Amidst The Catholics A Memoir by

“Why do your women have to cover but your men don’t?”
“How do you know which direction to pray?”
“Why can’t Muslim women marry Non-Muslim men?”
“What exactly is an Islamic dress?”
“Why don’t you believe in the Trinity?”

These were amongst the barrage of questions that my friends and I had received while we presented to several classes at a Catholic high school in Washington D.C. The school was offering a “World Religions” module, and they had invited Al-Huda School to send over some students to present about Islam and their experiences as American Muslims. Two friends and I, all alumni of Al-Huda, were selected to speak and so, on a chilly Thursday morning, we went to the Catholic high school and spent the day speaking to over 100 students in five consecutive classes.

I found the trip to be very memorable as it was filled with several insights and enjoyable experiences. It gave a chance to me to reflect more on our need for strong communities as the ideal Da’wah platform, realize the need for Da’wah mastery,  and an appreciation of the blessings that we occasionally take for granted. What follows is a chronological order of events categorized in terms of thoughts and musings observed throughout the day:

Community: The Ideal Da’wah Platform

“This ain’t no high school. It’s a community center,” the janitor laughingly told us.

A sinking feeling of dread quickly washed over us as we realized that the surrounding athletic fields and swimming pools were indeed not part of a high school, but were actually instead filled with adults and elderly people. I made a mental note to myself: ‘Next time the bus driver grunts in response to a question (especially if it involves confirming a destination!), make sure to ask him to elaborate’.

We were supposed to have arrived at the high school at 8:00am. It was now 7:51am, with no passing bus in sight.

Frustrated, we stood there in the blistering cold wishing for a bus to quickly appear. The bus station timetables showed that there was no bus due to arrive any time soon, but we continued to silently pray that a miracle in the form of an over-packed white-and-blue public transportation vehicle operated by a cantankerous driver would whisk us away to our destination. In hindsight, this wait turned out to be a blessing as I got some time to take a closer look at the surrounding area.

I was in the company of a good friend who coincidentally happened to avidly enjoy history, so as we waited for our bus to arrive, he pointed to nearby famous landmarks and explained their historical significance. From a distance, I saw the Catholic University of America and the Basilica of the National Shrine (the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States) nearby. I saw the surrounding streets and noticed that they had Catholic street names such as “Pope John Paul II Drive”. I saw advertisements on billboards and signs espousing Catholic values.

In short, I saw the markings of a community that had been settled in by like-minded individuals that had built institutions on the foundations of their religion and had made their mark over the course of history.

How beautiful it would be, I mused, to see a Muslim community such as this growing together and building Muslim Masaajid, clinics and hospitals, schools and universities, law and engineering firms, houses and apartments, groceries and supermarkets, and more. How beautiful it would be to see Muslim families, with their children and strollers in tow, ambling down the streets and greeting each other with the Salaam and a cheerful smile. Here was living proof in front of me that others had successfully done it to a certain extent, and that we as Muslims should do the same, and even better, if we wish to be unified, establish a Muslim-driven economy, and exhibit a a a living and breathing Islamic community. The Catholics have founded several reputable charitable, commercial, and educational services, all of which had, and still continue to, make an impact upon the American landscape. I was determined that we could do the same and even more.

“Hey, there goes a bus!” my friend exclaimed as he pointed to a bus at a nearby station. We quickly scrambled over and found out that this was a private chartered bus headed in only one destination…the Catholic high school, Alhamdulillah! We got on the bus with a sigh of relief and looked out at the quiet Catholic neighborhood as we rolled by and ascended up to the high school, perched high upon a hill.

The Need for Da’wah Mastery

After we arrived (just a little after class started due to the morning mishap), we introduced ourselves and then began answering questions about Islam and our experiences. We had prepared to answer questions about Allah, our view on Jesus and the other Prophets, as well as on other matters of theology, but it turned out that just like our own Muslims, most of the students were more interested in the Fiqhi (jurisprudential) aspect of our religion. They began asking about our prayer: how we knew it was time to pray, which direction we faced, and other technical nuances. We answered these questions as fully as possible, but felt rather uneasy because all of these questions were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Islam; there were deeper and more underlying issues that we wanted to address with the students.

As the bell rang and the students filed out to proceed to their next class, my friends and I hurriedly conferred over our strategy for the upcoming classes. We noticed that there were certain frequently asked questions amongst the students, so we quickly drafted proper answers to these questions. When the next class came in, we were ready.

