Immigration Podcast – Nathan Saab Interviews Ashfaq Taufique


NATHAN SAAB: My name is Nathan Saab and I recently sat down with a local imam and Pakistani immigrant, imam Taufique.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: My name is Ashfaq Taufique.


ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: I am the president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, one of the - if not the largest Islamic organizations in the state of Alabama.

NATHAN SAAB: We are going to talk about some political issues here. We are going to talk about terrorism and Islamophobia and how they have affected the Muslim communities here in America. But first we are going to listen to Mr. Taufique's story, starting with when he moved here in the seventies.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: I am retired mechanical engineer and even before retirement, I have been involved in the community for the last twenty-seven years. And after retirement, I am basically full-time serving the community. Migrated to the United States of America as a student in 1975 - January of 1975. And got married in 1978 to a Italian-American woman in Texas. Have four children. And since then 1:00we have made this home.

NATHAN SAAB: Do you mind telling us a little bit about what life was like as a new Pakistani immigrant in 1975?

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: You know, coming from Pakistan, where... in middle class family, not upper class families in Pakistan, are usually educated in English reading schools. I went to a Catholic missionary school in Karachi, Pakistan. And therefore from the language point of view, other than the accent and some quirky things about different English, British English. So, so language was not a problem. Accent was a great problem in the beginning, especially in Texas. A very favorite course of mine in civil engineering, which I should have made A, but throughout the semester, I did not understand a word (laughs) my, my, my professor was 2:00talking about... So I had to do the whole studies that particular semester on my own. And I still made a B (laughs) studying on my own. So, so language was not a problem. Accent was a big issue. Some of the cultural things were big issues. One of the things that was, was not, not, not surprising the sexual interaction that male-female, and dating, and somewhat what, what we call illicit back home was normal and common here. So that was, that was a, a surprise. What was not a surprise... Those were not a surprise but it was still... You know, we grew up reading Archie Comics and, and, and so, so could understand, understand the culture a whole lot more. One of the things that was very, very prevalent American culture centers were very active, recruiting us from, from that part of 3:00the world, from all (unclear) to, to Americanize us. So my... I was on regular mailing lists from American culture center. I was a part of the library, I and many other young people in, in Pakistan. Therefore, we grew up with English language, with some understanding of the culture, but no matter how you understand the culture, but when you come here, it's a, it's a shock. The first time I landed at the DFW Airport - had just started a week before I landed. I was trying to make a telephone call, and I had great fun with the, with the, with the operator who, who was helping me because I was stating "zed," (laughs) because the person who I was looking for was, his name was Zeshon. And would say, "Zed." And she would not understand what it was, and only to find out that in America, it was called "Ze." (Laughs) And then when I first went to that telephone booth, the first thing I saw was a magazine called "Penthouse." 4:00(Laughs) And it was sitting right there. (Laughs) And it was a shocking thing for me to, to see a magazine like that. So there were, there were many moments of shock. There were many moments of learning experience. I worked at 7-Eleven. I used to work the graveyard shift. Somebody came and asked me for cookies, and the... I did not know what cookies meant so I directed her to every place, only to find out when she brought what she called "cookies," I said, "Oh, you mean biscuits." (Laughs) So you know, so matters like that were, were quite surprising. But it was, it was a great time. That was, that was a good America I came to.

NATHAN SAAB: This summer I came to this mosque for... I believe it was just for one of the Friday prayers and I talked to a girl who told me she was Lebanese. And I grew up in the... to some degree in the Birmingham Lebanese community. It is not what it used to be. But there was a time... My dad loves to talk about 5:00going to the Lebanese bar as a kid and to the Lebanese grocery store. There was even a neighbor that they call (unclear) Lebanon near St. Elias. And it was all centered around the Catholic church. And to talk to a girl here that is a recent immigrant from Lebanon, who has no part in that, who instead of joining the Lebanese community chose to join the Islamic immigrant community.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So religion is much of a stronger tie than our nationality. That is the difference between the Muslim community. Because we are coming from different part... Now, don't get me wrong, there are Bangladeshi parties that may happen. Pakistani parties that may happen. Moroccan parties that may be happening. Samolian parties that may be happening. People may get together. Egyptians, Sudanese... But, but their children gather around the masjid, mosque.

NATHAN SAAB: My grandfather had a... his identity was as an immigrant. And nowadays with me, I may... I have that heritage. I love having the heritage....

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: No, my, my children... Now, I, I think I understand the gist of your question, they are culturally going to be blended.

NATHAN SAAB: Yes, sir.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: And so, since I was married to an Italian American, my children without me do not look mu... But my grandchildren look like me because they, they both married ladies from Pakistan origin. So they, they may not, (depending on where we go) they may or may not become what you are. I cannot predict that, I do not know. I am hoping this will become a country that will become color blind and look at people from their behavior and their attitude and not from the skin, color of their skin or their religion.

NATHAN SAAB: What was the first time you saw any kind of anti-Muslim sentiment?

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: My immediate answer would be to say 9/11 but that is not true. (Audibly thinking) Ah! You know, after the fall of Soviet, that is when. I do not know exactly the first one. Probably the first thing, the first thing that I remember... After the fall of Soviet Union, Dan Quayle who was the vice president. I remember reading in the newspaper one of his quotes. He said that now that we have defeated the Soviet Union, the next battle is, is radical 6:00Islam. That should have been my first indication, that world power... And I am going to say something that may be controversial.

NATHAN SAAB: Please do.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: That world power always needs an enemy. Always there has got to be something that you can pacify your people with. This is the... This is the danger here. You know, it was the Vietnam. It was the Soviet Union. And now it is gone. And now you got to create... You got to have something. I am not sure they created. But economy thrives. You know, war economy is, always is good economy. That would be my guess that after fall of Soviet Union, we needed somebody to have as a fear, something that we can create fear around.

