I met Siddique about ten years ago, when we worked at our University’s radio station. I had the pleasure of co-hosting the station’s morning show from time to time with Siddique which meant discussing current political, social, and pop culture news. It was the height of the war in Iraq and I always appreciated Siddique’s insight as a Muslim American.
So, when I saw he posted on Facebook a few years ago that it was the start of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, I thought it would be a great time to chat with Siddique about some of his experiences as a practicing Muslim.
Caitlin: So this might sound crazy to you, and maybe particularly because you’re from the New York area, but you’re the first person I ever knew personally, who was Muslim.
Siddique: Wow. Really?
Caitlin:Yes, do you not hear that much in New York?
Siddique: It may be because you’re not from New York, right?
Caitlin: Yeah, I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Siddique: I’m surprised because Philadelphia has the highest concentration of African-American Muslims in the US.
Caitlin: I’m sure there were kids in my high school that were Muslim, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. My high school was relatively small and not very diverse.
Siddique: It was the same in my high school. It was a pretty small school district, our entire high school was like 530 kids the year I graduated. If I had to count how many Muslims were in our entire school at the time, I would say, like, five to ten.
Caitlin: Would you tend to be friends with those kids because you had that in common?
Siddique: Not really. Well, one was my brother. Everybody had their own clique, I just hung out with my friends and guys I played sports with. We didn’t really have that idea of “Hey, we’re Muslims, let’s hang out together!”
I grew up going to our local mosque, and some of the closest friends I have today, I met there. Once you get to college, that’s where you have student groups from every ethnicity, so I guess that was the first time I ever really made friends with people just because we were Muslim.
Caitlin: Was it something that you sought out?
Siddique: Yes and no. It’s not because I didn’t have friends or needed friends of my particular religion, it was more so because it was my first time away from home and I felt that it was important to have a group of Muslim friends – as a means to keep me rooted. I made most of my friends through playing basketball at the gym at nights and intramural soccer on the weekends.
It was through going to Friday prayers that I was introduced to other Muslim kids, one thing lead to another, and I became part of the school’s Muslim Student Association.
Caitlin: Do you consider yourself fairly religious? Because for me, I did grow up going to church every Sunday and I was fairly religious for a bit as a kid, but now I’m really not. I celebrate Christmas and Easter with my family, but I don’t go to church. Do you consider yourself religious or is it more of a family and community thing, or both?
Siddique: I do consider myself religious, but that is a very subjective definition. I feel that there is more that I could do as far as day to day, week to week practice, but as far as an identification perspective, what I believe in, being close to God, wanting to be close to God, and wanting to do things that we believe God has taught us, in terms of being a good human being and practicing the religion, I find myself in a position where I’m trying to get better, but I’m very far from where I want to be.
Caitlin: I’m curious how you feel about being judged by your religion. If a white person or a Christian person commits a crime, does something bad, I don’t feel like that reflects on me as a person. But as a Muslim, do you feel a need to represent your faith to the world?
Siddique: If something happens in this country, around the world, an act of evil, an act of terror, perpetrated by a Muslim or terrorists charading to be Muslim, yes, we do feel the need to remind people that Islam is a peaceful religion and that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving.
There’s an unfortunate perception among some that, one, Islam is an inherently evil religion, and, two, that Muslims have been programmed or taught to come into this country and to spread their way, and, three, that we have a master plan to impose our religious laws on this country. Sometimes, as silly as some of the misperceptions of our religion may seem to us Muslims, we have to stand out front and say no, this is not what we believe in, and that terrorists and acts of terror do not represent us.
My feeling is that there is still a huge segment of this country, of the world, whose only exposure to Muslims is what they’ll see on the news or movie depictions. The only thing we can do is to interact with them, to engage them, to educate them as far as who we are, and the fact that we’re here to be Americans just like everybody else, and that there shouldn’t be an “us versus them” delineation. Sometimes that takes some work and in today’s day and age, it’s taking a bit more work. It’s what you have to do.
Caitlin: It does seem unfair, and seems exhausting to have to be constantly defending your faith in that sort of way, but I understand why you do it and have a lot of respect for that. Opening minds is so important, it’s just a shame that it takes so much work.
I hope we’re progressing, sometimes it seems like we’re taking steps backwards. I’m curious, what do you hope for, for your children, your nieces and nephews, for that next generation of children who I assume will be raised in the faith? How do you hope it will get easier? What are your hopes for them?
Siddique: I don’t know whether it’s going to be easier or whether it’s going to be more difficult, I’m not sure to be very honest. What I will say is that I hope, when I have kids, that when they’re going to school, partaking in extracurricular activities, playing their youth sports; all I want is that kids of other ethnicities, other nationalities, different religious beliefs, that they’re going to see my kids as a fellow student, a teammate, a friend. I don’t want them to see them as, “that’s my Muslim friend, or that’s my 2nd generation Pakistani-American friend.” Any immigrant class who has ever came to this country, that’s what they strive for.
This nation has a unique ability to unite members of different groups, different ethnic groups, religious groups, beliefs, lifestyles, in a way that you see beyond their colour, you see beyond their religions, you see beyond the name – you see them as co-workers, fellow students, and fellow colleagues first. There are only a few countries in the world that have that kind of platform, and no country does it better than the United States.
So, that’s what I would want for my kids, and that’s the upbringing I had. I enjoyed the same educational opportunities, played the same sports, and engaged in the same after school activities as every other kid, regardless of ethnicity or religious background.
Today, in addition to having my own marketing company, I’m a sports television commentator and the public address announcer for Hofstra University, a major university on Long Island. Neither my ethnicity nor religion has ever been an issue. Needless to say, I’m beyond thankful to have grown up in a country that recognizes someone’s earned merit over their ethnic or religious background.
So really that’s what I want for my kids, that they have the same opportunities that I’ve had.
Check in again soon to read my conversation with Siddique about Ramadan.