By HOWARD ALTMAN | The Tampa Tribune
Published: July 11, 2011
At an age when most of his contemporaries are still trying to find themselves, 24-year-old Hassan Shibly has a life full of experiences he says have put him on a clear path.
He came to this country at 4 from his native Syria, settling with his family near Buffalo, N.Y. He was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security while a political science major at the University of Buffalo, vacationed in Syria during the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006, studied law at the University of Buffalo and clerked for two judges.
Now Shibly has a new challenge. On June 1, he took over as executive director of the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, founded in 1994 to "challenge stereotypes of Islam and Muslims," according to the group's website.
Shibly, who leads the group from its offices on 56th Street in Temple Terrace, says his goal is to battle the fear of the unknown, which leads to "hatred, violence and discrimination."
Shibly says his family left Damascus, where they had a "comfortable" life, because his father, a periodontist, "would not carry the … line" for the ruling Ba'athist party.
A temporary position at the University of Buffalo became permanent for Shibly's father. The family settled in and Shibly attended public school, then enrolled in the University of Buffalo, where he majored in politics before obtaining his law degree there.
Those who knew Shibly back then describe a bright, highly motivated student who was eager to engage in interfaith discussions, stood up for the rights of Muslims, wasn't afraid to stand by his beliefs and enjoyed a good debate without getting contentious.
"Hassan is brilliant, courteous, eager to promote understanding," says Charles Lamb, a former assistant minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, N.Y. "He and I were able to develop trust to the point that we could be blunt, almost offensive, but totally frank without animosity or harm to our relationship."
Tilman Lanz, who teaches courses in Islam at the University of Buffalo, says he met Shibly when he first arrived to teach in 2005.
"He was the most brilliant undergraduate student I ever had," says Lanz. "He was a very vocal person, very good in arguing, very good in making his point."
It was about that time in Buffalo that Shibly turned to activism and the controversy that comes with it...
Read the rest: Islamic group leader battling prejudice or New CAIR leader draws starkly different reactions:
Read my clarification of the statements I have been quoted as saying.