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Families struggle for normality

Many cope with sorrow, isolation

By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

Before Sept. 11, her mother said, 5-year-old Tehrim Hassan used to spend her days and even stay overnight with a playmate who lived across the street.

After Sept. 11, the playmate told Tehrim, ''Look - you Muslims did this.'''

So Tehrim asked her mother, ''`Are we Muslims?''' Benish Hassan, a Pakistani mother of three, recalled yesterday. ''I said yes. And she said, `Did we do this?'''

Yesterday, many Muslims like Benish in Boston and across America marked the anniversary by attending interfaith services at mosques and churches.

For them, Sept. 11 also marks the moment it got immeasurably harder to teach their children about who they are. How can you explain a new and dangerous world to a child when you are still trying to understand it yourself?

''It was such a mixed feeling of depression and guilt and sadness,'' she said, recalling how she felt when she learned of the terrorist attacks. ''You know, you kind of feel guilty for what you have not done.''

A lawyer who once ran a nongovernmental organization for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Benish moved to Medford in 2001 with her husband, a Pakistani police officer who was enrolled in a master's degree program at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Last year, Benish was cooking breakfast when her panicked sister-in-law called from Pakistan gasping about the terrible news on television.

''I said, `Are you sure it's not just a movie?''' Benish recalled asking.

After they grasped the truth, her husband, Hassan Abbas, considered dropping out of his program and moving back to Pakistan. Unsure of the future and worried about her safety, they decided not to enroll Tehrim in kindergarten that fall.

In the months that followed, Benish noticed that certain neighbors stopped speaking to her, and that the mothers of some of her daughters' friends were suddenly too busy to bring their kids by to play.

''I had to explain to [Tehrim], you can't impose yourself on other people,'' Benish said. ''I told her, you have to make friends with people who want to be friends with you.''

Yesterday morning, at the school's request, Benish dressed Tehrim in red, white and blue, and dropped her off outside her new first-grade class. Then Benish settled on the living room couch to watch the national ceremony on CNN.

In the afternoon, after school was over, she would dress her children to worship at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge.

''After the mosque, we will go to a church near my house, over there on High Street,'' Benish said. ''And after that, I will try to find a synagogue.''

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.





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