When David Stepien converted to Islam in September, he knew it would raise a few eyebrows in his hometown of Pinckney, Mich.
"I can tell you the number of Muslims there and it's zero," he said. "They thought it was an outrage and had a giant prayer circle about it. It's kind of funny a waste of effort but to each his own.
"They can have as many prayer circles as they want."
Now Stepien who was raised Catholic views experiences like these as opportunities to bridge a cultural gap, highlighted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He is celebrating the month of Ramadan for the first time as a converted Muslim.
"I have a connection in both communities and try to mediate both ways," said the microbiology junior. "It helps being in a primarily Christian society to have a dialogue between the two."
Stepien was introduced to Islam by two Muslim friends and began researching the religion shortly after. Last year, he attended several events held by the Muslim Students' Association and he fasted for the month of Ramadan with them to test his endurance.
Stepien's exposure to adversity is not uncommon for the Muslim community. Although it's been four years since the attacks, many still feel discrimination, said Fouad Khatib, chairperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, in Southern California.
"The atmosphere hasn't gone back to the level of before 9/11, the atmosphere is still tense," he said. "It is a religion of peace. Islam means peace, the word literally means peace.
"The current atmosphere of terrorism overseas is being used to paint the religion of Islam as a violent religion, which is absolutely untrue."
CAIR is the largest Islamic civil rights advocacy group in the nation and handles issues of discrimination in the workplace, travel, government and private sector, Khatib said. (MORE)