Faraz Tahir: Muslim hero of Sydney attack

Asif M Basit, London

Terrorist attack! A hot cake for news channels these days. The terrorist turns out to be a Muslim, and the cake sells more and quicker. And when one happens to be living in an age where anyone and everyone with a smartphone is a broadcaster, such incidents rock Social Media and the buzz (or a borderline excitement if you like) can be felt across the globe. 

Oh the irony! This terrorist often turns out to be a Muslim; or an Islamist as the media likes to label them. 

Muslims feel very lucky if in an incident the terrorist turns out to be a non-Muslim. In that case, no one really bothers about the terrorist’s religion; they could be a Christian, a Hindu or a Jew or whatever, but who cares? Their faith is only a matter of concern if they happen to be Muslim. Why waste any chance to defame Islam?

The recent act of terrorism in Sydney was carried out by an individual, shot dead by police after he had killed six innocent persons in the Westfield shopping centre at Bondi Junction.

The first query that arose was whether the terrorist was a Muslim? It so happened that he was not. The questions that followed, common sense would suggest, should have been about guessing what other faith he followed. But as long as he was not a Muslim, no one really cared about his faith or religious affiliation.

Not that we are suggesting that this should have been the case; we only mean that this should not be the case at all. Let people’s faith remain their personal affair. An act of terror cannot be carried out in the name of any religion, as no religion approves of terrorism. 

Our hearts go out for all those who were killed in this brutal attack, and for their families. Also for those who witnessed such insanity before their eyes; no one should have to even see an act of bloodshed.

So, these lines are to express our heartfelt condolence for the innocent six people killed and sympathy for those who got injured and remain in hospitals.

Of the six who died, I only knew one: Faraz Tahir. When I say “knew”, I mean only got to know him when he was identified by the Australian authorities. But I insist on saying that I “knew” him, because I can relate personally to this gentleman. 

Like myself, he was an Ahmadi Muslim. Like myself, he had fled persecution in his homeland, Pakistan, and sought political asylum in a foreign land. I had faced threats of all kinds from my employer in Pakistan and had fled to save my life, and the lives of my wife and a two-year-old son. Faraz must have also fled similar circumstances in Pakistan and fled to Australia to save his life.

Then like myself, Faraz must have settled and been able to profess, proclaim and practise his faith without the fear of being killed for doing so.

The word Faraz means height, and Faraz touched a height that gives demonstrative evidence of what the Ahmadiyya diaspora, in the face of intense persecution in Pakistan, is all about.

It is not only about saving your life out of the self-preservation instinct; also not out of the will to live longer and cherish worldly joys. This migration is in line with the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet of Islam: to be able to live in a land where freedom of faith allows one to practice their faith without fear.

Faraz was settled in Australia and doing well. Life must have become as normal as it can be when one is uprooted from their homeland and is having to create their world anew in a foreign land. 

He was working as a security official in the shopping centre and happened to be on duty on the ill-fated day. 

The vicious attack happened. Faraz Tahir, who had fled to save his life for his faith, leaped forward to save people from the insanity of the terrorist. In doing so, he must have known that he could well lose his own life – the life that he had aimed to save when it was in danger at the hands of religious extremists. He had saved it for his faith; to be able to proclaim that he was a Muslim; to declare that his faith is Islam and he cannot renounce it under any pressure.

In throwing himself into the danger of losing his life, he acted as a true Muslim. One of Islam’s flagship teachings is that saving one human is as if you saved the whole of humanity. It was Faraz’s moment to prove that a Muslim not only believes so, but practically does so even at the cost of his own life.

So, as a refugee myself, and on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Pakistani Ahmadis who have left their homeland with heavy hearts, I salute Faraz Tahir. 

Dear Faraz, you proved that it is not only our life that we care for when we flee persecution. We do so to uphold our affiliation to Islam and to be able to practice every teaching of Islam.

But where the majority of us are only verbally able to say so, you proved through your practice that we save our life only to be able to lay it for faith and humanity, at the drop of a hat.

جس دھج سے کوئی مقتل میں گیا، وہ شان سلامت رہتی ہے

یہ جان تو آنی جانی ہے، اس جاں کی تو کوئی بات نہیں

In the path towards the embrace of death,

What matters not is mortal breath;

What matters more is dignity and pride,

and head held high in this brave stride.

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