In this WIYE, our Editor-in-Chief, Hena Zuberi interviews Imam Safi Khan: founder and director of the Dar-us-Salaam Community in College Park, MD.
Brother Safi, as he likes to be called, holds a degree in Economics from the University of Maryland, and is well-versed in Islamic law, tafsir, and sirah. He has been a prominent Imam, lecturer, and family and youth counselor in the Washington DC metropolitan area for the past twenty-five years.
The Dar-us-Salaam community is the parent organization of many projects, including Al-Huda School, Tooba University, DUS Medical Practice, Aqabah Karate, and The Muslim Link. The community is currently working to raise $10 million for a new comprehensive Islamic campus – find out more about the campaign at www.homeoftheheart.org.
A transcription of the interview.
1. What are you listening to?
[SK] When it comes to listening, obviously I listen to the news often, what’s going on, whether it’s CNN or other news agency. On the Islamic side, I normally don’t get a chance to listen to lectures but once in a while I do listen to the speakers on the national speakers’ circuit as well as scholars from abroad.
2. Do you have a favorite Qari?
[SK] I have a lot of them…I love their recitation. Some of them had actually come here, such as Abdul Rahman As-Sudais. I had the chance to meet Husary in Egypt, he is one of the great reciters of the Qurʾān. I like Minshawi a lot, as well as Mishary Rashid.
3. What are you reading?
[SK] I obviously love reading. Before the smartphones came out, I [was known] for taking suitcases of books while traveling. After the Quran, I enjoy anything to do with tafseer, books of hadith, learning from Bukhari or Muslim or other Sunnan, other books of hadith that Shaykh Albani has authenticated, so to speak. I love to read books on sīrah, the biographies of our pious predecessors – men and women, Usool al-Fiqh, Tafseer of the Quran or on Purification of the Soul.
I could spend the whole day with a book and not even know that the day had passed. Favorite specific books include the Tafseer of the Quran by As-Sa’adi, Bukhāri and Muslim, Saheeh At-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb, Purification of the Soul in English by Jamaluddin Zarabozo. When people ask me [about Purification of the Soul], I tell people that’s not a book that you can read like a novel; read a few pages at a time, put it down, think about, and then move on.
On books on education, I wouldn’t point to any specific book, only because I have seen so many books, both by non-Muslims, and now Muslims, especially in the last 10-15 years. In general, I like to read books on education that deal with the core of the Islamic education curriculum, which I feel is Tazkiyyat al-Nafs. I have learned this from the books and the scholars when they speak about education. Often times, we have an Islamic school, and call it an Islamic school, but it really is just a veneer for whatever is Western, and as a result, people often don’t see the difference between a Muslim and non-Muslim school. As far as education, I like to concentrate on this issue. Purification of the soul should be the core and all subjects should be developed based on this.
4. What are you watching?
[SK] I think the extent of what I would be watching would be news. Outside of that, I don’t really get a chance to watch anything. In the world that we live in here at Dar-us-Salaam, most of our time goes into trying to build this community.
5. What was the last thing that you did for fun or to relax that you really enjoyed?
[SK] To me Islam is fun; anything to do with Islam is relaxing. Of course, it does get tense and stressful, but that usually happens when you are dealing with people, which you have to when you are dealing with an Islamic Project. Personally speaking, if I am with a book and learning, then I totally lose myself. I’m learning about the world, learning about Allāh, and my own inadequacies and shortcoming. When I have an issue in the community, then I feel that it must be inadequacies in me, if I was different then perhaps things would be different…
Often times when I study the lives of scholars, men and women, it gives me a chance to reflect. Those moments of īmān are what I really relish. They are fleeting moments, that you feel a certain way, knowing that they will soon go away. Moments at tahajjud are invaluable, as well as going out and establishing the way of Allāh . Sharing Islam with Muslims and non Muslims is very enjoyable to me.
6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received or is there any advice you have for MM’s readers?
[SK] When I went abroad to learn Arabic and about Islam, I remember the issue was to just get active for the cause of the Muslims and to really fight the oppression that the Muslims have been suffering for so long. I remember when I was in high school, I saw how the Palestinians used to be slaughtered and it seemed as if no one cared. That really concerned me, as if our blood is not worth the blood of a mosquito, as if it is worthless.
To this day, I feel the best piece of advice I received in this context, was when I remember talking to the scholars about this issue, and they told me that they understood that there were all of these issues, but that you cannot be emotional, and that you have to concentrate on knowledge. You have to learn what is Islam, establish it within yourself first, and then establish it outside. Only when people are knowledgeable about Islam will things change in this world. Get to know Allah , who is Allāh . Take a look at the different between us and the generations before us; they would make du‘a and boom, their duas would be accepted. Today billions raise their hands in du‘ā’ yet… there is obviously some problem with the connection with Allāh. That was the best piece of advice I have received. I am a witness to this due to many things that have happened to me personally and especially in our community.
Allah knows best. My advice to MuslimMatters readers would be really learn about Islam,as the scholars in the past have told me also. Specifically for our situation in the West, apply what we learn, and as we learn to put it in practice, we shouldn’t just be negative and criticize. We should not just bash people, we should present the solution. Practice what you are learning. Yes, learn but don’t just stack up knowledge. We learn that dealing with interest is haram, let’s all strive to produce an Islamic bank. In the nation we live in, health insurance is always an issue, let’s come up with a Islamic way to do health insurance – these are all in the books of fiqh. In our schools let’s not just criticize Islamic schools or public schools, let’s try to create a curriculum that addresses these needs. Let’s offer a solution.
Learn but as you are learning, put it in practice. Get involved in an Islamic project, because everything you will learn will not be in the books. We have lectures and seminars on how we should be united and work together, yet we hear so many Muslims saying ‘the Muslims are always disorganized and are fighting with each other’. It seems like we haven’t really tackled these issues in the field. When we have people who are Islamically knowledgeable but then there are egos involved or issues such as, ‘I was offended by this and I was offended by that, I don’t tolerate this or that.’, these are all issues of purification of the soul. If we the knowledgeable people cannot get together, then how do we expect the Ummah to come together? I don’t think that there is a single Muslim that doesn’t know something as so simple as our Rasul said “la taghdab” but people get so angry and upset so quickly. Because of the insecurities of the modern day world, we bring those insecurities even into the Islamic realm, into our Islamic organizations. People don’t trust one another and are suspicious, they don’t think the good of each other. These are basic values that we don’t implement.
RasulAllah said ‘Who ever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment, let him say something good or keep quiet.’ But we often see people say ‘Don’t come near me I am having a bad day, I don’t care and I am going to tell you to your face’, without any manners. RasulAllah said, ‘I was sent with code of ethics, with manners.’ Manners really reflect your tauhid, they reflect your aqeedah, your belief.
One of the names of Allah is As-Sabur. At a practical level, people are very impatient.
In the practical manner, people don’t let people finish their thoughts and ideas. They are judgmental because they cannot be patient. People don’t wait for others, people don’t keep secrets. These are things that fracture relationships, not just between husband and wives, but also between brothers and brothers, sisters and sisters and communities and nations.
Whatever little you learn, put it into practice. Perhaps you learn 1/10 of the knowledge from a book, and 9/10 when you put into practice.