Thursday September 06, 2018
A few weeks back, the IslamicFinder team was lucky enough to meet Dr. Bilal Philips to ask some of the queries and concerns put forth by our users. Here is all you need to know about our little tête-à-tête with Dr Phillips himself.
Q. What inspired you to become a Muslim?
A. My journey to Islam began with my journey to Communism. I left Christianity when I was in university, and became a Communist because I became active in the student movement in Simon Fraser University in Canada. I became a Communist because as a student activist, I was concerned about improving the world and Communism claimed to solve the problems that existed in the world. It interpreted the problems from an economic perspective, for instance the unfair distribution of wealth, and believed that no-one should own wealth, wealth is the property of society. You, as an individual, can take benefit from wealth, but you can’t own it because once you own it, you exploit others and deny others the access to it. So this theory of theirs, seemed like a reasonable and logical approach to world problems to me at that time. But after being a communist for some years and studying world known writers of the time, I became dissatisfied with their ability to implement what they were claiming they had to offer. Eventually, I started to look elsewhere, and Alhamdulillah in this time of dissatisfaction and discovery, I came across true Islam.
I had come across fake Islam earlier, through an organization by the name of Nation of Islam, founded by Elijah Mohammad back in my 30s in Chicago Detroit, US. But after studying their theology and concepts, I decided that this is not the religion I want to be a part of. So after coming across true Islam, I read books which offered a comparison between Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam; from social, economic and governance perspectives. What I saw was, that all the good the other religions called to was there in Islam. I did not find the negative aspects of all these religions in Islam. It seemed that Islam had combined all of the good, so I was convinced intellectually, that Islam was the best choice and the answer to problems of human society. So, that’s how I became a Muslim!
Q. MashaAllah what an amazing journey Dr Bilal. I have a question regarding social media. In this digital world where people are using social media for a lot of different purposes, how did you use it to reach out to Muslims all over the world, and spread the message of Islam?
A. The social media which I engage in, is the internet. People had asked me about websites where they offered Islamic courses and programs. They would ask me is it an okay place to go and study? So, I would go there and check out the website. Some of it was okay and some of it wasn’t okay. So I felt bad about telling people not to go there because there was no alternative. Therefore, I felt the need to set up an alternative where people could study Islam online.
In 2007, I set up the website, where I started a free diploma for Islamic studies with no payments involved. It provided short courses which I myself and other scholars who I had invited had prepared. In 2007 I began, and Alhamdulillah by 2017, we had reached 420,000 students who were registered and studied on the free diploma website. In 2010, I started a degree program, first in shariah, offered in English so that people all over the world had access. This program subsequently we translated into Russian as well, because in Russia, access to Islamic studies is very, very limited. We also launched Indonesian language last year. Currently we are working on Urdu, which we plan to launch by September this year Inshallah. We also launched other areas of specialization; like Islamic banking and finance, psychology and business administration and information technology, all of these from Islamic point of view of course, which is currently missing. So, we teach education from Islamic perspective and Alhamdulillah we have students already from almost every country, enrolled in our online courses.
Q. May this website be a source of true knowledge and benefit to our Ummah, and JazakAllah for your efforts. Next question we have is kind of an advice that we want from you for Muslims. As you know people all over the world want to or try to become better Muslims and they find it hard to do so, especially the youth. What advice do you have for us to be better Muslims?
A. Well, the basic advice is to know Islam. Because what stops us from being better Muslims is our ignorance for the most part. It’s also our desires, you know, because we might have the knowledge of what’s right but we still want to do wrong, so that’s another struggle. But in general, what tends to hold people back is not knowing what are the actual requirements of Islam. For example, an average person might think that Islam is very restrictive, everything is haram! We need to let it be known that yes! Practicing Muslims can have fun. It’s possible to enjoy life and still be practicing Muslims. It doesn't mean you have to live a life of sadness and fear and restriction. So, we need to understand all the different sides of Islam, and what’s correct with regards to Islamic teaching, because the Prophet PBUH has said: “Deen is easy”.
Q. With regards to prayer, sometimes Muslims become lazy and have a hard time establishing a consistent habit of praying Salah on time. So what advice do you have for people who want to pray consistently but are having a hard time achieving it.
A. Well, I think that some of this, which we are calling laziness, isn't just laziness, but it’s actually doubt. Where we think that our prayers is really what we call ‘precautionary prayer’. We are not really sure there is Allah, we are not really sure. But in case there is, at least we did a few prayers here and there, so we can actually say: “Allah, at least we prayed some! At least we did it in Ramadan!”. So we have to let go of precautionary prayers, and come to the state where we are praying out of conviction, that yes! There is Allah. And yes! There is this obligation on me. We also need to understand, why? Why is this obligation on me? Is it something that Allah needs? Or do I have to do it, even if I feel tired? Or is it something that I need? Because I'm the one benefitting from it, so I need to do it! I need to find the time, I need to fight my laziness, because I'm the one who's benefitting from it! If we truly understand that we are the ones benefitting from it, then it will be much easier for us to fight our laziness.
Q. Thank you Dr Bilal, may we all try to rediscover this purpose of offering Salah. So the next question we have is regarding Istikhara. We get a lot of queries from our users on what istikhara is, what is it used for and what is the procedure to do it.
