NPR had an interesting story last week about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s days as an American college student. He started at a small Baptist college in North Carolina. That meant chapel and Christian study for the son of an imam.
When he wasn’t in class, Mohammed appeared to spend his college years in a kind of self-imposed isolation — about five miles off campus on a residential, tree-lined street. He and the other Middle Eastern students rented several apartments and turned one into a mosque, according to Sammy Zitawi, a friend of Mohammed’s at the time.
“They will just go there and get together and do the prayer and between prayers, if you have a homework problem, they help each other in studying and all this,” said Zitawi, who was also Mohammed’s mechanical engineering lab partner. “They stayed with friends they could blend with.”
Friends they could “blend with” consisted of devout Muslims who avoided the kinds of things you come to expect in college.
“They wouldn’t listen to music, they wouldn’t play music,” says Zitawi. “He wouldn’t take a picture back then because they thought it was against religion.”
While the young men around Mohammed lived in a world apart, it wasn’t an austere existence. Every Friday and Saturday night Mohammed and the other Middle Eastern students used to get together for dinner. There would be prayers, homework and then little skits or a play. The men called it “The Friday Tonight Show.”
Zitawi, who is a now a small businessman in Greensboro, says his friend, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was one of the stars. “This guy was funny, he could make you laugh,” he said. “He could make fun out of anything.”