Part 1 – My Beginnings as a Da’ee (someone who works to call people to Islam)
By Mohamed Haroon Sait, Co-Founder of American Islamic Outreach Foundation
Today I enjoy working with American Islamic Outreach Foundation to call people to Islam, I had very humble roots which affected my desire to convey Islam to others. I was born in Kerala, a state in the south of India, a spectacular country with hundreds if not thousands of religions and cultures living side by side. Muslims comprise about 20% of the total population of India. While many perceive Muslim-Hindu relations to be strained in India, the state of Kerala with its 100% literacy rate provided me with an example of peaceful coexistence. I had Muslim, Christian and Hindu neighbors living next to me. I could hear the Church bells ringing during their call to prayer. Every morning before the athan for fajar is called; the Hindu temples would start their rituals and songs over the loud speakers. My memories of those songs are fresh that I can still hear them ringing in my ears sitting in my Harrisburg, NC home. Within a mile radius there were at least twenty five or more mosques that called Athan five times a day over the loud speakers.
The religious Hindus go to their temples during their prescribed prayer times. Christians and Muslims do the same. In our community, these prayer places are not far away from one another. Many of the mosques have temples only a stone’s throw away. For the most part, people mind their own business, do not bother one another and there is a perfect harmony between the followers of different faiths. Most Muslims do not consider working to call people to Islam because of this comfort.
I studied from first grade all the way up to 10th grade in a Catholic school that was less than a mile away from my house. Typically, in a class there were fifty students and a majority of my friends were Hindus and Christians. I would go to their house and play with them and they would come to my house and play with me. When it was time for prayer, we would part and do our thing and then come back and play again. That is how things are in India even now.
When I got to my college years, I started closely observing the practices of other faiths asking “Why do they worship that way?” These questions naturally aroused inside of me. Soon, I realized that people generally do not practice a particular faith because they read about it, researched it and got convinced about it. Rather, most people practice a thing because that is what they saw their parents do. This is also the case with many Muslim households. This led me to question, “Are all these faiths correct in worshiping in their own ways? Christians worship Jesus (AS); Hindus worship Rama, Krishna and many other deities, and then Muslims worship Allah. How can all these different ideas all be true?” Common sense did not allow me to conclude that all are right. I became more curious as time passed. This curiosity led me to discover why I should call people to Islam.
The “Mind Your Own Business” policy was certainly comfortable for everyone. “Why question someone’s belief? Let them do what they want to do.” was the prevalent attitude with a majority of the people. “Interfaith” discussion happened all the time about the new Bollywood movie, or about the actor or actress, about the sale going on in the textile retailer in the city center and plenty of other topics. But there was no discussion on God or on why we fast in Ramadan! Or why do you worship a Cow? That was a comfortable status quo. But certainly it was a hurdle for any constructive discussion or exchange of ideas.
Well, even if no one actively worked to call people to Islam, it would suffice if Muslims had a great edge on morality and truthfulness. Unfortunately we have our share of bad apples through the ages. Looking at the conduct of many Muslims and getting attracted to the teachings of Islam has a very remote possibility. In India you will find Hindu and Christian leaders who are just and upright in their conduct. Should then that mean Hinduism and Christianity is right and better than Islam? Of course we cannot solely judge a faith based on their followers conduct; that is a universal axiom.
The “Mind your Business” policy did not seem to be a healthy attitude to me. If Islam is the right way of life then we have to tell people about it. If I am convinced that worshiping someone other than the creator can lead one to the Hellfire, how is it logical to shut up and let them go to the fire? I could not understand that. During this time, my brother Jaffer showed me some of the printed material he received from Islamic Propagation Center headed by the late Sheikh Ahmad Deedat in Durban, South Africa. I was fascinated by his powerful lectures and debates. His work on inviting people to Islam attracted me as I was already thinking that people need to be called to the truth and that I should call people to Islam.
By this time I became interested in learning more about Islam. I attended lectures frequently and read as many books as I could lay my hands on. The teachings of Islam and the simple logic it presented became clear like daylight. The more I read, the more I was convinced that the truth of Islam has to be spoken out with clarity and that it is not something to be kept as a secret. During this time, I had completed my Bachelor degree in Computer Engineering from the Regional Engineering College in the city of Calicut, in the northern part of Kerala. A year later I went to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to work as a programmer and carried my enthusiasm for calling people to Islam along with me to Saudi Arabia. Now in Saudi Arabia, being an Islamic country, calling to people is encouraged. The government has setup several Call and Guidance offices in many parts of the city. In the office I had non-Muslim colleagues who came from India and Philippines. I became a conduit for sourcing books from the Call and Guidance locations and distributing them to my colleagues. Here, discussions about religion were conducted. I have to admit it was not always a pleasant ending, some people listened and others argued. The more they argued, the more I pondered on my own arguments and improved them so that I could call people to Islam in a clear and effective way.
Once Sheikh Zakir Naik came to Jeddah for a presentation on Islam. I was fortunate to attend and also ask him a question on the benefits of following lunar calendar for fasting in Ramadan. In Jeddah it was easy for me to access more of the video cassettes of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat and Sheikh Zakir Naik. I watched the great debate between Sheikh Ahmed Deedat and Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. Among many things, the main benefit that Sheikh Ahmed Deedat gave me was boosting my confidence in presenting Islam with clarity.
Most of the Sheikh Ahmed Deedat cassettes were from the debates and presentations he delivered in the USA. The great freedom which this predominantly Christian nation provided to a Muslim speaker in allowing him come from outside and debate fearlessly in its land was something that caught my attention and stuck in my head with awe. I said to myself, “I need to go to USA, that is the kind of place I want to be so I can speak out what I have in my heart. I can discuss, debate, and call people to the one who created us.” Alhamdulillah, in few years I got a consultancy position with a company in California and the dream to be a da’ee to call people to Islam in America became a reality.
To be continued….
Next month: My Evolution as an American Da’ee