Masoud is a 27-year-old Egyptian who hosts
his own English-language Islamic talk shows, Parables from the
Quran and Stairway to Paradise, on the Saudi-owned ART satellite
network. With several new TV contracts in the works, including
the possibility of a show on an American channel, the handsome
young economics graduate from American University in Cairo is
a rising star in the world of televised Islamic da’wa.
After a near-death experience in 1996, Masaud made an oath with
God that he would change his life—give up alcohol and
dating, start praying regularly and respecting his parents—or
God could end it. TBS managing editor Lindsay Wise
met Masaud in Cairo to talk to him about his work, his new style
of Islamic da’wa on TV, and his own spiritual journey,
which has taken him from Cairo to cities all over the world,
including America and Europe. He hopes to raise Muslims’
consciousness about their own religion as well as deconstruct
myths about Islam prevalent in the West.
So how did you start getting into preaching?
Bismallah, in the name of God, the most gracious, the
most compassionate. Well, it’s interesting you use that
term, because I’m actually adverse to that. Though I don’t
mind you saying that…
You prefer da’wa?
I like the word da’wa more because it’s
more accurate. Da’wa means to call and to invite,
as you know, and it’s more accurate in terms of describing
what I attempt to do, and I hope that Allah, the Lord, the Maker
accepts that. But it’s also because the word preaching
has a lot of baggage that comes with it, particularly in the
West. But as far as da’wa goes, I think it’s
a very natural thing for me. I was on a very different path
from this one and you can almost say I was on the other side
completely, if there is such a thing.
So you changed your life?
describes losing friends to a car accident, overdose and cancer,
only to face his own life-threatening surgery during his freshman
year at AUC. After recovering, he breaks a vow he made with
God to stop drinking and lead a better life by going to a New
Year’s party. Afterwards he almost crashes his car, and
decides this is his final chance. He writes a personal contract
with God, starts over, and this time makes it stick.)
You know, 1996 was a really tough year in fighting little tequila
bottles, big vodka bottles, all these different things, because
I would go out with my friends to the bars, but I simply wouldn’t
drink. It was very, very rough, and I really understood what
it meant to spend from what you love for the sake of Allah.
True change is when you take out something you love that is
wrong and you say, ‘I love You more, and the proof of
it is here. I’m dying to do this, but you know what, I
ain’t going to do it.’ So I spent from what I loved
at the time and I held true to everything I had already said.
Everything was good. I was praying. For about a year and a half,
so up until about February 1997, I was doing my five prayers,
because that was part of the oath, but usually I was doing all
five at night, because that’s when I would remember. It
was easy on me and I liked what I did. And had anyone approached
me with this firm, holier-than-thou technique, I would have
been repelled completely. That’s why I’m against
the word preacher. You know, ‘Repent now!’ That
kind of approach is just not Islamic or Christian or anything.
still had further to go on his own spiritual journey. He goes
on to describe meeting a blind man his own age at the mosque
at AUC. The meeting once again changed Masaud’s life.)
What really struck me what that he was completely unconcerned
with his blindness and talking to me about how beautiful Allah
is, how short life in the world is, how you should use it to
get closer to Allah, how true vision is seen with your heart,
and how thankful he was to Allah. Now that was just a paradox.
I was looking and thinking he has less than I do and he’s
thanking more than I do. Something’s wrong with this picture.
He’s lying, let me test him. I was just like, ‘You’re
insane!’ And at that moment I began to realize (and I
can say maybe that was one of the best days of my life) I began
to realize what inward vision, known as basira in the
Quran, what that was all about. I realized that as human beings
we can see with our hearts and that this man was certainly one
who saw with his heart. … I would get just in a spell
as soon as he read (the Quran) and I couldn’t leave him
when he had to go, so we exchanged numbers and I was overcome
by this incredible feeling of love towards the divine. The divine
always existed as far as I was concerned, but I had no personal
understanding of the divine. It wasn’t intimate. He didn’t
love us and we didn’t love Him. It was heaven-hell. Business
deal. You know what I mean? ‘You be good or else!’
‘You be bad and you’re punished!’
