Mokhtar Nasir

Mokhtar was born in Lebanon. He came to the U.S. after he finished his medical training. While in the U.S. he completed more medical training. After finishing all of his training he moved to Carroll County in 1995, where he still lives today.

Transcription

INTERVIEWER: I’m Katherine [INAUDIBLE], and joining me today is Dr. Mokhtar Nasir. It is April 15, 2010. Thank you, Dr. Nasir, for being with us today and sharing your memories.

MOKHTAR NASIR: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

MOKHTAR NASIR: I was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1960. Long time ago. Came to the US in 1985 after I finished my medical degree over there at the American University of Beirut. Came here. Did some training in internal medicine at St. Agnes. Then went to New York, downstate New York for one year, and came back to Georgetown for two years where I finished my training in kidney disease.

Had the National Kidney Foundation fellowship grant for one year. I had to terminate it because, coming from Lebanon, I have to go somewhere else and serve in an underserved area so they will let me stay in the country, which is what I did. So I went to Ohio and stayed there for three years before I came back to Carroll County, and that’s what I’ve been since 1995, working at Carroll Hospital Center in position as a kidney doctor.

INTERVIEWER: So what was it that brought you here to Carroll County as opposed to anywhere else?

MOKHTAR NASIR: As I said, I was trained at St. Agnes, which is in Baltimore, and lots of the people that worked there– some of the people that worked there actually worked at Carroll County, and they were telling me about the rural nature of this county, how they had lots of pheasants, and wildlife, and stuff. And I– I grew up in a city, and I lived in a high rise for 25– first 25 years of my life, and I didn’t like it. So I wanted to be out in the country, and that’s why I came here.

INTERVIEWER: Very cool. Describe your experience here in Westminster as a Lebanese American and as a Muslim.

MOKHTAR NASIR: Um, well, being here for 15 years, I would say no one– unless people know me that well, they’ll never know whether I’m Lebanese or Muslim at this point in time. As I told you before, when I first came in, people thought I was Puerto Rican because of my looks obviously. Then some people thought I was from South America. They kept talking to me in Spanish, which I couldn’t reply back. And then unfortunately after 9/11 came about, that’s when people became more aware of people of Middle Eastern origin, and that’s when people started making that connection maybe.

The people that I know very well obviously know where I’m from, and what I do, what’s my background. And we– nothing has– they treat me as they treat anyone else because I don’t interfere with what they do. They don’t interfere with what I do, and I don’t think that’s been a problem, at least what was obvious to me. What’s hidden in people’s hearts I’m not [INAUDIBLE], but I think I was fairly well. But I mentioned to you before also in my position it’s hard for people to come and look down at you because obviously you’re in a position of life where, OK, you have to show something for it before you look down at other people that have been out there.

So I won’t say I’ve been looked at differently. As long as I keep my mouth shut, don’t say– where people can recognize an accent, then they know something is not right, or I tell them what my name is, and then they suddenly have a problem with that, because Mokhtar? What is that? But people who know me, obviously that I’ve know for a while, it’s no problem.

INTERVIEWER: Do you find that there is a pretty decent Lebanese community or like a pretty, um, well formed Lebanese or Muslim community in Carroll County, or is that something–

MOKHTAR NASIR: No, not really, and I probably– you probably have to make a distinction between the Lebanese and the Muslim because not all Lebanese are Muslim just like not all Palestinians are Muslim. So there are some citizens of Lebanon who are here who are not necessarily Muslim. They’re Christian probably. As far as Muslim community, there’s a small one, and for the past several years, a Islamic society of Carroll County was formed. That probably was formed four or five years back. And where we do our prayer at the basement of the Brethren Church here in Westminster and the people that have been very kind to us let us do so.

It’s fairly diverse community with heavy, uh– heavy concentration of people from India and Pakistan I would say are the majority of the community. We have a couple, uh– we have one person from Bangladesh. We have a couple of Egyptian guy. I’m the Lebanese guy. Palestinian guy, and the rest are mainly from Pakistan and India. Very small community.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have a hand in bringing that about?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Um, the way it started is one time one of the docs at the hospital wanted to have a group to do the prayer on Friday, and he invited myself and another doc, and we– that’s how it started. And then somehow we knew about Dr. Isa, and he was brought into this, and with his big connections and the– I think he had more– had grown the community then.

INTERVIEWER: Cool. How often do you guys meet? Do you meet a lot, or–

MOKHTAR NASIR: At least once a Friday and on special occasions, which [INAUDIBLE].

INTERVIEWER: Cool.

