—Illustration by Feica.

Shah Zeb is a lanky Pashtoon from Kohat in what the British named the Northwest Frontier Province and is now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Zeb drives a cab in Washington but like all in the Virginia Tavern group has lived in New York too.

In Pakistan, he lived in a narrow alley off Peshawar’s Qissa Khawni or the Bazaar of the Storytellers. So he loves telling stories, especially in cold winter nights. When it is his turn to tell a story, he comes fully equipped – the shisha, green tea and loads of pine kernels for munching.

He drew the shisha close, took a few puffs and began:  “When I lived in New York, I met this interesting couple,” he said. “I will only tell half of their story. The other half is obvious. When men and women meet and fall in love; either they get married or do not. You guess how this story ended.”

=========================

The scene was shockingly familiar to New Yorkers: fire engines rushing to the site, police cars blocking roads, relatives clustered near police barriers seeking news about victims and survivors — and a column of thick, dark smoke rising from the center of it all.

It was Nov. 12, 2001. A plane had crashed in Queens. Residents of the city, still shaken by the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, panicked when they heard a big bang in their neighborhood.

Most people did not yet know what had befallen them — or fallen on them. The facts tumbled out slowly: an American Airlines plane had crashed in Rockaway shortly after takeoff from nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing 251 passengers and nine crewmembers.

Tension tightened its grip across New York. But nowhere was the fear greater than in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, home to a large South Asian community.

“Oh God, let it not be another terrorist attack,” prayed Noor Ibne Mohammed al-Qudsi, a Queens resident who is part-time correspondent for a Middle Eastern newspaper, but whose name has been changed for this article. “There has been a lot of tension in our neighborhood. We do not want any more trouble.”

Two South Asians were killed in the area after the World Trade Center attack.

He rushed to JFK’s Ramada hotel, designated a collection point for friends and relatives of the victims, to report on the crash. They were seeking the impossible. They wanted someone to come and tell them that the crash had not happened, that it was a media error.

They were hoping against hope but were not willing to give up. “Why not? Miracles happen,” an old woman said through sobs and tears. She had a son on the plane. Talking only to a young woman accompanying her, she repeated her mantra: “Miracles happen. He could still be alive. Miracles happen.”

The authorities were not waiting for miracles. They had a city to run — a mega metropolis that was still reeling from the huge tragedy of barely two months earlier.

Tunnels and highways were closed. Access to Manhattan was limited. Security around the United Nations, where the General Assembly was debating terrorism and the war in Afghanistan, was further tightened.

Several subway trains, including the A train, which links Rockaway and other parts of Queens to the city, were still for hours.

Passengers were still nervous when the train started to move again. Holding his notebook, Noor approached a young woman outside the hotel. His fair skin and olive-green eyes hid his Middle Eastern origin and allowed him to mingle with other people when other Arabs and Muslims would not have dared.

Flashing his press card, he said to a young woman: “Can I talk to you?”

“No, I don’t trust journalists,” she said. But seeing his disappointment, she changed her mind. “Only if you send me what you write.”

She was known as Nora — not her real name — a paralegal in a Manhattan law firm. She had come to find out about a friend who was supposed to have taken this flight. She called her friend’s home when she heard the news. No one answered. The office said her friend was on leave but they did not know whether she had taken this flight.

It was getting late to file the story, but Noor stayed with Nora until the passenger list was posted on the hotel door. Amid the tragedy, there was some joy: Her friend was not on it. She was so happy that she hugged Noor.

She gave him her e-mail address when they parted and asked him to send her the story.

“And you never told me your name,” she said.

“Al,” he said and walked away before she could ask his full name.

She was Jewish and he did not want to risk annoying her. Every part of his name was as Islamic as they come and the last even showed his place of origin: al Quds or Jerusalem. His family still lives in the Arab quarter of that most controversial of all cities.

He sent her the quotes he had used from the interview. She wrote back asking for the article. He did not send it because it was in Arabic. Soon he forgot her.

But a week or so after the first meeting, he met her again at the Union Turnpike metro station. She came over and said hello. He was pleased.

She reminded him about the article. He said it was in Arabic and that’s why he did not send it to her. She did not say anything. The train came. They sat facing each other.

“Are you an Arab?” she asked.

“Yes. A Palestinian and my name is not Al either. It is Noor,” he said.

This time the silence was longer. Several stations passed before she addressed him again.

