I did not heed his warning. Again I went to Mr. Fernandez; then he asked me “DID JOSEPH, MARY, THE 12 DISCIPLES WORSHIP JESUS CHRIST AS GOD, AS YOU SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS DO TODAY?” I turned speechless.
I went back to our quarter in Zamboanga City, and debated with my team leader! At that moment after our confrontation, our team leader immediately ordered me to pack up my things and leave. That time I could not accept that I was a Muslim. My team leader and our whole group branded me that I became a Muslim and not fit to do our task in a Muslim community.
With tears and confusion, I was forced to leave my SDA companions. That was the turning point which led me to research Islam and eventually became a Muslim a few months later in September 1981, Isabela, Basilan, Philippines.
I pondered. The center of the Muslim world is in the Middle East! If the West and the East knew the life of the Prophets, and particularly Jesus’ life, how about in the Middle East - the birthplace of the Prophets, and where the Muslims are praying, in the House of God,… built by Abraham, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.
There are almost two billion Muslims throughout the world, and more people are embracing Islam daily than any other religion. Why? This trend had challenged me to research history in the Middle East and the life of the last Prophet.
I never thought that Muslims believe in God, as well as the above mentioned. What I had believed before was that Muslims are people who are doomed to Hellfire. Some non-Muslims believe that Muslims are like rats, a menace to a developed and peaceful society.
This might be the reason why some countries systematically carry out ethnic cleansing and deprive Muslims of basic human rights. Such state-sponsored activities were done in Bosnia, Kosova, Kashmir, Chechnya, Mindanao, and the occupied territories in Israel which originally belong to Palestinians. […]
I embraced Islam because I found out that Islam is the true way of life (religion) prescribed by God, given to the Prophets, and the Quran is the only perfect book of God that has never been revised. I am appealing to non-Muslims to know about Islam from the Quran and authentic sayings or references written by Muslims.
At the time I write this article, the population of the Philippines has reached 95 million, only 10% are Muslims. This means that more than 80 million are non-Muslims, and the majority of these non-Muslims are Christians. Most Islamic propagators in the Philippines are driven to Muslim-Arab Countries for economic survival. If our Arab Muslim brothers are sincere to spread the message of Islam, why don’t they send us back to our country with substantial support to propagate Islam there?
In Saudi Arabia 90% who embraced Islam are Filipinos. It is easy for the Filipinos to understand Islam because the original culture and traditions of Filipinos are rooted in Islam. Historically, Islam came to the Philippines in 1380, almost 200 years before Christianity.
Christianity came to the Philippines on March 16, 1521. Muslims remained a minority due to incessant civil war, struggle for independence and enormous efforts and well-funded activities of Christian Missionaries. The early Christians embraced Christianity not because they love and understand Christianity. They were forced to embrace Christianity through guns and cannons brought by the Christian Spaniards.
Personally, spreading Islam to Christians is an interesting and challenging endeavor. Due to my background as an energetic Evangelist in SDA, I am enthusiastic in propagating Islam both publicly or privately. Alhamdulillah! I strongly believe that light is for the darkness: Likewise, the non-Muslims need Islam for them to see that light and embrace the truth.
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Two Muslim boys in Switzerland have declined, on religious grounds, to handshake with their female teachers. The school district says Swiss custom should override religion and is now threatening to fine the parents of the boys $5,000 if the boys continue to refuse to comply.
Some years ago, I worked with a male Muslim intern who refused to shake my hand for religious reasons. The experience challenged me to think more deeply about tolerance and diversity, and I think the lessons I learned are worth sharing.
In the summer of 2010, as Director of the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, I hired my first Muslim intern, a young man named Muhammad. I was eager to move beyond studying Islam from a distance and to develop the project into an opportunity for Muslim and non-Muslim Americans to collaborate together as partners on issues of shared concern.
I was impressed by Muhammad’s resume, which included a rigorous education at an excellent college that left him just as prepared to attend graduate school in Islamic studies or medical school (he has since done both). We had never met in person, as the internship had been arranged via e-mail. But on paper, he sure seemed like a rising star.
