Ismail Elfath: From Casablanca to FIFA Referee- Dreams Become Realities

Ismail Elfath is a Moroccan-born American FIFA referee. Elfath is also a successful IT consultant, proud father, and a social activist. He was a featured panelist for the 68th Conference on World Affairs. He is ranked as one of the top MLS referees, and serves on the Advisory Board for MALA. Here, he shares his journey in obtaining the American dream, whilst emphasizing the heightened need for tolerance, patience, respect, and building bridges.

How important is identity to you?

One can only help their community and impact it positively if he or she has a great sense of self confidence, and confidence is only true and strong if one is cemented in a solid and clear self identity. Being an American Muslim is my identity and I thrive every day to fulfill each of those two elements fully: American and Muslim.

How, if at all, has the current political climate affected you personally? Can you talk about any barriers your parents or you have faced?

I always look at the positive side of things and always focus on the “opportunity”. The current negative political climate for me is an opportunity to educate, reach out, and share similarities and differences which, at its core, is the essence of what being American means to me; not the opposite as some might wrongly suggest. I do see it as an opportunity to keep America Great. Incidents of hate and bigotry are all around me and my children and overall the Muslim American community, but we are going to counter it with the resilient courage to tell our neighbors what true Islam is.

Do you have any stories about how things have changed for the better? Or any stories that show how things have not changed?

There are plenty of stories of hate crimes, but I believe in the fairness of the American people because every time they are actually given correct and true information (unlike the absurdly biased media and political propaganda) the American people have always responded with kindness and support. We had hundreds of bouquets of flowers dropped off at our mosque’s door after someone tried to vandalize it and scare our worshipers.

Do you know where your family came from? If yes, what do you know about that history?

I’m the first of my family to move to the States at age of 18. I was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco.

What was it like living in your country of origin before you came to the United States?

It was all fun and family; natural since it’s mainly my childhood up to the age of 18 when I packed my 1 bag and $200 and headed to Texas barely speaking any English. It was scary but exciting.

What were the circumstances that prompted your decision to immigrate to the United States?

Luck! As I finished eating some roasted almonds I had bought from a street vendor, I noticed an add on the newspaper he used to serve them in: “Diversity Lottery Visa to America”. The rest is history.

What kind of work did you engage in after arriving in the United States? Do you feel that you were treated fairly?

I jumped right into work at a hotel delivering food. This was a few months before 9/11. So, yes there were no issues at all.

What aspects of life in the United States have made the greatest impression on you?

The freedom to work hard and be fairly rewarded for it.

What efforts have you made to maintain your cultural traditions in this country? Have you let go of some you did not feel represented you anymore?

Back in early 2000s, it was hard in a relatively small city like Austin to preserve Moroccan traditions, but as the community grew, it got easier. Now I can drive for 10 minutes and enjoy Moroccan mint tea and pastries and hang out with folks from North Africa in a Moroccan style cafe.

Do you plan to stay in this country forever? Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen? 

Yes of course, it’s my country. I’m already a citizen.

Do you ever travel to your country of origin?

Yes, about every 2-3 years.

What social organization/s do you belong to in this country?

Youth empowerment, interfaith and local charitable groups.

What has been the greatest challenge that you have faced living in this country?

For me, the biggest challenge is the continuous fight to counter the media, politicians and ignorant, plain criminal and so called “Islamic” groups in representing true Islam to the public and to my children.

What has been your greatest achievement in this country?

I’ve been blessed with a fantastic career in IT consulting and sales with the privilege of traveling the country and the world. Also, thanks to the help of many great people and my family, and dedication on my part, I’ve made the long journey in the soccer officiating ranks to reach the top and become one of the only 7 FIFA International Referees representing the US at the world stage.

What kinds of relationships do you maintain with people from other racial or ethnic groups in the United States?

My circle is truly multicultural in every diversity aspect we can think of. It’s truly amazing to know so many people with such wide variety to backgrounds.

What’s your best memory?

Well I have 2: Holding my boys for the first time after they were born.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Being a father.

Describe some milestones in your life of achievements and success.

  • Selection to the professional referee ranks: one of 22 in the US and Canada
  • Selection to the FIFA referee ranks: one of 7 in US amongst 130 thousands registered referees.
  • 2014 President Club award winner in Corporate IT sales
  • 2015 All-Star game referee
  • Panelist & Speaker: 68th Conference on World Affairs.

Can you describe a time in your life where you overcame challenges and odds? Triumph over adversity?

I wouldn’t know where to begin really. I feel blessed and grateful to so many people; those who told me you can be anything you want to be and those who told me to keep my head low and be happy with the *minimums* in life. Being in a completely different continent, culture and language at 18 with a couple hundred dollars in hand, living through the post 9/11 America, and being a single dad all of these years have begun to seem less challenging in comparison to what I’m praying and working very hard to PREVENT from happening, which is a divided American that perpetuates bigotry rather than tolerance.

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