VOA Special English
Muslim American Mayor Talks Religion & Tolerance


    Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as “an American mayor who happens to be Muslim.”

    Khairullah was born in Syria. He settled in the small American community of Prospect Park, New Jersey when he was 16 years old.

    He was always interested in politics and decided to seek elected office after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2001. He won a seat on the Prospect Park City Council and has served as mayor for 10 years.

    Khairullah says his religion has never been much of an issue for voters in this town of 6,000 people.

    “Despite our differences, we don’t attack each other based on religion or ethnicity, you know? Our ethnicity is for us, for our families, for people we are raised with. And our religion is in the house of worship. That’s where it goes.”

    He says his religious beliefs provide a basic moral foundation.

    “I don’t impose my religion when it comes to running the town. But my religion imposes on me the moral values that I operate with...”

    His term in office lasts until the end of 2018. The mayor is not seeking re-election this year, but two council members are. So he spends some of his time campaigning for them. He likes to communicate with Prospect Park residents by telephone and through social media.

    Khairullah once worked as a teacher. Intashan Cowdhury, a former student of his, describes him as a dedicated family man.

    “It’s a family-oriented community. And you need family-oriented people, like Mayor Khairullah.”

    Another former student, Priscilla Nunez, said he has good demeanor to be a teacher as well as mayor.

    “He’s very calm, I have to say, reminds me of my dad. Always spoke to us with respect...”

    While Khairullah seems at ease in his job as a politician, he has not forgotten his Syrian roots. He has visited Syria several times over the years. He says the trips were made to take food and medical supplies to people in need.

    Mohamed Khairullah visits Atmah Refugee camp in 2014 (Photo: Courtesy Mohamed Khairullah)
    Mohamed Khairullah visits Atmah Refugee camp in 2014 (Photo: Courtesy Mohamed Khairullah)

    “It’s a challenge to the dictator and to people who support that dictator that despite all of the dangers, we are going to continue to support those people who have been abandoned by the international community and the world.”

    He involves his children in the humanitarian projects. He says he wants to teach them that humanity is more important than ethnicity or religious beliefs.

    Khairullah has come a long way since arriving as a young man and having no idea he would someday be mayor of the town. But he still remembers an early hint at his political future.

    “I remember walking to high school here and seeing a sign that has an Arabic name on it, a political sign. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is crazy, amazing.’ So it planted a seed in my head.”

    I’m Mehrnoush Karimian-Ainsworth.

    Ramon Taylor reported this story for VOANews. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    city council – n. a group of people who make and change the laws of a city

    worship – n. the act of showing respect and love for a god

    foundation – n. something that provides support for something

    demeanorn. a person’s appearance and behavior

    abandonedn. left alone without needed protection or care