Vocal and the vibrant Bro Nouman Ali Khan has put his tremendous efforts to understand the true essence of Islam. He has served his life and purpose for the Glorious Qura’an. He is the founder and CEO of Bayyinah Institute which is the Islamic educational institute situated in Dallas,Texas in USA. His commendable efforts in the Dream Programme which is a 10-month Islamic learning programme offered in Bayyinah. He has captured a wide range of audience because of the podcasts that he has released globally. Youtube is certainly the best spot to catch him on!
I was born in Germany. My father worked for the Pakistan Embassy and he was stationed in Germany when I was born. So the first language I learnt was German. Then I came to Islamabad for about a year where I learned Urdu. Later my father was transferred to Saudia Arab and I lived there for about six and a half years. Then I came back to Pakistan again and spent a year and a half in Islamabad. I almost finished matriculation in Islamabad. Then I was moved to America. And I’ve been there since I was in high school. Saudia Arabia is a very religious society so I was observing my prayers and I was studying in the boys-only school. It was kind of a typical upbringing.Pakistan was the same way. But when I came to America it was completely different. I went to a public high school where boys and girls studied together. Obviously there’s no uniform. People are dressed very inappropriately. Mannerisms are not followed, disrespecting and cursing the teachers, these things were shocking to me. I was shocked for sometime. But over time you get used to it. And slowly you start becoming the people all around you. That’s what happened to me. I became integrated to that culture. There came a point in high school where I didn’t even pray. I wasn’t even bothered. My father got transferred so they decided I should stay back and finish my college in US, so they left. And I was all by myself. And on top of that I was not even religious at all. So you can understand a young person without parental supervision living on his own. So at that time I wasn’t involved in the best things. Then I went to Brooke College of New York City. Luckily I found a friend who offered to give me a ride home. There was this one time on way back home that he got late for Maghrib prayers. He asked me that he had to pray so if I don’t mind. When he went, I felt terrible so I went to pray with him. And this was the first time I prayed in many years. Ever since then I started feeling something. Then I started wondering what I am reciting when I’m praying. So I started trying to learn more via CDs/tapes etc. I was reintroduced to Islam. So I started discovering Islam for my own self. I opted for a unifier on which all these Muslim groups can agree on and that’s Quran. I kept digging for teachers who could help me with Quran. I was very fortunate enough to find good teachers who helped me through. What motivated me to do what I do is that I feel like that Quran has not been shared with Muslims. Like Muslims don’t even know what Quran is. Sometimes I study it and get shocked why I didn’t know this before. If we just knew it we would be so much better off. Even though there are scholars who are much more qualified than I am, I still feel like this is the area where more work gets done the better. Until all others come along and do so much that there’s no more need to serve the cause of raising awareness about Allah’s Book, I’m just going to try and keep doing Insha’Allah.
2. In your opinions what are the pitfalls the youth of today are confronting on their path of reaching out to their Lord?
I think there are two kinds of problems. Firstly, problems that are spiritual in nature and secondly, problems that are philosophical or intellectual in nature. Youth are confronting criticisms on almost all religions including Islam, when these kinds of criticisms are made including Islam they are not able to find adequate or satisfactory responses from typical sources that are around them e.g. Mosques, Imam or scholar in their area. These traditional sources are often at times worst in the new kinds of criticisms that are out there. This is a more philosophical kind of problem. Then there’s this moral/ethical/spiritual problem. We are living in a world where human temptation such as greed, lust and shamelessness has always been there. It’s just that all these temptations have become more accessible now than ever before in history. Our souls are challenged much more in this day and age. A lot of problems in youth are to do with the kind of company they find and how that company steers them further away from turning to God. This problem isn’t just unique to Pakistan; it’s with youth across the world. It’s just that Pakistani youth is no different.
3. Today the chaos that we observe, the purposeless lives we encounter, and the uncertainty in the society we get to see, what’s the hidden solution to all these problems?
I think we shouldn’t look at the society’s problems. We should work on the individual problems. We should think about ourselves, our family and friends. Everybody thinks about fixing the whole of society but they are in conflict with their immediate families. We ourselves don’t live a moral or ethical life. When we begin about thinking of fixing society we forget that society is also made up of individuals. We need to worry about ourselves and immediate circle of our families and friends.
4. What is the context of reverting back to your Lord in the light of Islam, and why is this that we use the word “revert” and not “convert” for this?
Well, it’s a theological issue. It’s a part of our belief that we are born Muslims regardless who are parents are. Hindu, Muslims and Atheists don’t matter. A child is born Muslim. They are born Muslim because their soul (Quranic term- ‘Ruh’) was poured into them and had already accepted Islam in presence of Allah. So before we even have come out of the bellies of our mothers we have already in some sense accepted Islam so coming back to Islam is basically the term revert is used. We are elude to that idea that it’s not something you’ve changed yourself into something rather you’ve come back to what your original state was supposed to be. Allah says in Quran, “The nature on which Allah has created people with. He created them in the state of Islam and so they come back to that state”. That’s why the word convert isn’t used. In the social sense it make sense but in religious sense revert is an appropriate term.
