Reflections of a Muslim Outreach Worker (part 1)
“You will never understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.”
For the past 10 years, I have helped facilitate dialogue with many different people, answering questions about Islam and addressing misconceptions about my faith. It has always been my belief that understanding comes with dialogue so I would like to take this opportunity to share some reflections about the dialogues I have had over the years.
One of my earliest lessons as a WhyIslam volunteer was that there are three main types of visitors. The first type hates Islam and Muslims, no matter what we may say. They have a right to their opinion, and as the Qur’an says: You are only responsible for conveying the message. (13:40) So I learned to keep emotionally aloof, replying only with enough objective facts to address their issue or refute their accusations. This has the benefit of keeping the conversation from degenerating into unproductive arguments.
The second type is supportive of Islam and Muslims and usually come requesting clarification and advice. For these visitors, I learned that they are hungry for details; therefore, it is okay to go more in depth, with tangential comments or background stories. These extra details add substance to the conversation and often lead to other lines of inquiry that these visitors find very valuable to them.
The third type is the truly undecided, and it is this type that provided the most memorable and soul-shifting conversations. To me, these visitors represent the essence of what we are trying to achieve: to touch the minds and hearts of those who do not know us and bring them from a position of not knowing about Islam and Muslims to a position of knowing Islam and Muslims. Even if they do not agree with us at the end of the conversation, what is important is that there were dialogue and the opportunity for improved understanding.
The last thing I learned is that sometimes people disengage and stop responding. Nobody is obligated to reply, and for this reason, every reply is precious. Likewise, remember that “in real life,” nobody is obligated to return your greeting or your salutation of peace; therefore, everyone who does respond to you — whether neighbor or classmate or coworker — is likewise precious.
About the Author
Ahmed Lotfy Rashed was born in Egypt and raised in Maryland. Since coming to Boston in 2004, he has been an active volunteer at several mosques in the Greater Boston Area. He has been the head instructor for the local Islam101 class since 2006. Also, he has been a volunteer for WhyIslam.org since 2009. He has presented Islam at schools and churches, and he has hosted visits to several major mosques in the area.
Ahmed’s debut book, What Would a Muslim Say: Conversations, Questions, and Answers About Islam, is available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N7V28AK.
You can find more samples of the author’s work — plus free presentations, lecture notes, and resource guides — at http://www.whatwouldamuslimsay.net.