“What do you think about the Nation of Islam?”, a question came from the audience.

“We do not consider them to be within the fold of mainstream Islam because many of their beliefs contradict the first pillar of our faith, the Shahadah,” my friend explained. Then, instead of going over all the of the intricate differences between Islam and the Nation of Islam, he went on to explain more about the Shahadah and our fundamental beliefs about Allah and His Messenger. Mission Successful.

We worked out a routine as the day went by. We recited portions of the Qur’an to them along with the English meaning, demonstrated the Salah, and helped them to write their names in Arabic. We spoke to them about serious matters such as our position on extremists and life after 9/11, and also shared some lighthearted moments when we discussed misconceptions about Muslims (“Go back to where you came from? My family’s from DC!”). We delved into the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and also stated the distinguishing qualities of our religion. All in all, we packed the one-period sessions with as much as we could about Islam and its many elements, and the students responded in kind with more inquiring and interesting questions.

All of this made me realize that we must make it a top priority to learn how to properly give Da’wah. This is not only true for the men, but for the Muslim women as well; there were several questions we received about the Hijab and had it not been for a Muslim sister who works as a teacher there to stop by and answer some of the questions, I doubt the students would have been as impressed and accepting had it been a few [clearly non-Hijabi] dudes trying to explain the wisdom of the Muslim Hijab. We need to make sure that we are well-versed in the fundamentals of our religion, know how to answer challenging and probing questions about Islam, and learn how to steer conversations to concentrate more on Tawheed, the Oneness of Allah (glorified and exalted be He).

The Beauty of Islam

A curious coincidence occurred which none of us had foreseen. One of the students asked if anybody amongst us had memorized some of the Qur’an, and I replied that Alhamdulillah, my friend (pointing to my former classmate standing to my right) and I had memorized the entire Qur’an while attending the Hifzh School at Al-Huda. I turned to the third alumni to my left, and motioned for him to answer as well since I wasn’t sure how much he knew.

He turned back to the class, smiled, and also answered, “I am a Hafidh as well”.

I was stunned. The friend was an African-American brother, and since it is so rare to find African-American Huffadh in our communities, I was very amazed to hear this and was even more wonderstruck as he related his experiences at a Canadian boarding school and how he learned the Arabic letters, learned how to put them into words, and then memorized the entire Qur’an all within the span of less than a year (the average is usually three to four years). The students listening were almost all African-American (interestingly, a far cry from the Irish/Italian original attendees of the school), and they too found it fascinating to see him reciting in fluent Arabic. Guidance truly only comes from Allah, and He guides and helps only those whom He wills.

I found it equally amazing to see this divine coincidence that SubhanAllah, Allah (glorified and exalted be He) would will for three Huffadh to come address these classes of high school students (and yes, we definitely had to reassure them that this was not typical and that no, it is not an obligation upon every Muslim to memorize the entire Qur’an). It was a great juxtaposition for me, to see a class filled with Non-Muslim students on one side, and to see Muslim Huffadh on the other. There were so many hues and gradations between these two groups that it was a reminder that all of these groups, including outliers and those in-between, be it non-Muslims, non-practicing Muslims, or even practicing Muslims, have potential to become even better, and that our Da’wah must be designed to help as many as possible to grow closer to Allah. All of this is in addition as advancing ourselves as well.

It was also a reminder to be thankful of the many blessings that we have, not least of which was the blessing of Al-Islam. Throughout the day, we saw Christian students reciting their prayers before beginning the class, touching the Bible before entering and leaving the class, and kneeling in the chapel between classes. We heard a school teacher and deacon discuss the Catholic ‘traditions’ – customs derived outside of the Bible and developed by those allegedly possessed by the Holy Spirit, the different required acts of worship for the different hierarchical types of priests, and how certain men of religious ranking were required to take acts of celibacy. It was all very interesting,especially those actions which bore some semblance to our own practices, but needless to say, it made us even more appreciative of our pure, flawless, and complete religion.


As the bell rang for one of the last classes, we smiled at the students who were slowly trudging out of the class and prayed that Allah would allow our presentation to make a difference in their lives. One of the student stopped by and demurely asked:

“How do you convert to Islam?”

We happily told him and watched him as he mulled it over and then thanked us and slowly walked out of the classroom.

