BIRMINGHAM, England — I gripped the phone, trying to make out the words on the crackling line. There was a moment of silence before the voice at the other end spoke: “I’m sorry, but your son is dead.”
It was the call I had feared for months. How was I going to tell Rasheed’s sisters that their brother, a fighter for the so-called Islamic State, had been killed in an airstrike somewhere on the Syria-Iraq border? How would I answer their questions? I had none myself. Nor any body to grieve over. All I wanted was to hold him for one last time and say goodbye.
Rasheed was born on April 26, 1996, in the town in Wales where I had lived for most of my life. I was brought up an Anglican but converted to Islam in my late teens; my new faith gave me solace and meaning after a difficult childhood. The man I later met and married was also Muslim, from Algeria. Life as members of a Muslim minority in a small provincial town was not easy, so we moved our growing family to Birmingham.
Rasheed was a happy, excitable boy with a zeal for nearly everything. He had big, green eyes and a smile that radiated across his face. He could be mischievous, playing pranks on his sisters, who would scream and chase him around the house in protest. This only gave him fits of laughter. It was a noisy household, a little crazy at times, but this was my family and my children. I loved them, and we were contented.
by Nicola Benyaha