New Memoir of Muslim Immigrant’s Path to the American Dream Recounts a Life Dedicated to Countering Divisions and Building Community in Turbulent Times
Victor Begg recounts his “true-blue American story” in a new memoir, Our Muslim Neighbors - Achieving the American Dream: An Immigrant’s Memoir (Front Edge Publishing, February 5, 2019).
It’s the story of a young man who achieves his dreams in a new country, and becomes an “accidental activist” building interfaith coalitions and advocating inclusion. In an era of heightened anti-Muslim bigotry, Begg’s story provides a window into the family, community, and spiritual values of ordinary families - values they share with fellow Americans.
Getting to know our neighbors is one way to allay the current anxiety about a rising tide of extremism. Begg, who has worked tirelessly to show how much common ground exists between us, believes in the power of simply talking to one another. “Person by person, and friend by friend: good-hearted people can change the world,” he says. Our Muslim Neighbors is an invitation to conversation, “to learn about each other beyond the vicious stereotypes.” It’s an effort to help readers get to know the Muslim Americans next door: their dreams, fears, and a misunderstood faith.
Begg writes of the “Oh, God, let it not be a Muslim!” prayer of American Muslims, anytime there is an explosion or mass shooting. “I am heartbroken again and again to see Muslims on the nightly news in some corner of the world resorting to violence, claiming to act on behalf of a faith that condemns such actions,” he says. “The Quran tells us that Muslims are called to serve as a light to the world.” Confronting misapprehensions about Islam, Begg notes that there is nothing inherent in Islam that produces violence, “just as there is nothing at the core of Christianity that inevitably produced the Crusades and the KKK.” He points out that Muslims are not newcomers to America—their collective roots on this continent go back more than 500 years. The most important truth about Muslims, he says, is that “we are not a monolith as a people of faith. We come in all skin colors, ethnicities, and nationalities.”
Stories of his life as a Muslim American, include:
• The shared American values that drove his success: a belief in hard work and education, and a desire to contribute to his new homeland. His path to success included working his way through college pumping gas, washing dishes, busing tables, and selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door; completing an MBA at the University of Detroit; and at age 32, launching several Naked Furniture stores in Michigan.
• Becoming active in the Republican Party in the 1980s and ‘90s, and his distress over the party’s current anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant stances.
(Photo: The Muslim Unity Center Mosque in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA.)
• The diverse Muslim community in Detroit, where Begg helped to build a new suburban congregation, the Muslim Unity Center Mosque in Bloomfield Hills. He worked with neighbors to resolve community resistance to the proposed mosque, showing that an Islamic house of worship could fit into a conservative suburb. Begg also was a founding member of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro-Detroit.
• Helping to coordinate interfaith prayer services after the 9/11 attacks, and a candlelight vigil after the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando, planned jointly with the LGBTQ community.
Begg grew up in Hyderabad, a former princely state in India. Telling Americans about this magnificent kingdom sounds like a fairy tale today, he says. He came to the U.S. in 1970 to study at the University of Detroit, a Jesuit university. From the moment he arrived, he was dependent on the kindness of strangers. He shares stories, some comical, about his early days in America: from quickly discovering that his “expansive Indian manner of conversing with strangers” was not the norm here; to being stopped by an immigration officer as he stepped out of the bus upon arriving in Detroit from New York, singled out for his mod 1970s hair and sideburns (his “Carlos Santana look”); to needing help to improve his “Hinglish”—Hindi and Urdu-influenced English colored by British idioms.
He settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he pursued his goals of higher education, marrying, raising a family, and launching a successful business. Along the way, he discovered that America’s greatest promise lies in neighbors building healthy communities together. He used his entrepreneurial skills to co-found organizations that continue to help others. After 9/11, life changed for Muslim Americans. Instantly, they were viewed as a suspect community. Begg became a leading voice of America’s real Muslim community, called upon frequently by media.
After decades as a successful businessman and community leader in Detroit, Begg, 71, now lives in Florida. Though retired from his business, “I cannot retire as an activist,” he says. “Ominous headlines never seem to stop.” Begg believes there is still much work to be done to reach a consensus in this country that interfaith diversity is a positive American value.
Begg has built a legacy as peacemaker, justice advocate, community leader, community builder/organizer, and neighbor who continues to work tirelessly to bring people together. “I am always touched by those who transcend the temptation of division, who simply act as good human beings showing compassion to others,” he writes.
|Victor Begg is a retired entrepreneur, an immigrant from India who became famous for his Michigan chain of stores, Naked Furniture, which sold quality, unfinished furniture. He became one of the country’s leading Muslim spokesmen, the co-founder of the Muslim Unity Center Mosque in Bloomfield Hills and a founding member of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro-Detroit. His columns and interviews appear in many media outlets, including ABC, CBS, FOX, NPR, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives with his wife, Shahina Begg, on HutchinsonIsland, FL.|
|Click to order via Amazon:
Our Muslim Neighbors: Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant's Memoir, by Victor Begg.