Nouman Ali Khan talks to HOTD

Nouman Ali Khan is a young, dynamic daee, who approaches Islam in a sympathetic, understandable and practical way. He moved to the United States at a young age, and rediscovered the beauty of Islam while in college, from which he was motivated to learn it in greater depth. After studying Arabic in Saudi Arabia and later in Pakistan, he founded the Bayyinah Institute, under which he has successfully trained thousands to master the Arabic language.

While his dakwah activities are centred in the United States, his lecture sessions, which cover a variety of topics, are available on You Tube. His appeal largely stems from his ability to put religion in the relevant social context – his realistic approach and acknowledgement of the social background in which most people live – has made him popular especially among the young adults.

HOTD: What is your favourite surah/hadith?

Nowadays it’s Surah al Qasas.

HOTD: Which of the Companions of the Prophet do you identify closest with or is your favourite?

Mus’ab Ibn Umar Embassador of the Qur’an!

HOTD: Who are your modern day role models?

People you guys don’t know. Friends that are much older and have raised great children and I only wish to accomplish what they have with their kids.

HOTD: Someone wants to come back to Islam but doesn’t know where to start. What would you tell him?

The fact that they’re reading this means they already started. Talk to Allah and tell Him your situation. Ask Him for counsel. He will bring people and opportunities into your life you couldn’t even have imagined.

HOTD: What makes you stand out from other prominent dae’es is your relatively young age. What made you decide to take this path so early in life?

I don’t consider myself someone that stands out first of all. Its funny you say relatively young age because I feel old. Alhamdulillah I’m 34 years old and a father of six wonderful children. To be honest with you, when looking back at some of the milestone decisions I’ve made in my life, it would be extremely ungrateful of me to say that ‘I decided to take this path’. The turning point for me was when Allah, in His infinite love and mercy, blessed me with the company of remarkable friends that lead me to discover some remarkable teachers.

HOTD: So how did these individuals influence your direction in life?

The Arabs say ‫ما يخرج من القلب يصل إلى القلب what comes from the heart gets to the heart. The sincerity to the religion my best friend had was infectious. The love of Qur’an and Arabic (in order of priority) that my dear teacher had was infectious. I just pray the infection stays strong and lasts till my dying breath while Allah alone knows and has known all along where I stand.

HOTD: Now you dedicate yourself full time to spreading Islam – either through the Bayyinah Institute or your lectures. What led to this change?

The decision to switch careers was a passionate one. I was in the technology industry like so many others. I have had a full time job in one form or another since I was 16. I was actually very grateful to find a technology job during the first year of my 4 year college career that served to pay for my education. I didn’t want to burden my parents with tuition and since I don’t come from a wealthy background, I understood the responsibilities my father had in raising and eventually marrying off his three daughters. I wanted to support the family instead of being a liability. My job was going well, school was also going well but after doing some really cool Arabic studies with my teacher and getting exposed more and more to the Qur’an, I developed some very strong sentiments.

How come I’ve never experienced the Qur’an like this before? Why have I and everyone I’ve ever known underestimated the Qur’an and oversimplified its message? Something should be done about that!

I started teaching Arabic courses and khutbahs here and there and more and more my heart wasn’t in my career. The short courses I was teaching once in a while at local masjids were surprisingly successful. I was more surprised by them than anyone else. I’ll make the really long story short for this interview. When I did decide to take the leap of faith and go full time into teaching Arabic as a career which would fund my own studies of the Qur’an, those closest to me were all skeptical. They had good reason to be. But I was confident in my plan, my ‘business’ plan had been attacked left and right by my close friends in order to further refine my strategy and by the grace of Allah, I dove in.

HOTD: Most people, when they decide to dedicate themselves to Islam full time, face difficulties at the beginning. Was it the same with you?

The success of Bayyinah and my own popularity online is what most people see. What my closest friends and family know all too well are the toil, labour, sacrifice and difficulty that were all a big part of making this thing work. I look back and I wonder how I and my family survived the ordeal of the first few years.

