Jesus Christ taught in his Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” Developing love for your enemies is no easy task. It is hard to forgive, yet alone love someone that has deeply hurt you. Recently, I met an amazing Bangladeshi man, named Rais Bhuiyan, who shared with me the most incredible story about forgiveness that I have ever heard in my life.
Growing up, Bhuiyan had two dreams: to become a pilot and go to the United States to receive a world class education. Bhuiyan joined the Bangladesh Air Force where he served for three years. He saw that he could easily make a living in the Air Force after graduating as a pilot. “Then I started thinking, ‘Well, one dream came true and if I stay in the Air Force for the rest of my life the other dream will never come true’,” said Bhuiyan. It was after his graduation that Bhuiyan applied for his release from the Air Force so he could pursue his second dream.
He was given his release and Bhuiyan lived in New York City for three years before he moved to Dallas, Texas, for a job opportunity at a local gas station with a friend.
“I was very excited,” said Bhuiyan, “to finally come to Texas and see cowboys and horse ranches. I was hoping to see some of those swinging doors like you see in the Western movies.”
Bhuiyan helped reopen a gas station that was not located in the best part of Dallas. Bhuiyan and his partner set up shop and worked an average of twelve to thirteen hours daily at the gas station.
Then September 11, 2001 happened.
“I thought I was seeing some sort of a Hollywood movie,” said Bhuiyan, “I was shocked at how people could do this heinous crime against a peaceful city.“
Bhuiyan was a devout Muslim and was terrified that unrest would begin to rise against the Muslim population because of the 9/11 attacks. “I told myself, ‘I had nothing to do with 9/11,” said Bhuiyan, “I am a peaceful person. What should I be scared of?”
Occasionally, customers would enter the gas station, angry against Muslims. Bhuiyan did his best not to start any conflicts and kept quiet while customers ranted.
September 21st, 2001 rolled around. It was a Friday around 12:30pm. Bhuiyan saw a customer wearing a bandana, sunglasses, and a baseball cap stroll in. Bhuiyan noticed a double barreled shot gun was on the customer’s waist. Bhuiyan thought he was about to be robbed like he had in the past. Bhuiyan immediately opened the cash register and said to the customer, “Sir, here is all the money. Please, don’t shoot me.” Bhuiyan stepped away from the cash register in hopes that this particular customer wouldn’t feel intimidated. Bhuiyan noticed that the customer wasn’t looking at the money but directly at him. He felt a cold chill go down his spine and realized the customer wasn’t there for money. The customer grabbed the shotgun and shot Bhuiyan in the head. “I felt a sensation of a million bees stinging my face and then I heard an explosion,” said Bhuiyan. Bhuiyan wasn’t sure at first if he had been shot but soon saw that blood on the floor and that he was bleeding like an “open faucet”, as he described it, and instantly put both of his hands onto his head to stop the bleeding. He looked up and saw the gunman, the customer, towering above him. Bhuiyan started screaming for help and the gunman took off.
Bhuiyan was raised in Bangladesh and remembered the example of his mom, how she always forgave, no matter what. He also looked up to his grandparents and how they were kind to all. His mom taught him a critical lesson. “If anyone hurts you,” she said, “the first thing you do is put a zipper in your mouth and take time. Forgive them and move on.”
As Bhuiyan was being driven to the hospital, he was crying. He prayed for mercy and for God to give him a second chance. Bhuiyan began to recover and decided not to keep the anger in his heart from the attack. He wanted to move on peacefully. “Once I got my life back,” said Bhuiyan, “I forgave my attacker right away.” Bhuiyan credits his ability to forgive so quickly because of the examples he saw in his own family back in Bangladesh and also from his own Muslim faith.
The attacker was identified as Mark Stroman, a white supremacist who called himself the “Arab Slayer.” Stroman was seeking revenge on anyone that appeared to be from the Middle East. In his conquest, he had killed two other South Asian gas station workers and severely wounded Bhuiyan, who lost the sight in one of his eyes.
“Forgiveness was not enough,” said Bhuiyan. Stroman was put on death row and was due to be executed by lethal injection. But besides forgiving Stroman, Bhuiyan did even more. He started a campaign to stop Stroman from being executed.
Despite Bhuiyan’s efforts, Stroman execution date was set. There was no way of reversing it.
Hours before his execution, Bhuiyan decided to call Stroman in his jail cell. At first he wanted to see Stroman face to face but that wasn’t allowed. He told the criminal and justice department, “I need to see my offender before you kill him.” He was denied several times. He decided to call the actual jail where Stroman was held determined and not ready to give up. He knew that Stroman was to be executed and wanted to have the chance to talk to him. After some searching, he got in contact with one of Stroman’s friends. The friend hooked Bhuiyan up and got him on a final conference call that Stroman was having with his friends before his execution. Bhuiyan soon found himself on speaker phone with Stroman. The conversation was short and sweet.
“Mark, I forgave you,” said Bhuiyan, “and I never hated you.” Stroman thanked Bhuiyan for his efforts in trying to stop his impending execution. Stroman told Bhuiyan, “I love you, bro.” Stroman’s hate of the Muslim faith had been changed because one of his victims had sought to save his life. His last words as he was strapped down in preparation to receive lethal injection were, “Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop.”
It is really quite something to talk with Rais Bhuiyan. I was astounded that he started getting emotional with as he talked about Mark Stroman. Truly, to develop love towards someone that tried to kill you is extraordinary. Very few people on earth have been able to perform such an act. Take Rais Bhuiyan’s story into your heart. If an individual can forgive someone who shot them, surely you can forgive and even try to love those who hurt you. Don’t let anger flow into your heart and destroy your life. Forgive like Rais Bhuiyan did and become the person that God wants you to become in this life.