That moment (when I had this realization) was so timeless. I
remember running downstairs to the main (AUC) campus, to the
garden area and to the basketball court where all my friends
are, shouting, ‘We don’t thank Allah! We don’t
thank Allah!” Everybody thought I was insane. I kept saying,
‘We don’t thank Allah enough!’ And people
were just like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or
‘Oh he’s just sick.’ And I just realized that
was the state I was in before I met that guy, so I couldn’t
blame them. And immediately I didn’t have a holier-than-thou
attitude. This is one of the greatest blessings. I’ve
never felt that because I know something that they don’t,
that I’m any better than them. If anything, I’m
more accountable. So I didn’t hate anybody. I knew I had
to distance myself for a while, just because of the weakness,
but I knew that now was the beginning of my inward path. I realized
that it wasn’t simply about not drinking or not not praying.
It wasn’t about not doing things. It was about
loving Allah. Those outward actions were sanctions to nurture
an inward love. You know what I mean? Allah says, (now I’m
looking back at what I’ve learned) ‘Establish prayer’—that’s
the outward form—‘to remember me’—that’s
the inward reality. And I started to pray more on time because
I wanted to now, not because it was obligatory. I started to
pray with love. I wanted to go to the mosque. I felt something
different when I went there. I enjoyed that.
Something inside you had changed?
MM: Something inside me had changed. I saw
with my heart. I’d be sitting with you and knowing that
Allah sees me and enjoying that. Instead of feeling guilty or
repressing it, which is what we’re all doing, even as
Did you lose some friends over this?
Fortunately, hardly any. I can’t take the credit for it.
It was a God-given thing. But again I didn’t patronize
anybody. I didn’t tell anybody they had to change. I just
talked to them about what I saw, if at all.
Did your appearance change? Did you grow a beard?
Nothing changed about me physically at all. Nothing at all.
I’m very fortunate because Allah introduced me to moderate
people right away. For example, I know Islamically its differed
upon, but for men for the most part it is a very favorable thing
and yes, according to some of the schools of thought it’s
slightly reprehensible to shave it for no reason because it’s
part of what Allah uses to distinguish a man from a woman. And
all prophets have beards. But I was introduced to people who
said that if your mother doesn’t want it, your obedience
to your mother takes precedence for now. My mother was insane
about me: ‘He’s gonna be a terrorist! Oh my God,
oh my God! I didn’t put him in American schools for this!
I could have sent him to some mediocre Islamic school! I can’t
believe this!’ She went crazy. And I don’t blame
There wasn’t much precedent at the time for people who
were becoming more religious but not extremist. Now it seems
like there’s more of that.
That is beautiful. You’ve been studying Cairo’s
religious history very well, apparently. I actually agree with
you. No, that’s a really good observation, Lindsay. There
were no precedents. Now people can look back and say, well,
so-and-so’s like that, but there wasn’t any of that.
And this was the Abdul Nasser geel. The generation
of Abdul Nasser, who just have some serious dogma about religion
they’ll never be able to let go of. And again I don’t
blame them. But of course I wasn’t half as diplomatic
as I am right now with her so for a while I entered that struggle
of getting angry with her, but then I remembered the oath and
so I realized I needed to spiritually grow. So a lot of my growth
came from taming my nafs, my soul, from being angry
at my mother despite my seeing her as wrong: ‘She’s
wrong, she’s not even wearing hijab!’
What does she think of you now?
Oh, she loves me! Thanks be to God. It’s such a blessing
how things have changed. She adores me.
She’s proud of your work, then?
proud of my work and she realizes that that was potentially
unjustified worry, but at the time, she wouldn’t have
known. So none of us regret what happened. She disallowed me
from going to the mosque. Many times I’d have to lie to
say, ‘Oh I’m going by the club,’ and then
go by the club and then go to the mosque.
Most people would lie about going to bars or something.
I know! It’s hilarious. What the heck’s wrong with
this picture? Abdul Nasser, what did you do to these people?
So how did you go from this inward journey to da’wa,
something that is more outward?
Well, I’m glad we’ve found that outline to work
with—outward then inward—because that’s important.
Eventually, the more I fell in love with Allah, with the divine,
the more I did those things that are outward actions with complete
spirit, completely energized, loving everybody, loving everything.
It was a really interesting high. It wasn’t corny at all
either because you’d be wise, you’d select what
to say, but at the same time, you were on a high. It was higher
than any high I have tried physically, you know? It is the real
high. Getting high on ecstasy or on drugs is a cheap physical
imitation of what true religion can offer. So I’m still
getting high at this point, you know? I’m gettin’
high, gettin’ high, gettin’ high, I’m praying,
I’m doing better at school. Things are cool, you know
what I mean? And at that point, I was attending a lot of the
lecturers that were out there, some superficial, some not, some
more rigid than others. I didn’t mind because that’s
what I wanted. I was just being nurtured.