May Allah (glorified and exalted be He) guide him, all of the students, and all of our fellow beings in humanity. May Allah help us build strong Islamic communities, help us learn how to give Da’wah properly, and allow us to die upon nothing except Islam. Ameen…


   
  • http://muslimmatters.org/author/ameera-khan Ameera Khan

    Masha’Allah, what an awesome account! May Allah accept it from you and reward you without measure, ameen!

  • http://JawaadAhmadKhan.com/ Jawaad Ahmad Khan

    Ameen. This seems like it was an eye-opening experience. Alhamdulillah, glad that you’ve shared this and extrapolated & organized your reflections so well.

    That area reminds me of a city here in Florida called Ave Maria. The founder of Domino’s pizza wanted to create a haven for Catholics, and so basically set it up there, focusing mainly on the Catholic university which now has 500 students.

    Muslims definitely need to get their game up in building communities for Muslims, but also in creating institutions that benefit the wider community.

    • http://www.muslimyouthmusings.com/ Arif Kabir

      I fully agree with you; the Catholics did not open their hospitals and restaurants only for themselves, but for all of society.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amatulhakeem sara K

    Assalaamu alaikum wa rahmatUllah.
    Ameen to the du’a. Masha’Allah brother, may Allah reward you and your companions and make your visit a means of guidance for those students and others. Ameen.
    This was beautifully written masha’Allah. May Allah reward you and increase you. Ameen

  • Sahar1431

    As’salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

    Masha-Allah – What an experience! May Allah subhana wa ta’ala accept from you and your friends and increase you all in knowledge and good deeds, ameen.

  • Mirza Shahebaz Baig

    mash Allah Arif Kabir, great job. may Allah accept it from you.

  • Shiney

    I really liked this and learned a lot from it- it was very interesting to read and was well-written masha’Allah. Some years ago, i also thought about the idea of a big Muslim community similar to what was described in the beginning of the post. My friend and I talked about it and how wonderful it would be and i wondered why Muslims can’t do that. Then i realized that the Muslim community is just so divided that it sometimes seems impossible but i recently saw a Darusslam video that explained the purpose of developing a Muslim community.
    I was so surprised that i didnt make the discovery earlier! DUS was and is already doing that and i realized that members of DUS really are lucky that they are part of such a big and nice Muslim community. Sincerity of intentions and unrelenting effort really pays off when it comes to acheiving your goals. May Allah (SWT) Reward you all for giving Da’wah in various places and for making an effort to establish the Deen where we live. Ameen. I also thought that it would be such a nice idea to go to a public school and do Da’wah but the reactions of the kinds of people there would most probably be negative. It’s a good idea you and your friends had the chance to visit a private school, and talk about Islam, where students are much more disciplined and sensible.

    The number one question i always have is that how can women do Da’wah? There are so many different fatwas about women in leadership, women doing public speaking, etc. that it leaves me entirely confused and frustrated sometimes. Of course, hijab is one of the most strongest forms of silent Da’wah but I have no clue as to what role women can play in getting the message of Islam out. Please give any advice if possible. JZK

    • AbdulBaasit Khan

      Just to quickly (try and) answer your main question – how can women do Da’wah? In fact, the truth is, it was the Da’wah (invitation to Islam) of Women that saved Islam on many occasions in our history. e.g. the invasion of the mongols and the sacking of Baghdad, the capital of the Muslim Empire at the time; most of the Muslim men were slain in that region, and as history records, it was the Muslim women who ultimately (*with the Grace of Allah*) changed the hearts of the Mongol invaders….

      But to fast forward to our 21st century western environment, there are undoubtedly a variety of ways that Muslim women can do Da’wah. * But to quickly address the issue of the “fatwas” on this issue and that issue – the idea here is, to – at the same time – maintain the femininity & preserve the Islamic attire amongst Muslim women. e.g. Hijab, dressing properly, no free mixing of the opposite genders, etc.

      Note also that Da’wah doesn’t just have to be through ‘leadership’ – that is something that only a few amongst the Ummah achieve. For all of us, every Abdullahs and Fatimahs, the door of Da’wah is wide open and waiting 4 us to open it.

      You also mentioned the silent Da’wah, perhaps referring to the concept “A smile is the best thing you can say without speaking – in fact, many times it is more effective than speaking.” — You know, that sometimes it’s not just your words, but rather your actions that impact people more! ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ But btw, when you mentioned public speaking, realize that it is not prohibited for Muslim women to speak, preach and have a voice. e.g. Our Mother `Aa’ishah, was the teacher of many of the greatest scholar of this Ummah in the generation (that followed the Sahabah) of the Tabi’een.

