To err was human, forgive divine
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.”
Clockwise from left, Maha Al-Shennag leaves Bankstown police station; the Lakemba funeral of one of the victims; crash victim Jihad Darwiche