Patiently educating – Ahmed Lotfy Rashed shares What Would a Muslim Say?
By Andrew Kosorok
Call them to the path of your Lord with wisdom and words of good advice; and reason with them in the best way.
What is the best way to respond when everyone hates you?
In my experience, most non-Muslims are curious and a little guarded when they finally get to the point when they to talk to a Muslim about what it actually means to be Muslim. People are generally kind and perhaps a bit uncomfortable talking about faith, but usually each of us expect everyone else to be like us, too – we care about our families, we want what’s best for our children, and we enjoy the freedom of living in a safe neighborhood.
However, that’s not what we see in the media.
Turn on a tv or look at the current newsfeed online, and we’re shown images of anger, confrontation, and violence. That’s not because people never get along – most people do – we’re shown those images because people being nice to each other just doesn’t sell advertising.
All that being said – what if you had a job where you were supposed to talk to angry people all the time? Where you had to correspond – politely – to people who only got their information from salacious media stories? People who, in their ignorance, are mad at the fact that you are you? And who blame everything bad in the world on you?
I couldn’t do it.
However, my friend Ahmed has just this kind of job. Everyday, there are roughly 170 billion hours of human activity all around the world, and the news media only reports on the absolute worst of the worst. And Ahmed volunteers – yes, he actually wants to do it – to talk to the people who hold him responsible.
It’s really not quite that bad, but reading some of what he has to deal with makes me feel like it is.
Ahmed Lotfy Rashed is author of What Would a Muslim Say? Conversations, Questions, and Answers About Islam. This is a collection of his actual email correspondence from his days working with WhyIslam?, answering questions about Islam from people who struggle with the daily deluge of misinformation delivered to us from popular media – and from some people who are truly sincere in their search for answers.
Accounts run the gamut of frustrating to heartwarming, but Ahmed does not sugar coat or pull any punches as he shares his experience. Regardless of how he himself is treated, he always remains kind and patient – “It is easy to be patient with a person you’ve never seen;” he told me, “the real test of faith is to maintain a pleasant demeanor when faced with hostility face-to-face. Fortunately, spending my high-school years working in the fast-food industry gave me lots of practice in that fine art!”
He began his tenure as a volunteer in 2009, and I asked him a few questions about his personal journey – from his days when he started exploring Islam to the present. After a traumatic and very public event during his Green Belt tae-kwon-do test in the 6th grade, he decided to start from scratch and carefully examine everything he had been taught. “Over the course of the next four years of soul searching, I came to conclude that there really was a Creator and that Islam was the correct way to serve Him.”
As life moved on he tried to live up to his personal convictions, and moments of lucidity and confirmation of his faith continue. “Together the big event that started me on my personal journey to God and the minor events that soothed my heart and gave me hope in times of emotional intensity (both dark and light) make me the Muslim I am today.”
I asked how his whole “Ask a Muslim” volunteer gig started.
He mentioned that the attacks on the World Trade Center happened while he was in grad school, and he attended a campus-wide discussion just a few hours after these terrible events. A young woman in attendance shared her pain and anger, and her desire to punish those responsible. He stood up and asked if he could respond – “The professors handed me their microphone, and that is when I started talking about Islam as a faith and how it differs from the politics that the Muslim world experiences. The rest, as they say, is history.” He was subsequently given many opportunities to share his faith and answer questions in many venues and forums, and this led to his email correspondences.
This kind of volunteerism, though, does take its toll. Many volunteers find it difficult to keep up with the emotional strain – the WhyIslam? forum is a magnet for people whose initial questions are a result of hate and negativity. How does he find the strength to continue? “I always remind myself that I am not ‘selling’ Islam to anyone. I only care that my correspondent understands what Islam is really all about… whether they agree with me or not is irrelevant.”
His family supports him continuously. His wife has a certificate in Qur’an recitation and teaches at local mosques. “We often compare notes when one of her teenage students asks a question about Islamic faith or practice similar to what outreach visitors sometimes ask me.”
One thing I particularly appreciate about What Would a Muslim Say? is the variety of reactions and responses. Although some of his correspondents use him as a virtual punching bag (it was obvious a few people didn’t bother to read his calmly worded, well-researched responses), others relax and actually listen. The important thing, as Ahmed repeats, is not to “sell” Islam, but to share what Islam actually teaches and represents. And there have even been a few who found, once they truly listened, their hearts resonated with the message.
In the Qur’an (49:13), we are told the Creator made us different so we learn from those differences – Ahmed never set out to convert the world through his volunteering, but to share the truth of his faith so his fellow human beings can learn. His composure, his compassion, and his patience, I believe, speak profoundly to his integrity and convictions of belief.
You can find his books What Would a Muslim Say? and The Qur’an Discussions: What Would a Muslim Say (Vol 2) are both available in electronic and paperback versions. You can also learn more about WhyIslam? here.
Andrew Kosorok is a traditionally trained stained glass artist, who has also studied traditional bookbinding techniques. In addition to commissioned studio work, designing, building, and restoring stained glass windows, Andrew work with sculptural stained glass. He enjoys looking for opportunities to explore dialogs of pluralism and shared community. —> View all posts