MOKHTAR NASIR: Dr. Isa is an extrovert. I’m an introvert, so you’re– you’re not going to get so much out of me. So he’s definitely the one who would put our name out in is very, uh, outgoing, I’d say.

INTERVIEWER: Is there any connection to the youth culture or trying to maintain your Lebanese heritage within that group– or, I’m sorry, with your Muslin heritage within that group?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Well, that group is mainly Muslim, uh, what they– what we do there are two major holidays for people Islamic faith, and we do celebrate them. Uh, so we try to have a gathering. It’s usually after Ramadan, which is a breaking of the fast holiday, and before– after the pilgrimage is done, and that’s the, uh– the [INAUDIBLE]. And we do have two gatherings. Either we have them at the church there– at the basement of the church, or we– lately we’ve been renting the, uh– the hall at the Best Western, and the community gathers from there. And it’s usually a larger gathering than your usual Sunday.

INTERVIEWER: What concerns do you have about being able to pass down you Lebanese heritage and culture to your children?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Oh, big, big concern. Not necessarily the Lebanese heritage, but mainly the Muslim heritage because, uh, my wife is not necessarily of the Muslim faith. She does understand it, and she spends more time with my kids than I do. So not that she’s trying to make them be any different than I– I would like them to be, but except they don’t get the background I would like to– them to be exposed to. So to do that, we go once a year to Lebanon, where they’re exposed to the other side of the family. Unfortunately it’s a very short, uh, trip for max 10 days. So they get the limited exposure. They learn a couple of Arabic words. The religion– they don’t really get much of it at this point in time.

INTERVIEWER: Is that something that you want them to kind of gain more of? Is that something that you would really like?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Yeah, the only my daughter knows about Islam is they can’t– she can’t eat pork at this point in time and why I get mad when she says other stuff about other religions, but beside that, that’s all she knows right now. I’m fortunate they’re very small– my kids are small. I’m old, but my kids are small, so hopefully time will allow them to know more.

INTERVIEWER: Is that– are you trying to get them involved in the Islamic society more, or is that more a community of adults?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Um, it’s they’re really too small at this point in time to have any mean of interaction. They do play with other kids, but again, they’re four, five, and six to seven. So they’re too small yet to get. I have an older child, but unfortunately he lives in the state of Ohio.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what challenges have you faced living here in Westminster and what changes in attitudes have you seen towards Muslims in Carroll County since you’ve lived here?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Um, I– I don’t know what the– what the general, uh, impression– I can have an impression of what the impression is, but I don’t– no one has really come out and told me– every now and then, believe it or not, my very dear patients that, uh, don’t know where I’m– where I’m from or what– what my background is would come and say stuff to me not knowing who I am. Not in a mean way, but emphasizing the connections between Muslims and terrorism, Muslims and killing people, Muslims and whatever, out of, uh, either naivete or ignorance, I would say.

And the position I’m in then I do not really– I do not– I do not– I’m not in a position where to correct them or say anything different other than say, well, maybe. But in that setting, I’m not in a position to say, OK. The people I know very well obviously– when my dear friend, who was my best man at my wedding made fun of me because I have to wait for, uh, the moon to know when the next holiday is, I told him–

[LAUGHTER]

Made fun of me. That’s how we have to deal with and we’ll live with it.

INTERVIEWER: Um, could you describe your experience raising a family here in Carroll– Carroll County?

MOKHTAR NASIR: It’s a challenge. Um, I’m a little bit behind in starting, so that usually puts a toll on your system. Um, we– we just do the same thing. We have to take kids to school, take them to every now and then after hour entertainments. Take them to other birthdays. Try to– try to, uh, let them know that humans are the same way, whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Jewish or whatever. I mean, we all basically want to have a good life, not hurt anyone, be truthful to yourself, and achieve something in life and move on with your life. We’re special, but we’re each special in our way. Nothing special. I mean, and this is what the Muslim religion says– respect your others– others just– and treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

INTERVIEWER: Um, you said that your wife was raised Christian. How has that affected, um, the way– the way you– I don’t know– make friends in the community or interact with other people in the community having both faiths represented in your family.

MOKHTAR NASIR: I don’t really know. When you meet people, the first thing you say, OK, I’m– I’m Mokhtar Nasir, the Muslim, can you connect with me? I mean, we just don’t. I mean, we just interact with people, and then ultimately if you get to know them more, they will know where you’re at. Obviously it doesn’t– that’s going to take them much longer to know who I am because they soon realize I can’t drink any alcohol so that puts a limit to it.

