Area runners make a statement with the shirts on their backs.
Pakistan native and friends spread message of inclusion: ‘I am Muslim. I am American.’
On paper, 31-year-old Mudasar Chahal was simply one of several thousand runners who braved the below-freezing temperatures and heavy winds the morning of March 11 to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in Washington.
There was nothing striking about Chahal’s finish time of 2:45:15 last weekend, more than an hour and a half slower than what he ran as a teenager. But Chahal didn’t register for the 13.1-mile race to set a personal record. Wearing custom-made bright-blue T-shirts with the words “I am Muslim. I am American.” emblazoned on the front and back, Chahal and five of his friends running the halfmarathon were there to spread a message.
“We are Muslim, but we are also American,” said Chahal, an Alexandria resident. “Just like everyone else, we love this country. We just happen to be Muslim. That’s the only difference.”
The recent travel ban of those from majority-Muslim countries by President Trump and hate crimes against Muslims around the country motivated Chahal to take action.
Chahal emigrated to the United States from Pakistan with his family at age 14, assimilating to American culture by joining the cross-country and track and field teams at Arlington’s Wakefield High. Despite having never participated in athletics in his native Pakistan, he made varsity both his junior and senior seasons for the Warriors before going off to compete at the now-defunct Virginia Intermont College, followed by one year at Cameron University in Oklahoma.
In 2005 at age 18, Chahal won the Country Music half-marathon in Nashville in a blistering 1:10:05 and was the runner-up in 2006 — facts his friends proudly shared to fellow runners at last weekend’s race.
“It’s a fun sport,” Chahal said. “It relieves all the worries about your life. You go and run and you’re stress-free afterward.”
Throughout his time in school, Chahal developed a love for his adopted country and became a citizen in 2012. He said he has never personally been targeted but that he has felt disheartened by the news of violence toward Muslims — or those perceived to be Muslim — and the increasing negativity toward his religion.
About a month ago, Chahal and his friends, several of whom are also accomplished runners, decided that the D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon would serve as the perfect setting to debut their T-shirts, which also have the letters “USA” printed in the front. Even though not all members of Chahal’s group are Muslim (two are from India, one Hindu and one Sikh), they all share the same sentiments.
There were three highly publicized attacks on Indians in the United States over the span of 10 days earlier this year and two of them are being investigated as possible hate crimes, The Post’s Annie Gowen reported.
“People are saying, ‘You don’t belong here, go back to your country,’ ” said Chahal, who sells real estate and also works in his family’s limousine business. “It’s accelerated with the travel ban and rhetoric of the recent election, so we just wanted to say, ‘Hey, we love this country. We want to contribute to this country because this country gave us a lot of opportunities. Let’s work together instead of dividing the country and achieve our goal of remaining No. 1.’ ”
As the six ran through the course sporting identical T-shirts and alternating carrying three American flags, fellow runners approached and chatted with them. A few took photos and the overall reception was very positive, Chahal said.
Chahal was not expecting any backlash for the T-shirts, but he was still pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support. Next month, the group plans to travel to Kentucky and repeat the same effort at the Kentucky Half Classic after being invited by a doctors’ association that heard about their mission.
There, Chahal hopes to continue to give more Americans a chance to see the Muslim community he knows.
“We are a nation of diversity,” Chahal said. “We love everybody. It doesn’t matter what your faith, origin or creed is. That’s the beauty of this country.” Emily Guskin contributed to this report. Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/ dcsportsbog
TOP: Mudasar Chahal, third from right, and his friends show their patriotism at the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon. ABOVE: The shirts drew a supportive response.