American and Muslim

Shaykh Yasir is an amazing teacher. In sha Allah, I want to take his next AlMaghrib Seminar Light Upon Light: Aqeedah 201. I have benefitted tremendously from his lectures, classes, and his books. A nice article from his hometown paper the Houston Chronicle:

Islamic scholar, a Houston native, brings cultural insight to lectures on his religion

Houston Chronicle

Copyright 2005


Age: 30 • Hometown: Houston

Currently: Doctoral student at Yale University

Quote: “I feel that only somebody who has been exposed to both East and West can really be a bridge between East and West, and I want to be that type of bridge.”

IT’S become an adage that on Sept. 11 the world changed.

For Yasir Qadhi, the terrorist attacks in the United States changed his life plans.

On course for a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Saudi Arabia, Qadhi was in the midst of his education on the day he learned that two planes had crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center.

“The first thought that came to my mind was, ‘Oh, Allah, I hope it is not Muslims,’ ” he said.

Once the terrorists were identified, his heart sank.

“I was shattered completely. Flabbergasted, broken. Our religion is not about terrorism. I felt that this act had closed the doors for our preaching to Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam.”

As it turned out, the door was not closed, Qadhi said. But in the aftermath of the attacks, he decided to complete only his master’s degree at the Islamic University of Medina and return to the United States to continue his studies and to teach his faith.

“I felt the need to teach the Muslims and non-Muslims about the reality of Islam,” said Qadhi, who changed, for professional purposes, the spelling of his last name from Kazi.

The native Houstonian returned to the States in February and began teaching and preaching in mosques in Houston and around the country. During the summer he gave a weekly lecture on the life of Muhammad to packed halls at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s mosque on Synott Road.

In August, Qadhi headed east to Yale University, where he is enrolled in the doctoral program in Islamic studies — an educational experience vastly different from his 10 years of studies in Saudi Arabia.

“The whole point of coming back was to broaden my horizons,” Qadhi said.

“I wanted to be exposed to (Yale). I feel that only somebody who has been exposed to both East and West can really be a bridge between East and West, and I want to be that type of bridge.”

In many ways, Qadhi bridges more than East and West.

His parents were born in India. Qadhi is an American on his way to becoming a religious scholar in a tradition that has few American-born religious leaders and few without gray in their beards. He earned a degree from the University of Houston in chemical engineering and turned away from a career in science to study faith. He is a conservative Muslim, trained in Saudi Arabia by some of the faith’s most orthodox, who is now part of America’s Ivy League.

“One of the main problems we have is a lot of scholars are from overseas,” said Shariq Abdul Ghani, 24, who attended Qadhi’s lectures this summer and considers him a mentor. “For Yasir Qadhi to speak on a subject, he understands the dynamics of Americans and young people.”

The Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which runs a number of mosques, does not have any imams who were born in the United States, said society president Rodwan Saleh.

Many of the foreign-born scholars work well with their American audiences, he said.

Others are fluent in neither English nor American culture.

“The second generation of Islam (in America) is already in place,” Saleh said. “I feel therefore they have to have someone who understands the culture.”

Qadhi’s interest in seeking a Yale degree is not unusual, said David Cook, assistant professor of religious studies at Rice University.

“There is definitely a trend among certain groups of (Muslims), especially Europeans and Americans, to educate themselves in secular universities,” said Cook, who teaches about Islam. “I think it is a trend that is analogous to evangelical or conservative Christians who go to secular universities.”

In Islam, there is no official clergy. Instead, mosques often are run by civic leaders and scholars hired to teach classes or lead prayers. For the Friday midday prayer, which is preceded by a sermon, the most knowledgeable person is called on to speak.

“Using the word clergy with regard to Islam is highly problematic,” Cook said. “It implies a hierarchy, which Muslims deny.”

Yet, scholars are called on to lead prayers and educate. And after terrorists bombed the London subway, many wondered who was influencing young British-born men who would stuff explosives into their backpacks.

“I used to say that … you are never going to find a homegrown terrorist,” Qadhi said. “And I still say that what happened (in London) was the exception rather than the rule.”

Why someone raised in the West would strap a bomb to himself and kill commuters remains a mystery to Qadhi, he said. But he does see extremism in Islam, in part, as a result of a misunderstanding of the faith.

In his travels around the United States to give lectures, Qadhi said he has seen a “surge of spirituality” among young American Muslims.

“I guess they are searching for answers,” he said. “It is confusing for them to see people of their own religion do this type of stuff in the name of the religion.”

But he also has encountered “a sense that injustice is being done in the name of the war on terror.” And he has met one or two young men who have suggested that they might like to head overseas on a more violent path.

“I was like, ‘No,’ ” he said. ” ‘You are showing me by your statements that you are not knowledgeable about your religion.’ ”

Qadhi said he believes “spirituality is the most important thing any Muslim can have.”

“I guide Muslims on what they should do about their religion, and that — first and foremost — is to be religious,” he said. “How can you be a good Muslim and not pray to God regularly? How can you be a good Muslim and not fast? How can you be a good Muslim and not give to charity?”

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