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Dawah and Interfaith

The Feeling of Brotherhood

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This week I started ‘boot-camp’ at Wharton… one week of compressed summer classes. And Allah made it a bit easier for me. Keep reading…

Last year, when I visited the school, on a class-visit, I scanned the entire room of 60+ students… but came back disappointed. No Muslims… the closest I got to finding a Muslim was a person with a Muslim name, but on further discussion, I quickly realized… close, but try again! (I won’t go into details lest we go off a tangent).

After my admission, as part of the networking gig, everyone introduced himself or herself on an email list. As I started receiving emails from the different talented individuals, I yearned for someone ‘special’ to introduce himself. I didn’t have a great deal of hope based on the experience of the class-visit, but enough to keep me interested. The crowd was impressive no doubt, but I yearned for someone who I could chat with about stuff as trivial as the halal food joint, or as important as the nearest Masjid to run to for Jumuah prayers. Emails came one after another… no sign of Muslims. A spark of hope came through when I saw an email from a person with a Muslim name. Turns out that he is from Lebanon. Then another one from an Egyptian dude. Two to work with. Hmm… The next step was the difficult one.

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Some of you may have gone through this ‘testing the waters’ step. Here’s what I mean… Ok, so the guy/gal has a Muslim name… and let’s say that is about all you know. As a practicing Muslim yourself, you are thinking “is he/she practicing”, “does he ‘mind’ being a Muslim”, “does he care”, etc. So, I am at this stage of ‘testing’. I would have loved to give the benefit of doubt and jumped right in with my salams, but when you only have an email and a name to go by, it makes it even harder, especially when unfortunately many practicing Muslims are not making it into elite institutions.

So, what happened? As for the Lebanese guy… I left the ‘testing’ phase for school. As for the Eygptian bro, I sent him a quick email telling him about all my links with Egyptians and how I have a special place for his people in my heart. I also mentioned that I had a close Egyptian friend and Shaykh. Just to throw some clue in as to where I was going with this. Well, the reply came but it was not so encouraging.

As we got closer and closer to the start of the program, with only a couple of weeks, another encouraging email popped in from a brother with a VERY Muslim name, I’ll mention only his first name for privacy reasons: Ahmed. And with this name came hope, possibly the last hope. So, here is how my e-mail exchange with Ahmad went:

*******************

First e-mail from Ahmad to the entire group:

“Nice to meet all of you! I’m looking forward to having the facebook up and running so we can put faces with names faster! I’m Ahmad, born in Minneapolis, raised in Lansing, Michigan. For the past 7 years, I’ve traveled quite extensively throughout Europe, Asia and Africa for work after leaving xxx. I’m currently a Senior Manager at yyy.

I’m a CPA or CISA–two facts that I don’t readily admit–at the risk of being pigeon-holed into typical accounting stereotypes! When I get a chance to take a deep breath, I’m working on authoring my first book on the male-female workplace dynamic & writing a TV sitcom designed to demystify the accounting world & show the world that auditors can actually be fun people!

The upcoming week will be especially rough for me since I’m cramming for the level 3 CFA exam during our first on-campus WMBA week! Fun, uh? What I love doing in my off hours is spend quality with my four children & occasionally watch sports (MSU Spartans, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Vikings, especially). I’m honored to be in your cohort.

**************

So, here’s what I am thinking: Ahmad… very Muslim name (esp. the surname)… raised in Michigan. Very smart obviously, well-traveled…but no idea on race, nationality or ESPECIALLY in what mattered about the ‘Muslimness’. But, I was getting desperate to find a ‘partner in faith’, so I took a deep breath and dispatched this:

**************
E-mail from me:

Glad to see another classmate with the same faith…

In case you missed my intro., I am a Pakistani-American, arriving on the American shores about 15 years ago….If you wouldn’t mind me asking, what is your background?
asalaamalaikum

********************

Yes, I threw in the salam. The worst he could do is not return it. But this time, it was NOT for the worse. It was better than good.

When I got Ahmad’s reply, I got goose bumps all over, the FEELING OF BROTHERHOOD, the excitement to know that I won’t be all alone in this difficult endeavor; that when my other class-mates were talking about their problems over beer, I’ll have someone to talk about matters of faith, about raising children in this country and about life as Muslims.

Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to getting to know and befriending all the other folks in the batch who don’t share my faith… but it’s that Muslim ‘clique’ that is so helpful. I mean imagine throwing an American Christian in a batch of 70% Muslims, 20% Hindus… imagine his feeling when he finds out that there is another American Christian in his batch, esp. if he is religious; someone that he can talk college sports to, drink beer with and all the other stuff the average American likes to do. So, back to our topic… what did Ahmad say? Not a lot, but enough for me to feel all the ‘Muslim feelings’:

********************
Reply from Ahmad:

Wa alaykum assalaam wa Rahmatullah!

I’m African-American. the important thing is that we’re both Muslims, alhamdulillah.

Looking forward to meeting you!
***********************

It mattered not ONE bit that Ahmad was African-American. It would NOT have mattered if he was from Timbuktu, from Russia, from China, from Chad, or even from a place that I had never heard about. It did not matter one bit, and I mean that. All that mattered was that Ahmad replied with a Salam that was not just equal but equal and more, meaning that I KNEW that not only he was a Muslim, but probably a Muslim close to the Sunnah. And then his affirmation of our bond through Islam was all I needed to hear. Near giddy over this e-mail exchange, I quickly sent Ahmad an e-mail about other stuff, as if he was a long-lost friend, though I never knew him the day before.

When I got to class, you know exactly for who I was looking for. And after a couple of mistaken identities, I spotted Ahmad who too was looking for me. We hugged as if we knew each other like brothers. We talked about getting ‘to know’ the Egyptian and the Lebanese brothers. With the Egyptian, we still have hope. Haven’t yet talked to the Lebanese dude to find out first of all if he is a bro (with all the sects/religions in Lebanon) and then the rest.

You see I did not tell you that there was also a Pakistani with whom I corresponded with but quickly found out that he wasn’t the ‘type’, if you get my drift. But the Pakistani part mattered only because the Muslim part usually comes as a package, though the practicing Muslim part does not. In any case, my bosom buddy in the class was going to be Ahmad. Maybe I have too many hopes since I hardly know the guy… but what do I have to lose? And I have everything to gain.

So, by now you know how Allah made it a bit easier for me? By giving me a Muslim class-mate. And those of you who are practicing Muslims and who like to talk about life in that context, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. And if you have similar stories, or how you have ‘tested’ the waters, please share them.

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. M

    May 29, 2007 at 11:36 AM

    Salaam.
    Ah, I can really relate to this. With very few (practicing) Muslims in my department, I was really excited to see a visiting faculty member with a Muslim name who was clearly from a Muslim South Asian country (henceforth xx). It was Ramadan, so I emailed him with info on where and when we meet for Iftars, with the pretext that it would give him a chance to meet the other ppl from xx there. He replies, ignoring the salaam — “I had no idea there were other students from xx here. Let’s meet up for lunch sometime”. It was Ramadan *sigh*. I wrote back thanking him, offering to meet for lunch after Ramadan since I was fasting. Needless to say, it was so awkward that I didn’t end up meeting him for lunch… How would you have replied back?

  2. Mujahideen Ryder

    May 29, 2007 at 11:38 AM

    yoooooooooo Amad! check your email. my brother in law goes to wharton!

  3. Hamdi

    May 29, 2007 at 1:37 PM

    When I started high school last year I was also looking for a practising Muslim in my class and I found one and he quickly became my best friend alhamdulillah. So I know exactly what you are talking about. I’m from Bosnia and he’s from Somalia, by the way.

  4. Working Sister

    May 29, 2007 at 2:42 PM

    Salaams,

    The only reason i am a “practising” Muslim this day, is because of the one Muslim colleague i had at my new work place. It really is the greatest blessing from Allah to have such people in your life. Please do not give up on the less/non-practising brothers. You could be the gate-way to them returning to the deen, inshallah ta’ala. That is what happened with me, although it took several months, but Allahu ‘alim, the guidance lies with Allah Az-Wajal, and miracles happen everyday, by His Mercy. :)

  5. Question

    May 29, 2007 at 4:32 PM

    Can you define “Muslim name”? I think you might mean an Arabic name. My name might not sound “Muslim” but I still am…

  6. Amad

    May 29, 2007 at 10:01 PM

    I mean a Muslim-sounding name. So, in the example I mentioned, if Br. Ahmad was James, then I may never have known he was a Muslim until much later… we are in different sections of the class, different groups, etc.

    So, the first clue is important. For myself, when I sent my intro out on the list, I mentioned my activism in Muslim and minority civil rights groups. I was able to get my religious affiliation out there for any other Muslims.

  7. AbdulHasib

    May 30, 2007 at 10:17 AM

    hmm one thing about ‘testing the waters.’ It’s great to find practicing muslims in the workplace, but i’d like to suggest something.

    Often times we find muslims who don’t pray, or are not observant. In these times we should be taking the initiative to befriend them, and draw them closer to the deen with our ‘deeny’ and friendly atttitude.

    I work in a hospital and you would be absolutely surprised (well maybe not) at the reactions from people as to my background or the fact I pray, etc. Especially some muslims.

    They expect that since you have a beard like some foreign invader in their ward, but as soon as you start talking.. literally one heart warming african american lady goes “oh you’re a REAL american.” (ha I still am trying to find out what she meant by that).

    The point is: part of your da’wah should be towards muslim (as well as non-muslim of course) co-workers/classmates, and inculcate friendliness. Bottom line – your mannerisms dictates their view on islam.