He also told her that he was only a part-time journalist. Four days a week he worked at a computer shop near the Grand Central station.

She said she worked near there.

They both got off at the Grand Central and walked their separate ways. “I will probably not see her again,” he said to himself.

They met again. This time outside a fast-food restaurant, lining up for lunch. They ate together and realised that they both go home late, around 8:30 or 9 in the evening. So that day he left the shop a little early and waited for her at the platform. She was obviously pleased to see him.

It became a routine. They came to work separately but returned home together. She was from another state, where her parents still lived.

She had rented an apartment near the Union Turnpike station when she got a job. Her grandparents had lived there once. She said she had good memories of the place.

Noor said he liked the area because it had a large South Asian population. Although they were not Arabs, like him, the streets and shops reminded him of home.

Soon they were good friends. But the relationship did not go beyond friendship. They often ate together, particularly on Friday nights but went home separately.

But one evening she called his shop. He was surprised because she never called. They always met at the station.

“I have to work late tonight and am afraid of going home alone. Could you come with me?” she asked.

She came to his shop. They bought sandwiches and went over to her office. After eating their dinner, he watched television while she finished her work.

It was already midnight when she finished. She was holding his hand on the walk to the station. The train came around 12:45 but did not break up their conversation.

She had spent six months at a kibbutz in Israel but had never seen an Arab up close. For her they were always “them,” people on the other side of the divide who had to be watched carefully.

He grew up in an area where many joined the so-called martyr brigades to learn how to blow themselves up near a Jewish crowd — the larger the better. It was to escape from these brigades that he fled to the United States 10 years ago. “Had I stayed I would be a suicide bomber by now,” he said.

By the time they got off at the Union Turnpike station it was 1:30 in the morning. They came out of the station and started walking toward her apartment. They were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not notice a shadow walking behind them.

Suddenly, a hand appeared from behind and grabbed her leather bag.

She screamed and pulled the bag away. The man grabbed the bag again. She kicked him in the groin and he bent up with pain.

They left him there and ran away. But they had gone hardly a few yards when Noor saw a flash. Instinctively Noor stepped between the woman and the flash. The knife slid between his ribs and he fell on the pavement.

She screamed for help. The attacker ran away. She bent down and pressed Noor tightly near the wound to stop bleeding. He heard her frantically calling 911 for her help.

“I wonder what my friends in Hamas would think if they see this,” he thought. Then he fainted.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (61)

