News & Politics

The Babies of 9/11: “Do You Know What a Miracle Is?”

Amid the tragedies of September 11, 2001, came hope—in the faces of children born that day. Six years later, six families look back and talk about their 9/11 babies.

Yahya Idris, with his mother, Iman Mashaal, weighed just over a pound when he was born. “He was between life and death,” says Iman. Yahya’s name means “to live” in Arabic. His mother says: “We wanted his name to give him hope.”


Iman Mashaal tells her son, Yahya, that he’s a miracle.

“Do you know what a miracle is?” she once asked.

“No,” he said, “but I was very, very small.”

Born four months before his due date, at 22 weeks, Yahya weighed just over a pound. Doctors gave him a 7-percent chance of survival.

“He looked like he could barely fit in the palm of my hand,” says Iman, who had three miscarriages before having Yahya. Iman, whose family is from Egypt but who was born in the United States, and her husband, Abdul Idris, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, met at George Mason University.

Iman heard people cursing Arabs while she lay in bed at Inova Fairfax Hospital waiting for emergency surgery. A doctor advised her to take off her head scarf so nobody would know she was Muslim.

Someone said the hospital couldn’t prepare an operating room for Iman because it was awaiting victims from the attacks, but her doctor said the procedure couldn’t wait. Even in the delivery room, Iman noticed technicians watching the news. A perinatologist asked someone to turn it off.

“I was glad I could forget about that for a bit,” Iman says. “Abdul held my hand tightly, and we prayed.”

Yahya, whose name in Arabic, Iman says, means “to live,” spent nearly six months in intensive care. Iman worried about hate crimes when she left the house in Annandale: “I got some mean looks going back and forth to the hospital.”

Iman says nurses told her that because of his prematurity, Yahya wouldn’t be intelligent.

“He’s learning to write the Arabic letters and just about ready to read in both languages,” she says. “His mind is doing much more than expected.”

Yahya’s parents live in Sudan, but his mother brings him and his younger brother, Ilyas, to the Washington area frequently for long visits; they can’t stay in Africa permanently because Yahya’s doctors are here. Abdul couldn’t work in this country anymore—he tried for eight years to get a green card—and accepted a job with a nonprofit that provides aid to Sudanese orphans.

Yahya has weak eyesight and is still underweight, but doctors tell his parents that, considering his prematurity, his health is remarkable. He likes doing stunts with a soccer ball.

Says Iman: “It is such an irony that so many lives were lost that day and his little soul fought its way into the world.”

Photograph courtesy of Iman Mashaal.