The Price I Pay For Respecting Islam

Published on Huffington Post Religion (05/08/15)

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would become a scholar focusing on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. Growing up, my passion was playing basketball and following the Boston Celtics. I never had any Muslim friends. In fact, I did not even know a single follower of Islam until my college years. If you had asked me when I was 16 years old, “What is a Muslim?” I would not be able to answer you.

Everything changed when 9/11 happened. Muslims were seen as “terrorists” and Islam was an “evil” force that had to be crushed by “freedom loving people.” When it came time to choose an academic discipline in college, I chose “Islamic studies,” not because I wanted to learn about a great religion and world civilization, but rather to work for the CIA and become a spy to nab the “bad guys.”

One of the first classes that I enrolled in at American University was “The World of Islam.” I figured this was a way for me to learn about why an event like 9/11 happened. On the first day of class, I learned about basic Islamic principles like giving alms to charity and praying five times per day. I was told about a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad, which stated: “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” I remember one of the Muslim students in the class standing up and reciting a Qur’anic verse, which read: “taking the life of an innocent person is like killing all of mankind.” What I learned on that first day of class was not reflective of what you hear daily in the media about Islam and Muslims.

Since 2004, I have focused most of my time on researching Islam, US foreign policy with the “Muslim world,” and ways of bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims worldwide. My dedication to these academic pursuits have been enriching beyond imagination. I have made dear Muslims friends who I hold in the highest esteem. I have been able to travel the world and spend time with Muslim communities of various backgrounds. They have opened their schools, homes, and mosques to me. The hospitality, warmth, and love that Muslims have showed me over the years has made me an admirer of Prophet Muhammad and an individual who has deep respect for Islam. There is no doubt that these activities and experiences have made me a better person. Muslims have brought me closer to God. For that I am ever thankful. However, researching Islam and becoming friends with Muslims have also come at a serious cost to my relationships and social interactions.

I have lost a good amount of friends because of my efforts in shedding a positive light on Islam and Prophet Muhammad. Fraternity brothers who do not share my political beliefs have defriended me on Facebook. I have been told by some of them that I am on an “FBI watch list” because of my “radical” views on improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Other friends who do not care as much about religion or politics simply cannot understand the kind of work that I do. Years ago, one of my friends asked me “So what is the difference between Islam and Muslims?” Most of my friends have no idea about either of these subjects, therefore it is difficult for me to share my passion for learning with them. They simply cannot comprehend the benefits of a non-Muslim studying Islam.

Some people in my family consider me to be “weird” because I have an interest in studying a religion that they think is “foreign.” This is difficult for me because these are my family members who are supposed to care about things that matter to me. One person in my family has been so brainwashed by media coverage of Islam that he once told me: “Muslims kill us because that’s what they’re supposed to do to Christians. It’s in the Qur’an.” One Christmas, a family member wanted to buy me a book that she thought would be interesting to me. It turned out that the book was “Islam For Dummies” by the anti-Muslim bigot Robert Spencer. On another occasion, someone close to my immediate family went through my library and picked up a book called “The Mystics of Islam.” He looked at me and said sarcastically “Remind me to read this one!” He said that in a condescending tone as if the book was useless. To be honest, it is painful to be seen as someone who studies something that other people consider to be irrelevant. As you can imagine, it does not feel great to feel unappreciated.

Non-Muslims are not the only people who look down on me for researching Islam. I tweet regularly about interfaith dialogue and ways of improving Christian-Muslim relations. Muslims will tweet loving messages to me about the great work that I am doing. When I respond back with “peace be with you” and “Amen,” two typical Christian phrases, they start to question me on my religious background. “Are you Muslim?” these tweeters ask, to which I respond “No, I am Catholic.” Seconds later, I realize that I have fewer Twitter followers. These people “unfollow” me for the simple reason that I am not Muslim. Other Muslims on Twitter do their best to convert me to Islam. They tell me that it is impossible to fully understand a religion if you do not follow that religion. They suggest that I “revert” to Islam “before it’s too late, before the end times,” as if I am going to hell for being Catholic. Granted, I have many Muslim followers who genuinely admire my work in bridging the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, but to be put down as a non-Muslim scholar leads me to believe that some Muslims are not tolerant of my work.

Studying Islam has come at a price. Old friends see me as a traitor; family members see me as “strange,” and Muslims see me as someone who will never be good enough. These developments make me think deeply about the issues of loyalty, love, and knowledge. Thankfully, I do have kindred spirits around the worldwide who understand my mission and who appreciate the courage it takes for an individual to put relationships on the line in an effort to acquire knowledge and understand the mysteries of our world. I certainly will carry on with this journey. To stop now would be to surrender to narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and religious supremacy. These are the evils in our world and I will not stop challenging them until my days on this planet are over.


11 thoughts on “The Price I Pay For Respecting Islam

  1. Very nice article Dr. but in my opinion this Christian-Muslim relation is more about civilization. “Us” vs “Them” ,that like in the “clash of civilizations” theory.


  2. Craig,

    You are one of the few people sincerely interested in truth and correcting perceptions.

    I am a Muslim and I hold you in high esteem for being so courageous in the face of losses you are enduring. I would say that many Muslims could learn a lot about the essentials of Islam from you.

    When I read your articles, I feel your compassion, your sincerity, your search for truth & for understanding, for friendliness among human beings.

    Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. May the good Lord keep you in His Love and His Protection.


  3. I have been reading your articles for a while now, and you have given me faith that there are people like you who see Islam for what it is, something good and not that far off from Christianity; they are both Abrahamic faiths after all. Thank you for speaking out and having the courage and strength to put right the wrong perceptions of the media and narrow minded people and trying to strengthen relationships between people. I hope that the fight becomes easier for you and may peace be with you


  4. Dear Craig, it would appear that the price you are paying for respecting Islam is cognitive dissonance – a disconnect from reality. Whatever your friendly Muslim friends may say about Islam and peace, the fact is that a frightening number of Muslims worldwide prefer to take the violent words of the Koran at face value. The verse that you have selectively quoted from appears like this in full and in context:

    [K 5:32] On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel [Jews] that if anyone slew a person – unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land [arguing against Islam] – it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.

    [K 5:33-34] The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

    I know it’s nice to believe that Islam is just a different kind of Christianity or Hinduism, but the fact remains that Islam is condemned as a death cult both by its scriptures, and the actions of many Muslims – there have been over 25,000 Islamic terrorist attacks since 2001, and no amount of selective out-of-context quoting ‘peaceful’ Islamic scriptures will bring those poor jihad victims back to life.


    1. dear Aj…
      just read the whole surah first,and not the only the verses you “selectively quoted” to depict Islam as a violent religion…and the verses 5:33-34 already mentioned ‘of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger’ right? so IF you wage war against Islam and keep doing bad things to the innocents,obviously we have to defend ourselves, our religion,our family and country against you,the attacker.. are you naive enough to think that any human being regardless of religion will just stand still and just let the attacker troops to just go rampant raping their women, destroying their land and country etc?…if you don’t do nothing against us,those punishment will never took place… this article maybe have some info that may interest you,dear AJ.. 🙂

      and you may claim that has been 25,000 “Islamic terrorists (read in context : CIA trained terrorists, e.g usama bin laden and Al-Qaeda. ISIS too,apparently), but i am sure the “jihad victims” are not as many as the lives of innocents that your “War on Terror” campaigns had claimed since 9/11 attacking all those muslim countries (the undiscoverable WMD excuse,hahaha…what a joke)… or maybe i just missed the news when bush,obama,rumsfeld,wolfowitz etc converted to islam then… hehehe… 🙂

      to Dr. Craig, your effort has been inspirational since now a lot of people know that not every Muslim are ISIS and not every Christian are KKK… keep it up,brother…

      [94:6] Surely there is ease after hardship.
      [94:7] Aye, surely there is ease after hardship.



  5. Al salamu alaikum Dr. Craig. This is an awe-inspiring article. I salute you for standing your ground and swimming against the tide. I’d just like to point out a very important matter. It’s for you if you aren’t already aware of it, and also for other future readers who may benefit from it inshallah. (Disclaimer: I’m not a scholar, nor do I claim to be one). Astighfirullah – I ask Allah for forgiveness if I faltered anywhere in my explanation below.

    Many people don’t realize that absolutely anyone can go to heaven if they are – for lack of a better word – good human beings. What you are doing is admirable. While it is certainly the right choice to revert to Islam sooner than later, understand that Allah (inshallah) is happy with you as long as you are not worshiping anyone or anything else besides Allah or the presence of Allah in your mind (it’s there whether or not you realize it or even notice it), and leading a healthy and moral life. In no way am I trying to speak on Allah’s behalf (for it is a sin), but the truth is, it doesn’t matter what religion a person is following, as long as the above-mentioned condition is satisfied, and Allah knows best.

    I always provide the following example about non-Muslims who have a chance to go to heaven. People living in tribes in far lands where there is little education and perhaps no notion of religion whatsoever; do you think it is fair that they do not go to heaven just because they didn’t hear about Islam (or any other religion for that matter, provided they do not worship other deities such as stone, etc), despite having led a very healthy, loving, and moral life by taking care of their families and relatives, and the land and animals? Allah is most fair and most merciful, and each person will be judged by their deeds and intentions, regardless of religion. Again, Allah knows best and I ask him for forgiveness if I am wrong.

    As far as I know, intentions are of highest priority to Allah besides fulfilling the five pillars of Islam. For instance, I could give money to the poor for showing off. Alternatively, I could give it to both please Allah and help a person in need. The former intention would get me nowhere. I could end up with little to zero deeds for doing it. Whereas the latter intention would yield good deeds and should always be my goal, since it’s a genuine intention coming from the heart and soul, and it weighs heavy on the scale on judgement day.

    To conclude.. Catholic or otherwise, may Allah reward you for what you’re doing and help you revert to Islam when you are ready (There shall be no compulsion in acceptance of the religion [Surat Al-Baqara excerpt from Aya 256]) to take the big step towards an even better life inshallah.

    I bid you salam with love, peace, happiness, and success.


  6. Dr. Craig, I am glad that you are Catholic. I don’t see the reason why you should be anything else unless you choose to change.

    And oh..I don’t think Amen and peace be upon you are typical Christian phrases. I used to say Amen all the time. ( I don’t anymore cause mmm..I am not sure exactly what it really means!!) and peace be upon isnt it the English version of salamun alaykum?


  7. I appreciate your journey and respect you for continuing it. You are here for a reason and an important one. May you preservere and may your effort is eased and supported. Thank you for all the good things that you do. Thank you.


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