5. We’ve observed a sudden shift of mindset in our society. Parents of today are neglecting their children and are substituting their attention with mobile phones/internet/gadgets etc. How much this does affects a child and what are its consequences on the society as a whole?
I think the consequences are horrible on the society. Nothing can replace the role of parents. I’m a father of several children myself and I can tell you there’s this research on attention span and how these cartoons and movies influences a child’s mind in early stages. These movies and advertisements where animations are constantly changing and they are over stimulating the brain and so our children are so used to over stimulation as they grow up they face hard time in paying attention to things. They want things to change very quickly. So the kids that are raised on television and similar devices, they get bored very easily. They are always looking to do something else. They are never satisfied. Even if they are watching a movie, they would want to play a game on their phones or do something else at the same time. They just can’t do one thing. There are many consequences of just sticking our kids infront of screens and forgetting how to parent them. The other problem is obviously that we now know less how to deal with each other. We deal with devices more than we deal with other human beings. So our mannerisms are declining because we are just not getting educated in human interactions as much as we used to. Even if you are talking to one of your friends they are probably on a cell phone and texting somebody at the same time as they are talking to you. It’s just simple as it is. It’s rude to talk to two people at the same time. We’ve forgotten these things.
6. Western media has made Islam as an object of ridicule. What’s your take on this matter? How should we respond to such disgraceful comments about our religion?
I think before we respond to non-Muslims making fun of Islam, let us deal with Muslims making fun of Islam. In western institutions Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, almost all religions are made fun of. It’s just that in the media nowadays for political reasons the new target is Islam. They have been making cartoons that make fun of Jesus (AS) for ever. We shouldn’t get paranoid that they are after us. They don’t like the institution of religion altogether. But at the same time I argue that Muslims have themselves, with their own behaviors have given them reason to laugh at us. When we get fired up and overly emotional, we respond to their criticisms it just proves that we are all the more barbaric. We don’t know how to deal with them in an intellectual way. We have to respond in a calm and collected fashion. And more important than anything else we’ve to reform our own societies so that we can show what Islam really looks like. Okay yes, West makes fun of Islam and we say that Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya La Ilaha Ilallah so that means if you want to see Islam, go to Pakistan. Is that true? I can’t even leave the airport without giving a bribe. They (west) are making fun of it with their words, and we are making fun of Islam with our actions. So first thing we need to consider is that people who make fun of Islam aren’t very nice people, so talking to them in conversation doesn’t mean that we are going to change their minds. Our job is to present Islam for what it is and not get distracted for what Islam is not. If they say Islam is all about terrorism and we keep answering their questions we will never get to talk about what Islam is. We will always be busy in telling people what Islam is not.
7. What’s Bayyinah all about and what motivated you to form this institute?
Bayyinah is an institute dedicated to certain primary goals. The first goal is to help Muslims understand the Quran as best as possible and make that understanding as easy and acceptable as possible. My first goal was Muslims in the United States. But now it’s kind of expanded because of the podcasts and all the other services that we are providing. So I’ve started thinking more globally about that. First and foremost is the Quranic education, and tied to that is a solid Arabic education that was my second goal, because I felt Muslims should have a direct access to The Quran and to Islamic literature. I started the institute about in the year 2004. I also started doing short Arabic courses in the mosques here in US. I didn’t even advertise or anything. The courses became very popular and I started getting asked if I can conduct such courses in other mosques too. So I ran around the country teaching. And I’ve been teaching to 150-200 mosques in America. Eventually the momentum grew so much that the time arrived to form full scale institute and put together an Arabic programme. Alhamdulillah, I’m very happy and grateful that we are able to set up the whole institute. There’s a campus here in Dallas, Texas where we take students from all over the US. Now even sometimes from Europe. It’s a 10 month programme. Around the 4th month we stop using English on campus. We start using Arabic only. So it’s an immersion kind of environment for learning the language properly. From here on I give students advice on how can they continue their future studies, acquire phD/masters or do some other linguistic studies whatever else they like to do. I try to counsel students towards the end of the year about their future careers as well. Moving on to the other part of this question, I was a typical Pakistani youth living in America. I was curious to learn the language. I found a teacher who was from Faisalabad. He was visiting here in New York in 1999. He was teaching a short Arabic course. I took his class and really enjoyed it. At that time I was a philosophy student. And when I started learning Quran, I realized it was another philosophy which destroyed all the old ideas that I had. So I kept that study ever since. I’m still a student of Arabic language.
8. We frequently observe that Islam has become the fastest growing religion in the west. What are the mere reasons due to which people are reverting back to Islam?
