Interviewer: Iím joined by one of my brothers in Islam, brother Yusuf Burke. Assalamu`alaikum warhmatullahi wabarakatuh.
Brother Yusuf: Walaikum assalamu warhmatullahi wabarkatuh.
Interviewer: Very nice to meet you and thank you for being here and agreeing to talk to us. Brother Yusuf, just tell us a bit about yourself and your background and how you came to Islam.
Brother Yusuf: I was raised in New York. I was raised as a Catholic for my whole life, from Catholic schools to university. My father used to travel to Malaysia a little bit so he had some Muslim friends. I understood a little about Islam and Muslims from him. We had some of them over to our house a few times. I was interested to see the cultural differences as well as the religious differences. I studied a little bit more in college when I was preparing for a religion class and I understood the basics of Islam, but I didnít understand much until I traveled and lived in Indonesia. This was my first predominantly Muslim country that I moved to and lived in.
Interviewer: How did you come to travel to Indonesia? And before you got to that point of traveling, I mean did you go to university? Did you study there? Did you have a job related to your studying field?
Brother Yusuf: Yes I studied as an engineer and about 2 years after I got out of school, I joined General Electric team in energy as a field engineer, and I traveled overseas to work in power projects, in building power plants basically. The first Muslim country I went to was Indonesia back in 1994. I really enjoyed meeting people there. They were wonderful people, very friendly and very open and willing to engage and have conversation with you just because you are different. I started to learn about Islam then, and I converted to Islam in 1996. I married my wife shortly after that, then we traveled a bit more and settled here in 2002, after living in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Thailand a little bit too.
Interviewer: Now that you have become Muslim, how did your family react to the news? I just want to ask you when you studied in Catholic schools and a Catholic university, did you feel that you had a good understanding of Catholicism?
Brother Yusuf: I think yes I did have a good understanding of Catholicism. I think what brought me to Islam is that itís very logical, and as an engineer, I appreciated that. I really felt when I discussed Islam and lived among Muslims and felt the brotherhood that they share and that really drew me to it as well. As I learned more when I went to Australia and Malaysia, I took the classes and learned from other people, and just the way they presented it to me was like really struck me as this is the right way.
Family Reaction & Islamic Organizations in the US
Interviewer: How did your family react when you became Muslim?
Brother Yusuf: I think they were all surprised obviously. But I think they understood that this was my decision. They are very open-minded. I think they have good respect for all people first of all especially those of monotheistic religion. I think they saw it as worshiping in the way I thought was right and they appreciated that. I needed to explain to them why I did that, and maybe dispel some of the misconceptions we have here in the United States about Islam and they were really supporting.
|We are really trying to bring that taste of Islam to America. So, civil rights and civil liberties issues come in the forefront of what we do.|
Interviewer: Tell us about the Islamic organizations in which you are involved here.
Brother Yusuf: Iím presently the director of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). We are an advocacy group for American Muslims basically trying to dispel some of he misconceptions as well as help Americans in case of any kind of civil liberties or civil rights issues. We just try to bring Muslims a seat at the table in American society. We also try to introduce them to the larger community. Sometimes people donít understand the Islamic perception of things or how Muslims relate to different topics and issues at hand in America. We are really trying to bring that taste of Islam to America. So, civil rights and civil liberties issues come in the forefront of what we do. Any Muslim who is discriminated against because they are Muslim whether being in the workplace or whether in a governmental agency, we try to help them. We work on several such cases right now.
Interviewer: Can you just tell me without going into too much details some examples of the nature of some of the cases you are handling now?
Brother Yusuf: One thing thatís great about living in America is the laws about the freedom of religion and accommodation for religious practices, especially in the workplace. A lot of times employers don't understand this, and we make them understand what the practices are and what religious accommodations like prayers or Hijab or beard for men to make sure they understand that and what they are allowed in the workplace.
Interviewer: So you mean actual people like us who may have some troubles in the workplace by maybe somebodyís manager wonít allow them to pray or have a beard or Hijab?
Brother Yusuf: Exactly, like having Hijab in the uniform policy. The laws are at our side and we try to educate them about that.
Interviewer: I donít know how can anybody have Hijab in their uniform policy?!
Brother Yusuf: They say no head-covering in the uniform policy, like baseball caps and something like that. But if itís religiously mandated, like turbans for the Sikhs and hijab for Muslims, and it's not a safety hazard then itís allowed in the workplace.