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Shamseddeen Moussaoui : A Self Portrait

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“Prior to 9/11, I thought I was a normal white person but then I found out that I wasn’t, that I was an Arab, and that people were relating to me differently,” says Shamseddeen Moussaoui.

“This also happened at a time in my life when I was already trying to figure out who I was, so my confusion often turned to anger and that into fights. After I got expelled from Crescent Valley High School midway through my junior year, after school officials could no longer deal with my continuous troublemaking, I realized I was throwing everything away and decided I needed to change.”

Sham began life September 21, 1985 and grew up in Corvallis, Oregon. The oldest of 7 children, he always felt that extra responsibility and burden of trying to create the initial road to success. “My family was, and still is, poor. We’ve been receiving some sort of government assistance for as long as I can remember.”

He doesn’t blame anyone for his family’s poverty. His parents are immigrants (now citizens) who just wanted to make sure their children could have the best opportunities in life. “Unless you are fairly well off,” he explains, “it’s hard to support such a big family. Hopefully, I can continue to use the gifts God has given me to help them all out in the future and can set a good example for my siblings to follow.”

The initial road to success wasn’t a smooth one for him. In fact, it was a twisted path filled with many bumps and detours. His existence as a teenager was one of underachieving grades, behavioral problems, and, ultimately, a lack of motivation. Nonetheless, he kept charging forward oblivious to the self-destructive course he was taking.

“Looking back, there are many painful memories….things I would rather not think about, but at the same time I feel like they have made me what I am today. My elementary, middle and high school career is just a blur of mistakes. All I can remember is all those times I messed up and was disciplined. That sort of wild attitude caused me to lose focus of why I was really in school. I’ve always had a pure heart, but immature would always get the best of me. Stress gradually built up as I got closer to becoming an adult. My parents were really confused as to what was happening because they felt that I would eventually grow out of it. I really wanted to change things, but my attempts always failed. All these elements combined to keep this cycle going and it wasn’t until I was expelled that the cycle finally was broken.”

It was at that time when Shamseddeen discovered his true self by using a combination of physical and spiritual renewal. He lost approximately 75lbs through intense exercise to achieve an athletic build and began adhering more strictly to his Islamic beliefs. This newfound energy created a dramatic impact, both in terms of lifestyle and outlook for the future.

“Immediately after expulsion, I began exercising. I’d just finished wrestling a season for Coach Don Langenberg and was eager to redeem myself from my horrible performance that season as a result of not being prepared. I felt so worthless looking at all those others guys win and get recognized. This motivated me to push myself through several hours of lifting and running each day. All this free time also gave me a chance to pray at the Mosque whenever I wanted to and helped get me back in touch with my roots. Things took a turn for the better and I was finally at peace with myself.”

Shamseddeen decided to opt out of going back to high school for his senior year and decided instead to enter college early after he received his G.E.D. with Honors. He recently received a B.A. in Political Science from Oregon State University after only 2.5 years. The future now looks bright indeed.

Despite these accomplishments, there is still a part of him that wishes he had gone back for his senior year to compete in wrestling. Ironically, he has come back, this time as a volunteer coach, with the help of his close friend, Abe Siala, and is now once again reunited with his former coach who had given him such great support in the past.

“Coach Don Langenberg made me feel like I was wanted, like I was important. I think his positive influence played a pivotal role in my transformation. He continues to be a crucial person whom I admire and who will always be like family to me. I’d like to ask everyone to keep him and his loved ones in their prayers for the many lives they have touched.”

Shamseddeen admits that these past few months have been wonderful. He has applied to law school at the University of Oregon and his plans are numerous. “Going to law school has been on my mind since before I entered college. It’s my way of giving back to society because as a lawyer I could help those who are disadvantaged, those who are struggling much like I was while growing up.

“I’d love to be a spokesperson for injustice being committed not only here, but worldwide especially involving issues dealing with the ‘War on Terror’. My love for wrestling has reemerged and I’d enjoy continuing it at the collegiate level as a walk-on hopefully. I’ve been training extremely hard and would truly appreciate that chance. My goal within the next few years is to become the most complete person I can be.”

