Professor’s journey led him to Islam

December 14, 2015 1:03 AM

Professor’s journey led him to Islam

| The Journal Gazette

When John Andrew Morrow was a 13-year-old boy growing up in Montreal, the French-speaking part of Quebec, he started on a spiritual quest.

Three years later, after studying Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and anything else he could find, he chose Islam.

“I like its simplicity. Islam is a belief in one god and to do good. That’s pretty much what Islam is all about. I read the whole Bible and read all kinds of lost books of the Bible and so on. I wanted to study all religions. I found religions very fascinating,” said Morrow, 44, who was raised Roman Catholic.

Six years ago, Morrow came to Fort Wayne as a language professor at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast. Mostly he teaches French and Spanish, but he offers Arabic 101 and Arabic 102 when there are enough students to fill a class.

It was a natural that he would learn Arabic, a study he began in Morocco after he finished his doctorate in Spanish-American literature from the University of Toronto. He has a master’s degree in the same subject and a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and French language and literature from the university as well.

“I love Spanish. I love the language, the culture and the civilization. I’m fascinated with Islamic Spain, the indigenous cultures. It was the one department where I could study all of those things,” Morrow said.

He has honed his talents in Arabic on his many trips to Morocco.

All of his study led him to become an imam, which simply means “leader” in the Islamic world. He has preached all over the world, most recently in Jackson, Mississippi, at the International Museum of Muslim Cultures.

“It’s a beautiful little museum strongly supported by the city of Jackson, the mayor, the local politicians and the business people. It makes perfect sense when you go to the South. They have a long history of the civil rights. This is part of the continuum,” Morrow said.

Morrow said he finds more racism and bigotry in the North, “especially in the Northeast,” he said. His travels and acceptance as an imam have led him to publish 20 books.

He is not the leader of a mosque, as some imams are, but he does give sermons.

His latest book is “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World,” published by Angelical Press.

He was moved to issue a “fatwa,” an edict, ruling or statement, on Nov. 19 in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. The fatwa, condemning the Islamic State, was based on a declaration he had presented in the summer of 2014 when the Islamic State was starting to make headlines.

Morrow was on tour in Europe sponsored by the Canadian government that is “very strong with the religious freedom,” he said. Morrow spoke at embassies and mosques in Paris, Wales, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium. He testified about the Islamic State at the House of Lords in the British Parliament, he said.

“I’m not afraid of ISIS. They should be afraid of people like me, and they should be afraid of God Almighty,” Morrow says.

“These people represent a small microscopic minority in the Muslim world. There are 1.5 billion Muslims, and yet they get an enormous amount of media attention and commit all these spectacular atrocities. It takes people like to me to speak out.”

As for the stereotype that Muslims treat women poorly, he said, there are Muslim countries that restrict women’s activities and some where women are far more active in government and in business than our own.  In Pakistan and Bangladesh, women have been elected as head of state.

In China, there are mosques for women led by female imams.

“You have to distinguish between religion and culture,” Morrow said. “Every country is different. Morocco and Tunisia are radically different from Malaysia that is radically different from the Gulf States.”

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Dr. John Andrew Morrow is a senior scholar specializing in Islamic, Indigenous, and Hispanic Studies.