On September 21, 2001, ten days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a white supremacist calling himself “the Arab Slayer” walked into the store where Rais Bhuiyan worked. Mark Stroman was on a shooting rampage. On that fateful day, Rais became one of his victims. From point blank range, Rais was shot in the right side of his face and head, and though he nearly lost his life, he was the sole survivor of Stroman’s hate. Not one of his three victims were from the Middle East.
Though it took years to physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially recover, Rais was adamant he never felt hatred toward his attacker. He forgave him and after returning from a religious pilgrimage, became a crusader for compassion, peace and forgiveness. In 2011, Rais led an international campaign, World Without Hate, working tirelessly to save his shooter from death row.
During his campaign, Rais traveled to the European and German parliaments and met with leaders from Lundbeck, the largest lethal injection manufacturer in the world, convincing them to write to the Governor of Texas, urging him not to use their product to kill his attacker. Rais also brought his case for clemency to the State, Federal and U.S. Supreme Courts, exhausting all possibilities until the very last moments of Stroman’s life. Before he was executed, however, Stroman came to know of Rais and what his victim was relentlessly trying to do for him. Not only did he experience his own transformation, he became outspoken about the need to combat hate and violence. During the last moments of his life, on the phone with Rais, he told him he loved him and called him “Brother.”
Though Rais was unsuccessful in saving Stroman’s life, he turned World Without Hate into a non-profit, hoping he could help future “Mark Stroman’s” from leading a life filled with ignorance, violence and hate. In addition to engaging, interactive programs, such as Empathy Ambassadors and Compassion in Action, Rais also speaks at schools, universities, non-profit, community, and religious organizations, as well as conferences and summits all over the world.
Rais’ efforts have been widely recognized, receiving the Excellence for Human Service Award, United for Change; Search for Common Ground Award, Search for Common Ground; 2011 American of the Year, Esquire Magazine; 2014 Human Relations Award, Muslim Public Affairs Council Foundation, 2014 American Heritage Award, American Immigration Council, among others.
Rais relentlessly works to end the cycle of hate and violence. He believes we are responsible for one another; we must learn to respect, understand and accept each other if we want to bring about the world we all deserve – a world without violence, a world without victims, a world without hate.
Rais’s story and subsequent pursuit of peace was chronicled in the 2014 book The True American by Anand Giridharadas. The book is currently being adapted into a film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Tom Hardy.