*The Audio of the event is linked at the bottom of this post*
I started writing this piece in the last few days of October, so it relates to events from just over a month ago.
Two days ago, I was invited to give a talk on “Prophets of Islam” at the Moraine Valley Community College in Chicago Land. It was hosted by the MSA via the public educational program at the campus's library. I liked the idea of hosting these events at the library since it was open and readily accessible to the general public.
The hosts, both the MSA and the library administration, were gracious and welcoming. Oddly enough, I was given a friendly heads-up that some people in the audience might not necessarily be there to listen, but rather to argue and debate, so that I was fully aware and prepared for such a turn of events. I politely answered jokingly with a smile, “I just moved here from Texas, so don't worry about it. I always carry my guns on me.” Seriously though, I am used to discussions and debates like these, alḥamdulillāh.
In my career as an imām and religious leader, most of my work has been in the da‘wah arena. It is in this area that I have had the opportunity to deal and interact with people of different faiths and at different levels of education and devotion. I have spoken in churches and temples, colleges and universities, schools and libraries and an assortment of other places. I have discussed matters of faith and religion with priests and pastors, with laymen and missionaries, and all those who are in between. I always find these discussions interesting and engaging.
Not all these discussion conclude with someone's conversion to Islam, but for sure many people have left more enlightened than when they came first. Many have even expressed their appreciation for new insights into faith and religion that they acquired from my presentation or discussions. In my talks I encourage people to ask the most pressing questions that they have about Islam. I let them know my own limits but at the same time giving them what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to discuss the topic of Islam with someone who claims to be an adherent to it, even in a position of leadership. There have been some incidents in which people have come after a long time, on one occasion after 3 years, to give their Shahada and become Muslim. These people took their time to conduct their own research, which was triggered by a casual discussion on Islam and faith.
Back to the Moraine Valley event then, many people showed up: Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Many were there to listen to the subject of “The Prophets of Islam”, while many others just gathered there out of curiosity. The presentation went smooth, but to my surprise no one wanted to ask any questions after it. I started wondering where the hostile crowd went, but sure enough after some encouragement, people started asking few questions here and there.
There was one group that remained silent while diligently taking notes– a group of middle-aged men and women. I felt that they were church members and were attending to listen and learn. But none from the group asked any question and I was eager to engage them. After I was done talking to the people, I headed towards them and I was addressed immediately by a seemingly well-educated and eloquent lady, who asked,
“You said you believed in the original book of Jesus.”
I replied, “Yes, Ma'am.”
“Where is it then? I want read it”
To this I replied, “You tell me, where is it? I want to read it too.”
Then we delved into a discussion over the origins of the bible and the difference between versions and the original text, and many other relevant topics. At the end, I could feel that the discussion shook the lady a little bit, and her eyes were filled with tears tears.
She said,”Why has no one ever told us this before?” I didn't really have much to say at this point except inviting her to study Islam more.
Suddenly, a man from the group told her, “So what do you want? If you're ready, why don't you become a Muslim?”
She said: “All what I want is peace.”
“And that is Islam,” I said.
Then I turned to the man who called out to her to become a Muslim and said to him: “What about you? Why don't YOU become a Muslim?”
To this he raised his hands and said: “I submit to the will of God.”
I said: “Well, that is Islam too.”
We exchanged phone numbers and emails, and I wished them the best in their pursuit for the truth.
Couple of weeks later I received an email. The lady gave her shahada. alḥamdulillāh.
Image courtesy http://www.morainevalley.edu/