Mohammed Monawer: Electrical Engineer, 67

Monawer says Muslims are just like you
Mohammed Monawer: Electrical Engineer, 67
Paulius Musteikis & Romulo Morishita
Mohammed Monawer

It’s been nearly 30 years since Mohammed Monawer, a soft-spoken electrical engineer, was forced to leave his homeland of Afghanistan behind. The Russians invaded in 1980 while he was away completing his graduate studies in Thailand; so Monawer instead moved to the U.S., where he became a citizen in 1987. Since then, he and his wife have worked hard and raised a family: a daughter who is a UW-Madison medical student and a son who was a volunteer firefighter and is currently actively deployed as a nuclear technician on U.S. Navy submarines. But in all his years in this country, Monawer hadn’t experienced anything like what happened at a Badgers hockey game in December.

Monawer and his daughter, who chooses to wear a hijab, were seated behind an overly enthusiastic (and apparently intoxicated) fan who kept jumping to his feet. When the man’s companion chided him to stop blocking the view of the people behind him, he looked over his shoulder.

“He said, ‘I don’t care. They’re not supposed to be here anyway,'” recalls Monawer. “Twenty-seven years of my life I put [in] here. I’m a civil servant. And that hurts.”

Monawer says his “hat is off to our women” for wearing the identifying hijab when Muslim men can more easily assimilate, adding that his daughter is extremely dedicated, as well as stubborn–“and I like her that way.” Monawer describes Madison as a liberal city filled with very nice people, but believes the recent political rhetoric permeating the election season has emboldened those with anti-Muslim views in a way he has never seen before. “When the leader insults the minority, everybody who follows [him] thinks that that’s fine,” he says. “The person you’re looking to is doing it, so it must be good.”

Before moving to America, Monawer spent a year (in 1967) as an American Field Service exchange student living with a family in Kewanee, Illinois, where he graduated from high school. The American family was instrumental in helping him eventually resettle in the U.S. 13 years later, and since then several family members of both Monawer and his wife’s have also arrived in America as refugees. Monawer holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Kabul University and a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Bangkok’s Asian Institute of Technology, and he has worked for the state of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission as a public service engineer since 1990. He has watched the Muslim community in Madison grow “tremendously” and says his service-oriented kids “are as American as apple pie.”

“If somebody says something bad about Islam, my question would be, how many Muslims do you know?” says Monawer. Indeed, a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 47 percent of U.S. adults say they do not personally know a Muslim. “I want them to know that we are just like you,” he says. They have the same worries, the same daily routines. They want good housing and well-behaved children who care for others and are useful members of society: “Muslims are not any different.”

Click here to read the full Muslim in Madison feature.