Ahmed “Flex” Omar, MALA’s Co-Founder, describes coming to America, and navigating his place within the Muslim American community in Chicago. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“The area where I was born is called Somaliland. Unfortunately, I had to leave from there when I was three years old because we had a dictator that came into power. We were very fortunate to start over in the UAE, in Abu Dhabi. I came to the United States when I was nineteen and I was very fortunate to land in Chicago. I was always a big fan of Michael Jordan and Al Copone, before I realized he (Al Capone) was a mass murderer. It was a little bit hard for me when I first got here. I remember, I just noticed it, the Muslim kids just had their own clique and they all hung out with each other. But then, randomly, I would see them out by themselves at the bar and it was like “shh, don’t tell so-and-so that I’m here”, and then you see the next person, “don’t tell other person that I’m here”. So, it was a little bit challenging because I’m trying to find my identity. At the same time, I’m thinking… okay, well, they’re living a double life, should I be living a double life? Is that how it works in America? You know, you’re Mohammed and then you’re Sam? Or, how does it work out?
It was really tough because I didn’t have a mentor. And that’s actually one of the biggest things I was looking for, someone to mentor me. It’s very important for youth that are looking to better themselves, to have a platform and to have people who are highly successful. You want those people to share those stories and inspire them. But that’s what’s missing right now in the Muslim community. All that I can say is treat each other with respect, be there for each other, and help one another. I’m an American. I have the right to live the way I want to live. If I choose to drink, if I choose to have an American girlfriend, if I choose to do whatever I want, that is my right. However, if you choose to live a religious life, that’s your right too, and I’m not going to judge you, and I’m going to fight for you to have that right.”