Running Muslim: The Other Boston Story

National News
On April 15, 2013, seventeen thousand runners had already crossed the finish line when two explosions left three people dead and over 200 injured at the Boston Marathon, an iconic international sports event.

The suspects - one killed and one captured - are Muslims.

There are many important stories that will come out from this tragic crime. A spotlight once again shines on Islam's relationship to the suspected terrorists. But one story which must also be told is Islam's relationships to others involved - runners, volunteers, and first responders.

The Muslim community in Boston was quick to respond to the tragedy in their city. Imam Suhaib Webb, a prominent religious leader in Boston, led efforts by opening up his home to the runners. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) volunteered the services of around 40 doctors from its congregation, and also hosted a vigil for the victims on Friday.

"Cling to the rugged rope of positivity. Knowing that nothing happens except God's grace blinds the murk of evil. Do not feel sorry for yourself. Face this with faith and contribute to the good sprouting from the dark soil. This is not a time for helplessness. It is a time to build," Imam Suhaib Webb advised Bostonians and the greater American Muslim community.

Unfortunately, this tragedy reminded everyone of the vicious face of tabloid journalism and the dangers of keyboard sleuths who sat on internet channels and churned out suspects, from the Saudi student, to the 'dark skinned' bag-men, to missing university students. While many media outlets were restrained, there were also commentators and pundits who spun a tale of Muslim guilt. The Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C. raised concerns about MSNBC's Chris Matthews' comments that 'indirectly branded the people of Yemen as terrorists.'

Out of the 176 victims at the finish line, the only one who was tackled to the ground and whose apartment was searched by the FBI was a Muslim, 20 year old Saudi Arabian student Abdurrahman Alharbi. Watching the marathon near the finish line when the two bombs exploded, Abdurrahman sustained injuries on his body and started running like other bystanders, only to be grabbed by suspicious members of the public.

The first explosion didn't seem to register with many people who thought it was a gas line exploding, said Firas Naji, a Muslim doctor who was volunteering in medical tent B. "We had no idea what it was," he told the Muslim Link. "The mood swiftly shifted from secure to panicky."

Like American Muslims across the nation, Dr. Naji "kept hoping it was not a Muslim." An internal medicine resident at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston resident, Dr. Naji loves to run and dreamt of volunteering at the marathon as a physician. Risking more explosions, he continued to treat less acutely injured after the blasts; many runners and spectators were emotionally traumatized and needed attention.

Interestingly, he received a call from worried family members in Syria while tending to the injured. "Two hundred people die there every day; we are very fortunate that we live our daily lives in safety," he reflected.

Dr. Nissrene Elmadhun, a general surgery resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, researcher at Brown University, and a member of the Islamic Society Boston Cultural Center, was in Rhode Island when she heard about the attack.

The pregnant doctor made a decision to come back to Boston to help.

"As surgical residents, we are trained to manage trauma patients, but its moments like these of human suffering in the face of such a cowardly attack and witnessing my colleagues come to the aid of others that one begins seeing things through one's faith," she said. "With the rush of victims coming in so brutally hurt, I couldn't help but think of their families and pray for them. Amidst all of the chaos, tragedy aside, it was a proud moment, not only an American moment, but a proud human moment ... people were making whatever sacrifices they could to help other people and do what they can for the betterment of human life," said Dr. Elmadhun.

In the days following the attack, several Muslims have been assaulted in New York, Boston, and other parts of the country. Dr. Firas Naji told the Muslim Link his friend was attacked, and soon reports appeared in local media of a Palestinian doctor who became a victim on an apparent hate crime motivated by Monday's bomb blasts.
Heba Abolaban said she and her friend, both in hijab, were walking with their children on Commercial Street when a man punched her left shoulder and began shouting at them, asking her to go back home and saying that she was responsible for the bombings.

Bangladeshi-American Abdullah Faruque, 30, was beaten at a Bronx restaurant hours after the Boston Marathon bombing. Three or four males followed him and called him a [expletive] Arab. They punched him on the head and body, dislocating his left shoulder.

On Wednesday morning, Salah Barhoun, 17, a Morrocan American spectator at the marathon and a high school runner found his picture plastered on the front page of the New York Post and social media as a suspect in the bombing. He says he went to the police the next day to clear his name after he found himself tagged in pictures online.
Barhoun's younger brother told ABC News that it made his mother "sick and upset" that her son had been connected to the tragedy. "My brother is not the bomber," the younger brother said.

Azeem Khan, 25, was running in the marathon for the American Liver Association. Training for the past 6 months, he was among the runners redirected at mile 24. Law enforcement authorities took away everything for investigation from all runners and spectators. After the explosion, he was taken to a safe house with other runners. "People were very united and offered me their cell phone as my battery was dead," he said. His keys, credit cards, IDS were returned on Wednesday.
Khan didn't sleep in the two days following the bombings. He told the Muslim Link he was struggling with emotional stress. "I saw grown adults crying [and] it reminded me of 9/11," said Khan, a Pakistani-American who grew up in New York and New Jersey.

Jalon Fowler is an African-American Muslimah who runs marathons; this was her third Boston Marathon and she ran for the Boys and Girls Club of Boston and the Ron Burton Training Village.

She told the Islamic Circle of North America that she trained for over six months running through rain, wind and snow." "I kept up with the training through busy times at work, sick kids and other life events. I remained committed because training for a marathon is simply something you put your heart and soul [into] and [you] believe that you get out of it what you put into it," said Fowler.

"Charity, helping others, and being the best emotional, spiritual and physical person [one can be] are major parts of being a Muslim. The marathon allowed me to strive towards these goals," she said. Keeping with her faith, she does not plan on giving up. "I will run the Boston Marathon until my body cannot take it anymore, God willing, for those that cannot," she said.

Imam Suhaib Webb was asked to represent the Muslim community at the interfaith event where President Obama was the keynote speaker on Thursday. However, the Governor's office replaced him with Nasser Weddady from the American Islamic Congress (AIC), a group unknown to most American Muslims. Unlike most mainstream Islamic organizations in America, AIC receives significant funding from the US State Department according to the Washington Post.

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and many other Muslim organizations offered support, set-up funds, and issued statements in solidarity with the Boston community. One such fund can be accessed at

As the story of the Boston bombings is written, America must make sure not to focus on the Muslim names in the headlines, only to miss the many Muslim names scattered throughout its pages.