison’s maze of dim hallways, his heart was pounding. When he reached the visiting area, Felix rose to greet him, with Tony by his side. Khamisa shook the young man’s hand and looked into his eyes. The three of them made small talk about prison life and ate some candy, then Felix left them alone.
Tony was fidgety at first but grew more composed as they began to talk. He struck Khamisa as much more polite and well-spoken than the teen who had once called his son a “stupid pizza man.” Khamisa wanted to hear about Tariq’s last moments. Tony said he didn’t recall him saying anything. He described the scene and Q-Tip’s order to shoot. And then he said something strange. As he squeezed the trigger, he told Khamisa, he saw a bright white light that came from the sky and illuminated only him and Tariq. Combined with the coroner’s description of the unlikely, perfect path the single bullet took through Tariq’s vitals, this luminous vision reinforced Khamisa’s conviction that his son’s death was destiny and should serve a larger purpose.
Khamisa offered Tony his forgiveness, told him that he looked forward to his release from prison, expressed his hope that he would join Felix and him at the foundation, and hugged him goodbye.
Within a few months, Khamisa and Tony began writing. Khamisa keeps their letters in a thick folder in his home office, where the walls are covered with framed photos (Tasreen’s wedding, Tariq on the African savanna), and award certificates. Tony’s letters are handwritten. Khamisa’s are typed. The correspondence touches on books, health, and family, with Khamisa commending Tony for completing his GED, and Tony wishing Khamisa a happy Father’s Day. In one letter, Tony thanks Khamisa for keeping him informed about “the great work that you and my grandfather have turned this around to be.” In another, he describes Khamisa’s forgiveness as “a shock” that goes “against what I believed to be the natural order of things.”
Khamisa and Felix insist that the prison meeting was a turning point for Tony. Before it, he repeatedly told his grandfather that he believed he would die in prison. After it, he seemed more focused on school and began reading voraciously. Yet in 2003, he pled guilty to battery on a prison guard and weapons possession—a lapse that added 10 years to his sentence and got him transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison, a maximum security facility. “They’re not sent to [Salinas] because they’re behaving well,” notes one supervising district attorney. “That he had a weapon and was assaulting staff won’t bode well for him when he goes before the parole board.”
Khamisa was saddened by the news of Tony’s backsliding, but he continued to correspond with him—and even to lobby for his freedom. In 2005, he wrote to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to request that Tony’s sentence be commuted. “With Tony outside the prison walls and helping the foundation,” Khamisa wrote, “the world will be safer than it is now.” He also proposed that 14- and 15-year-olds convicted of violent crimes in adult court be eligible for gubernatorial commutation after ten years. In reply from the governor’s office, he received a “standard, non-committal letter.”
Khamisa remains unshakable in his commitment to forgiveness as a way to heal and serve others. “There’s no quality of life being a victim,” he often says. His foundation hires Americorps members to mentor high-risk students in order to reduce misbehavior, since kids with attendance and discipline problems are more likely to be expelled for violence. In tracking 155 San Diego Unified School District middle schoolers, TKF found that the group’s number of behavioral referrals to administrators decreased by 63 percent.
While TKF’s staffers teach forgiveness, living it, they say, can be challenging. Mayra Nunez, TKF’s 32-year-old mentorship supervisor, lost her older brother in a drive-by shooting when she was 12. The shooter was never apprehended. When a guidance counselor took Nunez to see Khamisa speak a decade ago, she couldn’t understand his message. “This man is nuts,” she said to herself. Still intrigued, she talked with Khamisa and wound up speaking at his Violence Impact Forums. “It took me 10 years of working at TKF, but I can honestly say I forgive that person,” she says. “Part of that was being tired of living with hatred and revenge.” She echoes Khamisa: Forgiveness doesn’t condone an act and isn’t for the offender, but is “a gift you give yourself.”
Even Tasreen’s mother has found solace. “It was painful to talk about losing my son,” Almas says, recalling the times in 2005 when she first began speaking at TKF events. “But the reaction I got was healing. Students would hug me, write letters, and say, ‘I promise I will never hold a gun or join a gang.’ That meant a lot.”
The contribution of individuals to society is integral to both TKF and CANEI, the the post-adjudication program for juvenile offenders. CANEI is based on restorative justice, an approach that strives to heal victims, rehabilitate offenders, and repair crime’s damage to communities. CANEI requires offenders to apologize to and ask forgiveness of their victims, then to repay their debt through community service. A review of 11 studies involving more than 2,000 offenders found that those who participated in such programs showed recidivism rates 27 percent lower than the general population.
In the dark auditorium of San Diego’s Correia Middle School on a morning in April of this year, Khamisa imagines that his son is with him backstage. Felix almost always joins Khamisa at these assemblies, but today he was called away for a family emergency, so it’s just a father and the memory of his son. He feels closest to Tariq while talking with kids, maybe because Tariq loved children and wanted a large family. Khamisa can hear a school administrator introducing him. “Ready, Tariq?” he says to his son’s ever-present spirit as he walks onto the stage and into the light.
He starts by showing a video about Tariq’s murder and his response to it, and throughout the room the soft sounds of feet shuffling and kids whispering immediately cease. “Tariq is already dead and gone forever, and Tony is in prison for a very long time, so we’re not here just to share their story,” he tells the children. “We’re here for you. Because every one of you is a very important person, and it would break my heart if any of you ended up dead, like my son, or in prison, like Tony.” The students sit stock-still and silent.
“How many of you have lost a brother or sister as a result of violence?” he asks. Roughly a third of the few hundred students raise their hands. “And how many of you would want revenge if a brother or sister was killed?” Nearly every hand shoots up.
He says he understands, but counters, “Let me ask you this: Would revenge bring Tariq back?”
Several students want to know what happened to Q-Tip, the 18-year-old who ordered Tony to pull the trigger. Khamisa tells them he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
And Tariq’s fiancée, how is she?
Jennifer never recovered from Tariq’s death, Khamisa explains, and she began abusing drugs. She overdosed and died at 27. “See,” he says, “that’s the ripple effect of violence … . And do you thinkTony’s homeboys visit him in prison?”
“No,” the children murmur.
“That’s right. I visit him, his grandfather visits him, his mother visits him.” Khamisa pauses and focuses on the sea of young faces. “I look forward to the day Tony can join us. Maybe he’ll be speaking to your children.”
Khamisa’s vision for Tony may be an unrealistic dream. Yet it’s his hope for these children, for the chance to prevent even one of them from becoming another Tony, that drives him to rise each morning and retell the painful story of his son’s death. It’s his prayer that his suffering and his story might be able to change a school, a city, a country—maybe even the world.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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