The first thing that happened when he arrived in Princeton to start his internship was that he refused to shake my hand. The shock was my initial response. I tried to hide how stunned I was, but it was difficult. He was absolutely gracious in declining. I felt angry when he refused to shake my hand just because I am female, but it was hard to be angry at someone who was so kind. It wasn’t even clear to me what or who the object of my confused anger was. He explained that it was due to his religious beliefs that he does not shake women’s hands. Was I, who had hired this intern to help with religious freedom work, going to reject his freedom to follow his religious beliefs?
I suppressed how baffled and worried I felt. I moved right along as if nothing had happened. I welcomed him to the Witherspoon Institute and began introducing him to the work we would be doing that summer. But inside, my head and heart were spinning.
I have zero patience—I mean zero—for misogyny. I’ve had boys in Yemen throw stones at me and another woman. I’ve been treated like a dangerous toxic substance by a Catholic priest who seemed to wish desperately that women just didn’t exist. “Misogyny” is a word I don’t use lightly, but there are times when it is the appropriate descriptor of some men’s attitudes. I could not help but wonder: was misogyny what I was experiencing? What I would be in all summer long?
Yet, because I recognized that I did not understand why this young man refused to shake my hand, I did not jump to conclusions. Instead, I took a “wait-and-see” approach. He was an American. A kid from the Jersey shore. His refusal was religious, not cultural. I realized that I knew almost nothing about this young man. Who was I to judge him? Moreover, I badly needed an assistant at work and had prepared a mighty long to-do list for him. I knew we needed to work together in a spirit of collaboration to get through the busy summer ahead. An antagonistic relationship seemed like it would only get in the way. I swallowed my fears and acted as nothing had happened.
But something had happened: my assumptions about my own tolerance had been jolted with a radical challenge. Was I tolerant enough and sufficiently appreciative of diversity—particularly of religious diversity—to live and let live, even if it made me feel slighted?
That summer with Muhammed, along with subsequent collaboration at the Witherspoon Institute with Orthodox Jewish men who did not shake women’s hands, taught me many lessons.
Lesson one: I was reminded concretely of something I knew abstractly: namely, that Muslims are diverse. This young man was from a particular interpretive school of Shia Islam with which I was not very familiar. In over twenty years of academic studies and professional work related to Islam, I had never met a Muslim who, for religious reasons, would not shake a woman’s hand. Well, here was one. And then I met Orthodox Jewish men who would not shake my hand. And here too I was reminded: Jews are diverse. Moreover, for religious reasons, some Muslim women and some Orthodox Jewish women do not shake men’s hands. Issues of modesty, chastity, and ritual purity can involve both men and women; this is not just an issue of male attitudes toward women.
Lesson two: the reasons some religious men do not have social physical contact with women outside of their direct families should not always be reduced to misogyny. Where there is actual misogyny, it is something to be taken seriously. But painting all males with a broad brush is neither fair nor accurate. Men should be given the opportunity to speak for themselves, to explain their own thoughts, intentions, and consciences.
Lesson three: refusal to have physical contact with women is not necessarily equivalent to a refusal to recognize that women have professional abilities. This intern had absolutely no problem having a woman as his boss that summer. He was eager to assist me, and he always listened attentively to directions I gave him. He consistently did an excellent job carrying out the tasks I assigned to him.
Lesson four: refusal to have physical contact with women is not necessarily equivalent to a refusal to recognize that women have intellectual abilities. That summer, starting from that very first day, this intern and I had fantastic discussions about some of the greatest minds in Muslim intellectual history. He asked me lots of questions about my dissertation and treated me as a person from whom he thought he might learn something. He gave me brilliant reading recommendations in modern Islamic theology, all of them profound and challenging sources. He never treated me as if he thought I was stupid. Never.
Muhammad was a fantastic intern. We were lucky to have him work with us that summer at the Witherspoon Institute. He was a delightful colleague for all of us at the Institute and, significantly, he treated all the women with respect.
