Hassan Shibly immigrated from Syria to the United States at age 4 with is mother, an orthodontist, and his father, a periodontist.
As a youngster growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., he remembers how proud he was to live in a country that professed freedom of religion and speech.
"When growing up I was the only Muslim in my class and I was challenged a lot," Shibly said. "But that built a desire in me to accurately identify and justify my faith."
It was the fire that fueled him to major in political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the impetus behind his graduating in May near the top of his class from the University of Buffalo Law School.
"I've always been interested in law and justice and even as a child was always an advocate of civil rights," said Shibly, 24, who during law school interned with the New York Civil Liberties Union and at the Council on American-Islamic Relations headquarters in Washington, D.C.
His passion for justice for Muslim Americans, his law studies and field experience are the reason the Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations recently appointed Shibly as the new executive director of the Tampa chapter of CAIR.
The nonprofit organization's mission is to enhance the understanding of the Islamic religion, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justices and mutual understanding.
Shibly intends to do just that by focusing on network opportunities and outreach programs that promote an accurate image of Islam; working with the media to answer their questions; educating the Muslim community about their rights and responsibilities and, above all, protecting our Bill of Rights.
"We are a positive, contributing group to our society," said Shibly, whose office on North 56th Street serves as the voice for an estimated 20,000 Muslims in the Tampa Bay area, 3,000 of whom live in Temple Terrace.
Education and meaningful dialogue among people of diverse beliefs, he said, is the key to a better understanding and tolerance of one another's views.
"Yes, we all have differences but not enough to where we have to be divided," said Shibly, whose ultimate goal is to quash ignorance and hated.
"I don't want my children growing up in that environment," said the married father of two young children.