Excerpts from "Muslim American Leaders: A Wave of Conversion to Islam in the U.S. Following September 11" © Middle East Media & Research Institute
Muslim American reports in the Arab press indicate that Muslim proselytizing efforts have been unusually successful since the September 11 attacks. 'Alaa Bayumi, Director of Arab Affairs at the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat that "non-Muslim Americans are now interested in getting to know Islam. There are a number of signs...: Libraries have run out of books on Islam and the Middle East... English translations of the Koran head the American best-seller list... The Americans are showing increasing willingness to convert to Islam since September 11... Thousands of non-Muslim Americans have responded to invitations to visit mosques, resembling the waves of the sea [crashing on the shore] one after another... All this is happening in a political atmosphere that, at least verbally, encourages non-Muslim Americans' openness towards Muslims in America and in the Islamic world, as the American president has said many times in his speeches..."(1)
CAIR chairman Nihad Awad told the Saudi paper 'Ukaz that "34,000 Americans have converted to Islam following the events of September 11, and this is the highest rate reached in the U.S. since Islam arrived there."(2)
According to Dr. Walid A. Fatihi, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston has recently become a center of Islamic proselytizing aimed at Christians. On September 22, 2001, Al-Fatihi sent a letter to the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, in which he described the unfolding of events since September 11: "...From the first day, the media began to insinuate that Muslim Arab hands were behind this incident. At noon, the directors and administration of the Islamic Center of Boston held an emergency meeting, and I stayed on the line with them from my clinic. We decided to hold a blood drive, and we set up a committee to contact the Red Cross and organize it for us. We invited the media to cover the event..."
"All of us tried to grab onto every scrap of information that would indicate that Muslim Arab hands were not involved in the loathsome crime. Yes, my brothers and sisters, we tried to prove our humanity on the day we found ourselves attacked from all sides. Our hearts bled and our spokesman said that proselytizing in the name of Allah had been set back 50 years in the U.S. and in the entire world..."
"On Saturday, September 15, I went with my wife and children to the biggest church in Boston, [Trinity Church in] Copley Square, by official invitation of the Islamic Society of Boston, to represent Islam by special invitation of the senators of Boston. Present were the mayor of Boston, his wife, and the heads of the universities. There were more than 1,000 people there, with media coverage by one of Boston's main television stations. We were received like ambassadors. I sat with my wife and children in the front row, next to the mayor's wife. In his sermon, the priest defended Islam as a monotheistic religion, telling the audience that I represented the Islamic Society of Boston."
"After the sermon was over, he stood at my side as I read an official statement issued by the leading Muslim clerics condemning the incident [i.e. the attacks]. The statement explained Islam's stance and principles, and its sublime precepts. Afterwards, I read Koran verses translated into English... These were moments that I will never forget, because the entire church burst into tears upon hearing the passages of the words of Allah!!"
"Emotion swept over us. One said to me: 'I do not understand the Arabic language, but there is no doubt that the things you said are the words of Allah.' As she left the church weeping, a woman put a piece of paper in my hand; on the paper was written: 'Forgive us for our past and for our present. Keep proselytizing to us.' Another man stood at the entrance of the church, his eyes teary, and said, 'You are just like us; no, you are better than us.'" (3)
"On Sunday, September 16, the Islamic Society of Boston issued an open invitation to the Islamic Center in Cambridge, located between Harvard and MIT. We did not expect more than 100 people, but to our surprise more than 1,000 people came, among them the neighbors, the university lecturers, members of the clergy, and even the leaders of the priests from the nearby churches, who invited us to speak on Islam. All expressed solidarity with Muslims. Many questions flowed to us. Everyone wanted to know about Islam and to understand its precepts."
"Of all the questions, not a single one attacked me; on the contrary, we saw [the people's] eyes filling with tears when they heard about Islam and its sublime principles. Many of them had never heard about Islam before. Well, they had heard about Islam only through the biased media. That same day, I was invited again to participate in a meeting in the church, and again I saw the same things. On Thursday, a delegation of 300 students and lecturers from Harvard visited the center of the Islamic Society of Boston, accompanied by the American Ambassador to Vienna. They sat on the floor of the mosque, which was filled to capacity. We explained to them the precepts of Islam, and defended it from any suspicions [promulgated in the media]. I again read to them from the verses of Allah, and [their] eyes filled with tears. The audience was moved, and many asked to participate in the weekly lessons for non-Muslims held by the Islamic Center..."
"On Friday, September 21, the Muslims participated in a closed meeting with the governor of Massachusetts. In the meeting, a discussion was held on introducing Islam into the school curriculum, to inform the [American] people and to fight racism against Muslims arising from the American people's ignorance regarding the religion. With the governor's support, measures to examine implementation of this goal were agreed upon..."
"These are only some of the examples of what happened and is happening in the city of Boston, and in many other American cities, during these days. Proselytizing in the name of Allah has not been undermined, and has not been set back 50 years, as we thought in the first days after September 11. On the contrary, the 11 days that have passed are like 11 years in the history of proselytizing in the name of Allah. I write to you today with the absolute confidence that over the next few years, Islam will spread in America and in the entire world, Allah willing, much more quickly than it has spread in the past, because the entire world is asking, 'What is Islam!'(4)
Fatihi's reports of American Christians' crying upon hearing Koranic verses have an historical context. This type of narrative is about part of the ethos of Islamic proselytizing. It comes from the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad's invitation to the Christian community of Najran, located in what is today North Yemen, to visit the mosque. When the Christians of Najran were exposed to the verses of the Koran, the tradition says they burst into tears and converted to Islam.
Fatihi also published an article in the London daily Al-Hayat:
"...There are initial signs that the intensive campaign of education about Islam has begun to bear fruit. For example, the rate of converts to Islam since September 11 has doubled… There is solidarity with the Muslims on the part of many non-Muslims in American universities. For example, dozens of non-Muslim American women students at Wayne [State] University… have put on veils as a symbol of identification with the Muslim women students at the university and at the other universities of America."
"One of the most important topics [in an NPR broadcast] was an interview with several young women at American universities who recently converted to Islam through the Islamic Society of Boston. They hold advanced degrees from universities in Boston, such as Harvard, and they spoke of the power and the greatness of Islam, of the elevated status of women in Islam, and of why they converted to Islam. The program was broadcast several times across the entire U.S..." (5)
Notes and references:
(1) Al-Hayat (London), November 11, 2001
(2) Al-Ayyam (London), November 12, 2001
(3) The phenomenon of sincere Christians shedding tears as they recognize the truth and beauty of Islam is mentioned in the Qur'an:
And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud. When they listen to that which hath been revealed unto the messengers, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses [Qur'an 5:82-83]
(4) Al-Ahram Al-Arabi (Egypt), October 20, 2001
(5) Al-Hayat (London), November 11, 2001