American Engineer Finds Islam in Indonesia

American Engineer Finds Islam in Indonesia

Interviewer: I’m joined by one of my brothers in Islam, brother Yusuf Burke. Assalamu`alaikum warhmatullahi wabarakatuh.
Brother Yusuf: Walaikum assalamu warhmatullahi wabarkatuh.

Interviewer: Very nice to meet you and thank you for being here and agreeing to talk to us. Brother Yusuf, just tell us a bit about yourself and your background and how you came to Islam.
Brother Yusuf: I was raised in New York. I was raised as a Catholic for my whole life, from Catholic schools to university.
My father used to travel to Malaysia a little bit so he had some Muslim friends. I understood a little about Islam and Muslims from him. We had some of them over to our house a few times. I was interested to see the cultural differences as well as the religious differences.
I studied a little bit more in college when I was preparing for a religion class and I understood the basics of Islam, but I didn’t understand much until I traveled and lived in Indonesia. This was my first predominantly Muslim country that I moved to and lived in.

Interviewer: How did you come to travel to Indonesia? And before you got to that point of traveling, I mean did you go to university? Did you study there? Did you have a job related to your studying field?
Brother Yusuf: Yes I studied as an engineer and about 2 years after I got out of school, I joined General Electric team in energy as a field engineer, and I traveled overseas to work in power projects, in building power plants basically.
The first Muslim country I went to was Indonesia back in 1994. I really enjoyed meeting people there. They were wonderful people, very friendly and very open and willing to engage and have conversation with you just because you are different.
I started to learn about Islam then, and I converted to Islam in 1996. I married my wife shortly after that, then we traveled a bit more and settled here in 2002, after living in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Thailand a little bit too.

Interviewer: Now that you have become Muslim, how did your family react to the news? I just want to ask you when you studied in Catholic schools and a Catholic university, did you feel that you had a good understanding of Catholicism?
Brother Yusuf: I think yes I did have a good understanding of Catholicism. I think what brought me to Islam is that it’s very logical, and as an engineer, I appreciated that. I really felt when I discussed Islam and lived among Muslims and felt the brotherhood that they share and that really drew me to it as well. As I learned more when I went to Australia and Malaysia, I took the classes and learned from other people, and just the way they presented it to me was like really struck me as this is the right way.

Family Reaction & Islamic Organizations in the US
Interviewer: How did your family react when you became Muslim?
Brother Yusuf: I think they were all surprised obviously. But I think they understood that this was my decision. They are very open-minded. I think they have good respect for all people first of all especially those of monotheistic religion. I think they saw it as worshiping in the way I thought was right and they appreciated that. I needed to explain to them why I did that, and maybe dispel some of the misconceptions we have here in the United States about Islam and they were really supporting.

Interviewer: Tell us about the Islamic organizations in which you are involved here.
Brother Yusuf: I’m presently the director of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). We are an advocacy group for American Muslims basically trying to dispel some of he misconceptions as well as help Americans in case of any kind of civil liberties or civil rights issues.
We just try to bring Muslims a seat at the table in American society. We also try to introduce them to the larger community. Sometimes people don’t understand the Islamic perception of things or how Muslims relate to different topics and issues at hand in America. We are really trying to bring that taste of Islam to America.
So, civil rights and civil liberties issues come in the forefront of what we do. Any Muslim who is discriminated against because they are Muslim whether being in the workplace or whether in a governmental agency, we try to help them. We work on several such cases right now.

Interviewer: Can you just tell me without going into too much details some examples of the nature of some of the cases you are handling now?
Brother Yusuf: One thing that’s great about living in America is the laws about the freedom of religion and accommodation for religious practices, especially in the workplace. A lot of times employers don’t understand this, and we make them understand what the practices are and what religious accommodations like prayers or Hijab or beard for men to make sure they understand that and what they are allowed in the workplace.

Interviewer: So you mean actual people like us who may have some troubles in the workplace by maybe somebody’s manager won’t allow them to pray or have a beard or Hijab?
Brother Yusuf: Exactly, like having Hijab in the uniform policy. The laws are at our side and we try to educate them about that.

Interviewer: I don’t know how can anybody have Hijab in their uniform policy?!
Brother Yusuf: They say no head-covering in the uniform policy, like baseball caps and something like that. But if it’s religiously mandated, like turbans for the Sikhs and hijab for Muslims, and it’s not a safety hazard then it’s allowed in the workplace.

Interviewer: How successful are you in intervening in such cases?
Brother Yusuf: Most of the times when we have people whom we educate and they understand what the practices and laws are, they usually go along with that and they try to make accommodations when necessary. There are times when we have to take legal actions and have them consult an attorney, but this happens in the minority of the times.

Interviewer: So in the majority of the cases you feel that the cases are not really based on being biased but just on the ignorance about what Islam requires?
Brother Yusuf: Exactly. They need to understand what Islam is and what their responsibilities under the laws are. We also try to help our people especially in the Muslim community get a better understanding of being active in the government here in terms of getting to know your representatives, understand what the issues are, and then voting properly.

Interviewer: With regard to voting, how important is it for Muslims to understand the need for them as Americans to make sure they have some say and who are the people who are elected because maybe a lot of Muslims feel that they can’t really affect any change or outcome, so how do you try to explain to the people the importance for them of getting involved all levels of government in voting?
Brother Yusuf: Yes it’s all so important. Even on the national scale you have one vote and even that there are hundreds of millions in the United States but one vote counts, because as in the last elections or back in 2000, when somebody votes you came down to the wire they get counted one by one and basically this shows the power of one vote.
We try to make sure that people in our community understand this issue and what their representatives are standing for even we don’t know what side they vote for. We just try to make sure they understand the process and that they vote properly and they know what the people they vote for stand for.

Interviewer: Some people in and outside America ask about the dawah in America, and what’s going and sometime they ask me why would a Caucasian accept Islam?
Brother Yusuf: Yes whites are definitely a minority in the Muslim community here in America! But I think this is due to the misconceptions that the media propagates here in America.
So I think it’s difficult especially for Caucasians to really see through the reality of Islam and this is something we try to do when we talk to the community or when we give a presentation to law enforcement staff and hospitals and other areas to dispel the myth about Islam and Muslims and basically help them better understand the communities that they are working in so when they come across Muslims whether in home or maybe someone praying in their cars and they don’t underrated what they are doing.
We try to explain that we pray five times a day. Sometimes you may see somebody in the car and you think that he is hitting his head to the steering wheel but he is just praying. That’s why we have to tell the law enforcement staff and other people that this are our beliefs and this is what you may come across in your daily life.

Interviewer: So when you do such outreach activities and come to address some of the misconceptions, what are the most important ones in common that you make sure you tackle?
Brother Yusuf: The big ones. The difference between Sunnis and Shiites. Women’s rights in Islam, those are the big ones right now. Also jihad as we try to dispel the misconception that it means a holy war, that’s totally a misconception. With regard to women’s rights in Islam, we try to explain that women are protected in Islam and that the practices you see are not because of the religion.

Interviewer: Alhamdulellah, brother Yusuf, it was very nice to meet you and very nice to talk to you and alhamdulellah with CAIR and all the other efforts, Allah will give you success with that. But before we conclude I just want to ask you now as a Muslim since 1996 in America, you have seen Islam grow and I want to know from you what do you think in the future outlook of Islam in America?
Brother Yusuf: There’s a lot of struggle here but I think the future looks brighter. As long as we stick to our principles and be good Muslims, I really think we will have a bright future in America.

By Reading Islam Staff
Source: OnIslam


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts