Originally from Palestine, Muhaideen Batah first came to New York City in 1989. He moved to Vermont eleven years ago with his wife and two sons. Muhaideen now operates his own woodworking business and currently serves as spokesman for the Islamic Society of Vermont.
The Prophet's cousin Ali, he said, “People are enemies of what they ignore,” and I think he is so right.
I’m Palestinian, I was born in Nazareth. I grew up there,
lived and went to school there, and started working there until I immigrated to the United States in 1989.
I grew up in a large, poor family. I was very interested documentary photography. I just wanted to go to college and get a degree but couldn’t go to college back home.
I had friends in New York City, so I came to the United States and went to college. I attended Parsons School of Design for an A.A. then later The Empire State College (SUNY) State University of New York and got my B.A. in photography there.
When I go to visit my family in Palestine I take pictures. I want to document Palestinian people, our way of life and our happiness. I want to show the human side of us. We’re not what the so-called news media, or the Hollywood media would like to show. The reality is that we are human beings and we have our culture, our customs. I want to show that side of us, which I do that when I can.
I’m very hands-on; I’ve been a perfectionist since I remember. Back home I took a course in woodworking. We learned how to use hand tools. We learned how to use machines. That’s where I started my profession, woodworking.
I lived in New York City for ten years. We wanted to take my son to a good school, but our district didn’t have a good public school. For private schools in New York City the tuition was more than college. That’s a crime! We moved here because Vermont is known for good schools.
I’m glad I lived in New York City before coming to Vermont because you could see all types of people there, every culture you can think of. We still go to visit my family in Palestine so [my sons] are able to get educational knowledge about non-Americans. There, they observe different a culture, hear different languages and eat different food.
Now, I live in Waitsfield. I am currently the spokesman of the Islamic Society of Vermont [in Colchester]. Waitsfield is a bit inconvenient as far as distance, but events do go on there. Speakers are often invited to discuss political issues, or Vermont Yankee. The movie theatre Big Picture hosts the Mountain Top Film Festival every year. There are also two ski resorts, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen. I work at Sugarbush part time, which is great because I get to ski for free!
As a spokesman of ISVT, I give talks about Islam, or about the Middle East. Many times students come to us from Champlain College, UVM or St. Michael’s College. I have also spoken at Winooski High School and Christ the King Elementary.
We are a minority within a minority. All of Vermont might make up one neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was basically a WASP state until recently; I’m starting to see other immigrants like Africans and Iraqi refugees. But I’m happy in Vermont, people are really friendly. They remind me of my people back home, actually. Everybody says ‘hi’ to each other, everybody helps each other, especially in Waitsfield where I live. It’s true that it is inconvenient, but I get to know great people there.
I experienced racism in my homeland. In Palestine, as someone who is not from “the chosen” people, of course I had to experience racism, prejudice and police harassment, to say the least. But when I came to the United States, I experienced very little racism. There will always be a few ignorant people who don’t use their head to explore or find out, but racism in Vermont is minimal compared to other states.
Moving to Vermont you have to think about work opportunities. It is hard, and Vermont is expensive. But we have really great schools in Vermont, and it is safe as well. You don’t have to lock your car if you live in a small town. Of course, I couldn’t do that in New York City!
I always tell people to get out of the box. Get out of the box and try to understand others who don’t look like you, who speak different languages, or who wear different clothes.