According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, and Muslims currently make up just less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population. Pew projects the numbers of Muslims in America to grow to 2.1 percent of the population by the year 2050. What these findings suggest is that Islam, like all religious traditions, is not an ethnicity, race, or Facebook status — but is a very personal choice. Hussein Haideri is profiled and photographed here as part of a week-long series on being Muslim, from KCPT and the Beyond Belief project.
Dr. Hussain Haideri has always hated economics. So much in fact, that as a high school student at a Catholic high school in Pakistan, he once asked the vice principal, Sister Marie Francis, to grant him permission to take Bible study instead.
Apparently, the idea of interacting with different faiths was a stronger draw than numbers-crunching.
“Pakistan is 99 percent Muslim,” says Haideri, “and my only exposure to non-Muslims were the 20 Catholics in my class. I thoroughly enjoyed my discussions with them. And it was very eye-opening for them to learn that Muslims not only revere and believe in Jesus, but that our faith would not be complete without this belief.”
Haideri is still proud of what he describes as Islam’s rich tradition of inclusivity, one of the cornerstone teachings of the religion. To this day, as a physician in Kansas City, he seeks to showcase the diversity and beauty within Islam.
And Haideri has a come a long way since his high school days in Pakistan. He is now part of the interfaith clergy group at Shawnee Mission Hospital, where he specializes in nephrology, a branch of medicine that deals with diseases of the kidney. He is also the acting president of the Heartland chapter of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, or APPNA.
Although medicine was his first love, Haideri says he did not want to limit himself and was always looking for opportunities to civically engage with the greater community.
“I am passionate about building bridges through interfaith engagement,” he says.
This passion has led Haideri to work with the Crescent Peace Society, a Kansas City-area interfaith organization seeking to enhance the understanding of Muslim culture through dialogue and discussion. And he is also currently serving on the board of the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance. He believes that interfaith dialogue is the need of the hour.
Haideri says it’s appropriate that in 1992, as a 26 year old bound for a medical residency, he landed on U.S. soil on Thanksgiving day because he has a lot to be thankful for.
“I came to the United States not just because of its financial security but also because it’s a country that lets you dream and think,” he says.
“I am passionate about building bridges through interfaith engagement.”
And it’s the country of John F. Kennedy, a man who became America’s first Catholic president at a time when anti-Catholic prejudice was still very much part of the mainstream culture. An avid reader, one of Haideri’s many fascinations includes the life of Kennedy, whose picture he keeps framed in his office. Haideri attributes the success of great men like Kennedy to the American spirit that is both inclusive and embracing of others.
“Part of what makes America a great success is its openness,” he says.
When Haideri first moved to the States he ended up in the small town of Cameron, Missouri with a population of 700. And he remembers that when he opened up his first private clinic in Brayer, Missouri he made the front page of the town paper.
Haideri insists that he has faced no discrimination, perhaps because of his very social and sunny disposition. On the day of the 9/11 attacks Haideri shut down his clinic in order to attend every church service in his little town.
“I am a Muslim and I wanted to show that this is a human tragedy and not a Muslim or Christian story,” he says. “I just thought that it is important for everyone to see this as a solidarity issue, a human issue. And the people really appreciated that.”
Haideri has a similar approach to bridging divides within his own Muslim community. Although he is a Shiite Muslim, he says most of his friends are Sunni.
“My friends and I openly discuss the division between the Sunni and Shia communities in order to understand the rifts,” he says. “And we often come to the conclusion that people do not want a system to be followed but they want their own positions solidified.”
“Part of what makes America a great success is its openness.”
Haideri believes that both sides have benefitted from creating this chaos because it has helped them maintain control over things. And he believes that the dialogue needs to continue among Muslims and also with people of other faiths.
Haideri calls Kansas City his home, and he believes that he is more free to expand his spiritual horizons here than he is anywhere else.
In fact, with both of his daughters at college, Haideri and his wife Hani have recently become empty-nesters. And what are they doing with the extra time? Joining another Kansas City interfaith group called the People of Faith For Peace.
For Haideri, the quest for social and inner peace is the quest that has informed most of his activities and defined his mission as a Muslim ambassador in the world of interfaith dialogue. And he doesn’t plan on letting up any time soon.
Watch for an American Public Square panel discussion on being “Muslim in the Metro,” airing at 7:30pm, Friday, March 25, on KCPT’s Week In Review program (with a rebroadcast Sunday, March 27 at 11am). This story is part of the KCPT and Hale Center for Journalism project Beyond Belief, a series of stories and discussions about faith in our city. The project is part of Localore: Finding America, created by AIR, a Boston-based network of independent public media producers. Principle funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.