Sheikh Yasir Qadhi
An Islamic Theologian, Scholar, and Dean of Academic Affairs at The Islamic Seminary of America, Dr. Yasir Qadhi has served the Memphis community for nearly 10 years with his knowledge and expertise. As he prepares to begin a new chapter of his life in Dallas, TX, Dr. Qadhi reminisces one of his earlier chapters, entering the field of Islamic studies, and offers advice to those who wish to follow a similar career path. He leaves the Memphis community with a few words of wisdom to help strengthen our Islamic identity in a climate that marginalizes Muslims.
Interviewed by Naisha Chowdhury
Prior to pursuing degrees in Islamic studies, theology and Arabic, you studied chemical engineering at the University of Houston. What prompted you to decide to switch gears from engineering to the Islamic sciences?
I switched gears from engineering to the Islamic sciences because I didn't feel a spiritual satisfaction. I didn’t want to spend the next 30 years of my life behind a desk solving nth degree quadratic equations. I worked at Dow chemical for a short period of time, and although the money was good, I wasn't spiritually happy and I felt that I needed to do more with my life than just get a lot of money and have a career. I wanted to do something for the sake of Allah so I decided to study my faith at the University of Madinah.
Many members of the youth are discouraged by their families or the greater society from pursuing fields other than medicine or engineering, while they may have interests in the Islamic sciences. Do you have any advice to the youth in such situations?
Everybody has a different path in life and nobody should feel that there’s only one way to help Allah and His Messenger. The Muslim world needs doctors and engineers; the Muslim world needs architects and lawyers; the Muslim world needs journalists and civil rights activists; the Muslim world needs everybody. So you can do good in whatever field you're pursuing. Don't feel that the only way to pursue a pleasurable experience in front of Allah is to become a religious scholar, that’s one field and one aspect. You need to decide: Is that what you want to do with your career or life? Even if your parents discourage you from going full time, the least you can do is go part-time and study Islam on the side. Do whatever you can to read and listen to lectures to be a part of the islamic environment. Cut back on a lot of the time wasted watching TV and reading and texting and Facebook scrolling. Be more productive in Islamic studies and you will go far with that InshaAllah.
In today’s world and climate what does it mean to be an ambassador of the religion?
In today’s world, it means that wherever you go, people will automatically judge you. There’s a common saying “Don't judge me.” Well, the reality is that you are always judged. People will judge you based upon your looks, your appearance, your mannerisms and so wherever you go, you do need to understand that you are a representative of your faith. People presume you to embody the values of your faith, so if you do something negative, automatically, people will think that Islam is telling you to do that. It’s true, I can't control the way the world is, and neither can you. The fact of the matter is, minorities: people of color, women; they have a higher standard that they’re judged by. That is just a fact. I wish that this was not the case, I really do, but it is. So if you are a minority, then you have to be extra conscious and make sure that you embody good values. In my opinion - and Allah knows best - this is actually an incentive for us to be better Muslims. Rather than looking at our ambassadorship as a burden, we can view it positively and say: “You know what, okay maybe society is being unfair but guess what, this means I need to be even better than I would have otherwise. And InshaAllah that’s good, why shouldn’t I be better?; why shouldn’t I get better grades?; why shouldn’t I embody the values of Islam in a better manner?”
In your opinion, what are some of the steps that Muslim communities across the country can take to produce young men and women that are rooted and proud of their religious tradition?
One of the most important ways to do this is to have positive role models of all different fields and persuasions. When our youngsters are growing up, they need to see youth leaders, mentors, professionals of all fields and backgrounds that embody the values of Islam and make us proud. Whether it’s in sports; whether it’s in Islamic Studies; whether it's in professional journalism; whatever field that you’re thinking about, you need to have these positive role models. We need to be able to show our youth that it is healthy and good and possible to be a proud Muslim in the world that we’re living in.
I believe that we also need to emphasize proper religious scholarship and advocate that our scholars come from within, from ourselves. The next generation of Imaams and Sheikhs need go have been born and raised in America in order to better communicate the values of Islam and to express what is right and wrong in a manner that our youth will understand.
Of course, a lot of other ways are there and a lot of work needs to be done. But, I think there are two main things: (1) have positive role models for all in society and (2) have religious leadership that all can relate to.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice that you’d like to share with readers who want to do similar work as you in their future?
I’m going to be broad, not just those who want to go full time in Islamic Studies, I advise every single person out there to learn more about their faith; to be interested in our tradition; to understand our scholarship; to know our history; to study the Qur’an; to study what our Prophet صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ did in his life and time; to study our civilization. We have so much to be proud of. Our heritage is so rich. I’ve said this in many other interviews, I studied engineering and I was magna cum laude; I graduated with high honors; I was part of the honors college; I did well in my engineering. When I jumped into the Islamic sciences, what really surprised me was the rigor, it was the fact that Islamic Studies was actually more difficult for me than engineering.
Our tradition is not a flimsy tradition. It’s a very rich heritage. It’s an intellectually deep heritage. If our young men and women understood this, they would have so much more to be proud of. It would also make them feel that we belong to a civilization that truly can empower them in the best manner. We have the best of everything. We have the best of this world and the best of the next world. We have the best morality, the best spirituality. Our religion teaches us how to live. So my advice to all of you - not just those who want to pursue Islamic Studies - but to everyone is: Don’t waste your time in frivolous pursuits that are not going to benefit you in this world or the next. Yes, it’s fun to play games. It’s fun to use your internet for whatever social scrolling you’re doing. But make an effort to spend some productive time everyday, read useful books, listen to lectures that are going to benefit you, read intellectually stimulating books. Doing this will allow you to rise up above the crowd, and you will make a difference for yourself and for your legacy and most importantly, for your faith and your family.
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