What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved (yes, I do listen to conservative talk radio from time to time) recently had a Muslim guest on his show. I applaud him for doing so. Mr. Medved asked the guest, a Muslim from Seattle, what positive contributions Muslims have made to the world in 2006, not 1006 A.D.

I had to leave my car before I could hear the Muslim’s answer, but I thought that was a great question. And you know what the worst part of that question was? I had to stop and think about it. Lately, the only thing “Muslim” that comes up in the news has to do with terrorism and violence. Yet, is there anything positive that Muslims do? Do Muslims positively contribute to this society and the general world at large? Can Muslims do anything constructive?

The answer is absolutely. Yet, unfortunately, those positive aspects about the Muslim community are downplayed by the media. Yet, I am not scapegoating the media at all. I recently spoke at the Society of Professional Journalists conference here in Chicago. I was blessed to be on a panel about coverage of Muslim and Arab issues. It was very well attended, and there was a genuine interest on the part of reporters and editors to do a better job when it came to reporting on things Muslim and Islamic. That interest was palpable. I don’t believe there is a vast media conspiracy against Islam.

Yet, still, nice human interest stories about Islam and Muslims rarely make the front page. So, I am starting a series on God, Faith, and a Pen highlighting the positive things ordinary Muslims do each and every day. I think it will be beneficial to all.

The first item will be this story about a Norte Dame football player, Ryan Harris. It was originally published in the August 24 edition of the Chicago Sun Times:

Harris wants to put new face on Muslim faith

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It irks Ryan Harris that people associate Muslims with 9/11 and terrorism. The Notre Dame offensive lineman has heard the negative chatter for years, read it on the Internet, listened to it on television. It only makes him more adamant about showing that Muslims — such as himself — are peaceful.

”The religion is a religion of tolerance and knowledge and peace,” said Harris, who converted to Islam two years ago. ”And those are the foundations of the faith — not the things that we see on CNN day in and day out. ”Not every Muslim is a terrorist.”

Harris doesn’t doubt his faith, doesn’t question its motives. But there are times he wonders if he can adhere to Islamic rituals based on his already hectic schedule. Giving up isn’t an option. ”It really gives me a sense of dedication and passion,” he said. ”I feel like I’m extremely dedicated and extremely responsible with my duties on the football field. That comes directly from my faith and how I see what I need to be and the type of person I need to be.”

Harris’ faith presents a challenge every fall, and this year is no different. Ramadan — the month of blessing for Muslims — begins Sept. 24. During the monthlong observance, Muslims spend time fasting, refraining from food or drink until after dark. For Harris, an All-America candidate at left tackle, fasting is virtually impossible. The Irish will be four games into the schedule once Ramadan begins — not the ideal time for him to lose weight or nourishment.

”Fasting is obviously the full extent and the intention of the holiday, but I would not survive if I fasted,” said Harris, listed at 6-5, 285. ”I thought about fasting. On our days off, I usually do fast. But it is extremely, extremely hard. ”And that’s one of the things I appreciate about Islam: It’s a very, very individual religion in a sense that there are other avenues to celebrate the holiday.”

Instead, Harris will read the Koran — the sacred book of Islam — more often. He’ll make certain to pray five times a day, another ritual. He’ll spend time meeting with other Muslims at the Islamic Society of Michiana, located in the South Bend area. Harris visits the mosque on Fridays, the Muslim Sabbath Day.

He’s not treated like a celebrity, although some realize he plays for the Irish. He’ll spend 45 minutes in the mosque, praying and listening to Arabic readings. Just a couple of weeks ago at the mosque, Harris taught football to some of the Muslim children. ”Some kids were like, ‘Awesome,’ and others thought we were going to play soccer,” Harris said. ”It was great to contribute. Anything that someone can gain from me means a lot.”

Harris’ teammates have gained more of an appreciation for his religious beliefs. Wide receiver Rhema McKnight and tight end Marcus Freeman attended a Koran study with Harris. Quarterback Brady Quinn said he would have fasted late at night with Harris had the lineman decided to fast during the daylight hours this season. ”I have so much respect for Ryan, to be that devoted to something, especially during the season,” Quinn said. ”I don’t know if I can do it. Even Lent is tough for me.”

Harris’ goal isn’t to convert his teammates. It’s to educate others about Muslims and Islam. ”The common question is, ‘Do you guys believe in God?’ It’s like, ‘Of course, yes, we do.’ It’s understandable because Islam is not a predominant religion in this country. Over time, it will become known.”

Copyright (c) 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.


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