A Terrorist’s Son Chooses Peace

Zak Ebrahim Pic

Zak Ebrahim is the son of a terrorist.  His father,El Sayyid Nosair, helped plot the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.   At the time, Zak’s father was serving a prison term for assassinating Meir Kahane, the militant rightwing Jewish rabbi. Ebrahim tells his story in a memoir, The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice (Simon & Schuster, 2014). In an interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Ebrahim tells why it wrote it:

I wanted to give people insight into what it was like for a child growing up in that ideology. But it was also very important for me to show people that my experience was unique – among Muslims – that the vast majority of Muslims in the world are never indoctrinated into this level of extremism. And if someone like me who could come out of this ideology that so many people fear – could do it without being radicalized – then what does that say about the vast majority of Muslims in the world who are never exposed to it? 

Key Points:

  1. Zak’s mother was brought up as a Christian in Pittsburgh, but converted to Islam as an adult after her faith was “shaken.”
  2. Early in Zak’s life, his father decided to join the war against Russia, which had invaded Afghanistan. He asked his grandfather for permission to drop the family off in Egypt, and to watch over them. The grandfather refused: “If you want to make a jihad, stay here and take care of your family,” quoting the Quran to back up his point.
  3. After Zak’s father was imprisoned, the family lived in Egypt. For the first time, he was exposed to “positive male role models that wanted me to see the religion the way that they did, as a peaceful one and as one that included people rather than precluded them.”

How do we address fanaticism—of any faith (or non-faith)?
What choices can we make to loosen the grip of fanaticism on our lives?

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