And what happened was—now this was still only in the month
since I met my (blind) friend, right? So in that month so much
was happening. And then came along the fitna, the temptation,
the test that Allah puts for those who attempt sincere iman,
sincere faith into immediately. Allah says in Surat Al Ankaboot
(The Spider), ‘Do people think that they will be left
to say, ‘We belive,’ and then they will not be tested?’
So you have to go through that. My very clear one—I won’t
get into detail—but I obviously was still struggling with
my sexual desire, especially that now I was abstaining from
even holding handsWhat happened to me was that at one point
there was this girl and she was a study-abroad student and the
blond, blue-eyed, green-eyed thing is exotic over here. And
usually a guy likes a girl who everyone else likes as well because
that’s a challenge, and she was agreed upon to be the
hottest chick in the student hostel.
describes how he had a crush on this girl, and after she expressed
interest, he took her on a date.)
So I remember the struggle was inside me and I remember at one
point I thought, ‘You know what, if she is not going to
be on the same path, I’ll have to spend her. If she is,
I’ll marry her. Easy! It’s very easy! I’ll
engage her and then I’ll marry her.’ And I look
at her and I’m like, ‘Do you believe in God?’
I think I started off saying, ‘What happens after we die?’
And she just goes, ‘I guess we just go into a deep, deep
sleep forever. And suddenly—you ever seen (the movie)
Devil’s Advocate? Did you see the end, the bit
where that supposedly beautiful woman turns into ashes? That
happened to her, as far as I was concerned, in my eyes. I looked
at her and suddenly I understood. I’m just like, ‘You
don’t even believe in a Maker? Like there’s no afterlife?
I mean you could have problems and we could talk about that,
but zero?’ She says yeah. And suddenly you know that struggle
in my heart? My iman (faith) won. It really won. And
I wasn’t angry at her. I can’t do anything. I can’t
force her. I’m like, ‘Okay, whatever,’ and
I kind of get numbed and after a while I just take her home
and it’s gone, it’s over.
As soon as that happens, Ramadan is just two or three nights
away in ’97 and all of a sudden, I’m waking up in
Ramadan—I had already picked up this really great habit
from my friend of listening to this one reciter, a very poetic
musical voice, you know, and I was already listening to about
a juz a day, which is about 1/30th of the Quran a day and just
hearing it without understanding a single word. So that same
guy who barely spoke any Arabic was suddenly in that month and
after having spent that girl for the sake of Allah, reading
a juz a day, not understanding, but following through.
Within a month or two, actually after Ramadan ended, I started
knowing parts of the Quran by heart. And probably a year later,
I knew the entire book by heart. Thanks be to God, now I know
the Quran by heart. I need to review, and I do, but I didn’t
try to, Lindsay. I didn’t try to memorize it. I’m
So how did you do it?
By loving it. You know, I was very passionate about it. When
I knew all the NBA statistics, I never sat there and memorized
them. There was no sheikh who taught me that. But I knew everything
about Michael Jordan’s average every year. I just loved
the game. Well, I loved the Quran. And so at that point, that
was my education. One hour with God a day, no matter what happened
I would sit about 45 minutes to one hour staring at the Quran,
listening to that beautiful voice and then coming back to the
world. And obviously if I didn’t understand I would push
pause a lot, and read the English translation because that’s
my language. About a year after that, not only did I know the
book by heart, but I pretty much knew the English translation
by heart! Just to show you what was happening. And I was still
attending lectures from time to time, learning more, but again
it was more inward learning, divine grace, really.
Can you tell me what lecturers you went to?
For example, there was Amr Khaled, just since he was the most
prominent one. I will tell you that I did attend a few of his
lectures at the time. I actually got to know him personally
because he was fascinated by one of the comments I made at one
of his lectures in ’98. Back then, he wasn’t very
well-known, so we were only 20 people. He’d say something
and I’d say something and he’d say, ‘I like
the way you think.’ It’s amazing that later on in
life we’re on a similar path. I’m not saying it’s
identical, not because I have anything against what he’s
doing, but I do know I’m doing something different. I
definitely know that. But within the same greater umbrella,
inshallah. And other people. There was a sheikh called
Mohammad Saad. There was another one Sheikh Ragab Zaki. But
Amr Khaled was definitely one of the most prominent ones. He
got to be more known the next year and his lectures became very
passionate and very powerful and I can say I benefited a lot
from Mr. Amr Khaled’s lectures at the time. But then also
what happened later—so now we’re about ’99—and
naturally what was happening in those years as I was learning
those things was that I was sharing them in an unintimidating
manner to people.
