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[By Natasha Rafi -- The Friday Times of Pakistan -- May 31, 2002]
New York recently bestowed its highest honors on a young
Pakistani- American who gave his life saving others on September
In a home on a quiet street in Bayside, Queens, a Pakistani-American family and a dog named Ulysses mourn the loss of a son, brother, and best friend, an unusual victim of 9/11.
Twenty-three year-old Mohammed Salman Hamdani lived here and worked far from the Twin Towers in the relatively secluded Upper East Side of Manhattan. He had no known reason to be near Ground Zero that day, but apparently rushed toward the burning towers to help. His selfless act was completely misunderstood at first and his disappearance that morning fed rumours that he was in some way linked to the attacks. Later it became clear that Sal, as he was known by his friends, gave his life at the World Trade Center in a courageous attempt to save others.
Now, after six long months, Hamdani's reputation finally has been cleared and he has been eulogized as an American hero and martyr. At his funeral service on April 5, 2002 New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and dozens of his fellow police cadets sat barefoot on the carpeted floor of the Islamic Centre mosque in Manhattan, as family members and others paid their tributes to a young man who was a Star Wars fan and whose license plate read Yung
Jedi. Congressman Gary Ackerman presented the family with a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol building, noting that Hamdani was "a hero and a real martyr in the finest sense."
"We have an example of how one can make the world better," said Bloomberg. "Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction. He went in and helped people."
For his parents, Saleem and Talat Hamdani, there was never any question; they knew Sal would have gone to help. Still, they hoped he was alive, even hoped he was one of those detained for questioning by authorities, as dozens of Muslim men were at the time.
That fragile hope came to an end on the night of March 20 this year, when two police officers from the local precinct drove up to the Hamdani home to deliver the news that Sal's remains had been identified and he had indeed perished in lower Manhattan on that infamous day. At Hamdani's long-delayed funeral, attended by several hundred mourners, his mother addressed her firstborn in a heartfelt tribute. "The day you were born I came to know the joy of motherhood," she said. "Today I understand its pain. Salman, you wouldn't let me celebrate your graduations. 'This is nothing to be proud of, Mama. I will tell you when to celebrate.' So you did. You told the world loud and clear when to celebrate-today."
Hamdani was born in Karachi and was just 13 months old when his family moved to the U.S. in 1979. He was a trained medical technician and member of the police cadet corps. Last year, he graduated from Queens College with a major in chemistry and was applying to medical school while he worked full time at Rockefeller University as a lab analyst.
Just the weekend before September 11, Hamdani was writing his application essays.
On the night of September 10, 2001 his father recalls, "I was not feeling very well so Salman checked my blood pressure and told me to call him if I needed him." That was the last time Mr. Hamdani saw his son. The next morning Mrs. Hamdani left home at 7:30 a.m. for her job as a seventh-grade English teacher.
Salman usually left for work at around 8:15 a.m. No one knows for sure when he left that fateful morning of 9/11, or how he managed to get to ground zero, since traffic in Manhattan had been halted shortly after the disaster. The best guess is that Hamdani may have seen the Towers burning from the elevated tracks of the Number 7 train he used to take from Queens to his job in Manhattan. As fate would have it, he did not bring his cell phone with him that morning, having left it at work the previous day. Police say that it is likely he was able to hitch a ride on a police car or ambulance, since he carried police ID.
Later that afternoon Hamdani's uncle went to Rockefeller University and found out that his nephew had never shown up for work. Three days later his parents officially reported him missing and discovered something about their son which they had never known before. Hamdani was a registered bone marrow donor, a fact that eventually helped in identifying his remains through DNA analysis.
A month later, on October 11, a U.S. Senate bill was passed that mentioned Hamdani as an example of patriotism under section 102 (6). "Many Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing."
Mrs. Hamdani has established a memorial fund in her son's name at Rockefeller University to provide scholarships to Pakistani-American students who wish to pursue medicine.
Immigrant Muslims are painfully aware that the attacks on September 11 have affected their image in their adopted homeland. "My son's actions that day are a glimmer of hope for the community," says Mr. Hamdani, who owns a general store in Brooklyn. "His example is now a part of
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