I was conceived by Bosnian Muslim parents in Libya, born in Ohio, and have been bridging Western and Islamic worlds ever since. My parents were democracy activists jailed by the Nazi-backed Ustasha during World War II, and by Tito’s Communist regime in the 1950s. They left Yugoslavia in 1963 to work in pre-Gaddafi Libya, when it was still governed by King Idris, the country’s first and last monarch. When their visas expired, their choices were to return to Yugoslavia, where they risked persecution, or start a new life in either Turkey or the United States, the two countries that offered them visas. They chose the United States.
We went from Columbus to Cleveland to Northern Virginia, outside Washington D.C., and in each case we were the only Muslim family on a street full of kids with whom I played every day – mostly sports, war games and pool. We sent Christmas cards to neighbors and they wished us Happy Ramadan.
My parents were also observant Muslims with a tight circle of Muslim friends. I memorized a few chapters from the Quran, fasted during Ramadan, went to Sunday school, and performed my afternoon prayers on a towel in the high school locker room, between the last bell and the start of soccer practice. But by college, I had mostly lost interest in formal religion, although I still felt connected to Islamic culture.
When the Bosnian War began in 1992, my brother Muhamed became Bosnia’s first Ambassador to the United Nations, and recruited me to help make Bosnia’s case to the international community. I later worked in the foreign ministry in Sarajevo and opened Bosnia’s Embassy to The Netherlands, home of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Disillusioned by the dawdling of politicians and inspired by the efforts of journalists to expose suffering and injustice, I decided I would become a reporter once the war ended.
Since graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism in 1997, I’ve covered politics, business, labor, technology, education, immigration, health, food, culture, and for the last 10 years, religion, focusing on Islam in America. My stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek International, Saudi Aramco World, and other publications. In 2007, I placed third in the American Academy of Religion News Writing Contest, and in 2008 and 2012 I was a finalist for the Religion Newswriters Association Reporter of the Year Award.
In that time, I’ve covered hundreds of fascinating stories about Muslim Americans and the United States. I’m now expanding the very best of those stories for a new book, “Crescent Mirror in a Glass House: Stories about Muslim Americans and what they reflect about the USA.”