Just personal. Like I’m talking this story to
you right now. I’m just told you a story. I would just
say that story. Not because I wanted to convert anybody, but
just if they felt interested to ask. Because they would ask,
‘What happened to you?’ They knew me, and so we
would talk, and a lot of people would change. So when you asked
about my friends, actually a lot of them eventually took that
path as well because they saw it as the more sensible decision.
Kind of like peer pressure?
It’s a different kind of peer pressure. It is a double
edged sword. It works both ways, and that’s why one of
the greatest ways to bring people back to the true way of God
is to look at people who were on the other path who’ve
changed. You know, you look at Omar Ibn Khattab, the second
caliph and the companion of the Prophet. What was he like? They
used to say Omar is alcohol and alcohol is Omar. When someone
like him changed, a lot of people changed. The Prophet himself
prayed for the change of Omar because he knew that would bring
a lot of people back to their senses.
Did you learn these kinds of stories from listening to lectures?
Do you also read histories? The Sunna?
Later on—so now we’re looking at early 2000—
it developed into more sophisticated readings. I was exposed
to many of the doubts out there, misperceptions about Islam,
the mistreatment of religion, which is, if at all, a followers
problem, not a religious problem. Jihad, all these different
things. And also at that point, I’d also been introduced
to real scholars as well. When I say real scholars, I mean scholars
of the outward and the inward. The ’ulama (scholars),
who are fukaha (religious judges), but also mutazakun,
who have purification of the heart. Because Islam is three dimensions,
if I can even use this term. There’s Islam, iman,
ihsan. Islam, which is the outward forms, iman,
which is what we believe in that conviction, ihsan,
which is the life of all this excellence of worship and the
science of Islam, the outward, is fiqh. So you need
to get your fiqh from fukaha.
The science of iman is aqeeda. You need to
know what to believe in, how many angels there are out there.
That there are two angels on each of your side respectively,
taking down what you’re doing. That God is one, that God
is indivisible, that He’s outside of the realm of space
and time. That’s aqeeda. But the one that has
been neglected is the ihsan, the science of purification
of the heart. How to become a saint, how to become someone who
is so close to God that God says about those people, ‘I
am the eyes with which they see.’ Not just for the prophets.
This is attainable by anybody in the world now. ‘I am
the eyes by which they see, the ears by which they hear, the
hands and feet that they use.’ These people are very close
to Allah. What is it about them that’s so godly? How do
I become that person who God moves? That is the science of ihsan,
and it’s been marginalized, even neglected completely.
And you’re bringing in back, in a way?
I would love to be a fraction of an iota of trying
to bring that back. If only I can embody it. This is where you
walk the talk. This is where you embody all these theories of
Islam and iman, it’s ihsan. And so I
had begun to meet scholars of ihsan, who were also
fukaha, who had outward knowledge but also had inward.
So I began learning from them physically and spiritually from
observing them. I had slowly started to become famous. Well,
actually, the fame only started when later on. The end of the
year 2000 I graduated, was working in the States, came back
for a while and was going to go back there and I got an invitation
to speak at one of the Muslim communities in America, in upstate
This is before September 11?
A year before September 11. I go there, I accept that invitation.
I was very reluctant. I didn’t feel like I could handle
that burden of speaking, but people insisted, and they wanted
me to lead the prayer because I knew the whole Quran by heart.
Speaking wasn’t the main thing, it was the leading. And
I love the prayer, but naturally again, I’m here, you’re
here, let’s share. We started sharing; it went haywire.
People, alhamdulelah, alhamdulelah, people
were attending from everyplace, people drove down from Canada.
People liked the approach. They called it a breath of fresh
air. ‘You’re not patronizing us,’ you know?
‘You’re sharing.’ That’s why I’m
insistent upon the fact that I’m not a preacher, you know
what I mean? I want to maintain that. And it was an amazing
month. I changed drastically. I know people who call me to this
very day—literally to this very day—and say, ‘I
changed drastically in that month, please visit us again.’
I just knew that Allah was doing it. I wasn’t doing it.
