I grew up a Midwestern Muslim boy in Lee’s Summit.
My family and I came to America in 1992 when I was nine. We emigrated from Nagpur, India to Kansas City.
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Like most immigrants, we struggled those first years.
Though an accomplished engineer in India, my father could only find a temp job distributing Yellow Page directories. His pay was barely enough to keep our family afloat.
After applying for hundreds of jobs over three years, God’s grace blessed us, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources offered my father a job as a wastewater treatment engineer.
We celebrated that night at our favorite restaurant: the Red Bridge Pizza Hut. It was the day our American dream was truly born.
Shortly after, we left our apartment in Red Bridge and moved to a home in Lee’s Summit. Lee’s Summit took care of us. We had loving and welcoming neighbors. My father held on to his job for the next 20 years. My mother started a small childcare business. And I lived the dream.
At school, my classmates and their families accepted me as their own.
I spent hours in my friends’ backyards, playing soccer, football and baseball. And hours in their homes, often hurrying to get our homework done.
I had great teachers and coaches, who believed in me and pushed me to challenge myself.
My friends and my teachers helped me become an all-Metro soccer player, a valedictorian, and the first Lee’s Summit North graduate to be accepted by Princeton.
Lee’s Summit also helped me develop my faith.
Not once did I feel discriminated against as a Muslim.
The Lee’s Summit Journal published article on how I used my Islamic faith in everyday life and a local Presbyterian congregation invited me to speak to explain the core beliefs of my Islamic faith. My right to practice my religion was respected and accepted — a quintessentially American experience.
Today, I am the executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, a 1,300 person congregation in Boston.
The vision is to build a community rooted in the Islamic tradition, committed to the best American ideals, and empowered to serve the common good.
If you come to our center, you will see a food pantry, free mental health counseling, English as Second Language courses for the whole community, and much more in the future.
When the marathon bombing happened, like every other American I felt fear.
I was scared for my wife, who was driving home from downtown Boston.
Then that fear turned into anger. How dare someone do this to our city?
When I found out later that week it was a Muslim, that anger began to border on rage. How dare someone claim that my faith was in any way relevant? How dare they distort my faith’s beliefs?
A year later and thirteen years after 9/11, I know that some may continue to wonder about the direction of the American-Muslim community.
I grew up an American Muslim boy and I’m building an American-Muslim congregation that is guided by the values of hard work, equal opportunity, respect of others and loving thy neighbor.
This dream was incubated in my Kansas City childhood, tested many times, but it has never been stronger in the year that has passed since the tragedy.