Get to Know: Religious tolerance at heart of her work

Kael Sagheer


Kael Sagheer knows the importance of religious respect and tolerance.

A Nebraska native and award-winning teacher, she was raised Methodist and converted to Islam in her 20s.

Kael Sagheer

Age: 44

Hometown: Kearney, Neb.

Education: Graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with degrees in international studies and teaching

Family: Husband, Omer; daughters, Aanya, 19, Zarah, 12, and Sana, 9

Hobbies: Reading, especially historical fiction and books on religion

Her desire to help people understand other religions drew her to Project Interfaith, and she has become a key volunteer for the Omaha nonprofit group that helps build understanding among people of different beliefs and cultures.

Three years ago, Sagheer became one of the first interviewers for a video project on discussion of religious beliefs. Interviewers asked people to describe their religious or spiritual identity, then asked such questions as whether they have faced stereotyping.

So far more than 900 videos have been posted on the project's website.

Sagheer's oldest daughter, a high school student at the time, was a big reason she joined the video effort. As a Muslim growing up in Omaha, her daughter felt different from her Christian classmates.

Sagheer, 44, wanted to show her daughter that Omaha is really more diverse that it might appear.

She brought her daughter along for the interviews. While Sagheer asked questions, her daughter ran the video camera as Hindus, atheists and others spoke.

The experience helped her daughter, now a 19-year-old college student, realize that she really was not so different.

“It was amazing to see the diversity we have in our city,'' Sagheer said.

Education and learning have always been priorities for Sagheer, who grew up in a family of teachers.

She was born and raised in Kearney, Neb., where her dad taught English and philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Her mother taught grade school.

Her grandparents were teachers, and so are her three sisters.

Sagheer initially didn't consider teaching as a career. At UNK, she majored in international studies and thought she'd get a job with the U.S. diplomatic corps.

But her first job after graduating was teaching seventh grade at an international school in Pakistan. She got hooked on teaching.

She loved that she could tap her creative side by developing lessons and assignments, but also her intellectual side by learning right along with her students.

She returned to UNK, and began work on a teaching degree. While on a trip to Canada, she met her husband, who grew up there but was born in Pakistan and raised Muslim.

After earning her teaching degree, she landed a job at a school in Bellwood, Neb. She later took a teaching job in the Millard Public Schools in Omaha, and in 2002 received the prestigious $25,000 Milken Family Foundation teaching award.

Now she's taking a break from classroom teaching, but she's still an educator.

She's home-schooling her two youngest children and also is a volunteer with the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Nebraska, giving talks about Islam to church, community and teacher groups.

“It gives people a nonthreatening opportunity to listen and learn,'' she said. “That's the teacher in me.”

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