All I had to do was be sincere, love the divine, talk about
Islam lovingly, and not be defensive, not be intimidated, and
Did you realize at that point that you might have more of a
path to take along those lines?
Absolutely. I mean, at the end of that month it was like, ‘What’s
going on? What’s happening in my life?’ And I knew
that I needed to get married at that point. Obviously as a guy
who had already had a past, I was struggling with this desire
inside of me and I didn’t want to commit anything wrong
and alhamdulelah I already made a deal with Allah five
years before that not to fornicate, but we’re even talking
about the look now, we’re at the point where Jesus Christ
says, ‘Don’t even look. Don’t let your eye
sin, and if it does, get it out, because it’s better for
part of your body to go to hell than your entire body.’
This is ihsan, because you know that blackens a part
of your heart and you want to keep a pure heart to maintain
and enjoy the divine presence in it at all times. And so I was
worried. And I remember that’s actually when I got to
know my fiancé, now my wife, and alhamdulelah,
God actually responded to my du’a—I made
a prayer for me to marry her in that month, and about three
years later we did get married.
What’s her name?
And is she Egyptian?
She is. It’s almost like a miracle the way we met. It
was in a play. Somewhere along the line I was going through
a rough time and I wasn’t dating because I wasn’t
allowed to in my philosophy anymore, but I went to a play and
in the play was my future wife. This really pretty girl who
was really innocent, spoke really good English, who I looked
at and then looked away because she was really pretty and I
just said, you know, if eventually she’d, out of being
convinced, of course, because I didn’t try to change people,
she’d actually also wear hijab and be fully Islamic
both outwardly and inwardly, then I’d marry her. When
we got engaged she didn’t wear hijab and then
she later on wore it out of her own conviction.
So you think that veiling is fard (requirement under Islam),
but still has to be a personal choice?
I think that it’s a fard, and that a woman will
choose to obey that fard or not. And I also think that
doesn’t diminish from it being a fard, just like
my prayer. Prayer is a fard, but you can’t force
me to pray. Particularly in times like these. I mean, we can
look at Islamic theory and look at what it was like when there
was (an Islamic) state and how there’s the peer pressure
and how well the ruler can actually speak to those who don’t
pray. That’s another lifetime right now. May Allah bring
it back. It is for the good of humanity, but right now people
are very far from being pressured into these very holy, noble
things. So I think that yes, if you give her space and show
her the profundity, inwardly, of spending from what you love,
of being like the Virgin Mary, of having your value not be based
upon your outward appearance, she’ll do it. Heck, she’ll
do it. And my wife did it, and she said, ‘I’m liberated!’
But back to your talk in New York.
The talks (in Rochester) were video taped, but not at my request.
I didn’t care, I didn’t even ask for the tapes.
I said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ I wasn’t bothered
by that. ‘Let’s do real here and now, loving, fearing
and hoping Allah’s mercy, his wrath, fearing losing the
love of Allah within us, let’s do da’wa,
let’s all get close to God.’ I come back. First
I go to work in the Emirates for a month or two and I realize
I’m not an employee, I’m just not.
Because you’re a leader?
Well, alhamdulelah, may I be one for the sake of Allah
only, may I never be one if I’m a liar, but yes, I did
have that quality. Could not be employed. So I come back to
Egypt and start my own company and it does really well. My friend
and I make this incredible project where we’re actually
interviewed by Business Today, we make 100,000 LE in
a very stagnant time in the economy in Egypt. We really go with
innovations. It’s beautiful. Things are going great, my
(future) father in law now thinks I’m doing well professionally
so there’s hope, I’m struggling, like I said, my
fiancée and I we’re not trying to go anywhere near
that red line. It’s difficult. But at the same time I’m
beginning to get introduced to more and more scholars of the
inward, so I’m beginning to be exposed more and more to
the profundity of Islamic philosophy. It’s not empty slogans,
it’s not about do’s and don’t do’s.
It’s about love. It’s about the ends, for which
the means, which are the outward forms, were sanctioned. It’s
about that experience I had in ’97. Now I know there’s
a curriculum for actually purifying the heart. So I’m
more and more firm upon religion now because I see it, I’ve
actually been exposed to misperceptions, I’m not threatened
So I begin to study with those scholars, and late 2002 my friend
and I decided to discontinue the company because it had caused
personal problems between us. It was at the peak of its success
but we chose our friendship over that. And Subhan Allah
I guess Allah was doing that for another reason because about
a week or two later I got a phone call: ‘We saw a video
tape of you in America and you’re going to host one of
our shows on ART.’
