For Texas Muslims, 9/11 set a wave of Islamophobia that still exists today. Nearly 20 years ago to the day, a man who lived in Dallas at the time, feared it was his last day alive.
A gunman walks in his convenience store 10 days after 9/11, and shoots him at point blank range. He lived to tell his story, and now two decades later, has dedicated his life to changing hearts.
“I thought, if I did not appear to be dying, he would shoot me again. And I fell to the floor. After a few seconds, he finally left,” said Rais Bhuiyan.
Rais Bhuiyan immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh with a dream to study and build a career in Technology. He moved to Dallas to work at a friend’s convenience store. But four months after that move, on Sept. 21, 2001, just 10 days after the 9/11 attacks, his life and the country changed forever.
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“And I thought my time was up and ready to die. And it was very, you know, painful, sad moment that I'm dying today. And there is nothing that can be done to save my life,” said Bhuiyan.
Five days after the 9/11 attacks, Mark Stroman started a shooting spree in Dallas. He targeted people he mistakenly believed were from the Middle East.
“And I begged God, that if you give me a chance to live, I would do good things with my life. I would help others. But do not take me today,” said Bhuiyan.
Bhuiyan was reading the newspaper when Stroman, holding a double-barrel shotgun walked into the store.
“Then he mumbled a question, 'where are you from?' And before I could say anything more than, excuse me, he pulled the trigger from point-blank range. Left me for dead on a cold, concrete, convenience store floor,” said Bhuiyan.
The bullet shattered the right side of his face and he lost vision in one eye.
Still, he survived. Two other men didn’t.
It was the death of Vasudev Patel, a U.S. citizen from India that put Stroman on death row.
Bhuiyan, the lone survivor, was the only person who sued to stop the execution saying his religious beliefs as a Muslim told him to forgive Stroman.
“The last five months, I couldn’t sleep. Everybody wants to go to bed. And it comes to my mind,” said Bhuiyan, not long after the attack.
Bhuiyan received support from all over the world, even his home country. But the courts denied his requests.
“My upbringing and Islamic faith inspired me to forgive my attacker, but I had to go through a healing process where I grew mentally, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally,” said Bhuiyan. “I truly believe that if he was given a chance, even behind bars, he might be able to become a better human being. I know what it feels like to be on the brink of death, begging to God for a second chance.”
Now Bhuiyan’s American dream has changed. He recently quit his full-time job in technology to lead his own non-profit called, World Without Hate.
His mission is to end the same cycles of violence and hate in our country.
“I can do the best I can to help people in our country and all over the world, to get beyond their bitter experience to help, you know, to treat everyone as humans first,” said Bhuiyan.