How a Muslim Helped a Christian in the Land of Justice
By Gebre M. Tsegaye
Umar Akbar Ahmed
Americans have burnt the Koran, attacked Mosques and assaulted Muslim women wearing their traditional dress in the USA today. The media depicts Muslims as terrorists who hate America. With these racial and religious tensions it is easy to lose yourself. Yet I was privileged to witness a shining example where a Muslim not only came to the aid but salvation of a Christian in need.
A year ago, in April 2010, I came across a young Christian Ethiopian who had escaped to the United States because he had suffered persecution in his home country for being a member of the opposition and challenging the tyranny and injustice of the ruling party. He was lost, neglected, and with no money. As a fellow Christian I had to help. Although, I was not from Ethiopia I was from neighboring Eritrea and spoke Amharic. I volunteered to act as his interpreter and guide in the United States.
When I came across my fellow Christian, he was in a terrible state, suffering great physical and psychological problems. Not only had he been the victim of repeated torture and long detention in his home country, but his political asylum application in the United States had been denied. He was now in removal proceedings to be deported back to his home country where imprisonment or death awaited him. He was terrified and a physical and psychological mess.
Eight months ago, by the grace of God we were fortunate to meet a smart young lawyer by the name of Umar Akbar Ahmed, who agreed to take on his case pro bono. Umar was very understanding and compassionate from the beginning. We soon found Umar's knowledge of the law was limitless and he was always very kind and accessible whenever we needed him. His comfort and deep humanity, capacity and patience to listen and deep concern at the times his client was admitted to the hospital and encouraging words was amazing.
All three of us worked very hard on this case in the following months. The case file, initially a few pages, soon became six inches thick with memos, court briefs, collected evidence and exhibits for the court. Umar's attention to detail was incredible.
After eight months, the day finally came for his deportation hearing before the Immigration Judge. Umar was up against a senior DHS attorney with 10 years experience. Besides we knew it is almost impossible to reverse a deportation proceeding at this stage of the case. It was going to be a tough case for Umar, but Umar had prepared well and we were confident.
I sat through the nail biting three hour long hearing, where Umar eloquently presented the factual and legal arguments of his case. I could see the DHS attorney wasn't going to make it easy for Umar and made a strong counter case and contested it hard, and it was all very intense for me. I waited and waited with anticipation as hour after hour passed.
Finally, to my relief the Judge granted asylum. The long build-up to the case, the hard work and preparation, the overwhelming reaction of joy and relief from the client moved me beyond words - the client and I could not hold back the tears and we hugged Umar with happiness.
It was a new day for the client and a new beginning to salvation - a day that proved to me once more that this truly is the best country in the world not only in ideas but in practice. When I think about the great conflicts in the world, particularly in my home continent of Africa between Christians and Muslims, I am amazed to know that in this country a Muslim gave so much of his time and energy in helping a Christian with no thought of personal profit. When asked about the case after the hearing, Umar said he did it because he was inspired in his values by his "parents, those heroic figures from his own heritage, and the founding fathers of the United States, and by the belief in justice for all." The world would have changed rapidly for the better if we had a few more people like Umar. This is truly a winning case for peace between Christians and Muslims - and it is a win for the land of justice.
(Gebre M. Tsegaye, originally from Eritrea, lives and works in Washington, DC. He is an Amharic translator and a community activist. Email: Gebre1961@hotmail.com)