Was it Iqraa?
No, it was ART specifically. Basically because Iqraa is co-owned
by ART I happen to be on it. I don’t work with Iqraa at
all, period. I have nothing against it either, but I like to
reach out to people who aren’t religious. And Iqraa is
already catering to a religious audience, right? I actually
was on as a guest on a few episodes as well before that, so
they probably saw me on those as well, but whatever it was,
they said, ‘Let’s have a show. What are you going
to call it?’ I’m going to call it Parables in
the Quran. I don’t know why, that’s just what
came to me.
So this program aired when?
It aired in Ramadan 2002. That’s it. And then we do the
show and then Subhan Allah, people are listening, people
It was in Arabic?
MM: It was
in English. I don’t do anything in Arabic. I figure there’s
so many people doing Arabic and not enough people doing English.
If I’m going to be useful anywhere, may it be where the
need or the niche is.
What is your niche? Who’s your audience? Are
you reaching out to people like yourself, who are Western-educated
Arabs or Muslims? Or are you reaching out to Arabs and Muslims
living in the West?
I pray to Allah that I reach out, just out of love
for my fellow humans, and when I say that I include all of humanity,
not just my fellow Muslims. I pray that I can reach out to—not
in order of priority—people who are like me who were brought
up in the East and the Middle East, definitely second and third
generation English-speaking Muslims abroad. Now I am in the
middle of a negotiation with an American channel as well to
reach out to people who are American, in other words not necessarily
To educate them about Islam?
Yes because I feel that there’s too much garbage out there
by some people and garbage out there misrepresenting Islam by
some people in the media as well that there needs to be no defensiveness
but there needs to be a real representation, a representation.
We need to represent Islam, and again, with no defensiveness.
So that (first) show started and most of the calls and emails
we got were from that second group we mentioned, which is the
second and third generation English speakers abroad.
Mostly young, but definitely a lot of older ones too who were
just interested because of their children as well. But yeah,
definitely the youth. Just a day or two into the first episode
being aired, I’m getting invitations to speak everywhere.
In the Muslim centers in California, Malaysia, Egypt.
So there’s a real desire for this.
There’s a real desire for it. Absolutely.
What do you think it is? Is it that there has been in the past
so few people who have been able to have an attractive style
of speaking about religion that was modern and entertaining
and compelling? Do you think people are looking for a moderate
I think there’s a few things. One, definitely there’s
a pursuit of moderation. Absolutely. Two, there’s definitely
been fewer before and more now. The trend has definitely been
started. People who know people, who know their problems, who
are not on a holier-than-thou pedestal, you know what I mean.
Three, one of the main reasons that people have been repelled
earlier—was a fear of extremism. So you need moderation,
you need sincerity, you need to know your audience, you need
to know their problems, you need to be of them.
You need to be able to speak their language?
You need to be able to speak their language in all meanings
of that word language. ‘A messenger from among your own
selves has come to you.’ That’s the idea. You’re
going to be messengers of the messengers of God and that’s
the way it is.
Do you think part of that’s your image? That you’re
young, contemporary, speak colloquial and that people can identify
I’m sure that’s a great part of it. That can’t
be denied. If you look like people, if you sound like them and
you speak their own colloquial language, you’ve broken
a lot of barriers that are usually put up. I mean, I’ve
spoken fusha (Classical Arabic) with people and I’ve
seen immediately where they go, they tune out. So yeah, I think
so. I think that charisma on its own is never enough because
I’ve seen some charismatic people without sincerity, who
you can tell have ulterior motives and they just drive people
away. But if charisma is coupled with the more important element
of sincerity, moderation and knowing the people, then yes, absolutely,
definitely, you have a success.
What is it that you’re doing now? I know that
after that program you did Stairway to Paradise, right?
That’s my second program.
I noticed in that program that you had a group of young people
in the studio with you, discussing. It wasn’t a lecture.
Absolutely. At the very onset, my first appearance
on the show was me with eight people. Four guys and four girls.
How did you choose the people?
Well, I’ll reiterate that I actually chose the
idea of having people period. That was rough for people at first
to accept. I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to an audience.
Other people do, but it’s not the role I want to play.
And I don’t want to be alone. I want to have a discussion.’