NATHAN SAAB: Kind of the boogie man. (Overvoice) The quote here referenced comes from Dan Quayle's speech at Arlington on Memorial Day, 1990. With the threat from the 7:00Soviet Union gone, he reminded America that "The world is still a dangerous place." He said that America had been surprised in the past by Nazism, Communism, and radical Islam. Maybe this was fear mongering or maybe it was a real threat. (Unclear) staying apolitical, I will leave my opinions out of it. But it is easy to see how this could be concerning to American Muslims. A lot of Muslims see the association of terror with Islam as ridiculous.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: You know, we were called upon when, when the Oklahoma bombing happened - 1994. The immediate conclusion was that, that was done by Muslims. I personally and many of, in our leadership team have, have come to the conclusion that us not responding, saying, "Hey, we have nothing to do with it." And that is true statement. We have nothing to do with it, like another right wing evangelical Christian has nothing to do with Eric Rudolph bombing the abortion clinic. I do not ask them. I do not ask the Pope to apologize for what Irish Republican Army has done and continues to do. But we are put in a position where we... And if you don't, even if you do they say, "Well, you don't condemn enough." We are not going to let people use that as a 8:00tool against us. We condemn anyway. You say that as Americans, we Muslims are faced with a double whammy, I call it. So we are affected this by, as Americans, but we are also this by, as Muslims. We get bombarded from both sides. You know that ISIS does not like us, nor does the fear mongering people.

NATHAN SAAB: I think it is safe to assume that anti-Muslim sentiment really picked up following 9/11. And I hope you do not mind me getting into what may be a little bit touchy here.

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: No. No. No. Please, don't... No. It is, it is, it is started year, 9/11 was the peak. Well, actually, you know, 9/11 was not the peak. There were very, some very good things happened after 9/11. There was more curiosity to learn, but after 9/11, an industry went into, went into play called Islamophobia. Islamophobia is an industry. And, and 9/11 gave fear mongering politicians, fear mongering sociologists - gave them a moment to gather resources, to create a society that is, that is geared towards fear, fear mongering. So 9/11 became a, a turning point, but probably not the pinnacle of Islamophobia. I still don't believe it has reached its peak. It is going at a very, very steady pace.

NATHAN SAAB: Do you remember when you first learned the 9/11 attackers were Muslim?

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: Well, I remember that it was on the day of 9/11. I was driv... I was in Dothan, Alabama. I was visiting a fidel (unclear) all my meetings were canceled. And on the way back, one of the local TV stations had called me. From there I straight went to the radio station interview. They showed me a video (which later on I found out was a hoax) where in Palestine were celebrating 9/11. Actually that was not the case. But that video showed from some other celebration.

NATHAN SAAB: And did you realize immediately that people are going to start blaming Islam...

ASHFAQ TAUFIQUE: Well, actually, people from my work knew that I was in the rural Alabama and they are already concerned. And they are calling me, making sure that I am alright. Actually, it, it was on the contrary. I thought maybe that would be, give us an opportunity to learn more about, not what happened but why it happened, to get to the root cause of the unrest in that part of the world. I was hoping, I was praying... As a matter of fact, I was, after 9/11... Friday after 9/11 there was a big rally with the governor of Alabama and faith leaders. I was one of the speakers there. And I still remember in my speech I said that I prayed for the leaders of our community, of our country to restrain from responding hate with hate and look for the reasons to solve the real problem. And of course, our leaders did quite the opposite (laughs). So there was, there was not a directly "aha moment" but there was indeed, as things got unfolded, we knew that the life for Muslim in United States and in the West is going to get more challenging.

It is my passion to engage our community interfaith activities because we need it. If there is anything we need more now than ever before, it is to make sure that we know each other. Ignorance is the biggest source of fear, and I am there to remove ignorance about Muslims and Islam.

NATHAN SAAB: (overvoice) (music plays) I would like to thank the Birmingham Islamic Society for the good work they do in and around Birmingham. I would also like to thank imam Taufique, of course, for agreeing to sit down and speak with me. It was a pleasure working with him. It was a great opportunity, and I hope to have the chance to do so again. Thank you.

(Music stops)

0:00 - Introduction - Culture Shock and Overcoming Challenges as an Immigrant

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: "Accent was a great problem in the beginning, especially in Texas. A very favorite course of mine in civil engineering, which I should have made A, but throughout the semester, I did not understand a word (laughs)..."

Segment Synopsis: Ashfaq discusses some of his early experiences as a Pakistani immigrant in America.

Keywords: 7-Eleven; America; Birmingham, Alabama; Dallas-Fort Worth Airport; Karachi, Pakistan; Pakistan; Texas; United States of America


4:41 - Retaining a Native Heritage in America

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Partial Transcript: "So religion is much of a stronger tie than our nationality. That is the difference between the Muslim community. "

Segment Synopsis: Ashfaq talks about retaining native heritage and customs and Americanization.

Keywords: Birmingham, Alabama; Lebanon; Pakistan; St. Elias


6:38 - Anti-Muslim Sentiment in America

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Partial Transcript: "So 9/11 became a, a turning point, but probably not the pinnacle of Islamophobia. I still don't believe it has reached its peak. It is going at a very, very steady pace."

Segment Synopsis: Ashfaq relates his observations of anti-Muslims sentiment in Alabama and America and his personal experiences in this regard.

Keywords: Alabama; America; Arlington, Virginia; Birmingham, Alabama; Dothan, Alabama; Oklahoma; Palestine; United States; Vietnam


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