anonymous
April 11, 2012 11:39 pm
Pakistanis, in general, are not bad people either, its only Zardari.
Sim
April 12, 2012 12:59 am
I have a good image of Jews outside Israel too. Jews in London are not zionists and they are against oppression by any state. But one can't say that about every Jew outside Israel.
malik
April 10, 2012 7:49 pm
I think we as humans are always able to see beyond appearances and are always stopped by certain things. One of my friends (pakistani) married an indian muslim an year ago and alone she told me smiling ''im going to brainwash my kids so that they believe they are pakistanis.'' This was humorous as she herself didnt find it atall wrong to mary an indian but noway will her kids be indians. I think this is how we humans are all the time. Our identity is our identity it will always remain there but love towards others is equally important.
Vikaas S Sahay
April 10, 2012 7:09 pm
the story is nice but the header is misleading....he wasn't her enemy nor is every muslim an enemy of every non-muslim. The title implies or insinuates otherwise. Bad taste :(
gary
April 10, 2012 5:52 pm
If any of your readers would like toknow more about jewish people,please read Dr.Farukkh Saleem WHY JEWS ARE SO POWERFUL and THE INTERNATIONAL JEW by Henry Ford. They are the most educated people in this planet. So far they have received more than 180 nobel prizes. It is a shame muslim children are taught that jews are bad people, as if all muslims are saints. Bad people exist everywhere.
Anum
April 10, 2012 11:45 pm
Mr. Anwar please kindly let me know whether this is real or fiction. And if it is real then did the man survive? I searched for your e.mail address online to ask you this but could not find it. I really want to know what happened next?
Mustafa Hussain
April 10, 2012 11:41 pm
You can not be a good Muslim and be an anti-Jew simultaneously. And you can not be a good Muslim if you entertain a bigotry for the rest of humanity, who by God's will are not born Muslims. This is my faith. The kernel of the problem between Jewish-Muslim relations is rather of a political nature than religious. Both claim to the ultimate truth and the will of the same God, and yet they have tolerated and accommodated each other's theological contentions. Historically have these people lived peacefully with each other whether in Jerusalem, Baghdad, or in part of Spain under the reign of Moors.
Ruhul
April 10, 2012 7:28 pm
Very touching true story. I wish we, human beings also had just one single identity like the rest of living animals on the planet.
ZR
April 10, 2012 11:47 pm
As human beings, we are bound by bonds which transcend all the forces of division. That bond is that we are human, created by the same God in the same image. On a subtle level what happens to a human being even on the other side of the globe affects us all but we do not recognise it. The whole of humanity is part of one single organism and I hope one day we will as enlightened souls all recognise it.
fawad
April 10, 2012 5:44 pm
It is a fictional story!! I am surprised at all these gullible posters.
NISAR Afghan
April 10, 2012 10:46 pm
well said Fari i m agreed with your point of view in general except that we are one nation....... we are infact not one nation rather we are living in one state.
G.a
April 10, 2012 5:12 pm
Go back far enough and we are all related.
Beenish Mazhar
April 12, 2012 3:11 pm
Everything in this world is born in pairs and so does GOOD and EVIL. Islam taught us to live as one and not as distinctions. It is just due to the evil part of the side that has vague the goodness in Muslims. Story more seems to be a fiction that directs to a love story rather than humanity lesson. Would like to hear the other part of the story for happy ending.
Azam
April 10, 2012 10:14 pm
totally agree Gary.. There are good and bad people in every race and religion. We should judge people by their characters and not holistically.
Tayyeb
April 10, 2012 1:03 pm
He only fainted from love
Noshad
April 10, 2012 1:46 pm
so brilliant story of a real bond of humanity surpassing all barrirors of color,religion,ethenicity and racism.
Anum
April 13, 2012 3:27 am
Thank you.. I am still confused though whether the hero lived, died. Probably thats an emotional aspect, but i get the point you are trying to put across. Thank you for your response though.
pathanoo
April 10, 2012 9:08 pm
Just Remember this....."Hatred is the acid that destroys the container first."
Ashraf Gul
April 10, 2012 1:16 pm
Nice story pal
Farruk
April 10, 2012 9:11 pm
If you accept secularism then the other persons religon becomes meaningless, you see them on the human level and not if they are muslim, hindu, jew....with being secular one can still believe in his religon privately but outside of his privacy he is just another human being trying to survive.
Nageen
April 10, 2012 12:46 pm
The beauty in this story is in that it represents the way the bonds between humanity ought to be in an ideal world. Humanity should be able to overcome all other differences; whether it be ethnicity, religion, language, or political stance. After knowing a person, past barricades in your mind that you've built up begin to fall and you realize that oftentimes, you are not so different after all. A person halfway across the world wants the same things you do: love, success, happiness, security. At the basest level, there is so little that separates us as humans, apart from artificialities that we have built up over time. Linger on the similarities, not the differences.
