Rafiq Umar

Bethlehem is my hometown. I grew up here, and went through the school system entirely, from Glenmont Elementary, to the Middle School and eventually graduating from BCHS in 2003. Afterwards, I traveled to many countries, and eventually obtained my degree in Arabic and Islamic Sciences. As a Muslim, I always knew that I had a different perspective on life than many others. Being one of the only students at Bethlehem with an Islamic faith had its benefits and challenges. 

Most people fall victim to group think mentality by trying their best to “fit in” in order to be accepted. For me, however, being different was my badge of honor. I was always happy to explain my belief system, and let others in on my world view. 

When I was in 9th grade, I went on a field trip to Montreal with my entire class for a few days. One evening we were hanging out, playing video games, and the time for prayer entered. I said to my friends, "Guys, I need to turn this off so I can pray.” They respectfully asked, “Can we pray with you?” to which I replied, “Sure!” Imagine a group of 14/15 year old boys turning video games down for prayer. Amazing. 

The lessons I’ve learned and carry with me throughout my life are what I try to impart upon others. Be a beacon of light, and be proud of who you are. If you are not proud of you, should anyone else be? People act as a mirror. They see the energy you emit and reflect it back. That is why I try every day to harness positive vibes through prayer and connection with God. 

In September of 2022, we opened the very first Muslim community center here in the town of Bethlehem. This is a place where those of us of the Islamic faith can come together, pray, and create a sense of unity and love. We believe that true individual success comes from the strength of the community. In a world of increasing egocentrism and selfishness, I fear lost generations on the horizon. I hope to promote togetherness throughout this town, and pray that our community lives harmoniously in sync. 

I am proud to say that I am a Muslim. Being a Muslim means that you have purpose in life, with goal-oriented direction. I am genuinely blessed to be of this faith, and hope to share the beauty of it with others. 

To find out more about the Muslim Community of Bethlehem, find them at: https://www.mcbny.org/