I think it’s the fastest growing religion in the west but it’s also the most attacked religion in the west, or maybe even in the world. The good side is a lot people are coming back to Islam. But actually the fact of the matter is that a lot of people are losing their faith also. I get emails all over fromPakistanparticularly the youth. They say they have lost interest in Islam they are following it just to keep their parents happy. On the one hand we look at those statistics in which people are coming to Islam and on the other hand we are losing our own youth. So it’s kind of a crisis. Reason for people coming to Islam is that when it’s presented properly, it is the most beautiful way of life. I’ve students who were from different religious backgrounds i.e. Jewish/ Christians etc. they confess that there’s no comparison with the life they had before. They never want to go back because of the peace they have now. These are the people who have done everything you see in movies, clubs, parties, drugs, etc. but after all of that they come back to Islam and they say there’s nothing better than this.
9. We have observed that in our society people (certain set of people, not all) who have knowledge of Islam have built this huge ego inside them. Factor of intellectual humility is missing in them. What needs to be done to rectify this problem?
We don’t know what the other person has inside his heart. We can’t be judgmental on this. All we judge others by their speech or actions. I don’t say people become arrogant but I do want to warn about that danger. Knowledge is power. When someone has power it’s a natural temptation to show off that power. For instance, someone who is a good athlete wants to show off his skills. Someone who is a good writer wants to show off their writing. So it’s a natural tendency to show off what you’ve got and how it’s a powerful thing. Unfortunately when religious knowledge is used like that it’s a disgrace to the religion and all of us should be afraid of that because the whole purpose of learning religion is to make us more humble and when we ourselves learn the religion to become more arrogant we miss the entire purpose. Shah Waliullah (RA) used to say that when a tree bears fruits its branches come down. So the more knowledge you gain the more humble like a branch you should be i.e. get lowered, not more arrogant. Unfortunately that’s what we see in our society. E.g. if somebody is a doctor they will never say my name is Kareem. They will say my name is Dr. Kareem. A maulana named Abdullah would prefer others to call him Maulana or Shaikh Abdullah. So showing off their knowledge is a natural tendency everyone has. If someone calls me Ustadh/Shaikh Nouman, I say stop! Don’t give me a title. I don’t want a title. I especially want to address the youth now. When youth starts learning the religion they begin judging their friends. You should avoid judging your friends. You were just like them not long ago. You should be patient to them like Allah is patient to you. Allah could’ve kept you in darkness, just because He showed you a little bit of knowledge it doesn’t mean you get to judge other people, insult them or criticize them all the time.
10. Youth of Pakistan can relate to you. Any message you intend to give out for the readers.
Don’t lose hope. The situation seems very hopeless, very corrupt and very difficult to change but if there’s one thing that we as Muslims should never ever lose is hope in Allah. Just like in our personal lives when somebody gets sick we make dua’ for them to get better, similarly our society is like our family so just like we make dua for them and actually hope that they will get better, we don’t lose hope. Just like that we shouldn’t lose hope in our society. Youth is the future of this country. You are this country. So don’t underestimate the power of what you can do and the Barakah Allah can put in your sincere good deeds. So long as you rely on Him and do the right thing. Also I want to add,Pakistan has been notorious for being an unethical society where there’s a class differences. “We-are-better-than-you” kind of mentality prevails here. Like people who have servants at their home, they treat them as if they are animals. If we want to bring about a change in our society we have to change how we deal with other human beings. If we want a society where we want equality and justice, we better have equality and justice in our households, companies, jobs, friends etc. We should better not judge others by the clothes they wear, the college they go to, and kind of background they belong to. We need to get over with all these things. Most beautiful thing about life in America is that when I go for prayers in a mosque, I stand next to a Somali, Hyderabadi, a Tamil guy, a Bangladeshi fellow, Turkish guy, African-American, and we are all standing and praying together. We are all Muslims. We don’t see this attitude in our society yet.Pakistanis still a varying-class society. It becomes very clear when we are getting our daughters and sons married. Our class society comes up, how much we believe in cast/class. We’ve to fight that attitude. We’ve to develop an attitude of social justice. The politics will change when we ourselves change. Politics is the last thing that changes. The first thing that changes is the family, household, neighbors etc. Let us bring respect, brotherhood, justice, fairness and equality back in our society. Lastly I would like to share a little story. A very good friend of mine went to Pakistan not too long ago. He’s from America and a very wealthy family. He was in Pakistan driving around in an expensive car and he went to a restaurant where he saw a very fancy car pulls up. This car had tinted windows so you can’t see who is inside. And window rolled down and he saw this 10-12 year old boy sitting in the back seat and he called the waiter over with his finger. Waiter was an old man wearing shalwar kameez, maybe in his 50s. This 10-12 year boy said: “Oye, Jao chai lekar ao meray liyay”. Old man said, “Yes sir, jee sir.” This was so disgusting. It’s the parents’ faults who have turned the boy into this monster. We see this all around us and this doesn’t even bother us and yet we have time to talk about politics. Change yourself from the inside. Learn to respect others to get respected in return.