To err was hu­man, for­give divine

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - EAN HIG­GINS OLIVIA CAISLEY

Two things have gripped Aus­tralians about a mid­dle-aged Mus­lim widow killing two young school­child­ren and in­jur­ing oth­ers in an al­leged mo­ment of inat­ten­tion af­ter she dropped a wa­ter bot­tle while driv­ing her SUV near a school, her dis­abled son in the back.

One is life’s capri­cious­ness, where an ac­ci­dent that most would say could have hap­pened to any­one will for­ever change the lives of many for the se­ri­ous worse, with one child still in hospi­tal last night with head and in­ter­nal in­juries.

The other is how Mus­lim par­ents of the victims have called on the com­mu­nity to ab­solve and pro­tect ac­cused per­pe­tra­tor Maha Al-Shen­nag.

The mother of the girl still in hospi­tal says she doesn’t blame Ms Al-Shen­nag for what hap­pened.

“She’s griev­ing her­self,” the mother told The Week­end Aus­tralian.

One of the most moved is Ms Al-Shen­nag, who through her lawyer yes­ter­day af­ter­noon said she was “very grate­ful for (the) mes­sage of for­give­ness and com­pas­sion”.

In that case, Ms Al-Shen­nag was re­fer­ring to the mes­sage that had come in the most ex­tra­or­di­nary fash­ion from Raed Dar­wiche, who made a dash-cam video as he drove from the fu­neral cer­e­mony at Syd­ney’s Lakemba Mosque to bury his son Ji­had on Thurs­day.

Ji­had was one of the two eightyear-old boys crushed to death on Tues­day morn­ing when the Toy­ota Kluger driven by Ms Al-Shen­nag ac­cel­er­ated like a rocket af­ter, po­lice be­lieve, she ac­ci­den­tally floored the ac­cel­er­a­tor rather than the brake.

Ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, the car hit a rise and be­came air­borne, smash­ing through the weath­er­board wall hous­ing a Year 3 class at Banksia Road Pri­mary School in Greenacre in the city’s south­west.

With his son’s bright-green cas­ket be­hind him in a ve­hi­cle, and speak­ing in Ara­bic while his friend Ah­mad Hraichie drove and trans­lated, Mr Dar­wiche said he had a “spe­cial mes­sage for the lady that was in­volved in the ac­ci­dent”.

He said Al­lah had called for his son as the “will of the cre­ator”, de­scribed it as “an hon­est mis­take”, stressed Ms Al-Shen­nag was for­given and he would like to meet her, and called for those who might cas­ti­gate and abuse her to cease.

“This is the way a proper Mus­lim acts in a time of calamity and tribu­la­tion.”

Yes­ter­day Ms Al-Shen­nag’s lawyer, Ni­cholas Hanna, is­sued a state­ment to the me­dia.

“Ms Al-Shen­nag has told me that she is very grate­ful for Mr Dar­wiche’s mes­sage of for­give­ness and com­pas­sion.

“Ms Al-Shen­nag wishes to apol­o­gise with all of her heart to Mr Dar­wiche and to each of the victims, their fam­i­lies and the com­mu­nity in gen­eral,” Mr Hanna said. “Her thoughts and prayers are with all of those af­fected by this tragedy.”

More de­tails are com­ing to light about Ms Al-Shen­nag’s own dif­fi­cult tale, with one source yes­ter­day say­ing she re­mained in a very bad way psy­cho­log­i­cally.

The source said Ms Al-Shen­nag, 52, mi­grated from Jor­dan, and was wid­owed within the past 12 months when her hus­band died from ill-health, leav­ing her alone to care for four chil­dren aged up to their teens.

Some of her chil­dren go to the Banksia Road school, the source said, adding that Ms Al-Shen­nag was ac­tive within the lo­cal Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

So­cial me­dia has gone wild on the twin themes of the story — the freak­ish­ness of life-chang­ing events, and Mr Dar­wiche’s mag­na­nim­ity.

In one of the avalanches of posts, a Jennifer Atkins wrote:

“My neigh­bour was driv­ing his car into his garage and his foot slipped from the break (sic) to the ex­cel­er­a­tor (sic) and within one sec­ond had smash(ed) and gone right through the wall of his garage, he shook his head as he couldn’t be­lieve it hap­pened. Ac­ci­dents do hap­pen.”

Mr Dar­wiche’s video went vi­ral, record­ing nearly 300,000 views by last night. In it, Mr Dar­wiche says: “It could hap­pen to him, it could hap­pen to me, it could hap­pen to you.

“We don’t throw the world down on our broth­ers and sis­ters when an ac­ci­dent hap­pens. We for­give. This is the way of the prophet. He for­gave.”

Ob­servers said Mr Dar­wiche’s mes­sage was a re­minder of a com­mon mes­sage in Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam.

“It’s an in­cred­i­ble act of for­give­ness in the face of tragedy,” Mus­lim La­bor MP and Is­lamic af­fairs scholar Anne Aly said.

“It’s re­ally part and par­cel of the Is­lamic faith that a lot of peo­ple don’t get to see.”

Ms Al-Shen­nag faces two charges of dan­ger­ous driv­ing (oc­ca­sion­ing death) and two charges of neg­li­gent driv­ing (oc­ca­sion­ing death), which carry a max­i­mum penalty of 10 years’ jail, on top of lesser charges re­lated to the in­juries of other chil­dren.

She is on con­di­tional bail and has to re­port to po­lice daily, and is due to ap­pear at Bankstown Lo­cal Court on Novem­ber 29.

Out of the 24 chil­dren who were draw­ing in their class­room when dis­as­ter struck on Tues­day, three were se­ri­ously in­jured.

Two girls, aged eight and nine, were re­leased from The Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal at West­mead on Wed­nes­day, leav­ing the other eight-year-old girl still un­der med­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion.

She was sit­ting close to the boys who died when the twotonne SUV bar­relled through the wall, and suf­fered in­ter­nal bleed­ing and cuts to her head.

Af­ter the ini­tial shock, Gold Coast-based clin­i­cal health and foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist Bob Mont­gomery told The Week­end Aus­tralian the nat­u­ral re­ac­tion for sur­vivors of such a trau­matic sit­u­a­tion is “de­pres­sion — why me, what did I do — and anger; how could they let this hap­pen?”

The strat­egy, Dr Mont­gomery said, was for teach­ers and par­ents to help the chil­dren “try to re­gain a sense of safety — it’s over, it’s the light at the end of the tun­nel … there’s noth­ing wrong with feel­ing ter­ri­fied.”

JONATHAN NG; BRIANNE MAKIN

Clock­wise from left, Maha Al-Shen­nag leaves Bankstown po­lice sta­tion; the Lakemba fu­neral of one of the victims; crash vic­tim Ji­had Dar­wiche

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