Sitting on a richly patterned Oriental rug beside a mound of 14,000 hard, white beans, Talat Hamdani tirelessly scooped up handfuls of the dried legumes and slowly dropped them, bean by bean, into an overflowing cereal bowl as she silently prayed one of the 99 names for Allah.
The eldest of her three sons, M. Salman Hamdani, 23, was on his way from the family home in Queens to his job as a lab technician in Manhattan on Sept. 11. According to the family, police believe that when Hamdani, a trained emergency medical technician, heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center, he rushed there to help.
Like more than 5,000 others, Hamdani has yet to return home.
"This is what is holding me," said his still-hopeful mother, nodding at the beans used to help count her prayers. "I lean on my faith."
A few miles away on Roosevelt Island, a narrow isle in the East River between Queens and Manhattan, Tahira Khan also waits for her son.
A commodities trader for Carr Futures, Taimour Khan, 29, was last seen in his 92nd-floor office at One World Trade Center, the first of the 110-story twin towers hit by hijacked passenger planes.
Standing along the river, a spray of flowers clasped to her chest, Tahira Khan joined family and friends Tuesday night at a candlelight vigil for Taimour's return. "I know he's coming home," said Khan, with tears in her eyes. "I cry, not because I'm afraid, but for God's compassion."
Neither Hamdani nor Khan, both Pakistani-born Americans, would allow anyone to speak of their missing sons in the past tense.
And for both women, the anguish over their lost loved ones is compounded by increasing reports of violence against fellow Muslims in the United States. The Hamdani and Khan families condemn the attacks on the trade center as despicable acts of terrorism that have unfairly tarnished the religion that sustains them.
800 Muslims victims
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington estimates that as many as 800 of the victims at the World Trade Center site were of Muslim faith.
For the Hamdanis and the Khans, the most immediate concern is the fast-fading chance that their children are still alive.
In the living room of the family's modest white frame house in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens, Talat Hamdani, a middle school English teacher, sat alone in a corner, fingering her beans. Propped nearby, an old junior high school picture of her missing son, Salman, overlooked a room dominated by a wide-screen television tuned to CNN. At the other end of the living room, her husband, Salim, owner of a convenience store, sat with other relatives intently watching the news.
"I have family that has been coming from London, from California, Kuwait," said Talat, sitting on the floor in a blue and white embroidered shalwar kameez, a traditional tunic worn with loose-fitting trousers.
"I don't know why they are coming. They think he's gone. Do you think he's gone?" she asked a visitor plaintively.
Fan of `Star Wars'
Salman Hamdani was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and came to the United States when he was 1 year old. A "Star Wars" fan, he even got a vanity plate, "YungJedi," for his new, navy blue Honda Accord.
His mother said Salman was studying part time for a master's degree at New York University. He already had a bachelor's degree from Queens College.
While he still lived at home with his parents and two younger brothers, Salman Hamdani planned eventually to move to Manhattan, his mother said, noting that he was obsessed with the fast pace of the big city.
"He is an American," she said simply. "He likes reading science-fiction books and playing video games. He was on the football team in high school."
American-born Taimour Khan also played football at his high school in the upscale Long Island suburb of Woodbury. There, his family of secular Muslims said, he had an "All-American" upbringing.
In fact, Taimour was the captain of the football team and still holds the record for the longest punt return in his school's conference. At the State University of New York in Albany, he majored in economics and joined a fraternity.
Taimour's mother, aunt and uncle raised him and his younger sister, Zara, along with two cousins, who were more like brothers. Growing up, Taimour's friends reflected a variety of races, religions and ethnicity.
In the Khans' Long Island neighborhood, they were the only Pakistanis, but they thought nothing of it, according to Shaan and Salman Khan, the two cousins who grew up in the same house with Taimour.
Described by his family as handsome and charismatic, Taimour was enjoying life as a young, single man with the means to live a comfortable Manhattan lifestyle. He was a fixture in the downtown club scene and had a social calendar that would take a marathoner's stamina to maintain, said his uncle, Arshad Khan.
While Taimour hardly was observant of Islam, he did identify himself as Muslim and he connected to the religion's emphasis on family. While he had a long list of good friends, he was closest to his cousins Shaan and Salman. The family said he doted on his mother.
"Nearly every week, he would come by to see his mother," his uncle Arshad said. "He would never let her cook. He would always take her to the best restaurants."
In turn, Tahira Khan, a slim woman who dresses in chic, Western clothes, doted on her only son.
What has confounded, hurt and frightened the Hamdani and Khan families amid their personal grief is the growing number of reported cases of intimidation, harassment and violence against Muslims and those who appear to be Muslim.
Not a reflection on Islam
"For the action of a handful of fanatics to reflect on all people of Muslim faith is insane," Shaan Khan said. "No one would say the actions of Timothy McVeigh reflect all of Christianity."
While praying for his older brother's safe return, Mohammed Hamdani, 19, said he has been forced to deal with mistreatment of Muslim students at State University of New York at Binghamton, where he is president of the Muslim Student Association.
"I'm an American, and I've been victimized directly with my brother," he said. "Now I'm being victimized by my own [American] people."
Inshallah, which translates to "God willing," is an Arabic word that constantly has been repeated in the Hamdani and Khan homes in the days since the attacks.
If God is willing, the families believe, both Salman and Taimour will be coming home soon.