Editor’s note: This week the Times-News welcomes to the religion page Mr. Shaher Sayed, prayer leader at the Burlington Masjid, who will be contributing faith columns on a rotating basis.
My name is Shaher Sayed and I am the Prayer Leader at the Burlington Masjid. I have been recently asked to join the rotation of religious leaders who write for this newspaper on Saturday. I look forward to sharing in this opportunity.
I have lived and worked in Burlington for almost 14 years. I am the father of four amazing children: two boys, ages 26 and 20, and two daughters, 24 and 22. I am also blessed with a very bright daughter-in-law. Out of everything that a person can claim as their life accomplishments, they are the most important. My wife of close to 29 years played the bigger role in our children being and becoming the way they are.
I came to the United States from Palestine 30 years ago, and before too long, I found myself immersed in the local communities where I lived. I am interested in presenting to the readers a glimpse of a section of the local community that frequently has been overlooked — the Muslim population in and around Burlington.
The first Muslims that we know arrived in Burlington in the early 1970s. They came seeking the normal life and ability to participate and succeed in this country that is not available in many other parts of the world. The first to arrive was Mr. Ashraf Merchant, who came from a family that had a history in trading and business. He started an apparel business, which is still one of the outlets you can go to for quality that stands out. He was soon followed by two physicians, Dr. Amjad Bhatti and Dr. Javed Masoud, who worked at Alamance hospital and had their private practices. They all gained name recognition and excelled in their fields. After that many families started moving here, and there were some people who converted to Islam.
What makes the Muslim community in Burlington so unique is the fact that they did not isolate themselves in one corner of the city. They instead were more invested in adding and giving to the local community. The first-comers were very instrumental in setting a trend to being well-adjusted and involved in the community. They stand as one of the best examples of an American Muslim community. They understood that part of Islam that stressed building bridges and communities through helping and collaborating with others around them.
Talking about the Muslim community does include both genders, and there are as many examples of Muslim women who stood out by what they achieved in their professions. You can look around and find Muslim women in the top recognized professionals and entrepreneurs — a direct reflection of the command that was given to all of us on how to interact and deal with others: “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear God.” (Qur’an 5:2)
The Muslim community is diverse, being composed of people from many different nationalities, backgrounds and professions. You will come across some Burlington Muslims at school, while shopping, at Alamance Community College, at the hospital or health care facility, volunteering at a function to help someone who is in need, or simply on the roadside doing a morning walk or run. I am looking forward to the future of our town — I dream and hope to live to see it flourish, I dream of a town that is competitive in doing good and excelling in it, a town with a very bright social and communal weave.
Our town is not the biggest or richest, but we all can make it as big as bigger cities by strengthening our connections and doing more together. While we may never agree on everything, we always will agree on something and the opportunity is for us to build on that. Goodness exists in all of us — we will be wrong and destructive not to encourage it. If we do that, we will be able to reject negative and divisive things and actions in a much louder unified voice.
Instead of just looking for heaven in the life after death, let us try to build one for our children here, just around the corner.
Shaher Sayed is the congregation leader at Burlington Masjid. He may be reached at Burlington.Masjid@gmail.com