The Colors of Islam

I was not tempted to fit in with American kids.

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Born in Afghanistan in 1971, Qargha, 33, was a boy when soldiers from the invading Soviet Army broke into the family home and abducted his father and five uncles. He never saw them again. After fleeing to Pakistan, Qargha, his mother, and two brothers came to the United States in 1986 as political refugees. He is now a transportation engineer for Prince William County, Va.

Before we came to the United States, we were concerned about preserving our identity. We felt that America was a good place. You didn't feel like somebody was watching you, like the feeling we had in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation. But at the same time, America is spiritually devoid. People were concerned mostly about image.

I was not tempted to fit in with American kids. By the age of 15 or 16, I was fully grounded in Islam. I was on the soccer team so I got to know a lot of people, but I didn't socialize with them. Drinking and other things did not attract me. When you have an Islamic worldview, and you want to protect it, especially as a young man, it's very difficult. In Islam, the idea of dating as we know it here doesn't exist. There is no playing around. When you're ready, you can meet people for the sake of marriage.

My uncle, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, is a political and spiritual leader in Afghanistan who declared jihad against the Russians. He helped me put things in perspective, and that is why I am grateful to him. The fact that they were fighting, but they did not hate the Russians, they just hated what they did, that is an Islamic worldview. It is a misconception that jihad means holy war. It can have a martial aspect to it, but it has other aspects, like a struggle with yourself, your ego.

I saw the events of 9/11 on the news, when I was taking my aunt to social services. The first thing we said was, "Oh God, please don't let this be a Muslim." It was a shock to anybody who had a heart, who had any humanity. But to know it was a Muslim was a bigger shock. It had a big impact on the Muslim community. When you went to the store, you were eyed with suspicion. We felt like the blacks of the 1960s, especially women, who are displaying their religion by covering their hair. We didn't have to defend the terrorists; we had to defend ourselves.

As a result, there was the Patriot Act and the FBI coming to people's houses. They came to my office because I'm involved in the community and asked me questions. Some were ridiculous: "Do you know anybody interested in weapons of mass destruction?" Islam does not teach you to kill yourself or take innocent life. There is no justification for that in Islam. What happened has to do with people who are frustrated with the foreign policy of the United States. But America did change for Muslims after that. A lot of people were intimidated.

But it also showed the beauty of America. In the days after 9/11 we had cards and flowers and candles from neighbors and other people just to let us know that we still had friends and that they didn't think we were like the terrorists. It was very consoling, a beautiful gesture.

America is a good land. I got to meet the Islamic world in America. In Afghanistan, there were only Afghan Muslims. Here, there are Egyptians, Moroccans, black Africans. I saw all these colors and creations. This is God's land, and God chose me to be on this land, so I desire good for America. On a more practical level, I wish that nothing changes our freedom here. Let America be America the way it was intended.

-As told to Bret Schulte