Youness was studying English and working as a tour guide in Fez, Morocco [see photo below] when he gave a tour to a woman from Vermont. It was this encounter that set him on a path to the United States in the year 2000 and marriage.
Youness will never forget how amazed he was by the sheer quantity of snow that first winter in Vermont.
During his first year in the US, Youness started coaching the local youth in soccer. He loves soccer and grew up playing in Morocco.
After he and his first wife divorced, Youness remarried a Moroccan woman named Lamiae, who he knew from university, and together they had their two daughters.
After being here for almost two decades, Youness views Vermont as an accepting, and peaceful state. He thinks it is a place where Muslims are respected.
“I’ve never been harassed, discriminated against, or racially profiled. We have a few interfaith groups – they come to our mosque, and we go to their synagogues or churches. I fell in love with this place.”
Islamic Society of Vermont
Youness misses Morocco, especially his social life there. It is at the Islamic Society of Vermont (ISVT) where Youness has made connections and become engaged with the local community. He is chairman of both ISVT’s Board of Trustees and the Islamic School.
The Islamic Society of Vermont serves a few thousand people and first opened its doors in 1997. Aside from a small house where some members of the Somali community prays, this building is the only mosque in the entire state of Vermont. It serves Muslims from all over the world, many who were refugees resettled in the area.
The idea of ISVT started when a few of the society’s founders were praying in a house. Saint Michael’s, a private Roman Catholic college, was made aware and invited them to come to pray in their church. As the population of Muslims in the area grew, they sought out a building of their own. First, they purchased one-third of the current structure, and then a few years ago, they collected the necessary funds and bought the rest.
“I want to share my story because I want other people to know that if you work hard, get married, and have kids, you can achieve happiness anywhere in the world.”
Youness owns a taxi service in Vermont called Star Cab, does IT on the side, and referees soccer.
When friends or family come over, in traditional Moroccan fashion, Youness serves tea alongside cookies, dates, and nuts. This is a tradition his daughters enjoy.
Youness has made a home for himself and his family in Burlington, and he has no plans of leaving. His custom-made traditional wooden table, Quran, and Moroccan decorations provide him with a sense of home in the USA.
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© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.