By Umar Hussain, Class of 2002
(from a speech given at our Ramadan Benefit Dinner on Oct. 15, 2005)
As I looked at my organizer, actually organizers are for girls so let's just say I was thinking, I looked through all the things I had to do in the upcoming weeks. I had to prepare for and take the SAT, fulfill my duty as the student store commissioner, be a peer counselor to the 7th grade, plan an event for the Minority Student Union, complete my tedious Senior Page, college application work, and on top of that the rigorous academics of senior year. However, I accepted to deliver this speech without hesitation. One may ask why? On the other hand, one may think I am crazy in doing so, but I beg to differ. Amid all this work, I whole-heartedly accepted the invitation and offer Mrs. Ansari presented me. I felt I owed it to the school, which set the foundation for me as a Muslim and as a student. My accepting to deliver this speech should show everyone how much this school means to me.
The education and guidance this school has provided me has facilitated my interaction with others who are not aware of the truths of Islam. As I entered high school in the fall of 2002 as a freshman, it was the first time I realized the importance of my actions and the responsibility I had to represent Islam. I was lucky to be at a school where the student body was tolerant and somewhat educated about Islam. However, there were still some misconceptions. For example: Some kids assumed that I went home and wore a turban, and some assumed that I was not allowed to talk to girls. The truth behind that assumption was that I was just shy. As funny as that sounds, the first time I heard this, I realized that my behavior and actions could be attributed to my religion. So I overcame that “fear” and became more comfortable with socializing with others.
Now and then, conversations about Islam would arise and if it weren’t for the education New Horizon provided to me I would not be able to answer the questions my Non-Muslim friends would ask me. However, these little conversations where just over the trifling details of Islam, rarely encompassing the heart of the religion. The first time I publicly spoke about Islam was in my 9th grade history class. The class was divided into three groups, each group assigned to one of the 3 major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I took this as my chance to educate others for the first time about my religion. So I volunteered to be the leader of the Islam group. I split the work between my group members as I had remembered we had in Mr. Tarin’s Islamic Studies Class: the 5 pillars, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), the Quran, Ramadan, and Muslims around the World. The project was a success, but that was not all. After our presentation, I built up the guts, remember I was just a puny freshman (well I am still just a puny senior), to stand up in front of the class and explain what Jihad actually means and what Islam’s view is about women. To my surprise, I was given an ovation after my short improvised speech and that was the spark in my activism at school. That experience helped me build the confidence to speak openly about my religion, and eventually become the co-founder of the Interfaith Council at my school, which was acclaimed the “hottest” club on campus in last year's end of the year school newspaper.
New Horizon provided me with priceless knowledge, and through various opportunities at my school, I am now able to articulate and answer questions about Islam with ease and fluidity. With the education I received in my 6 years at New Horizon, I was able to create a positive image of Islam at my school. In addition, the saying that actions speak louder than words could not be truer. The easiest and most effective way I have shown people at my school what Islam is all about is through my actions. People admire and praise my hard work, personality, and demeanor. Though some believed that I fasted nonstop for 30 days, they still admired that I fasted from dawn till sunset while in school and in sports. And it was New Horizon, and good parenting, that helped me build the courage and intellect to stick to my beliefs.
New Horizon has not only helped me with my activism, but also with my academics. Throughout my career at New Horizon, I hated the load of homework we used to receive. However once I entered high school, I began to immediately notice the impact the workload at New Horizon had on me. I was used to all the reading, all the math problems we had to do, and this repetition and experience helped me cope with the bus-loads of homework my high school piled on me. As a result, I was in the honor roll throughout my freshman year and on the dean’s list my sophomore year. As a junior, I was named a CIF scholar athlete for my success in the classroom and on the field. I am not telling you this to brag about myself, but to show you the impact New Horizon has had on my academic life. And I would like to thank the faculty and administration for the all the support and education they have provided me.
To my peers, fellow alumni and current New Horizon Students, stick to what you have been taught at this school. Although it may sound redundant and unnecessary at times, you will value the foundation and guidance this institution has set and provided for you as you progress through the real world; the world where everyone is not a Muslim, where it is our duty to be Islam’s ambassadors, and where there are no more Eid- Fun- Days. Oh god, if you only know how much I miss those! Remember your identity and duty as Muslims. I am fortunate to be in an environment where the students and faculty are tolerant and accepting. For some of you, that may not be the case. Don’t let that discourage you, let that be a challenge to you; a challenge that you will accept and take on. There is no single way to go about taking on that challenge, in which way you do is for you to decide.