Mohammad Ali Bandial
April 10, 2012 12:56 pm
great read, i love how the ethnicity of the main characters are not pushed on to the reader and yet mentioned in a subtle undertone, for its not the color or the caste that should matter. Rather its the heart of an individual that should be important.
Zain
April 10, 2012 12:56 pm
hah. tragedies of chemistry. Brilliant!
Tahir Razvi
April 10, 2012 8:10 pm
I am a Muslim living in US Happily married to a Jewish lady for the last 14 years ad have two beautiful kids and love each and everyday being together, we are all same made of flesh and blood creation of the Almighty, so why hate anyone? arenn't we all equal in the eyes of the Almighty?
Pakistan Classified
April 10, 2012 2:35 pm
Beautifully written, This is what friendship is all about. loved it.
Khaliauobi
April 10, 2012 2:38 pm
Salam to all. This was not only a story it's complete lesson for the readers
Salman
April 10, 2012 2:41 pm
Please tell the other half of the story aswell!
Nagin Desai
April 10, 2012 2:52 pm
Jewish are as good a human as Muslims or any one else of different faith. I have met Jewish girl in Islamabad and truly she amazed me by her inteligence, a very high level of world politics awareness, humane and carying. She did not carry of an ideology of hate and discrimination or an ego of being Jewish. LOVE OTHER HUMANS, THEY ARE AS GOOD AS YOU ARE AND IN SOME CASE EVEN BETTER WHICH HAS BEEN PROVED TIME AND AGAIN AND BY SO MANY. LIVE IN PEACE AND LET OTHER LEAVE IN PEACE
Kashif
April 10, 2012 2:58 pm
Nice one! I wonder if we Pakistani's can also learn to love and accept differences in opinion/ beliefs and race.
Mohsin
April 12, 2012 5:59 am
What happens next??
fari
April 10, 2012 3:06 pm
It shows that there is a relationship that consists of humane feelings. Race, gender and ethnicity should not affect one's behavior towards other. One should help each other and always respect other people boundaries that they want to keep even in the friendship. In Pakistan people including me should understand that we are one nation either we belong to different political groups or different sect of religion. We should respect and help each other and join each other's hand in the betterment of this country's image in the eyes of other nations and to feel secure on mother's land. Lastly, I hope that we should utilize our capabilities in a way that will improve the condition of Pakistan by accepting responsibilities rather than blaming each other for our failures.
Khurshid Rashid
April 10, 2012 7:04 pm
I have been in the US for almost 30 years now. Forget the politics but just as human beings, one to one, I found Jewish people very intellectual, warm, and helpful to Muslems. Many Jews, whom I later found as being Jews, helped me
Hashim Rashid
April 10, 2012 11:42 pm
well said...
Ali
April 10, 2012 7:37 pm
I worked for a Jew for 3 year in a small IT company... they are wonderful people 90% or our clients were jewish. They work with honesty and are always well educated. I learned a lot from him and I have no complains. I still talk to him and hope to do business with him again someday. I understand the situation of Israel and Palestine and I know that part sucks.
Goga Nalaik
April 10, 2012 6:35 pm
Fiction!
L. Chughtai
April 12, 2012 6:12 am
Agree. Too much hate in the world. But also care and love. A mosque in California opened its doors to the local Christian community so they could hold Easter services. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7UI7kDaKTI
sherePunjab Singh Sh
April 11, 2012 5:17 am
I agree to it and believe that it is true. When I migrated to USA from India, a jew lawyer gave me job, roof over my head and food. He helped me to settle down. His name is Any ginsberg. All religions have good nice people. All religions teach us to be better humans. But the fanatics creates problems every where. Islam is a religion of peace but what we are seeing. Some over jealous and fanatics have defamed it. The majority does not speak to save their own skin. The situation is same with other religions also, it may be Hindus, Sikhs, issai, jews or others. Some one has said FARISHTEY SE BEHTAR HE INSAN BANANA, MAGAR IS ME LAGTI HEY MEHNAT ZIADA.
Afnan Ahmed
April 11, 2012 2:00 pm
Good story, however, wrong title. The story is perhaps fictitious but spreads a message of hope. I like it for the 'hope' part.
Ivan husein
April 11, 2012 7:07 am
I totally agree . They are usually the best at what they do. They are a very charitable and magnanamous people. I hope some day there is real peace in the middle east. But muslims must learn not to hate their brothers "in the book" . Yes, understand your religion and its base.
alam
April 11, 2012 8:30 pm
My daughter graduated from a prestigious university in NY and was accepted in a PhD program in a medical university, one day she met a professor who did not attended the meeting for her selection in the program but played a vital role in her selection. He told her that I was going through your details and found out that you started a Islamic Club in your college after 9/11, this shows your determination and conviction and I recommended you for the PhD program. The professor was a Jew.
sraz45
April 11, 2012 7:35 am
