Michael Abd al-Majid Wolfe: An American Muslim Disseminates Truth about Abrahamic Religions
By Mohammad Yacoob
Many individuals who have reverted back to Islam have repeatedly said they were awakened from their deep slumber and exposed to the reality about Islam by small incidents in their lives. They were spoon-fed information about Islam and Muslims by the Western societies that was exactly opposite to what they saw or heard from the Muslims themselves. During interaction with Muslims or by reading the Qur’an they came to know the reality. They readily accepted this fact and on their own reverted back to the religion of one and only God who has no partners as preached by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and other Prophets.
One of the contemporary Muslims inspired me to become a better Muslim, a better American, and a person in need of further training in the art of living by helping others in this world to live a life of dignity. He is none other than Michael Abd al-Majid Wolfe. The majority of Muslims living in the United States including me came to know about him from a program on the ABC television network ‘Nightline’. Michael Wolfe is a Muslim who fits the mold of what I would call ‘Don’t Show Me Your Camera, Show me Your Picture’. He tells the Westerners that Islam has the spirit of democracy, egalitarian, and is tolerant of other beliefs. I later learned that he had often given public lectures about Islam in a number of famous universities in the US. In 2002 he edited “Taking Back Islam”, a collection of essays by Muslim writers who are not afraid to be critical of extremists who distort Islam for violent or political ends and also non-Muslims who demonize it.
In 1997, Eid ul Adha, the feast of sacrifice, was celebrated on Thursday April 17 in the United States. This important religious holiday is celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son. The next day on April 18, 1997, Friday, the half an hour program “Nightline” on the ABC Network was dedicated to Hajj. It showed Michael Wolfe, an American Muslim, a writer, poet and a traveler, performing Hajj. The first time Michael Wolfe’s image appeared on the screen of the television he looked into the eye of the camera and said, “I am a Muslim. My father is Jewish and my mother is a Christian. I accepted Islam because there is no priesthood in Islam.” Then, scenes after scenes showed various rituals of the Hajj that are required to be performed by each pilgrim. He explained their significance to the audience. Michael Wolfe said the producer of this documentary obtained permission and cooperation of the government of Saudi Arabia to produce this documentary live. At the end of the program, Michael Wolfe engaged in a live question and answer session with Nightline program host Ted Koppel. At that live interview Michael Wolfe was in the Haram-e Sharif – the Grand Mosque - , we could see the Holy Kaaba in the background.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Los Angeles, California, honored Michael Wolfe for his monumental work on Hajj at a ceremony held on July 19, 1997 in the city of Arcadia, California. This award ceremony was held to commend Michael Wolfe for his promotion of spirituality in America. On July 20, 1997, Sunday, he spoke to the Muslim Youth at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles. Later he addressed the adults in the Islamic Center’s lecture hall before the Zuhur prayer. This writer had the honor of attending the lecture and the question and answer session that followed. He said that he was awarded a poetry scholarship more than twenty years ago on the condition that he would travel abroad on this scholarship. He traveled extensively in the Middle East and North African Muslim countries. He found Muslims to be very nice people, hospitable and generous. In one of the countries he developed backache, and was advised to perform the rituals of salat, Islamic prayer, to get rid of his back pain. At that time he had not accepted Islam. He bought a book which showed pictorially how to perform salat. He placed the book on a metal stand. Every time he tried to read, it would fold back and close; he placed a rubber band to hold the book in an open position and performed the basic body motions required in salat - standing, ruku, sujood and sitting - while looking at the pictures in the book. He was impressed by the basic body motions in salat because it cured his back pain. He said that his Jewish father could recite the adhan which he had learned in one of Islamic Republic of Asia which was under the Russian occupation during his childhood. He further said his father would some time recite adhan in front of him when he was a young boy.
Michael Wolfe answered many question about the live Hajj program and informed that he wrote the script of the whole program. The producer of this show, a friend of Michael Wolfe, approached him about doing a program on Hajj. When he committed himself to doing the program next year, the producer friend told him ’now’. The producer contacted ABC network and completed the agreement and the arrangements. Michael, and four Muslim photographers, cameramen and director, who were in different parts of the world, were flown to Jeddah to start their Hajj. He said that every night for about three weeks the video footage was sent to Jeddah to a group of three non-Muslim editors who helped Michael Wolfe streamline the script and edit the images that became the show.
Michael had a free hand in the script, and as a Muslim he instructed the editors about the arrangements of the images to give a clear understanding of the rituals of Hajj. He further said that the Hajj footage for the half hour program was selected from a total of 42 hours of video recording. In answer to a question, Michael said that a half an hour program like this costs approximately $ 100,000. The edited footage was beamed via London to Washington, DC, where a third group of executives and technicians added music, maps, and the Washington sequences. From Washington, Ted Koppel interviewed Michael Wolfe live, in the first live-hook-up between the United States and the Haram-e Shariff in Mecca. Michael Wolfe answered many questions and spoke about the significance of Hajj.
Michael Wolfe is the author of several books on Islam including “The Hajj: An American’s Pilgrimage to Mecca” and “Journey with a Thousand Roads”. In 2002 Michael Wolfe produced a documentary entitled “MUHAMMAD – Legacy of A Prophet” and also edited a book entitled “Taking Back Islam”. Michael said the Hajj is a very potent force and the experience helped him integrate Islam into his heart and vocabulary.
(Mohammad Yacoob is a retired industrial engineer and engineering proposals analyst who lives in Los Angeles, California)