One particular observation strikes me every time Latifur Rahman speaks about his dear departed grandson Faraaz. “I often wonder what I would do if I were in his place,” he says, mentally placing himself in that horrendous scenario where militants mercilessly killed innocent victims on that fateful night of 1 July 2016. “I don’t think I would have been able to do what he did. I don’t think I would have the courage to stay back and stand up to the militants, knowing that I would meet my death for certain. How did he do that?”
But that is exactly what Faraaz did. A student of Emory University in the US, he was back home enjoying his vacation with friends and family in Bangladesh. On that ill-fated evening he had been hanging out at the Holey Artisan cafe with friends Abinta and Tarishi, both of them also on holiday from their universities in the US. The cafe, tucked away in the upscale diplomatic zone of Gulshan, was considered a safe haven and often frequented by western expatriates. Then all hell broke loose when a group of militants burst in and held the customers and staff hostage. ‘Hostage’ would not be an appropriate word because they wanted nothing in exchange for their release. They were out to kill, to take innocent lives.
The fanatic ‘Islamists’ saw Faraaz was a Muslim and that he knew the Qur’anic verses. They were willing to let him go. He could have left, escaped with his life and go free. Had he chosen to do so, today he would have been a graduate from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. His family would have been proud. His mother would have been all smiles.
But his family is even prouder of him today. His mother’s smiles may have been replaced with tears, but there can be no prouder mother on the planet. No prouder grandparents. No prouder family.
Faraaz did not choose the easy way out. The terrorists refused to let his friends go. Tarishi was an Indian and non-Muslim. Abinta did not fit their stereotyped picture of an Islamic girl. Faraaz was free to go, but the valiant boy, just 20 years old, refused to leave his friends, to abandon them in this time of danger. And so he was killed, along with his friends and the other victims of the carnage.
Going back to Latifur Rahman’s rumination, “How did he do that?”
Yes, indeed, how did he do that? Pondering on his grandfather’s remark, I too try to put myself in Faraaz’s shoes. I cannot. I cannot put myself in his mother Simeen Hossain’s shoes either. I don’t even try. I am too petrified. What was it that set Faraaz apart from the rest of us? It was that vital spark, that noble spirit called courage, called friendship, called integrity. I’ll call it the Faraaz Factor.
And Faraaz has planted a seed. He has planted the seed of courage, bravery and friendship. He has left behind a precedent to follow. He is a role model extraordinaire.
In recognition of his valour, PepsiCo Global launched the Faraaz Hossain Courage Award in 2016. The recipient of the award was Mohammed Miraz Sardar who risked his own life to protect a teacher from attackers in Madaripur. Accepting the award on 7 December 2016, he said “We need to raise our voice against those who do wrong in the name of religion.” The second recipient of the award was Khondokar Abu Talha who gave his life fighting muggers in Dhaka. The award was handed over to his family on 2 December 2017.
Faraaz’s sacrifice has been recognised around the world. On 15 July 2016, a tree was planted in his honour in the Garden of the Righteous, located inside the Italian Embassy in Tunis. The Garden, set up by GARIWO, in cooperation with the Italian foreign ministry, is dedicated to Muslims who risked their lives and stood up against terrorism. GARIWO (Garden of the Righteous Worldwide) is a non-profit organisation based in Milan, Italy, that aims to prevent cases of genocide and crimes against humanity.
On 6 March this year, Faraaz was honoured by the students of Rummo High School in Benevento, Italy, and GARIWO. They planted a tree in memory in the school’s Garden of Righteous.
Faraaz’s mother Simeen Hossain wrote to the students, “As a mother, I know and live with the belief that my son Faraaz has made me prouder than I could have ever imagined. He also left behind a legacy of courage, friendship and humanity.”
In reply to her message, GARIWO representative Nunziato and the students of Rummo wrote, “The example of Faraaz will be the reference point of our consciousness as human, who are always able to find a way out, even if the choice could cost us our lives.”
On 20 November 2016, Faraaz was posthumously awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice 2016. The Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice is an initiative of Harmony Foundation in recognition of extraordinary work undertaken by individuals or organisations. Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai handed over the award to Faraaz’s mother Simeen Hossain at a ceremony in Mumbai. Receiving the award, Simeen said, “I wanted to raise my son as a good human being.... For you, Faraaz, I am the proudest mother in this world.”
This is the first time Harmony Foundation awarded a foreign individual posthumously. Speaking at the ceremony, Harmony Foundation president Abraham Mathai said the world needed heroes like Faraaz. His act of selflessness and choosing to lay down his life for his friends made him the obvious choice for the award. “He displayed courage and bravado when faced with life and death. We consider it our most humble privilege to bestow this honour on Faraaz,” he said.
Past recipients of the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice include Médecins Sans Frontières, the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai, Mahathir Mohammad and others.
Other than such international awards and recognition, Faraaz is remembered and honoured in his own country by the common people, regarded as an inspiration for the youth, an icon of valour.
In July 2017, the Faraaz Challenge Cup inter-university football tournament was organised in the capital city Dhaka. The BRAC University team captain Rafi said this was a “memorial of Faraaz.” He said, “As the trophy has been named after Faraaz, he will be with us as inspiration.” There have been similar recognitions all over the country. Newborns have been named after him.
Faraaz lives on.
Well loved at his university in the US, the Goizueta Business School of Emory University listed Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain as a graduate, posthumously, at the institution’s graduation ceremony this year. The university also introduced an award in his name - the Faraaz Hossain Core Values Award. Gurbani Singh is the first student to win this award.
As the second anniversary of Faraaz’s death comes around, we offer our condolences to family, we salute him. And that question comes to mind again and again, “How did he do it?” That remains the indomitable Faraaz Factor.
* Ayesha Kabir is Consultant (Content), Prothom Alo English Online