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Why it's an encouraging time to be Muslim in America

By Eve Samples, For Treasure Coast Newspapers, On 14 September 2018, Read Original
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Ask him if this is a difficult time to be Muslim in America, and Raed Alshaibi flips the question on its head.

“I’ll say it in a positive way," responds the 50-year-old manager of a beachfront hotel in Brevard County, smiling. 

He points to two candidates — Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota — who are likely to become the first two Muslim women in Congress after winning their primary elections. 

He notes the increased visibility of Muslims in his own community at beach cleanups, helping with food banks and other volunteer efforts. 

"This is the first time we’ve had so many people in politics with a Muslim background," Alshaibi says. 


Raed Alshaibi, 50, of Indiatlantic, discusses the importance of clean beaches and an accepting community.Leah Voss, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“I don’t think the rhetoric has done bad things," he continues. "I think it’s worked out.”

The father of four is part of a growing community of Muslims living in Florida. About 5,000 people of Muslim faith live in his home county, Brevard, the hub of Florida's space industry. Statewide, about 165,000 Muslim people were living in Florida as of 2010, the latest figures available from the U.S. Religion Census. That's up from about 32,000 a decade earlier.

Alshaibi, who is a U.S. citizen, does not take his civic responsibilities lightly. 

“I grew up in the Middle East, but this is where I’m going to die," he says. "This is where my kids are going to grow up.

"I love this country, and I’m proud to be an American Muslim."

His eldest daughter is earning a master's degree in biology, and his eldest son is attending University of Florida on scholarship after graduating as valedictorian of his high school class. Alshaibi also has a 17-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. 


The family belongs to the Islamic Society of Brevard County, a mosque that has hosted open houses for the past 2 years, with the hopes of creating a more open dialogue with non-Muslim residents.

Alshaibi has been moved by the outpouring of support from residents who came through the mosque's doors.

"I'm glad there's a balance out there," he says. "There's always extremes on both sides, but we can't be sucked into that."

Part of his duty as an American, as he sees it, is to advocate for sound environmental policies. 

“I used to go fish in the Indian River Lagoon, and I would eat the fish. Right now, I can’t afford to have my kids put their hand in the water if you have a cut … there’s so much contamination in the water," Alshaibi says. "We are neglecting a beautiful resource.”

As manager of a beachfront hotel, he also is concerned about a state law passed in March, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, that makes it more difficult for local governments to protect public access to privately owned coastal property. 

“People want to come here. It’s a multi-billion (dollar) industry. You don’t want to send the message that we’re not welcoming people on the beach," Alshaibi says.

Wages and the middle-class economy also are top of mind for him this election year. 

And Alshaibi is encouraged by last month's news that Walt Disney World Resort will increase its starting wage to $15 an hour, up from $10.

“I think it’s going to push everyone’s wage up," he says.

Alshaibi recognizes Florida's power as a large swing state. What happens here can shift political and economic trends nationally.

“It’s an important state. There’s a lot of attention to it," he says. "So, it’s good to be living in Florida. You can make a difference.”

Alshaibi hopes the rest of the country will emulate its diversity and tolerance, too. 

"What made America great," he says, "was our diversity.”

Florida Voices is a project of the USA TODAY Network-Florida that spotlights issues important to Floridians this election year. Learn more, including how to nominate a Floridian.

How has your life in Florida changed over the past 8 years? 

Unfortunately, Florida has suffered in the past 8 years in a lot of areas. I’m in the hospitality industry, in tourism, and you can see the results right now of a lot of decisions we’re making.

The governor siding with privatizing the shores and the beaches is a big issue for me as a resident. I think the beach should be for everyone.  


What issues are on your mind this election year in Florida?

There’s a lot of national issues that concern me, and there’s a lot of international, since I come from the Middle East.

Politics in the past 2 years, unfortunately, it’s just been polarized to be totally negative. It’s two extremes: It’s either too far to the left, or too far to the right.  

This is a beautiful country, and there should be ways for us to find common ground.

When you think about the future of Florida, what worries you?

Two things: The environment and wages.

Most of our economy is tourism, and if we don’t take care of our shores and our environment, we’re just going to drive people away, and it’s going to affect us big time.

And we need to find a way to compensate people fairly here.

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of Florida?

As far as Florida in general, you can’t get any better. If you can put up with 2 months of a little heat, this is the best area. I can’t speak for people who like the cold weather, but this is heaven for me.

Raed Alshaibi

Age: 50  

Occupation: Hotel manager

Lives in: Indiatlantic (Brevard County)

Election issues: Beach access, environment, wages, Middle East policy, money in politics

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