For a man who has moved to a different place almost every year since he came to the United States from Turkey in 1996, laying down roots is a new experience for Jackson State University professor Zikri Arslan. "I'm getting old," jokes the 38-year-old environmental chemistry specialist. Between work and taking the kids to the reservoir, he says he only has time for the occasional pick-up soccer game. The University of Massachusetts graduate and father of 4-year-old twins describes himself as a "simple person."
Indeed, the solutions he imagines to misunderstandings between different faiths and backgrounds are simple, but also elegant: education and interaction. This explains why, when Arslan moved his family to Jackson from New Jersey almost four years ago, he became a supporter of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog, an organization committed to promoting communication and understanding between followers of different faiths.
"The idea, the fuel, actually, behind the IID (is to) introduce Muslim people to the Christian community and the Jewish community, and tell them that we are, indeed, no different. … We believe in the same God in a different way … (and) we want everything that you want: to be happy (and) to raise a good family."
As his children near school age, Arslan prepares for the difficulties of raising a family in a foreign country. However, he and his wife are confident that they can provide a loving foundation to ground their children for the future. "The best thing is to give them your own values, cultural values … we will try our best to see that they can homogenize in the states but also that they don't lose their identity … they will have something from both sides," he says.
Being a Muslim in the United States has not been easy. Much of post-9/11 American society conflates Islam and terrorism, Arslan laments.
"A faithful Muslim, a true Muslim, would never ever (condone terrorism) because in the Pillars of Islam you cannot harm anybody … you must love the created because of the creator."
Rather than giving up on America, however, Arslan believes that educated Muslims have an even greater responsibility to represent their faith well to others.
"If I had the idea that … in this country there are no people that think we could be innocent, nice people, then there would be no life, no place for us in this country and it would be time for us to go back," he says. "But we are still here. That says something."