Thursday April 26, 2012
Reflections of faith
By AZHARIAH KAMIN
Imam Suhaib Webb who hosts Reflections shares his views on the Quran.
THE thought of meeting an imam was intimidating and apprehension was never far from one’s mind. And to top it all, this imam is not from the mosque in your neighbourhood – but a six-footer American.
But all the apprehension disappeared the moment Imam Suhaib Webb extended his greetings in an exclusive interview with The Star at TV Al Hijrah’s office in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Accompanied by his Malaysian wife Norasmah Ayob, Webb, who is also fondly known among his acquaintances as Imam Suhaib and Brother Suhaib, was more than happy to talk about his show Reflections that airs on TV Al Hijrah (Astro Ch 114).
For his ever-growing followers, Imam Suhaib’s face would be the first they would watch in the morning to draw wisdom from the things discussed in Reflections.
In the 30-minute show, Webb discusses various Surah (Chapter) from the Quran and the connection between the verses that affect our daily life.
The show, which is conducted in English, showcases Webb’s ability to effortlessly switch from English to Arabic.
It’s not a surprise as Webb spent six years (from 2004 to 2010) studying at Sharia College of Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt, where he graduated with multiple certificates in Islamic sciences, qualifying him to preach and teach, and he’s memorised the Quran in Arabic (6,236 verses).
After graduating from Al-Azhar, he moved to Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he hosted the weekly call-in radio show Real Talk.
During his years in Cairo, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.
During his stay in the San Francisco Bay Area, he preached at local mosques and led spiritual retreats.
Apart from his studies, he frequently lectures in the United States and Malaysia, and records public lecture series on Islam and contemporary Muslim matters.
“Reflections is a good platform for me to share my views and the value of Quran with Malaysians,” said Webb, whose quarterly visits here to be with his wife and two children would be occupied with recording of Reflections and giving talks. That’s not a surprise as he is one of the most sought-after speakers for his knowledge on various topics related to Islam.
When asked about his journey into Islam, the charismatic 40-year-old said that he was growing up as a preacher’s grandson in Oklahoma, attending church services twice a week, until the pull of Christianity started to weaken.
His teen years were spent spinning hip hop music as a deejay, but that world came to feel hollow.
“I was working with hip hop artistes then and some of them were Muslims and introduced me to the Quran. I studied the Quran for three years before I converted.”
Despite achieving popularity as a hip hop deejay, Webb felt empy. But hip hop introduced him to African-American Muslims who stirred his curiosity about Islam. He checked out a copy of the Quran from the local library and studied the faith for three years before embracing Islam.
“The first few years were difficult, but I made it a point to continue living with my parents. You know, we tend to fear something we do not know and my parents understandably were having a hard time with my conversion. I wanted them to know that I’m still William Webb. My mother still calls me William,” said Webb, who also established suhaibwebb.com, a “virtual mosque” that showcases writings from him and 20 Muslim scholars, who answer questions about jihad, dating, sex, music, women and celebrating Western holidays. The site gets more than 10,000 hits a day.
He added that his other initial difficulty was finding a role model after his conversion.
“I was only 20 then and being a white, I didn’t have any role model of a white Muslim in Oklahoma and it was hard,” recalled Webb, who was inaugurated as the Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cultural Center (ISBCC), the largest Islamic centre in New England, last December.
In his early years as a new convert, Webb studied under a Senegalese sheik in Oklahoma and later became imam at a local mosque there.
Webb, who is now based in Boston, is at the forefront of a movement to create an American-style Islam, one that is true to the Quran and Islamic law but which reflects the country’s customs and culture. Known for his laid-back style, he has helped promote the idea that Islam is open to a modern American interpretation.
And Webb is also known to sprinkle his public addresses with as many pop culture references as Quranic verses and sayings from the prophet. He says it helps him connect with his mainly US-born flock.
Being a white American, Webb realised that many Muslims regard his training at Al-Azhar University as a stamp of authenticity.
“But, we represent a different group of brothers and sisters now who were born in America, who went overseas to study for a number of years and realised that everything overseas isn’t necessarily right,” said Webb.
“I don’t have to be an Arab or a Pakistani to authenticate my Islam,” he once reportedly said.
In 2010, Webb was part of a delegation of eight North American imams who visited the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and terrorism.
Being a young imam who has knowledge of classical Islamic scholarship, but who was born in America and familiar with American life, and is able to connect with the youth, Webb hoped to usher in a new era in the Muslim community in the United States.
Despite his hectic schedule as an imam and leader, Webb said he misses his family very much and made a point of returning here every three to four months to be with his wife and children Nurshifa Webb, 11, and nine-year-old Malik Luqman Webb.
“I’m glad there’s Skype! So, I can talk to my children almost daily despite the distance,” said Webb, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.
Webb’s website, www.SuhaibWebb.com, was voted the best “Blog of the Year” by the 2009 Brass Crescent Awards and his tweets won him the vote of “Best Muslim Tweeter” of 2010.
● Reflections airs on TV Al Hijrah (Astro Ch 114 and HyppTV Ch 114) on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10.30pm.