The day began with Isaac and me going to the Mosque on the 3rd of July, which is the eve of American Independence Day. As we walked into the public park space where the prayer was held, Isaac was very jolly, ready to celebrate Independence Day. All of a sudden, he asked me, “Dad, can I ask Imam to pray for America?” I didn’t expect it from him, because he is just five years old. So I looked at him, surprised, but reluctantly said, “Go ahead,” in a hope that he would not have the audacity to do such a thing in front of hundreds of people. But, the exact opposite happened.
In the middle of the prayer, Isaac suddenly stood up, and shouted, “Excuse me Imam, can you please pray for my country, the United States of America, because tomorrow is 4th of July.” As expected, the imam ignored him, and Isaac sat back down. On his way home Isaac looked very sad and wouldn’t talk. I asked him why he was so sad, and he asked me sadly “Dad, why didn’t the imam pray for my country in his monazat?”
“Forgive the imam,” I said. After going home, I wanted to solve some problems with Isaac, and I was explaining differential equations to him. However, I realized his mind was elsewhere. So, I asked him, “Why aren’t you paying attention?” His response shocked me once again. “Dad, I want to write a letter to George Washington.” “Why?” This time, I was very serious in the conversation with my five- year-old son. “I think the Founding Father deserves an apology from the imam. But since the imam will never apologize, I will apologize on behalf of the imam and 1.7 billion Muslims.” This time, I knew exactly what he was talking about. So I let him go ahead.
Isaac started writing a letter to one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and its first President, George Washington. After Isaac showed the letter to me, I became shocked. How could a five-year-old have the understanding and the mental capability to not only address the wrongs of a religious preacher to a Founding Father, but also try to change it by asking the imam to pray for the US, something no adult would dare to do. And then, it dawned on me.
The story goes back to 2012, when Isaac was in Washington D.C. to give an interview for Voice of America. I left New York for D.C. at 5:00 a.m., along with my son. He was scheduled to be interviewed by VOA at 11:00 a.m., and we arrived in the capital some 30 minutes late. My heart was racing as I parked my car in front of the Smithsonian Institution Wondering if Sabrina Dona would still be waiting for us, I ran toward the VOA elevator, carrying my son. The security officers stopped us and asked us to go through the metal detector. As we were complying, I noticed that many of them were staring at us. Then, when they were searching little Soborno’s body, I realized that something was wrong.
My eyes turned to a TV monitor on the wall adjacent to the metal detector. I saw the two terrorist brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, armed with AK-47s, forcing their way into the Charlie Hebdo building. I had seen a similar incident on December 16, when seven terrorists entered a Pakistan Army School and killed over 130 school children. My whole body quivered and my heart dropped; I hoped with all my heart that this time, the perpetrators were not Muslims, this time. After all, I am a Muslim. However, not 10 seconds later, I heard “Allahu Akbar,” and my heart broke into a million pieces. The security person, who was still searching little Soborno Isaac, looked at me and asked, “What does that mean?” I did not reply. I was speechless. Finally they let us enter the building, after the Voice of America management showed up in the lobby.
Not only that time, but a few months later, Isaac and I were in the NYU Bobst Library, solving math problems together, as we always do. However, we were interrupted by the breaking news of terrorists killing innocent foreigners in the Bangladesh Holy Artisan restaurant. One of the people watching in the room with us was Katy, an NYU student who was plagued by the ideology that all Muslims were bad. She went home traumatized by the constant stream of Muslim terror attacks in the United States. I went home traumatized for a different reason: not only have these terrorists killed innocent human beings, they have propagated and fed the sick idea that Muslims are synonymous with terrorists. On my way back home, Isaac said, “Dad, you should make a speech to condemn the cruel behavior of these terrorists.” “That’s a great idea, Isaac. We must address this issue soon.” “You know what, Dad, I’ll help you write your speech.” The next day, when I was taking Isaac to school, I found a draft in his pocket. I used the exact same draft to deliver the speech at Lehman College, watched by millions around the world.