Because that’s the way it was. That’s why I was
thinking about the word preaching early, just to rub that point
So you’re a talk-show host?
In a way. It’s not a typical talk show, but absolutely.
And so how I chose them was that I screened people, and I had
people help me screen people. They had to speak the language,
first. If they didn’t have the language it was difficult.
At first we had some issues because of availability, and the
time restraints as well. We had to do 30 episodes in ten days.
So for me it was like whoa, we have to do three a day? I don’t
have any experience. But Allah made it easy. So there’s
language and there’s also the level of religiosity, I
mean outward and inward. People had to be moderate. They had
to love others. I mean, they could have been simple. For me,
if it was a choice between a rigid, outwardly religious person
with no inward truth, or an inward, loving person who is still
standing on the limbs, I’d chose the person who drank
and still had love in him. And I had a lot of people like that,
you know, who drank and still did those other things but were
on their way at their own pace.
You were interested in the interaction, rather than
just the lecture.
Absolutely. And I didn’t even want it for engaging television,
although it was. Interestingly enough, this is one of the things
Allah does with people. You want something for another reason,
he gives you the beneficial side-product. I just wanted it because
that’s how I thought the information and the knowledge
should be shared. It should be real. It was all about being
So later on, I stuck to that model, except once when there was
no time we had to do 25 episodes in five days. it was horrible.
But those days, we couldn’t get people and viewers were
already commenting about repeating appearances. So I said, you
know what, I’ll do what I hate doing, just to see, just
to test it, I’ll just speak to people alone. So I had
one show in which I was in a very comfortable setting—it
was a Stairway to Paradise special series—I mean
to me, I wish that wouldn’t even air, not because of its
content, but because of its format. But people said they benefited,
people said I took it to a higher level. I thought I naturally
did because of the fact that I was growing, but also because
of the fact that I was alone. When you’re with people,
you’re grounded. They might not get you, so you’re
bound to speak at that level. Again, not to claim that I am
at any higher level inwardly, but outwardly I may be talking
about things they haven’t studied yet. That’s absolutely
a possibility. So that’s what’s been happening.
I’ve begun to formally study Islam in the past maybe year,
year and a half.
How are you learning?
I’m doing it the old fashioned way. I’m studying
with shayukh and getting their ijaza, their
license to teach, once they see you are at the right place.
Are they sheikhs at Azhar?
Some of them are sheikhs at Azhar. Some of them are sheikhs
in Syria some of them are in other parts of the world. Some
of them in England who are converts but themselves sheikhs in
their own rights.
Do you think that you need a degree to do what you’re
doing? To do da’wa?
If I do Arabic, I’m going to need that, I’m sure.
I wouldn’t want people to doubt my credibility. As far
as English is going, I was probably speaking to the most knowledgeable
English-speaking followers in the world anyway, so what better
people could I be learning from? But I’m doing it the
old-fashioned way. I’m studying texts with people because
knowledge is in the breasts of people not in the lines of books
and so I’m studying it with people, with their filter,
not from my filter. One of the greatest things that I’ve
been introduced to in the past couple of years and I’ve
been trying to hold onto, is an unbroken chain of transmission,known
as sila, where you get your knowledge from the person
who got it from the person who got it from the Prophet, and
you know you’re getting both inward and outward.
Have you ever been criticized about how you have the right to
tell people about religion, that you’re so young, so inexperienced?
You know what’s interesting, Lindsay? I haven’t
heard that once. Alhamduallah. Not one time. I’ve
gotten a little of other types of criticisms, but not that one.
I remember once that because I had women on the show, even though
men were seated definitely apart—you know, there were
the women, there were the men—still I got people who were
a little too extreme who said, ‘You shouldn’t have
women, period.’ But they were very few. Because I think
most of the people appreciated that I had a Western audience
and so even if those things are forbidden in their view, it
was still not in the context. I’ve been spoken to a very
few number of times about things like about when I talked about
the inward in that last show a lot, I was labeled as a Sufi
by one of two people, which again I said, if to be a Sufi means
to purify your heart then the Prophet was a Sufi. Heck yeah,
I’m a Sufi! It’s semantics.
Do you ever talk about politics?
I’m very apolitical by nature and I’m very proud
of that as well. Many Muslims are too busy to remember God.
Like Sheikh Sharaawi said, ‘Those who want to rule by
Islam should say instead they want to be ruled over by Islam.'