Growing up in Arizona in the 1970s, Jihad Turk, now a Muslim scholar, doesn’t remember many other kids who shared his Palestinian-American identity.
“There wasn’t a lot of diversity. You were either Black, white or Mexican,” said Turk. “So people just assumed I was Mexican.”
Jihad, a traditional Muslim name, was always shortened to “Jay” while he was growing up. It was even printed that way in his youth soccer league program — until the day Turk’s father attended a game. His father saw the roster and corrected it — passing out the amended version to parents at the next game.
An embarrassed Turk protested.
“He goes, ‘No, your name has a great meaning and I chose it for a reason,'” Turk remembered his father replying. “[He said], ‘It means the struggle to do the right thing. And it might be unusual or unfamiliar for people, but it’s worth that extra effort.'”
Decades later, Turk has devoted himself to educating people on his faith. He spent years studying Islam, first independently at home in America, and later in Saudi Arabia and Iran. The lack of centers for higher study of Islam in the U.S. forced him overseas.