TAGS Christian, Teacher, Change of Heart (others?)
I am a white Catholic American from the suburbs of Boston, and I used to be Islamophobic.
When 9/11 happened, I was a naïve and easily impressionable 15-year-old who had never met a Muslim in his life. Like everyone else around me, I was angry and chanting USA! USA! Patriotic fervor was at an all-time high. I thought Islam had attacked us, and Muslims were our new enemy. In the hallways of my high school, young Americans were using names like “towelhead” and “raghead.” Sadly, I was not immune from regurgitating these cruel characterizations. When it came time to go to college, I wanted to become a CIA agent to spy on the “bad guys” — Muslims. I later enrolled in Arabic 101 and “The World of Islam” at American University in Washington DC. This was my opportunity to understand why Muslims hated America.
That opportunity quickly turned into a serious lesson of humility. For the first time in my life, I was overcome by knowledge. I learned about the Quran’s emphasis on mercy, compassion and justice, and that Prophet Muhammad respected and protected Christians in his midst. My studies on Islam led me to befriending Muslim Americans, who welcomed me with open arms into their homes, schools, businesses and places of worship. They not only taught me about Islam, but they taught me about humanity. Their exemplary character and conduct motivated me to bridge the unnecessary gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, which is now my life’s work.
Today, I teach Muslims in American society to students at Rice University in Houston, TX, where I am helping the next generation of Americans to recognize and combat Islamophobia. I show them that hating Muslims is both irrational and counterproductive. Some of the best people I know happen to be Muslim, and it is Islam that drives them to be great Americans. They no doubt inspire me to be a better American, but more importantly, a better human being.