A. Basically, Istikhara is an expression of tawakkul. An expression of putting ones trust in Allah, that Allah knows best! That’s what it basically is. But, it is doing so, after having made an effort. We make our effort in trying to determine what is the best decision. Only after we have determined on the best decision, then we go and make dua al-Istikhara, after offering two units of prayer. A lot of people do it, when they have two things and they do not know which one to do. This is not proper istikhara, it’s not the way Prophet PBUH did. He said: “If anyone of you has decided on a matter…”. He didn't say decide between two matters, and you are not sure which matter to favor. The dua basically says:
"O Allah, I'm seeking Your guidance. You know and I don't know what’s best for me. So if this decision I made is in fact good for me, then make it easy for me and bless me in it. And if it is not good for me, then take it away from me, show me what’s better, and make me pleased with what you choose”.
So once you have understood what istikhara is all about, you now know that it is silly to ask someone else to make istakhara for yourself, because you have to do it. And the point is that you do it AFTER you have decided. So if you have two issues that you are undecided about, what you do is seek information and clarity until you are able to determine which is the better one. You also have the principle of the Prophet PBUH, that whenever he was given the choice between two things, both of which were halal, he would always choose the easier one! So all in all, first you finalize the decision yourself, and then you make istikhara.
Q. Well, that makes it all clear! So the next question we have for you is regarding the word ‘mosque’. We started using this word in our own website, and as soon as we did, people got outraged and said we should use the word masjid instead. Can you kindly clarify on this issue?
A. Well I know there is this thing circulating around that mosque comes from the word mosquito, you know Spanish, and then it turned into mosque. But this is questionable. The word mosque has a general translation found in the dictionary and its known that it refers to the masjid. But having said that, if you find that the people have an issue with you using this word, and it’s not really necessary to say ‘mosque’ then use masjid! You save yourself, remember it’s the easier of the two as I mentioned the Sunnah above. It is halal, whether you use mosque or masjid. But then which one is the easiest one which is saving you all the headache of you know having to explain and defend yourself? So you are allowed to make the choice which is the most convenient one!
Q. Thank you for that reply Dr Bilal. The next question we have for you is regarding the new converts to Islam. Because they are newly converted, and they don't have a lot of resources available or people around them to guide them. So do you have any message for the newly converts, and which sources should they follow to get more knowledge about Islam and become a practicing Muslim.
A. Well, first and foremost to my new converts: Brothers and Sisters, welcome to Islam! May Allah bless you in your decision. In order to increase your knowledge and practice of Islam in the best way possible, you should connect with authentic sources of Islam. Because we have this culture of Muslims in so many different places, which gets confused with Islam. You can’t distinguish, even people themselves don't know, is this really Islam? Or is it just our culture? So you can’t depend on the practice of Muslim people. You need to find out the true teachings of Islam. So, Alhamdulillah on the website of my Islamic Online University, you can find in our free diploma courses, two courses that are specifically prepared for new converts. One is called “The First Day”. What you as a new convert should know on your first day in Islam. All the critical information you should receive. Then, the second course is called “The First Week”. This course expands and adds on The First Day course. In the first week of Islam what you should've known or learnt? And Inshallah, we will come out with “The First Month”. So that’s a good source on getting your basics together. Also, the new Muslim academy is a good source for knowledge about Islam, programs and courses, lot of material is gathered there. It is one of the best sites on the internet on learning about Islam.
Q. I was thinking about the struggles that we all face as Muslims everyday, like some struggle to keep up with their prayers, some struggle to say the truth all the time. So as a practicing Muslim yourself, what is that one struggle that you face every day?
A. Well the struggle to be upright at all times! To be doing the right thing, all the time. Because as human beings, there are temptations all around you, and Satan is busy! There so many distractions, that to stay on the firm right path and function in society is indeed a struggle. It is easy to go off by yourself on top of a mountain in a monastery or something and get away from people. That’s why the prophet PBUH said that there is no monasticism in Islam. You have to live and deal with the people, so I would say the struggle of being active and engaged in Dawah in the midst of all the negative things and staying free from all those things, is a daily struggle for all practicing Muslims.
Q. Yes! Surely it is. This brings us to our last question. Even when you are praying five times daily, making Duas and doing dhikr; sometimes you feel unrest or become anxious. In that case, what should Muslims, who face such situations, do to get over it? Because you Pray Namaz to achieve inner peace, so what if a person is praying and still not getting any?
A. Well you know Allah tells this in Quran: “You seek help in patience and prayer”. So we rely on prayer be it formal or informal. And we also rely on patience. Because ultimately patience keeps us from reacting and doing the wrong thing. If we can just be patient, get clarity, make a decision that is thought out properly; it would be great! Because usually this is what shaitan does, gets us caught up in hasty circumstances to make a decision that we regret later. So patience gives us that buffer zone, that you can spend enough time to determine that the decision you are about to make is good or not. So I would say these are the two struggles.
Indeed, patience is a virtue! Thank you very much for your time Dr Bilal. It was a pleasure having this discussion with you, and may you have a safe flight back.