Sham hopes that telling his story will be an inspiration for others to do the same. He wants to return the favor that his coach and others have done for him. He wants his future life to be about getting people to do, to achieve, and to lead.

“Life is about the cultivation and celebration of that winner within each of us,” he adds. “Never be afraid to dream because it might be the only thing you truly have!”

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7 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • The Editor (author) said:

    EJ, I have a problem with your response in that it represents a narrow frame of mind — that people visiting this country need to fit into “our basic Christian beliefs”. Bullshit. This country is about Freedom of Religion. They do not have to fit into Christianity. We need to allow them to be Muslims and to practice their beliefs as long as they fit into our laws. We owe them that respect.

    Your attempt to refer to him needing to read the Koran shows how little you know about its content. You need to read it yourself before you conveniently quote what serves your purposes. When 9/11 happened, the Arab countries rallied to our side, against Al Qaida. They did this because the Koran teaches that they must defend their countries against invaders. They saw us a victim of invading terrorists and they as a whole were on our side. We destroyed that by violating the very belief that sent them to our side in support at our time of need. We invaded them. In Irag. In Afghanistan. We are the invaders and that is why they hate us. The fault is ours, not theirs. WE INVADED THEIR COUNTRIES. We attacked them and we did it for oil, for greed. We lied about the weapons of mass destruction. We finally left Iraq but we are still in Afghanistan. Still invading them. Still killing them. For our selfish purposes.

    Yes, EJ, Justice Must Prevail. And It must start with us. We must stop our invasive occupations. We must get out of their country. We are in the moral wrong. We are the Invaders.

  • E J Garrett said:

    Unfortunately, this young man misses addressing the travesty of Sept 2011 and the unified celebration by Palestinians on international television. Any Muslim who wants to fit into this country and our basic Christian beliefs must recognize that we expect to hear denunciation of what happened on Sept 2011 and a visible reaction to what the astounding numbers of fundamentalists of his belief system, feel about Jews and Christians. Islam refuses to address this problem for auspicious reasons. Never once have I heard a Muslim shout, “Condemn the Fundamentalists!! Justice must prevail!!” Read and know the Koran and you will find the answer. This young man needs to look much further within himself. Distrust of Muslims will continue until this problem is first recognized, then addressed in the proper forums.

  • Susie Blanton said:

    This is the kind of tory that all young people need to hear. Rather than continue in his distructive pattern, he chose to push himself to achieve. I am in awe when a person with all the obstacles that Sham had, makes a conscious decision to go for good. No self-pity, just action.

    Way to go Sham. You make your family proud and are a role model for thousands of others. You possess that rare character that can inspire others to achieve.

  • Damayanti said:

    I liked this story about the Arab kid who was treated differently and how he turned his life around by embracing his roots. We face similar issues and I can relate to that. There is a lot of pressure to fit in but one loses one’s identity in doing so. The fact that this kid wants to give back to his community because of his coach’s positive influence shows how we can change the world one person at a time.

  • Sophia -- North Carolina said:

    After reading A Self Portrait I felt inspired. I have and am still dealing with similar issues. I really like how this story told the down times and how he came to realize he was on a self destructive path and decided to change it. Many people don’t realize when their on a bad path and if they do most don;t have the courage to change so this is really inspiring. I think the writing was very clear and direct and gave a good representation of who they were writing about. I really enjoyed this story.

  • d johnson -- Nevada said:

    I liked this article (a self portrait) by the young Arab man who talked about how difficult he’d been in his early life and how he’d turned it around, about his regrets at not having returned to high school but how he was now volunteering as a coach. I must admit that the lead in to the story mentioned how difficult it was to be an Arab after 9/11 but that aspect wasn’t really discussed or explained.

    I love the idea of positive, upbeat articles that inspire and encourage others to strive for more in their lives, to help others and to give us a different prospective on life.

  • Jordan said:

    Thank you for sharing your words here. Your cousin, Ahmad, speaks highly of you and I can see now why he admires you. I know that both of you are Arabs, and I think that after reading your article here I might be able to look past that…..but probably not. Anyway, I watched your match against Rossi via YOUTUBE and was impressed with the delivery of your skills and the joyous love you demonstrated after winning. Keep up the good work and inshaAllah’tala you will fulfill all your dreams.

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