Before moving on to the next question I’ll just say that I have tremendous respect for socially responsible entrepreneurship. That’s what I consider myself. I know that a lot of times our youth see a success story and say to themselves. ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’ Though I respect the enthusiasm and appreciate the sentiment, I want my young brothers and sisters to understand that I had never worked harder in my life until I started working for myself. I used to think working 40-50 hours a week with full time college was tough. When I started this project, those days seemed like a vacation! I’m grateful that I delivered newspapers in the dead of the winter in Queens NY when I was in high school, that I ran around in a shoe store helping customers try out different sizes, that I got yelled at everyday for messing up one thing or another at a travel agency…the list goes on and on. I’m happy that I was responsible for my own finances from an early age because it gave me respect for work and a sense of responsibility.

HOTD: How does it feel to be so well known?

I didn’t go into full time Islamic work with delusions of grandeur and fame. I just wanted to teach and provide a valuable service. I honestly didn’t expect the popularity that Alhamdulillah I and our organization have enjoyed. He is the one who gives honor and He is the one who can take it away at any moment. But I do want to underscore that the help of Allah comes to those who remain committed, serious, optimistic and most importantly sincere. May Allah count us all among them.

HOTD: You went through a confused period about Islam during your teens which led you away from Islam for a while. Alhamdulillah, you are back on solid ground. What advice would you give if someone’s faith in Islam is getting shaky?

I don’t like the phrase “solid ground”. I’m glad you asked this question because its something I’ve been meaning to talk about from a number of angles.

Before talking about those whose faith is on shaky ground, let me talk a bit about myself. I am a very average Muslim. Take the YouTube fame and the conferences and seminars away, and I’m just a Muslim. We are quickly turning into a culture where the famous and outspoken among us are assumed better than the rest somehow. It isn’t healthy. I and you should be afforded the same exact benefit of the doubt in regards to our faith. You shouldn’t have bad assumptions about me and I should reciprocate that about you.

As for people whose faith is on shaky ground I can only say a few things in this brief interview. I meet parents whose daughter stopped praying and covering or whose son was a hafiz of Qur’an and is now immersed in bad company. The situation is heartbreaking but I’d advise parents of those youth not to lose hope. Just don’t talk about religion to your teen for a while and just be a loving friend and support. The heart has to get soft before it takes advice. This may take a while but your love as a parent will give you the strength to bear this painful task. I plan to give a khutbah addressed to such struggling parents this week.

If you are from the youth that are suffering from fluctuating faith take a good look at what you do in your solitude, who your friends are and what your day amounts to. Where do your eyes wander? What is filling your ears? Spiritually intoxicating intake is destroying your chances at appreciating faith. There will come a time when your heart will be completely incapable of spiritual replenishment and even the mention of Allah, the afterlife or the Prophet SAW will agitate you. Allah changes the hearts but at the very least you need to change your environment.

HOTD: There is now a culture of “celebrity da’ees”. Are they a victim of their own popularity? What is your view on this?

I’m observing two extremes in our community. Either we love certain figures to the point where it starts resembling pop celebrity culture or we hate them to the core. People idolize someone to the point where their expectations of them become unrealistic and the moment they discover that the person they so admired is not that different from themselves, they develop an extreme hatred for the same person they loved overnight! People are just people. You and I do some good things and those good things don’t make us angels. We do some bad things and those bad things don’t make us devils.

We should have a balanced approach in our sentiments towards our da’ees in particular because this stuff can start messing with a da’ee’s head. Too much praise and shaitan comes to a da’ee and say, ‘dude you are the man’. And the moment the da’ee agrees with that whisper, his or her sincerity is dead and gone. From then on their supposed Islamic work is nothing more than a popularity contest.

I pray Allah protects myself, my peers, Muslim scholars, khateebs, young graduates from Islamic universities and all who are trying to spread the word of Allah and His messenger SAW from this form of corruption that can creep into the heart without one even realizing it.

HOTD: How has the practice of Islam impacted your character the most?

I’d have to say hands down my answer to this question is that it has made me optimistic and that optimism drives my patience with difficult circumstances. I beg Allah to make me more patient and grateful. I see every challenge in life as an opportunity. I don’t let put downs, hurtful words and criticisms get in the way of doing what needs to get done. Islam has also given me the freedom to accept my mistakes without hesitation. I don’t feel ashamed to apologize when I mess up (and I mess up a lot).

Also Islam has given me a chance to see the bigger picture. I’m not able to underestimate the value of what others might consider little things. Everything is part of the grand plan of Allah and even small efforts made for deen should be treated with the utmost respect and value.

Since You’re Here… we have a small favour to ask.

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