My mission to save our kids

Un­der­taker Ah­mad Hraichie cap­ti­vated us all with words of com­pas­sion af­ter hor­ror crash, writes Ava Benny-Mor­ri­son

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

When un­der­taker Ah­mad Hraichie drove his hearse down Juno Pde in Greenacre, he of­ten spot­ted an en­er­getic, blue-eyed boy wav­ing at him from a drive­way.

It was only this week, and in the most heart­break­ing cir­cum­stances, he learnt the child’s name.

Lit­tle Ji­had Dar­wiche was one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car ploughed into their class­room, and it fell to Mr Hraichie and the boy’s fa­ther, Raed Dar­wiche, to bathe and pre­pare his body in the Is­lamic tra­di­tion and bury him at Rook­wood ceme­tery.

Dur­ing the drive from Lakemba Mosque to the ceme­tery, with Ji­had’s cof­fin in the back of the hearse, the two men recorded a con­ver­sa­tion that has cap­ti­vated Aus­tralia with its mes­sage of com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing.

In the video, Mr Hraichie and Mr Dar­wiche dis­cuss “true Is­lam”; find­ing hap­pi­ness in the thought Ji­had is in Jan­nah, or heaven, and of­fer­ing for­give­ness to the woman whose car caused his death.

Ji­had and his school­friend, who can’t be legally iden­ti­fied, were killed when a Toy­ota Kluger ploughed through a tim­ber-walled class­room at Banksia Road Pri­mary School on Tues­day morn­ing.

The driver, wid­owed mother-of­four and school vol­un­teer Maha AlShen­nag, 52, is fac­ing a string of se­ri­ous charges, in­clud­ing dan­ger­ous driv­ing caus­ing death.

And in a re­mark­able twist, it emerges Mr Dar­wiche had vis­ited the home of Mrs Al-Shen­nag just months ago, when her hus­band Ab­dul­lah died of a heart at­tack. They had never met, but Mr Hraichie said Ji­had’s fa­ther vis­ited Mrs Al-Shen­nag to pay his re­spects, in ac­cor­dance with tra­di­tion.

Mr Hraichie, a fa­ther of four, per­sonal trainer, oc­ca­sional ac­tor and Le­banese Mus­lim As­so­ci­a­tion fu­neral di­rec­tor, was over­whelmed with pos­i­tive com­ments af­ter the video, in which he praised Mr Dar­wiche as “a true Mus­lim”.

Mr Hraichie has had his own share of fam­ily pain. One of his sons, 20-year-old Bourhan Hraichie, with whom he says he lost con­tact a long time ago, is in Aus­tralia’s most se­cure prison, Goul­burn Su­per­max, charged with carv­ing the Is­lamic State slo­gan “e4e” — an eye for an eye — in a fel­low in­mate’s fore­head last year.

Bourhan Hraichie was in Kempsey prison on other mat­ters when he al­legedly at­tacked the in­mate, and he has also been charged with threat­en­ing pris­ons boss Peter Sev­erin.

“I pray for him ev­ery sin­gle day of my life, that he re­pents and re­grets what he did and turns back to a nor­mal per­son,” Ah­mad Hraichie said.

Mr Hraichie has spent more than two decades over­see­ing buri­als for the Mus­lim com­mu­nity af­ter start­ing off as a fu­neral par­lour cleaner at 18.

Over the years he has or­gan­ised buri­als for slain un­der­world fig­ures, in­clud­ing those killed in the bloody Dar­wiche-Raz­zak war that peaked in the early 2000s, com­mu­nity fig­ures and chil­dren.

Mr Hraichie said the peo­ple at gang­land fu­ner­als of­ten showed up to “cover their own back­side”.

“Ev­ery­one there is fake, ev­ery­one is there to show their face and say ‘Look I came’. But it’s a fake world and they know it. Most peo­ple in that cir­cum­stance, there is no honour in it,” he said.

Many of Mr Hraichie’s school­mates, in­clud­ing exCo­manchero boss Mick Hawi, turned to a life of crime as adults.

Mr Hraichie, who grew up in Pen­shurst and at­tended Hurstville

Boys High, chose an­other path. He bought an ex­ca­va­tor at 18 and worked hard to make money.

“I would be com­ing back with day­light sav­ings time from the shire area work­ing,” he said.

“I would drive back at 8.30pm on King Ge­orges Rd and I would see a bunch of boys I know go­ing out to a night­club, like DCMs, and they would look at me and go ‘Aye Hraichie!’. I would look at them and I was in the truck bug­gered.

“I was go­ing home to shower and see my wife and sleep. That was my life,” he said.

He worked as an eth­nic com­mu­nity li­ai­son of­fi­cer with NSW Po­lice dur­ing the fall­out from the Cronulla ri­ots in 2005.

Mr Hraichie said he re­minded young men that “we are here and we have to re­spect the law of the land. None of the laws here say any­thing against your re­li­gion; you can sit in a mosque and pray all day. You can sit in a tem­ple and wor­ship all day.

“You can wear what you want, and that is the beauty of be­ing in a coun­try like Aus­tralia.”

Mem­bers of his own com­mu­nity la­belled him a “snitch” and a “dog”. Now they hug and thank him when they at­tend his fu­ner­als.

Hav­ing been sur­rounded con­stantly by death, Mr Hraichie has an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the fragility of life. Be­ing a true Mus­lim, he be­lieves, means liv­ing with sin­cer­ity and heart. “Not about do­ing the most deeds but the qual­ity of deeds,” he said. “A lot of peo­ple do a lot of deeds out there that are empty but it is (by) do­ing the qual­ity deeds while you are on this earth that you can pass a mes­sage to peo­ple, wake them up and make them see the re­al­ity we are in.”

It is a mes­sage he re­lays to young peo­ple in his com­mu­nity.

“We are in a time now when the only way to en­tice these kids is to have some­thing for them,” he said.

“They don’t want to lis­ten to a professor. They don’t want to lis­ten to a sheik who knows ev­ery­thing about re­li­gion.

“They want to lis­ten to some­one who is cool. Some­one that they can say ‘I want to be like him, I want to train, I want to have that car and I want to hear what he has to say.”

Mr Hraichie said the vast ma­jor­ity of Mus­lim Aus­tralians were pas­sion­ately pa­tri­otic.

“We all love liv­ing in Aus­tralia,” he said, adding he wor­ried the an­tiIs­lam mes­sages of politi­cians such as Pauline Han­son did not help the com­mu­nity’s prob­lems with “young guys who get on the in­ter­net and get brain­washed. Racism isn’t go­ing to help them,” Mr Hraichie said.

“Peo­ple like Pauline Han­son need to be stopped.”

Mr Hraichie said many de­vout Mus­lims and Chris­tians were per­son­ally op­posed to the le­gal­i­sa­tion of same-sex mar­riage, but “if it be­comes the law, then law is law and we have to fol­low the law”.

Pic­ture: Jonathan Ng Pic­ture: Brianne Makin

Ji­had Dar­wiche (left), and driver Maha Al-Shen­nag. Mr Hraichie (in blue) leads Ji­had’s fu­neral.

Pic­ture: Sam Rut­tyn

Un­der­taker, tradie, de­vout Mus­lim and proud Aus­tralian Ah­mad Hraichie has en­dured his share of fam­ily pain.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.