While I do not know the particular reasons for the refusal of the two Syrian boys in Switzerland to shake women’s hands, I can’t help but think of my intern Muhammad. After his internship, he went on to do a Master’s Degree at Harvard in Islamic theology, and now he is in medical school preparing to serve others in society as a doctor. As an American, I feel my country is lucky to have such a talented man, who values public service, as a citizen. If these two boys are even half as talented and kind as Muhammad, the loss will be Switzerland’s if this family cannot stay there.
I can’t say that I genuinely understand why Muhammad won’t shake women’s hands, but having to live without fully understanding is something that I think comes with the territory of genuine diversity. Muhammad allows me the freedom to shake the hands of men who choose to partake of this cultural practice, and I allow him the freedom not to.
The principle of religious freedom demands that we allow space in our society for the difference. Genuine tolerance allows for the difference. Of course, this is something quite different from trying to pass off the imposition of the cultural norms of those who are in power as “tolerance” simply by labeling it so. I hope that the Swiss government is able to tell the difference between the two—not only for the sake of those boys and their families but for the sake of their own society.
Jennifer S. Bryson, PhD, is Director of Operations and Development at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom in Washington, DC.
My name is Justin Peyton, and I am a 29-year-old African American convert to Islam, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a loving, two-parent, and middle-class household with three siblings.
Growing up, my family and I identified ourselves as Christians, but we were never members of a church, nor did we attend Sunday services or other activities. The extent of religious expression in our home was celebrating Christmas.
[…] If I had to identify one single event as the starting point for my journey to Islam, it would have to be the tragic events of 9/11. After months of seeing very unflattering media coverage about Islam and Muslims, it occurred to me that the negative portrait being painted did not coincide with the experiences I had with Muslim classmates, neighbors, and others, growing up in Philadelphia.
It also occurred to me that despite knowing Muslims, I had never actually bothered to take the time to learn about their faith.
So, with the open-mindedness instilled in me by my parents, I decided to research some facts about Islam in order to reconcile the apparent disparity between my personal experiences and media coverage.
[…] Spurred to learn more, I went to a local bookstore, purchased a copy of the Quran, and began to read. I could spend pages listing which information struck me most and why, but suffice it to say that everything that I read made intrinsic sense to me.
After a few more months I decided that reading and learning about Islam on my own was not enough, so I searched to find any nearby mosques.
I contacted the closest mosque, which was about 45 miles away, spoke to their president, and arranged a time to visit and discuss Islam with local Muslims.
On the appointed day, I showed up and spent a great deal of time talking to a very helpful brother. Unbeknownst to me, the information he shared permeated my heart.
During my second visit […] it dawned on me that I believed that Islam was the truth, so right then and there, I took my Testimony of Faith and spent the whole weekend at the mosque learning what was necessary for me to perform the ritual prayers on my own when I returned to school.
That community was wonderful and had I stayed in the vicinity, and I am sure that I would have received a lot of support adjusting to my life as a new Muslim. But that was not to be. Prior to the events of 9/11, I had developed an interest in the military, and continued discussions with local armed forces recruiters, concurrent with the exploration of Islam that would lead to my conversion. […] Looking back on that part of my life, I am grateful for the skills I gained and the experiences I had during the course of my service. But in retrospect, the timing between these two events was less than ideal.
Even after leaving training, I was located in an area of the U.S. With no Muslim community, which prevented me from developing my faith. It wasn't until some three years into my service that I met another practicing Muslim service member who would be able to teach me both about Islam and how to navigate military life as a Muslim. May God reward him for his efforts.
After completing my military service in the summer of 2007, I moved back to Philadelphia, became an active member of a local mosque, and was blessed with the ability to obtain a job at the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization for Muslims.
The two years I spent as a part of the Philadelphia Muslim community, and an employee of CAIR-PA was a tremendous learning experience that really spurred my development and whetted my appetite for more.
And that leads me to where I am now, an Islamic chaplaincy student at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, pursuing its combined Masters of Arts in Islamic studies, Christian-Muslim relations and Graduate Certificate in Islamic chaplaincy.
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