Interviewer (Umar Nasser):
In the main Islamic society of New Hampshire, in the Masjid here, I’m joined by one of my brothers in Islam, brother Joel Underwood.
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Assalamu Alaikom (peace be upon you), and thank you for agreeing to spend some time with us and share with us your story of how you came to Islam and how you were attracted to Islam.
But as we begin, I want to know a bit about your life before you came to Islam, before you started to study Islam.
Joel: I suppose it is easiest to say I was a typical American who was raised as a Christian with some variety.
I definitely believed in God, and I was a serious person. When I was reading the Christian Bible, I would read it very carefully and critically trying to understand what it would offer. And from there, I migrated through a number of thought processes, as I grew older, trying to understand my life. I didn’t really have any exposure to Islam. I didn’t know any Muslims.
Umar: Even when you went to college?
Joel: I was not aware of any one. I went to a college in the North East of the United States which is predominantly white from the New England area. There was very little diversity in schools back then. So, my coming to Islam was really my own journey that came about in a way that I could never imagine.
From the Quran
Umar: So, I think you explain that you were in kind of an isolation. You have never been exposed to Muslims. You have never seen an example of a Muslim. It just came to you that Allah just guided you to Islam.
|I spent some six months before the trip reading the Qur’an and going on the internet|
Joel: It’s something almost that simple. I came to pick up the Quran before I was going to make a trip to Morocco. I thought I would find a little bit about the culture of an Islamic country that I could be polite and know how to behave. I didn’t know what the Quran contains or what the message of the Quran was, as I had never seen the Quran. So I spent some six months before the trip reading the Quran, going on to the internet, and so on.
Umar: Let me ask you about the Quran as this was two years ago, what means after 9/11 where there was talking about Islam and Muslims, but still you had never heard about the Quran?
Joel: I knew it existed as a religious book but never had seen it, didn’t know what it contains, or what its message was. You know, Christians have a sense of the books that are in the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, but I didn’t know that the Quran would fit in with any of the history of Christians or the Jews. I didn’t know how it would all work together.
I read through the Quran the first time and because of the richness of the Quran, particularly for someone from the outside who didn’t really know the references, didn’t know what exactly they were reading, when, for example, you read about ‘the year of the elephant’ you don’t know what is that unless you have some education about it.
So, with time I became very curious, and I saw an advertisement by this society here in Manchester about fundraising. I had no idea of what I would find, but I thought this is a good way maybe to me to know about Islam.
Umar: And before you saw this ad didn’t you know there were Muslims in Manchester?
Joel: Not really. I didn’t have any awareness of them. There was nothing in the newspapers periodically that would give you much of a clue. Hampshire is mostly white people from the North East so it’s not very diverse here.
My curiosity of the Quran was before the trip for Morocco with my wife. Reading beforehand and after visiting the places there, my interest continued. And then when I met some people here I started to get more resources of information to know what books to look at. I have met some of brothers here from the Masjid who welcomed me to come to listen to some Quran studies.
|actually I couldn’t have been received more warmly|
Umar: How did you feel? How were you received by the brothers here?
Joel: I was received just like any one; there were no prejudices towards me, nothing like ‘what are you doing here?’, ‘you don’t fit here.’ They were more than encouraging. They were very welcoming. And very soon from coming a few times, other brothers would say ‘how can I help you?’, ‘let me help you to perform your prayers. So actually I couldn’t have been received more warmly.
Umar: So you came here four times, still to better understand Islam taking the study of Islam seriously.
Joel: Exactly, I was looking at it as if you decide to become a Muslim you have to read knowing that it’s a lifetime research. You do not just try it out and say I am a Muslim for a couple of years and say ‘oh, this was hard for me’ and go back to what I was doing before.
That’s one of the big problems most people have in their religion when they want to have that cafeteria-style. They only want to pick the part that is easy. And this is not the authentic way.
So, I knew the commitment that I would have to make would be a lifetime one.
Watch this interview with brother Joel
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