CAIRO – An American Muslim revert has presented a powerful TEDx talk during an event held at Abu Dhabi’s New York University, presenting himself as the true face of those who embrace Islam and correcting misconceptions associating them with extremists.
“We hear stories about people going off to the Middle East to fight a jihad, and in my own way I am fighting my own jihad, which is simply a word that means ‘struggle’,” American Muslim Yahya John Scaccia told audience during Sunday’s event, Gulf News reported.
“I am learning, I am teaching, and I am discovering the many cultures of this world. I am the unheard voice of those embracing Islam,” he said.
Scaccia, currently a researcher who works at NYU Abu Dhabi, accepted Islam at the young age of 15.
He told his story as part of New York University’s (NYUAD) second annual TEDx event held on Sunday, which also saw eight other speakers share their stories of hardship, hope, and inspiration.
“A week before I left for NYUAD I received a package in the mail from my grandmother, and I thought perhaps the package would be a congratulatory message from my grandmother for my university acceptance. However, I was wrong. When I looked inside I saw newspaper clippings about a local teen suicide bomber, and other articles of this white American who embraced Islam who left the west in order to join Daesh.
“Apparently she found out through the internet that I had embraced Islam and that I was going to go and study in the UAE. At the time I was very upset and angry that she made the association of me with terrorism,” Scaccia recounted.
As part of his studies, Scaccia travelled to different Arab countries, breaking down stereotypes.
“They say travelling breaks down stereotypes and I have been able to travel the world thanks to the university, and in all my experiences and travels to the Arab world I never encountered anyone threatening me or showing me hostility for being an American,” he said.
“When I was teaching in Palestine last summer in the city of Hebron, the people were always welcoming and open to me. I remember walking down the old city streets and the local residents would ask me where I was from and when I told them that I was an American, they would without hesitation ask me if I needed anything, and they would open their homes to me, making sure that I as an American was safe in their country, and all this despite living under a military occupation,” he said.
For Scaccia, it was important to dispel notions that young westerners revert to Islam and join radical groups such as ISIL.
“I don’t fit the orientalist description of new Muslims, which has been given a stigma, which is that if a person embraces Islam they have given up on their country and their family,” he said.
“The truth is that the vast majority of such new Muslims care about their local community, and the whole great community of humanity, and this is what we need more than ever in the current climate to tackle the greater issues.”