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Muslim hero overlooked at 9/11 memorial

Published time: January 03, 2012 19:55
Edited time: January 03, 2012 23:55
A photo of 9/11 victim Mohammad Salman Hamdani is worn by his mother Talat Gilani Hamdani (McNew / Getty Images / AFP)

A photo of 9/11 victim Mohammad Salman Hamdani is worn by his mother Talat Gilani Hamdani (McNew / Getty Images / AFP)

Mohammad Salman Hamdani was on his way to his job at the DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University on September 11, 2001 when the 23-year-old EMT and police cadet raced to the World Trade Center to lend a hand.

It was months before Hamdani’s mother learned that her son’s body was found in nearly three dozen parts, and his name was specifically written into the Patriot Act’s legislation where he is recognized as a Muslim American hero for offering rescue assistance only to perish in return. A decade later, however, the young Pakistan-born scholar isn’t remembered at Ground Zero for his bravery as a first responder and budding police cadet.

Instead, the name Mohammad Salman Hamdani is on the final panel at the site of the former World Trade Center where 10,000 people have been visiting daily to pay their respects. There are sections reserved for first responders and policemen alike. Hamdani, however, is listed along with other that died on September 11 and had no right to be at the site. Those people, according to officials involved in the memorial, are those with only “loose connections” to the World Trade Center.

To Hamdani’s mother, the connection between her son and the building that took his life is much bigger than that.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” Talat Hamdani, 60, tells the New York Times. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

Indeed, authorities have been quick to question the Muslim’s place in the history books with 9/11 and have been acting that way since the immediate aftermath of the attack. Mrs. Hamdani recalls police questioning her about her son as early as October 2011, and while she waited still unsure of if her son’s body was among the World Trade Center’s wreckage, officials were more concerned with what a Muslim-American from Pakistan with a degree in biochemistry was doing that Tuesday morning that whether he was alive or dead. Mrs. Hamdani tells the Times that in March 2002, she was finally informed that her son’s remains were found in Lower Manhattan — five months earlier.

Ten years after the fact, her son is remembered at the 9/11 memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center, but the fact that he gave his life to help others is forgotten.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the NYPD and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” Interfaith Center of New York Executive Director Rev. Chloe Breyer tells the Times.

Hamdani’s strife has been only one example of New York’s ongoing attack against those that suffered from September 11 but whose fight has failed to be recognized. At last year’s 9/11 memorial dedication, first responders were excluded from receiving tickets to the dedication ceremony. Those same men and women that raced to Ground Zero and lived to tell the tale have also been denied coverage from cancers developed after 9/11, despite a study from Dr. David Prezant of the New York City Fire Department concluding that exposure to the air in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks signaled a direct correlation to a rise in cancer among firefighters.

For Muslims living in New York that do not have ties to the attack, the events of 9/11 has forever changed the way the rest of the city looks at them as well. An ongoing report from the Associated Press continues to reveal that the NYPD has repeatedly launched campaigns against minorities, specifically Muslims, including programs that installed spies in Muslim-majority neighborhoods to gather intelligence by means of clandestine surveillance.

Though New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Hamdani’s actions on September 11 “an example of how one can make the world better,” the mayor has since publically stated that Muslims should appreciate the scrutiny that the NYPD is scathing them with, as the security that comes as a result of it is positive for New York as a whole.

For Hamdani’s mother, she doesn’t think that anything coming out of the Big Apple is being done in a way to positively reflect her son or Muslims. In the end, she says, though, that is only a minor detail.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani adds to the Times. “By your actions the world remembers you.”