Warren Kundis shares his views on faith and justice through spirituality, having converted to Islam. Belonging, believing, and identity played a crucial role in his journey. Born into a military service family, Warren believes that values can be expressed through faith, and that accountability and transparency are key in overcoming humanity’s shortcomings. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I was born into a military service family. My parents were active duty Air Force. I was actually born in Aurora, Colorado, and that was again in 1955. I am half Mexican, I am half Russian, and yet I never learned a lot about those cultures, but that is not really part of my basic identity. Being a military child, you grow up with all these different people who you are related to as far as military service. And really that’s your tribe; those are the people who really you connect with, you have the same values. So again, as I traveled a lot, especially going to Chicago and other places, I always loved to walk into spiritual places. Those always had a great attraction: spiritual music, stained glass art, whatever it might be that draws people to have connection to God or finding their own inner path.
I believe, especially as someone who’s grown up in this country, and who has a certain set of values and I like to think that all of those are positive and affirmative values, that I can express that through Islam. I can express that through my faith very easily, my faith is very compatible to the constitutional Bill of Rights. There is nothing contradictory about that. Unfortunately most of what you see in the media, which is generally overblown in the media, is reflected in culture, traditional culture. Sometimes not only in the most obscure places in the world, but also right here in the US, when you have domestic violence, not only among Muslims. I used to do many rallies against violence in the US. This is not predominantly a Muslim country. We as Americans need to spend more time addressing our own issues, whether it be gun violence or any other thing sending us in the wrong direction. Guns don’t make us safer, they only increase the number of victims that we have, literally, on a daily basis. Many countries that have very strict gun laws don’t have these kind of problems.
Yet how do we address that as individuals? Do we need to not only look at what Islam offers, but even what other faiths offer? How do we re-interpret those to be more effective as human beings? How do we empower our young people, how do we get them? You know, I had a very wild and misguided youth in my teen years. It wasn’t actually until my last year in high school that I met my martial arts sensei who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t run around, was very focused, not only his training but also on Chinese poetry and arts and different things. That also got me interested in many of those things too, and he became a lifelong friend who I still hold dear today.
It didn’t happen overnight, that wasn’t possible, yet many things are manageable. I don’t want to say that we can cure cancer, or we can end war, or this or that, but we can manage more effectively than we do. Again, accountability and transparency are keys to really getting things to function as well as they possibly can. It’ll never be perfect, we have our faults, we have our sins, and yet we can do much better than we did.”