      Also note that Muslim women don’t have to always be silent – and that is their way of Da’wah, no! The only prohibitions (for both men & women) are the mixing and [unlimited] interactions of the opposite genders. So (a) Muslim women can definitely give Da’wah to non-Muslim women; friends, colleagues, classmates, neighbors, etc. There are many forms of Da’wah to one’s neighbors. The Prophet ordered `Aa’ishah (رضي الله عنها) to do this form of Da’wah to her (nearby) neighbors, and 1 of the ways he mentioned was giving them gifts or food, etc. so they recognize that it is our Religion, our God who has commanded us to go out of our way to be courteous & generous to our neighbors!
      ___________________________

      Ultimately, it is really through one’s true embodiment of all the principles & teachings of Islam that one really affects the ppl around him (or her). Through our standing firm on our principles, through our character, behavior, manners, ethics and high standards.

      1 of our teachers, Sh. Abdullah Hakim Quick, once made a statement – which I’d like to end on – he said: “Educate a man and you benefit an individual. Educate a woman and you benefit a family.”

      And this statement is absolutely true and very critical. Def. the best form of Da’wah that a woman could do is to raise a true believer; if you look at the broader scheme of things, you’ll see how this goes a long way in impacting the entire society & nation as a whole. Imagine if every single Muslim woman in America were to spend time and put effort into raising, nurturing and taking care of what is necessary for the proper development of their children ~ what would this do for the Ummah?! سبحان الله But sadly, due to this culture & other factors, many Muslim women have begun to think that this is a ‘lesser role’, whereas that is the exact opposite of the reality & it is what the enemies of Islam want Muslim women to think. It was the strong mothers – in our Islamic history – that brought up the likes of Imam Al-Bukhaari, Imam Ahmad, and many of the giants of this religion.

      But again, realize that the Door of Da’wah is open for you, and its forms are indeed numerous! The only real restrictions that are present are for our own good, and for the preservation of the Islamic principles; modesty, dignity, hayaa’, taqwa, the limitedness of opposite gender relations (only to what is necessary), proper dress & etiquette of speaking.

      • Shiney

        JZK khair for the detailed reply. It definitely answers a lot of my questions and the examples you gave for women to do Da’wah were very helpful. Some time ago, I also heard something similar to what Sh. Abdullah Hakim Quick said. Dr. Zainab Alwani was discussing the role of Muslim women in society and she was saying that if a woman raises a good Muslim family, she is in fact benefitting all of society. I knew that to be true but with all the Islamic activism going on everywhere, it kinda made me feel like you always have to go OUT and DO something or else you’re wasting your time. Maybe it is also because I have been in an Islamic school my entire life and did not have much exposure to non-Muslims. Insha’Allah college will bring more Da’wah oppurtunities similar to what you mentioned above.

  • Guest

    I saw this article in the muslim link ^.^ good job ما شاء الله !

  • SumaiyahKhan

    Masha Allah! It was a very nice article. I love how it ended with the catholic asking “How do I accept Islam?”. That was really cool. 

  • Anonymous

    You have a great way to put your musings on paper, sharing them and making them clear for us Masha’Allah.

  • http://www.muslimyouthmusings.com/ Maryam

    ameen. alhamdulilahi rabbil alameen, im so glad i read this. There are so many non-Muslims in my proximity; such lovely people and i was thinking day and night how to give them the message of tawheed and alhamdulilahi rabbil alameen, your article simplifies things for me subhanAllah.

    Honestly, if there was an award for ‘the best male writer’, i’d definitely vote for you inshaAllah ta’ala br. Arif. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala bless you with all good in both this world and the Hereafter ameen.

    jazakAllah khayr for this beautiful piece.

  • Some Guy

    Must have been a very nice and thought provoking experience!

  • http://twitter.com/blackabayagirl Black Abaya Girl

    Jazakallah for your dawah work. It was nice to read about it. It must have been challenging and thrilling at the same time, I imagine, especially when that student asked how to convert in the end. Those moments are special gifts from Allah.

  • http://about.me/ayshak Aysha Khan

    This is a great account of a successful interfaith event. You can have one thousand guests, but if no one walked away feeling enlightened or more open-minded, it was worthless. Likewise, you can have a single guest, but if they leave more knowledgeable, you have done your job.

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