Ali Jafri made some changes when he enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law last year. First, he let his beard grow. Then, he helped create a Middle East Law Students Association. In class, he regularly sports T-shirts with Arabic script and a keffiyeh, the checkered scarf often associated with Palestinian militants.

Jafri has ventured far from the Detroit suburbs, a bastion of Islam, and off the well-worn career paths he says many of his Muslims peers tend to pursue, such as engineering and medicine. Jafri’s father is a doctor.

As one of only a few Muslims at the law school, he feels a responsibility to make an impression on his classmates, to “get into people’s subconscious that this is a normal guy who likes watching basketball, but he still looks like that.”

“I have an opportunity here even without saying a word to change even one person and how they think about (Muslims),” he said.

Jafri, 23, reflects what some observers believe is a post-Sept. 11, 2001, trend: Muslim college students are eschewing the career paths of their parents in favor of professions such as law, politics, journalism and the arts, which give them a greater role in the public square and in the shaping of popular opinion.

Eager to repair the negative public perception of Muslims, some Muslim leaders are encouraging college students to take courses in the humanities and political science.

Though there’s no way to quantify how many Muslims have changed career plans since the Sept. 11 attacks, community leaders across the country say they’ve seen a rise of Muslim law student and bar associations and journalism organizations, even comedy troupes.


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