Of Pain and place

Documenting devastation near and far-of the body, the mind, and the soul

"God is great. God is great. I bear witness that there is no God but God. I bear witness that Muhammed is a messenger of God. Come to prayer. Come to success."

"Wasn't that beautiful?" DJ Muslim asked his listeners politely. "I thought so anyway," he answered himself. He faded out the mike and punched on "One More Teardrop," a song from altrockers Summer Hymns. As the song played, he rushed to gather a few more CDs. "Oh boy, this is killer. Number five: “No More Fear.'"

DJ Muslim is Fawad Siddiqui, communications major, UM newspaper reporter, and Hialeah native. He is a U.S. citizen -- technically a Pakistani American. His parents moved from Karachi to Miami in 1974. His father, Hamid, a long-time Republican, operates a soil-testing company with county contracts.

Steve Satterwhite

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"I would like to get through the whole night without a hate crime," Fawad said quietly into the mike. "And then I'd like to get credit for it, or maybe like a plaque or a street named after me in Little Havana. 'Cuz it would be so weird having a DJ Muslim Street in Little Havana."

On top of the horror of watching the attacks on television, another kind of fear closed in on Fawad on September 11. He recalled an account of a pregnant Muslim woman who was beaten up after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. "That report was going through my head all day," he said. He thought of other assaults on Arabs and Muslims by his fellow citizens in 1995 after the bombing in Oklahoma City.

So he began his own little jihad to spread the word of Islam and defend freedom of speech. "You have all these ideals swimming around in your head that you were taught when you were a kid," he said. "Like, First Amendment, First Amendment, First Amendment...."

September 12

His first stop was a mosque in Pompano Beach where leaders from Islamic Communities of South Florida, a regional Muslim association, were to hold a news conference. To a small group of reporters they condemned the previous day's attacks as "vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism against innocent civilians."

The press briefing was over by the time Fawad pulled into the parking lot in his parents' beige Lexus SUV, which bears an "I [heart] Islam" bumper sticker. But he managed to educate a couple of reporters. The word Islam, for example, translates as "peaceful submission to God." The guy who leads the prayer service is an imam, not a minister.

At about 4:00 p.m. Fawad sat at a Miami Subs. He wore a white T-shirt with ISLAM emblazoned across the chest. Next to his tray was an empty, plastic one-gallon gasoline container. He had run out of gas on his way back from Pompano and enlisted a few men to push the SUV into the parking lot. A Miami cop in the next booth noticed the container and asked him if he was insane.

"He was cool, though," Fawad reported later. "He said, “Look, you have a beautiful religion. I have friends who are Pakistani. But people are crazy out there today.'" The officer put the container under the table. "Don't you think that would raise more suspicions, though, if it looked like I was hiding a gas container under the table?" Fawad wondered.

Fawad was still hoping the hijackers weren't Muslims. But the American in him is suspicious. "I've been so brainwashed by the media that when they say “terrorist,' I think Muslim," he said.

On a piece of paper, Fawad created a chart to represent Islam's four major schools of thought: Hanafi, Malaki, Shafi, and Hambli. This urge to proselytize comes from an Islamic obligation called dawah. And Fawad will dawah your ear off about Islam. It all started, he explained, when the angel Gabriel told the Koran to the prophet Muhammed, who was illiterate but had a great memory. Muhammed told the Koran to others, who wrote it down. From there Islam branched into the schools of thought, each linked to a geographical location....

And to illustrate how the majority of Islam's followers are peaceful, he draws an inverted pyramid. Muslims in general are along the top; the violent ones are down at the peak, with Osama bin Laden occupying the tip. "Bin Laden thinks there should be no schools of thought," he remarked.

September 13

Fawad shared the inverted-pyramid idea with a Cuban-American friend, who had jokingly called him a towel-head and a terrorist long before Tuesday. "He said the United States was going to pound that pyramid so far into the earth that Osama bin Laden would end up in Hell," Fawad chuckled. He was pretty sure his friend was kidding.

Later that evening Fawad paid a visit to the Muslim Student Organization's dingy four-room facility on campus. He likes the fact that he can walk into any Islamic center or mosque and be received as a brother by total strangers. At the same time, he is hiding his animosity toward the puritanical and authoritarian tendencies of the guys who run the MSO.

Just inside the door, snacks are for sale. The walls are white, the carpet in the prayer room is two-toned dull green. A room in back has a desk and a computer. One wall is filled with cassettes containing lectures by Islamic scholars. Two barefoot students were there, a stocky Kuwaiti with a long, combed black beard, and a gangly Moroccan man with a fuzzy brown beard. The Kuwaiti put his index fingers together and then pulled them away. "There is no connection with Islam," he declared, referring to the destruction. "That is bad. That is terrorism."

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