Posted: February 18, 2016 at 8:24 pm

By Madison Fleck, Cameron Bostic and Audrie Kuntz

Kip Curnutt is a young, white male. He’s an expecting father from Montgomery, Alabama. He’s a former musician. Kip Curnutt is a Muslim.

Although Kip’s physical appearance and background does not reflect American stereotypes of a devout Muslim, he has managed to acquire a position of great respect within the Muslim community of Morgantown, West Virginia. As imam of the Islamic Center of Morgantown, Kip guides the Muslim community in worship and spiritual guidance, a position for which he was taught from within the Morgantown Muslim community.

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“I had studied with (the previous imam) for a long time,” Kip said. “I was a student of his, and for me, I was an outsider. I was someone who had converted to Islam.”

Growing up in an agnostic family in Alabama, Kip was not much exposed to religious practices as a young child aside from the occasional Southern Baptist church services he would attend with his parents to save face.

“We went to church. Not really because of a religious thing, but because everyone went to church,” Kip said. “It was that environment where people know each other, and they don’t really know any outside traditions. (They) were typical redneck people who just have one view of things.”

However, at age 11, Kip befriended a young Afghan boy and spent much time getting to know him and his family. Kip watched the family’s traditions, the prayers and the meals they would share and found himself drawn to the Muslim way of life.

“I was exposed to actual Muslims before I was old enough to be watching the news and paying attention to what was going on in the world,” he said. “I got a more realistic account of who these people are and what their practices are, and I was very attracted to their way of life and their religion.”

After the Afghan boy moved away, Kip lost touch with him, returning to his agnostic/Baptist performance of his spirituality. During his youth in Alabama, Kip was active in the music scene of “underground rappers” in Montgomery.

0“That was the closest thing to spirituality for me; it was the music and artistic expression,” he said. “But there are other things that go along with that too. Just crazy lifestyles of running around and partying all the time.”

Kip continued this lifestyle for several years, never imagining he would stray from his musical path. It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s while watching a documentary about Afghanistan that Kip remembered his childhood friend and the religion he had once been engrossed by.

Kip began to study. He diligently studied Islam and spirituality; he studied the relationship with God; he studied the language of the Prophet Mohammad, taking Arabic classes at the local Mosque.

In 2010, Kip moved to Morgantown where he became involved in the Muslim community. Though he felt he was an outsider at first, he was never treated as one. He continued to study the religion, to learn Arabic and to build his spirituality. Islam means something specific, something spiritual to Kip. It represents his life’s purpose.

Though Kip has only been a practicing Muslim for five years, Islam is the religion that accepted him. Muslims are his family, his brothers and sisters. He has ingrained himself into the culture, the lifestyle and the purity of Islam.

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“The majority of the community said, ‘This is somebody we’re going to put in this position and help him to grow into it,’” Kip said. “It’s wise to pick somebody in the community, who understands the community and to challenge them.”

Now, people and religions with which Kip once associated are turning away his people, they’re turning away his religion, they’re turning away him. But he has faith that his fellow Muslims will continue to grow. He knows that this is the reason he was elected to his position of leadership within the religious community.

“Instead of bringing a professional in from outside, they wanted to bring somebody who’s part of the community, who learned from within this community; they brought me. I can empower them to continue to grow.”