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ING’s 20th Anniversary Gala
ING Directors’ Opening Remarks
Eahab Ibrahim and David Renie
My name is Eahab Ibrahim. I’m an Egyptian American who grew up in San Diego and attended junior high school in the 90s. I’ll briefly share a memory that sticks in my mind from the experience of attending school at that time.
It was mandatory to learn Islamic History in middle school. For one of the lessons the teacher brought out a slide projector. Remember those? He played it slide by slide, along with a tape recorder which occasionally would “beep”, then he would flip to the next slide. I remember the slides were mostly very poor, and made me feel uncomfortable. The one however that stuck in my mind was where he flipped a slide and it showed a camel. The caption he read was “Muslims believe that God has 99 Names, and only the camel knows the 100th.” The students turned to me, with a confused look in their eyes – a look which I naturally shared.
I told them that we have no belief regarding a camel like that. The class moved on. I didn’t like my religion and people being portrayed as something strange and irrational. This wasn’t a presentation the teacher prepared, rather it was prepared for him. This is how Islam was taught in the 90s. I can only imagine what material could be shown in a post 9/11 world, and how teacher’s views might influence the delivery of that material.
Last year, when I found out about the work ING does I decided to make a donation. I thought about how different schooling would be for American Muslims where the curriculum about Islam is professional, high quality and most of all factual. David will shortly be giving you quantitative data about the impact that ING presentations have on its audience. When I first saw these numbers I wanted to do even more. It occurred to me that this is the heart of what American Muslims have to do in America. When Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, have a true impression about Islam, positive policies towards Muslims domestically and internationally will follow. ING has proven itself in making such content, training people to deliver it, and being sought by schools and other institutions to present it. It’s up to us here to decide how widely we would like that content disseminated.
I’d like to thank tonight’s attendees, supporters (staff, volunteers, and donors) over the past 20 years, and Eahab and Faruk for sharing experiences shared by hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth annually.
I was raised Catholic. I went to public school and then Catholic school.
Until I went to college, I had never actually met a Muslim. I knew virtually nothing about Islam or Muslims.
The only thing I knew was from 6th grade religion class where we discussed the Old Testament, Genesis, prophet Abraham, and the teacher mentioned in passing that Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, went off and founded Islam.
I knew nothing else. Until 9/11, which occurred during my final year of high school. In the aftermath, I was glued to the 24-hour cable news coverage like so many Americans. Within hours, I seemed to know everything I needed to about Islam. I could rattle off the names of terrorists who carried out the supposed highest calling in Islam and convinced myself that their religion was to blame.
In my last year of high school, I was taking a class which focused on the different religions throughout the world: Judaism, Buddhism, etc. My religion teacher was a devout Catholic, but he respected Islam. He had the compassion to teach the segment on Islam after 9/11, to try and cool the anger that burned in his students’ hearts. Sadly, despite my Catholic teacher’s best intentions, he didn’t know enough about Islam and couldn’t answer my questions. I regret that in his class, I vehemently remarked that the US should reduce Afghanistan to rubble. These were millions of people I had never met, who lived in place I had never seen.
How did I recover from being so misinformed?
When I said earlier that I had never met a Muslim until college, I actually had, but I didn’t know it. A dear friend from my neighborhood growing up was and is a Muslim. But I didn’t learn that until we went to college together.
After a few conversations with him and other Muslims at my university, I had my questions answered and began to understand Islam from the inside out. I realized that the people responsible for 9/11 did not represent the beliefs of these and millions of other Muslims.
There were two major problems with how I learned about the beliefs of over a billion people worldwide.
First, the answers didn’t come from someone who understood Islam inside out.
Second, the knowledge was presented too late.
Thankfully, ING speakers are in classrooms throughout America year-round presenting the truth about Islam. We cannot afford to react when the odds are against us. We need to invest in organizations like ING today. ING trains and certifies speakers who are even more Islamically literate than the average Muslim. We need millions of Americans to hear the story of Islam from Muslims before events out of our control make it too difficult for them to listen.