Boston bombings: A Pakistani perspective and a Cambridge cabbie

Khalid Lottfi: "We will not let them hijack our religion"

Khalid Lottfi: “We will not let them hijack our religion”

“You know, I think the Chinese student who was killed, I took her there,” said the cab driver. It was a few days after the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, and after the police had chased the perpetrators, killing one and capturing the other. Everyone was still talking about the unfortunate events that claimed three lives and injured over 260 more.

It turned out that the brothers Tsarnaev lived on our street, on the next block. Here’s a link to the piece I wrote about it for weekly The News on Sunday in Pakistan – and a shorter comment for Global Post – Boston bombings: A Pakistani perspective.

“I told my wife when I saw the picture, that looks just like the girl I took to watch the marathon. I hope it wasn’t her,” said the cabbie. As we drove down Cambridge Street towards Boston South Station where I was dropping my mother visiting from Pakistan, I caught a glimpse of the sadness in his light brown eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror.

My mother and I empathised with him. “When you’ve met or had some contact with someone involved in a tragedy, it hits you more,” I said after a while. “Still, even if the girl who died wasn’t the passenger you took, a young woman died. It’s still tragic.”

He agreed. We started talking about the eight-year old Martin Richards who had also been killed in the bombings. “He didn’t stand a chance,” said the cabbie. “He was standing right where the bomb went off. And do you know what the sign said that he was holding? ‘No more hurting people’. You know, it breaks my heart.”

“I am a Muslim,” he added after a pause. “My religion does not allow this.”

I wondered if he had mentioned his religion to us because he guessed that we shared the same faith.

“No, no,” he said. “I could not tell what religion you have. I have a friend, another cab driver, who is Sikh. You could be Sikh. No, I just like to tell my passengers who I am, to do my bit to spread awareness. These people have hijacked my religion. We have to speak out now.”

“Yes,” said my mother, a white haired retired professor with large, soulful eyes. “It is so good to meet someone like you. I hope your voice is heard by many.”

In the melting pot that is America, I could not have guessed that he was originally from Morocco. His name is Khalid Lottfi, and he has lived in the United States for over 25 years. Read his views among those featured in a comment titled, “How to respond to a terrorist attack” by my friend David Rohde, in Reuters a couple of days later.

I was reminded of Khalid’s words shortly afterwards, when I came across the moving report about Ehab Sadeek, the Egyptian Muslim bagel seller in Winchester in the greater Boston area, who is donating 100% of the profits from his bakery to One Fund Boston for the victims of the bombings, until they are all out of hospital “regardless of how long it takes”. It is a sign of the times that ordinary Muslims like Sadeek or Lottfi feel the need to assert their adherence  to peaceful values.

As we got out of the taxi and paid Khalid, we realised we didn’t have any extra cash for a tip.

“Please, no, I don’t need a tip,” he said, smiling as he pulled my mother’s roller bag out of the boot. Then, unexpectedly, he took her face in his hands and kissed her forehead respectfully.

“You are tip enough for me,” he told her, waving us off.

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