    What I find is these muslims seem to be estranged and once they see a person that seems to be as successful as them, is well spoken, ambitious, self-governing, speaks and dictates with rational thought… it’s nothing short of shock and awe, and shattering their preconcieved notions and their estrangement. I’ve witnessed this myself.

    In conclusion, it’s our attitude sometimes to pin point only ‘religious’ muslim friends, that causes neglect of those muslims who feel estranged. No one is saying to go get full on inviting-over, buddy-buddy with anyone (as my aunt would say there’s “levels of friendship”). But have we forgotten part of Brotherhood is caring for ALL your brothers.

    And per-chance that friendship that grows amongst that muslim (or even non-muslim) co-worker/classmate grows into them joining you for salah one day, one day coming to the masjid, perhaps hearing a lecture, a tear being shed, and a moment of reflection, with a decision to change their life for the better… imagine the possibilities. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

    .. The brotherhood in Islam is for all.

    And i’m sorry for the tangent -).

    We miss you bro ‘Amad!

  8. AbdulHasib

    May 30, 2007 at 10:19 AM

    Oh and that’s with all-due-respect akhi ‘Amad. That post was not directed to YOU at all. ha I was speaking in general.

  9. Amad

    May 30, 2007 at 12:23 PM

    ASA.. AbdulHasib, good points. The trouble is how much to ‘pester’… you see I keep trying to say salam to those non-practicing or at least apparently non-practicing and get a “hi” instead… I mean, unlike full-time undergrad school, you may not get extended opportunities to engage them. And religion is usually considered a very sensitive issue in professional settings, so the approach can be difficult esp. when the fine line between discussion and nagging starts becoming fuzzy.

    miss u too bro

  10. AbdulHasib

    May 30, 2007 at 1:51 PM

    Allahu ‘Alam. I understand fully, I say for the most part actions do most of the talking.

    People will notice if ones actions (menial or religious) seem (and they should be) ordinary or common: one may be talking to someone and it’s salah time and you go “oh hey i have to go pray guys talk to you later! *smile*.” or woman shaking hand, etc. (if you haven’t dodged it altogether or something ha) “*smile* i’m sorry I can’t shake hands with women, its out of respect.. and ha my wife *insert joke*” Or if someone makes a comment you may not be pleased with giving them that “smirk of disapproval” and then turning away, etc.

    The basis of my point is simple, it doesn’t require great lengths to adjust to people and try to impress Islam in each conversation or bring up the issue of religiosity at tandem, ha.

    I nearly guarantee that if we’re confident in showing Islam in our actions,i t not only will spark their interest, but they will be the ones that will ask questions and initiate the discussions; and that by default is a good step in constructive da’wah (not to say one shouldn’t initiate the discussion, etc.). Islam IS THE answer and people are drawn to it by default, it’s just a matter of are we going to be part of the answer or part of the problem?

    And that requires just being Muslim and using Hikmah.. which is to “put something in it’s proper place.” i.e. to say the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, in the right environment.

    And as shaykh Yasir famously has said, “that’s all that is asked of us, that’s all Allah wants from us, that’s all that is in need of us to do.” (aw kama qaala shaykh Yasir)

    WAllahu ‘Alam

  11. Amad

    May 30, 2007 at 7:09 PM

    FYI, the Lebanese guy turns out to be Orthodox Christian (very nice dude) and the other Lebanese a Mennonite (?) Christian. I hear that the latter have a particularly strong distaste for Muslims… don’t know about all the sectarian/religious dynamics in Lebanon, but based on all that is going on, obviously there are lots of issues…

  12. Sami

    May 31, 2007 at 8:30 AM

    hey do you know a bro called Ayaz at Wharton? He’s in the year above you. looks hispanic but is bangladeshi i think

  13. Umair

    May 31, 2007 at 11:55 AM

    Amad – There are a good number of Muslims at Wharton (and at Penn in general). If you need help connecting with them, let me know and I can introduce you to some good brothers who are recent Wharton alums.

  14. Amad

    May 31, 2007 at 10:18 PM

    salam… Umair, I got in touch with Mahmood, who graduated already and is in CA…he should be sending me more info inshallah of current students.

    I wouldn’t mind more names though, esp. of Wharton (trying to start a network as well), please email them to me.

    Sami, I in the E-program… most F/T students are on break… but if you can send me Ayaz’s contact that will be great…

    jak

  15. AnonyMouse

    May 31, 2007 at 10:54 PM

    Amad, I think you mean “Maronite” Christian… :)

  16. Umair

    June 1, 2007 at 10:50 AM

    Amad – If you give me your e-mail address, I’ll put you in touch with Farhan, a recent MBA alum.

  17. Amad

    June 1, 2007 at 6:54 PM

    Mouse, jak for the correction.

    Maronite is quite different from Mennonite, though both are Christian sects.

  18. abu ameerah

    June 3, 2007 at 10:26 PM

    You’ve done it again Amad!

    Interesting post.

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