My first encounter was with a Jewish person, she was a colleague of a friend who worked with her at Merrill Lynch, in Princeton NJ. She introduced me to another Jewish friend that very moment, she gave me a job, introduced my wife to a Jewish doctor who gave hera job. We were the center of attention, we were invited to meet people, people use to stop by where I worked to assure me that soon you will get used to all this. You cannot sterotype caste people, there are goodness everywhere. Jews are like any other people. It would help if the press said good things. Yes they are educated professional and are humble about their acheivements.Their contribution to the world at large is immense. It is sad most Muslims donot understand that.
Man Jain
April 11, 2012 8:37 am
I have lived in the USA for half a century. I have found jews, discriminatory, deceitful, prejudiced and not always ethical. They share knowledge in their own milieu. Then again, the Pakistanis and Iranians and Indians are no better.
Asif
April 11, 2012 9:12 am
This should turn into a nice movie where people can learn from this.
Shahji
April 11, 2012 9:55 am
Jews are very good people, sadly no one in Pakistan who has never travelled has ever seen a jew up close. A Jewish synagogue converts into a mosque every Friday in Virginia, where the Muslim friday prayers are held, the Jews bring them fruit and cheese and other snacks, this happens every friday. I respect Jewish people, they dont bother anyone in America. Please stop spreading hate.
Muhammad Ramzan Mall
April 11, 2012 12:10 pm
What a perfect romantic peace of art that cares no religion and gives strong hope for coexistence full of love.
aku
April 11, 2012 1:29 pm
You don't have travel outside to find jews. We have in Pakistan as well. Only they are too afraid to reveal their identity. But I like your last sentence. Please stop spreading hate. There is already too much of it....
siva
April 11, 2012 7:20 pm
Well said pal.
Seedoo
April 11, 2012 7:03 pm
I live in the US. What most Pakistanis don't understand is that there are more Jews fighting for the rights of Palestinians in the US than muslims. For example, there was a Jewish man in his early thirties along with his wife would go to Jeruselum and stand in front of the Israeli tanks and try to prevent them from bulldozing Palestinian homes back in early 2000s.
Azeem
April 11, 2012 1:27 pm
International Jew by Henry Ford! Are you serious? I agree with your later point though.
anwariqbal
April 11, 2012 6:37 pm
Anum: I write reality fiction, i.e. I take real events and fictionalize them. Real events do not happen in a story sequence. They happen at a larger scale and take a lifetime to come to a conclusion. A story, however, has to conclude in 1000 to 1500 words. Besides, fictionalizing reality also allows me to maintain the privacy of the characters involved.
Secular Pakistan
April 11, 2012 6:42 pm
From this article and the comments above, I get the impression the world is slowly but steadily moving towards a secular polity where the clerics cannot incite people to commit violence and grab land in the name of GOD. Humanity has hope. Better days are ahead of us. Let us leave hatred behind.
Rao
April 12, 2012 7:14 am
I became emotional after reading this article....There are good and bad people in every community. I don't like people who think that only their community is good and rest are bad. I live in Singapore, where Malays, Chinese & Indians live without any major problems, unlike South Asia. I have great friends across the ethnic boundaries and we joke about the stereotyping, that happens in this sort of mixed societies
Nowhserwan
April 12, 2012 7:53 am
It was a delectable read, waiting for more from you.
Wish
April 12, 2012 9:59 am
What a sweet story aiming at spreading message of humanity and love!
smabdullah
April 12, 2012 10:24 am
a typical 90's romantic hollywood movie story
sanam
April 12, 2012 10:40 am
Anwar Iqbal you are representing 95% pakistanies who want love,peace and hatred for non.cheers
Adil
April 12, 2012 11:17 am
Humanity knows no religion, and good people from all religions are humane...we should treat each other as persons, not as Muslims, Jews or Christians or Hindus or Sikhs
El Cid
April 12, 2012 11:49 am
According to the Jewish scripture if a Jewish girl marries a non-Jew, she is to be stoned to death by her father and town people. You may have married her but have NOT read her Holy Torah - The Law of Moses! As they say false love is best blind, and ignorant. Allah may be Merciful an Forgiving, but Yawhew is a jealous punishing unforgiving God. Please read the Law of Moses as given in the Hebrew Bible, Old Testament. For a Jew it is as sacred as the Noble Quran is to a Muslim.
opinion
April 12, 2012 12:09 pm
this shows muslims no matter where he/she is irespective of religion, cast or color will always will be kind and humane, Islam spread without hatred, it was resisted through hatred, war and barbarism, ISLAM is the only way of life chosen by ALLAH (GOD) him self, so followers of Prophet Mohammad PBUH will always care for humnaity and lead by example... good tp read a tru piece of real life.... thanks for sharing
Gregory
April 15, 2012 8:23 pm
You are so naive Nageen. I still think like you, making me a naive person too, but, may be we both seek the best in human nature. Alas, in the real world it does not exist. Since the 1st Gulf War in 1991, the Americans savages have killed over 3 million of your Muslim mothers and fathers, and their children and grandchildren without any Remorse.
ashraf
April 14, 2012 11:50 am
To make life easy, forget, forgive and move ahead. Just for thrill one must avail achance to get even.
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