My mission to save our kids
Undertaker Ahmad Hraichie captivated us all with words of compassion after horror crash, writes Ava Benny-Morrison
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”.
Jihad Darwiche (left), and driver Maha Al-Shennag. Mr Hraichie (in blue) leads Jihad’s funeral.
Undertaker, tradie, devout Muslim and proud Australian Ahmad Hraichie has endured his share of family pain.