Diving the Ocean of Islam
Dressed in a jeans and a shirt, Jefferson Pinder, Assistant Professor, Art Department, University of Maryland, slowly made his way to the front line of worshippers.
He sat by the imam who, after welcoming him to Islam, started to help him pronounce the Shahadah — testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is His Messenger — in both English and Arabic.
The young African-American professional ended the process to cheers of Allahu akbar resonating across the famous Washington mosque and its outside yard, where hundreds of worshippers were attending the weekly prayer.
People, young and old, flocked to the first line of worshippers to greet and welcome him to the family of Islam.
"I was overwhelmed," Pinder said in the mosque yard where he was still getting greetings and congratulations from people he has never seen before.
"I think it is a wonderful thing to go into a place of worship and see all different kinds of people which has not been my experience growing up as a Christian."
The Ocean of Islam
Professor Pinder had quite a soul-searching journey in which he was touched by the values and discipline of Muslims he met.
"It was a long journey that began with a trip to Senegal," he recalls.
"I'm an artist. I have been in work with many artists who are of the Muslim faith. They motivated me actually. I saw the way they went with their lives and how they conducted their lives," explained Pinder.
"When I came here one of my students at the University of Maryland where I teach was a Muslim and her work dealt with Islam. It moved me. I met her family and they kind of took me in and guided me along the way."
He says he admires the values, discipline and kindness of Muslims who are nonetheless devout and serious about everything that they are connected to.
"A genuine sense of community that does not end with the [prayer] service but just goes beyond. It's the kind of community you always think about and want to be part of."
Pinder does not expect his decision to affect his family ties.
"My dad is a Catholic, a minister," he says.
"I guess he realizes that Islam can provide something that Christianity might not and at the same time he also realizes that there are a lot of commonalities."
"This kind of commonalities, I think, can keep our relationship strong."
An Evolution of Learning
The arts professor sees his conversion as the beginning of a new phase in his life.
"I think it is a wonderful opportunity for me to define myself again because for years I have been just lost, as far as faith goes," he said.
"Sometimes I think we get messed up in our American culture that we do not think there is an alternative, other ways of learning and other ways of going about life," adds Pinder.
"So, today I came here and I'm slowly learning a new way of looking at life and hopefully it will make me a richer person."
Pinder sees good connections, legitimate relationships from one faith to the next.
"I see Islam as an evolution of my learning of Christianity and hopefully it can take me to a place that Christianity was never able to bring me to."
He recognizes he still has a lot to learn about his new faith.
"So far, I'm just beginning this process…its like jumping out into an ocean and figuring out how to swim."
Pinder intends to start by becoming a member of the community and learning to do his prayers.
"I have a couple of mentors who are going to be teaching me more Arabic and how to conduct myself and how to say the prayers," he notes.
"I think I'm just a new born now."
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