Friday, November 21, 2014

A Criminal Defense Lawyer who is a Muslim becomes a Muslim Defense Lawyer

One of us on the "Keeping the Faith" panel was a Muslim, Khurrum Wahid, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer.  The moderator asked him what made him decide to go to law school.  He didn't exactly answer the question, but he did say that, as we "undoubtedly already knew," if one is a young person from a South Asian family (he referred to himself as a Pak-Asian, as his family was apparently from Pakistan), then of course you go to medical school.

But not him.

He said there was great consternation in his family and his faith community with his decision.  An uncle said to him that, "Back home, lawyers are liars."  (As the American public seems to preceive lawyers, we obviously have more in common with the Pakistani public than we might think.)  But Khurrum went to law school anyway, and from there into criminal defense work.

Then, he said, 9-11 occurred.  He overnight went from being a criminal defense lawyer who was a Muslim to a Muslim criminal defense lawyer.  Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters called him because their male family members had been "detained" by federal agents - not arrested, because that would have required charges to be filed - but "detained."   Suddenly, his family and community were very glad to have a lawyer in the midst.

I discovered that one can laugh and be appalled at the same time.  One can laugh at the irony.  And be appalled at what the government did.   I'm also glad that Khurrum went to law school.

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