The pieces must have joined together, for Isaac much the same way that they did for me. A few days later, after I made the speech (“Tears for Faraz and Tarishi”) at Lehman, the two brothers, Isaac and Albert were set to go to school alone, as they always did. And like always, I and their mother wished them farewell. However, as Isaac was walking on his way to school, he saw an American flag stuck under the tires of a black Honda. Its stars were bruised, and the stick holding the flag was barely keeping itself together under the pressure of the tires above. Isaac was disturbed deeply by seeing this, believing that this was an insult to the American flag. After many tries, he still couldn’t nudge the flag out from under the tire. He decided to wait until the driver came to move the car, so that he could save the American flag from being insulted. Time passed by, and it was almost 4 p.m. Albert was coming back from school and saw a boy who looked like his brother, sitting on a piece of chopped wood next to the black Honda. Albert ran, and saw that it really was his little brother.
Bewildered, he observed for a few minutes, dumbfounded, trying to process the situation. Then he yelled at Isaac. “Isaac! What are you doing here?” Isaac said, very nervously, “Albert, I didn’t go to school.” “Didn’t go to school?! Why?” Pointing to the flag, Isaac said, “I was trying to pull it, but I couldn’t, so I was waiting for the driver to come and move the car so that I could save the flag from being humiliated and bruised.” It made Albert so emotional, his eyes filled with tears, and he cried out, “Are you ok, my little brother?” “Albert, don’t tell it to Mom and Dad, please.” “OK, Isaac, I will not tell it to them. However, what I will tell them is that Isaac is on a mission to change the world.” Soon after, Albert helped push the car, and Isaac was able to save the flag from humiliation.
After Isaac came home, he asked me to take him to George Washington’s statue in Union Square, so that he could read the first President his apology on behalf of the imam, and the 1.7 billion Muslims who worship his religion. As Isaac began reading his letter to the Founding Father, “Dear Founding Father, I came here to say sorry... ”, many dozens of people had lined up around Isaac, hoping to take a few pictures with him. As the people dispersed, one of the people there was Kathleen Raab. She thanked Isaac for changing her perception on Muslims. And when Isaac asked why she wanted to take a picture with him even though he wasn't a celebrity, Ms. Raab responded, “You might not be a celebrity, but you are a hero for people like me, whose whole view of the world has changed because of you.”
Another unforgettable event unfolded on the same day. As Isaac was walking with me through Times Square on Independence Day, he saw a guitarist performing on the street. Just a few seconds ago, we were discussing some of his math problems, but immediately, Isaac stopped me: “Dad, I need to go tell that man that he is singing the wrong song. It is the fourth of July, and singing anything but The Star-Spangled Banner” is not only disrespectful, but an insult to this great nation we live in.” After I gave him permission, Isaac ran to the man, Lawrence Rush, and shouted, “Stop the music!” Soon after, they began singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and many other people joined in with Isaac, to spread the patriotism.
These series of events convinced me to make this movie. I wanted to tell people this story, so that they get inspired by Isaac. But, how was I to do this if I wasn’t a writer, a director, or even had the necessary tools. And Isaac is a math and science hero, not a movie star.
He received recognition from President Obama for being able to solve Ph.D. level math, physics, and chemistry, not for acting.
So, I called my friends Kathleen Raab and Lawrence Rush and told them they had to act in my movie. What I did not tell them is that I don’t even have a camera. Instead, all I have is a broken iPhone that I’ve dropped so many times. I’m not even sure if it’s capable of recording anymore. In fact, most of the time, the shooting of the movie was done by Katy’s or Lawrence’s iPhone.
So, on the eve of Independence Day, we went to BCC to pay tributes to the Founding Father, where we met a photographer who took Isaac’s picture for the newspaper. He asked Isaac, “Why did you make this movie?” Isaac replied, “I made this movie to show that we don’t need more imams. We need more Al-Khawarizmis, not imams.”
On the way back home, I asked Isaac “Why don’t you do something for Bangladesh? You always do things for America” “If I change Bangladesh, I change only Bangladesh. But if I change America, I change the world.”
Rashidul Bari, a doctoral student at Columbia University, teaches mathematics at Bronx C. Community College. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and website is Bari Science Lab