PORTLAND — Mustafa Abd wants to change Americans’ perception of Muslim immigrants.
Abd, who is graduating with his classmates from Casco Bay High School at 6 p.m. on June 7, was born in Iraq and came to the United States in 2007 with his parents and two sisters. His older sister is studying nursing at the University of Southern Maine and his younger sister is a student at King Middle School.
Abd said his mother, Aya Alshami, who is studying to become a physician’s assistant and works as a translator, wanted him to become a doctor or engineer, but “that was not my thing.”
Then he thought maybe he’d study filmmaking.
It wasn’t until a friend of his mother’s began talking to Abd about becoming a pilot that he revived a lifelong dream of learning to fly.
“It’s really beautiful up there,” he said of flying, “and I love to travel.”
So far, Abd has visited Saudi Arabia, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Breaking stereotypes and showing an example of a Muslim “taking on such a big responsibility,” he said, is a big part of, why he wants to become a pilot.
“My mom is supportive and is glad I chose this career path. It makes me proud to make her proud,” said Abd, who will study aviation at the University of North Dakota.
Abd said he knows becoming an airline pilot will be “a lot of hard work,” but he’s determined to make it happen and said overcoming prejudice provides even more motivation.
When he and his family first came to the U.S., Abd said they spent a year in Georgia before coming to Maine. He said the first winter “was quite a shock,” but he now considers Maine to be his home, especially since he has lots of family here.
Abd said his family moved a lot before settling in Portland, but that during his years at Casco Bay High he was able to create “a lot of strong bonds and connections.”
“The people here helped me to grow up and really matured me,” he said. He particularly credited his co-educational advisor, Mallory Haar, an English language learner teacher at the school, with “really motivating me to be my best.”
“Maine has been really good to me,” Abd added, remembering the warm welcome and “lots of help and support” his family received upon arriving in the state. That’s why he hopes to “eventually be able to give back.”
Abd works at Chipotle and plays rugby on the Portland High School team. But “pick-up soccer is my favorite sport,” he said. In his free time, Abd enjoys aviation virtual reality-type games and watching videos of flying from the pilot’s point of view.”
To help pay for school, he’s considering enlisting in either the Air Force or the Air National Guard.
As part of his mission to help people better understand Islam, Abd centered his senior expedition around a presentation on the religion and Arabic culture at Riverton Elementary School. Along with the presentation, he also provided a meal of traditional Arabic foods.
For the month of Ramadan, which ends in mid-June, Abd plans on purchasing food and “handing it out to those in need.” He said the holy month is a time to “appreciate what you have and get closer to God.”
“If I can do something to make someone smile, if I can help others, while bettering myself, that’s what Ramadan is all about,” he said.
Mustafa Abd, who is graduating from Casco Bay High School in Portland June 6, hopes to become a commercial airline pilot, while fighting stereotypes of Muslims and Islam.