Muslim Community: “Maher Awkal: Education ends bigotry”

Maher Awkal, of Springfield, is a 39-year-old Springfield resident and engineer. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and

came here with his seven siblings because his parents “did not want any of us to get involved in any of the conflicts as we were growing up and wanted to give us a better opportunity.” 

Where were you when 9/11 happened?

I was at work when 9/11 happened and I was 29 years old. I did see the Twin Towers being struck but only on the Internet from work.

My first reaction was it was an accident and I started thinking if the aircraft had an engine malfunction that involved the engines my company designs and manufactures or is it one of our competitors. As the story developed it was clear that this was not accident.

It brought me back to the early 1980s and the conflicts I lived through in Beirut. I automatically started thinking of survival and what I need to do to ensure my family is protected.

Prior to the attacks, were you very public about your religion?

No, I was not very public about my religion prior to the attacks. However after the attacks I felt the need to educate people about true Islam.

I want to ensure people know that our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) did not teach anyone to carry out such evil acts. As a Muslim it is my duty to ensure people have the right picture about Islam.

What changes did you see in how people viewed Muslims living in the United States ?

I clearly saw the division between those who are prejudiced and ignorant due to lack of education about other cultures and religions, and others that understood that those involved in 9/11 are the “bad apples” in the Muslim faith.

I became closer to my own religion and studied it more to ensure I portray true Islam to everyone I come in contact with. I have also been educating my family about Islam to ensure we understand the true teachings of our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).

What prompted you to write the letter to the editor that appeared in The Republican about the sign in Palmer that read, “Muslims will destroy us from within.”

I’ve seen several signs similar to the one in Palmer.

These signs come out of prejudice and bigotry and nothing else. Some people call it freedom of speech and I agree – I would not want to take anyone’s freedom because I know and have lived in places where people’s freedom(s) are taken away.

However, one has to ponder what drives some people to post signs like this. There are many people that look for fame at the cost of hurting others.

Some are not looking for fame but others are just bigots and prejudice.

Bigotry and prejudice are things of the past in America and some people still want to live in that past.

Education and tolerance will eventually bring these people around to spend their energy helping others.

The action of the 9/11 hijackers changed the world. They believe murder against Americans and people of all faiths, including Muslims, is justified to create Islamic states. How do you feel these men and others who follow in their cause have used Islam?

I can answer this in one word: Bigotry! These men are no different than the cults and gangs that we have here in America.

That’s what cults and gangs are all about, if you don’t believe in what they do, they will kill you in the name of whatever they believe in and/or want to make it difficult for you to live with freedom.

What has your faith mean to you. What does living in America mean to you and how do you see yourself as a Muslim and an American?

I see myself as a minority, no different than other minority groups.

It’s just the Muslim’s turn to live through it. Many minority groups have lived through the bigotry and prejudice times, some worst than others.

America goes through these growing pains with every new minority group, history is clear.

The people in America that make it a beautiful place are those that learned from its history. They help support and defend the rights of everyone equally.

They are people of tolerance and understanding. We need to continue the struggle together to educate everyone and ensure everyone understands that bigotry and prejudice have no place in this country.

We all make mistakes and it’s OK but those of us that learn from our mistakes, repent and vow not repeat them are the ones that will succeed. Islam teaches me to give everyone his or her rights, and that’s what I will always continue to do — I don’t think anyone can complain there.  the article source