Then every now and then the alcohol thing comes about, and the pork thing comes about, and finally people make the connection. So but not– I mean, it– it’s not an issue. As I said, people mixing me up with Spanish speaking people makes it a little more confusing, but I– no– no one walks around saying I’m– I’m the Muslim guy. Come and talk to me.

INTERVIEWER: Um, in what ways do you– do you want to see the county change, either– I don’t know– economically or an understanding of race issues?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Well, um, I was trying to look at the statistic as far as what’s the demographics– what’s the projected demographics the county is going to be. I don’t think it’s going to change much. I think it’s still going to be 93% plus Caucasians. Uh, so, um I– I won’t intend to change anyone. Everyone’s supposed to– having said that, in the Muslim faith, you’re supposed to expose other people to your faith and let them know what you know just in case they embrace it.

So we’re always, uh, without being too– how do I say– like we’re forcing people to– we’re just– every now and then slip a few words [INAUDIBLE] because this is what my religion says. As long as people live and let live, I– I won’t have any problem. The only biggest thing we’re going to run into at some point in time, which we think might be coming down the pike is if we’re going to have a mosque in Carroll County.

INTERVIEWER: Oh.

MOKHTAR NASIR: And we’ve been thinking about it for a while, and we don’t know how polarizing that’s going to be. So our first step is going to be probably call it a community center, and then ultimately introduce people it, and we can use it as a– as a– as a– as tool to introduce people to the– to the– not to the faith, but to the community, too. We’re not, like, from aliens from Mars or something. We just have the same fears and just let them know more about the religion and see the commonality, as opposed to whatever stated as the– I mean, the extreme opposition. There’s lots of commonalities to the current religions that people do not think to appreciate. They think they’re only– they’re only special in their own religion, but the commonalities are to be emphasized.

INTERVIEWER: So is that– is that something that you think would come about within the next decade or something that would be maybe [INAUDIBLE]?

MOKHTAR NASIR: Well, once– we think once we get our community center going, which hopefully we’ll be doing very soon as we think we have a location that we’ve identified, and we have, like, a hall, we’re going to utilize that place not only for social interaction, because then you don’t have to go just two times a year and interact with your community member. You can bring them in.

We’re thinking about something like a Sunday school, where you introduce little kids to the religion and to the Arabic language. The special thing about the Arabic language– the only way you can learn Islam and read the Koran– you have to learn some kind of Arabic to do it, and we’re hoping that will be so. And then ultimately introduce the other members of the community to the community to the small community that we’re in.

INTERVIEWER: You said you like the rural aspects of Carroll County. Um, tell us more about that. I– I– you said that you have a farm in Finksburg.

MOKHTAR NASIR: I do. I do live like on the 30 acres in Finksburg, Maryland. I think that was a part of a much bigger farm that was subdivided a long time ago. My neighbors are farmers, believe it or not. They do high tech farming, even in Finksburg. People come from all over the world to buy their fertilized Angus eggs and take [INAUDIBLE] take them home with them, and fertilize their eggs over there, and– and have pure bread Angus.

So [INAUDIBLE] be surprised. People come from Argentina, and Chile, and Mongolia to Finksburg to buy this stuff from my neighbor, Dick Weaver. Surprising. But I, uh, actually, as I said, own a farm. I have about 40 sheep, 2 pheasants, 13 quail, 2 cats, and, uh, that’s it for the time being. The funny thing is that the breed of sheep that I have is called the Tunis breed, which is a North African breed, which was the main breed that actually that actually George Washington had in this county, and would have been the main breed of the US had it not for the Civil War where they get– they get slaughtered then. So– and I’m trying to make a little bit of, uh– where I live is on a hill. I’m trying to reproduce a little Lebanon there. Lebanon is a very mountainous country, so we’re trying to reproduce it on the little in Finksburg where we–

[LAUGHTER]

INTERVIEWER: What do you mean reproduce it? Like–

MOKHTAR NASIR: Just make sure that I have the stuff that remind me of back home. [INAUDIBLE] just– that’s all.

INTERVIEWER: So that’s something that you felt that you– that you don’t have without reproducing it yourself?

MOKHTAR NASIR: No, not really. Lots of pictures around. We can– and now with the new– with the new– with the way the world is, pick up the phone and call home, and they can see me, and I can see them, and there’s no problem there anymore.

INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you very much. Um, I really enjoyed interviewing you.

MOKHTAR NASIR: Well, thank you. I was– thank you very much for hearing me out, and maybe 30 years from now where someone’s listening to it, we’ll, uh, see if they learned something.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you so much, Dr. Nasir.

MOKHTAR NASIR: Thank you.