Global Politics

Remembering political activist turned goat farmer Mukit Hossain

Mukit Hossain, an immigrant from Bangladesh and grass-roots activist in Virginia, encouraged his fellow Muslims to become more politically engaged. He was recognized by the state of Virginia for his work. He recently left his life as a business executive to raise goats, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Hossain died on November 27 of a heart attack. He was 54. The World's Jason Margolis has the story.

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Two years ago, we brought you the story of Mukit Hossain, a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant living in Northern Virginia. Hossain was a successful business executive who was active in local politics and started a charity.

Hossain's philanthropic works took an unexpected turn: He had seen some Hispanic immigrant day laborers waiting for work outside in the winter cold in the parking lot of a 7-11. Hossain raised money within the Muslim community to deliver coats, shelter, and meals for the workers.

The local Herndon Times newspaper named Mukit Hossain its 2004 citizen of the year. The Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution honoring him.

But Hossain's work also drew the attention of some bloggers who spread false rumors that he was trying to create terrorist cells. Bloggers started quoting other bloggers and the rumors spread like a virus.

Soon Hossain's professional life fell apart. He stopped getting consulting jobs.

The World's Jason Margolis reconnected with Hossain this fall to hear how things were going. Hossain's life had taken a new tack: He had thrown in the towel with corporate America and was raising chickens and goats, the latter slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

Margolis went to go meet Hossain on his farm in Spotslyvania County, Virginia several weeks ago and was preparing a story. Then, Hossain died suddenly of a heart attack on November 27th. He was 54.

Listen to Jason's first story featuring Mukit Hossain
Mukit Hossain's farm

Mukit Hossain's New Life, by Jason Margolis

Seeing Mukit Hossain at his farm along with his wife and two young daughters felt a bit like watching a reality television show. Hossain quoted philosophers in casual conversation and walked around the farm smoking a pipe. His younger daughter was afraid of their chickens.

Hossain had zero background in farming. He didn't know basic things, like the fact that goats need their hooves trimmed, much as we need our nails cut. When his goats started limping, a local farmer told Hossain: Get a clipper.

After watching Hossain on the farm for a while, we sat down to chat. My first question for him: What are you doing?

�Well, I tried everything else, now I suppose it's time to be a farmer,� said Hossain. �I kind of knew I wanted to do something with farming, didn't know quite what � Somebody said, �Do vegetables, organic vegetables, it's a great idea, there's a great market for it.'�

But then Hossain had a better idea. He estimated that there are some 300,000 Muslims in the greater Washington area. Hossain decided to sell halal goat meat, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

Hossain used a sharp knife to cut a goat's jugular and said a prayer before the slaughter.

�It's a very serious responsibility and any Muslim who performs the slaughter as Halal has to take it very, very seriously. And you must pay utmost attention to the least amount of duress that you can impose on the animal,� said Hossain.

Hossain's experience was more than just a back to nature story. This was a story about a Muslim immigrant with brown skin who moved his family to an overwhelmingly white, conservative Baptist area.

�When we first came here, was there a little bit of discomfort? Absolutely,� said Hossain.

But Hossain and his family quickly threw themselves headfirst into the community. He told me a story about their first Halloween there when they tried to grow 500 pumpkins to give to kids at the local school.

�Well, unfortunately it was a disaster. We plowed the land, and put fertilizer on and had the seeds. Plants came out, but (we) didn't grow a single pumpkin.�

Hossain may have failed to grow his pumpkins, but his efforts did not go unnoticed. Local farmers started helping Hossain, giving him tips on how to run a farm.

The Hossains quickly become a part of the community. Hossain's wife, Sabrina, became PTA president. Their older daughter was elected president of her elementary school, and the younger daughter was also involved in the student council. He said he had no problems living in the heart of rural, red-state America. In fact, Hossain saw himself as a bit of an ambassador to a different world.

�I think if more Muslims actually got out and became part of the so-called �unknown' for the Muslim community, and allowed people to see what they're really about, I think a lot of these hate mongers would have a more difficult time convincing the people that Muslims are bogeymen out to get us, get everybody in this country,� said Hossain.

I asked Hossain if he was bitter about the people � the bloggers � who smeared him and drove him from his old life. He said no, that in some ways, the bloggers had forced him to a better life on the farm.

�When I worked in various corporations, you're tied up with all sort sorts of things,� he said. �There's very little time for reflection. But while I'm here, it's nothing but time for reflection. The work on the farm is not really high pressure work, a lot a lot of physical work, but it keeps your mind free enough that you can think about a lot of different things, to ponder over lots of things that I suppose are important.�

I spoke with Hossain's wife, Sabrina, on the phone. She said she was reluctantly selling the goats and farm and moving back to the suburbs of Washington with her two young daughters. Running the farm on her own without her husband would simply be too difficult.

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