Who am I, and why should you trust me? These are the real questions, aren’t they? And you have every right to ask them! There are a lot of voices out there teaching Islam, why should you listen to me? What do I have to offer you that is not already being offered somewhere else, by someone else? Like you, I had questions early on about Islam, religion, life, and the answer “that’s just the way it is!” never proved satisfactory for me.
For the past quarter century my quest has taken me to numerous universities in North America (including Princeton where I obtained my PhD in Islamic studies) as well as several centers of Sunni learning throughout the Muslim world, most notably al-Azhar seminary in Cairo where I did the bulk of my training. (Going to al-Azhar was like stepping through platform 9 3/4 and attending Hogwarts – we should talk about it sometime!) While I don’t think a drop down list of my CV will be useful, I do want to highlight the following, as it is essential to answering the questions we began with:
- My undergraduate degree was in comparative religions, with a focus on Judaism.
- My first MA degree was in a special combined program of Hinduism and Islam, where I was exposed to a deep study of the Dharmic faiths.
- While my seminary training covered the major Islamic disciplines, my focus was on fiqh, usul al-fiqh (including how to issue fatwas), and Sufism.
- I concluded my formal studies at Princeton, obtaining my PhD in contemporary Islamic law in 2014.
It was always important to me for my theoretic understanding of Islam to be coupled with application. There is no doubt that learning and acquiring knowledge is critical, however without actually using what you’ve learned you will end up losing it all. In addition, without actually interacting with people on a regular basis, you start to lose touch with the real issues people face and lose the ability to link faith to reality. As a result of this, I’ve always made sure that I stay connected to a community wherever I am. On average, I spend around 100 hours per month teaching students through private instruction, tending to the needs of local community members, answering questions people have about Islam, and counseling couples. Based on doing this consistently for nearly 7 years, I have come to realize the following:
- People need more than simple Islamic instruction; they need guidance on how to experience the faith.
- Most of us need to work on our personal issues and therefore we need tools based on our faith paradigm to help us.
- We are all under a lot of stress from many angles, therefore it is vital that we develop an Islam-based wellness toolkit for daily use.
- Many of the problems I encounter involve issues of relationships and in addition to Quran/Sunna guidance, people need tools and strategies that take the Quran/Sunna and apply them to these modern relationship issues.
In addition to my studies, both formal and informal, western and seminary, as well as my community work, I have been an entrepreneur since 2003. I formed two successful companies (still going!), and run a charitable foundation (The Coexist Foundation) all while keeping up with my studies, teaching and writing. My business experience has given me the opportunity to work on some of the most challenging and sensitive issues related to Islam and the public square today. I have worked with: large media corporations, leading newspapers and news magazines, investment banks, heads of state, military personal, law enforcement groups, intelligence officers, universities, and international faith leaders of various traditions. Accordingly, I have a great deal of experience with:
- The relationship between Islam, scholars, and government.
- The process and trends of issuing fatwas in the contemporary Muslim world, including leading opinions on hot topic issues.
- Addressing the threat of violence and extremism.
- The inner workings of how both government and media cover Islam.
I mention all of this for one specific reason: my study of Islam, coupled with the work that I do, give me some unique insights into how we make sense of Islam today; how we apply something we hold dear, timeless, and sacred in a rapidly changing world.
On this platform I will present and distill for you complex issues into small packets of usable information. My hope is to inspire you to the beauty of our faith, and teach you strategies and techniques to make sense of Islam everyday in your life.