Said Abdul Latif believes level of anti-Muslim sentiment has significantly decreased
The perception of Muslims among Americans is gradually shifting, said a former Orthodox priest from the US, who embraced Islam recently.
Hilarion Heagy, 41, had previously served as a priest for 10 years and lived as a monk for an even longer period. He embraced Islam this year and changed his name to Said Abdul Latif.
“As for how Americans view Muslims generally, I think that is slowly changing. For a long time after 9/11, we were told that Muslims and Islam were the greatest threats toward our American way of life,” Latif told Anadolu.
Latif further stated in response to this, some American Muslims sought to assimilate as much as possible into American culture and politics.
“I think the level of anti-Muslim sentiment has significantly decreased in recent years as anti-Muslim rhetoric has decreased. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But I think education and general interaction with the Muslim community goes a long way in fostering deeper and mutual understanding.”
He said after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some two decades later, Islam no longer seems to be taken as the threat that it once was, and the American political system has moved on to identifying new threats against its ‘democracy’ and way of life in the post-Covid era.
Recalling his journey to Islam, Latif said Islam had been an interest of his for many years. “My first inclinations to convert to Islam came in my early 20s while I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. Growing up, I did have much exposure to Islam.”
However, Latif said that he was afraid to “take the leap” because he was concerned about what his parents and society would say.
He entered a Russian Orthodox monastery in 2009 and was ordained a priest in 2013. "However, my interests in Islam continued to varying degrees."
Latif said he faced severe reactions after converting to Islam.
“It is interesting, because some of the people who have reacted very negatively to my conversion were people who I would have thought would respond positively and vice versa. The same can be said for my family. To my shock, some of my Christian friends have been positively supportive -- and to my further shock, some have even embraced Islam themselves, having secretly been drawn to it for a long time also.”
He said he did not face any Islamophobic statements directly but received some “vitriolic comments” about Islam and Prophet Muhammad.