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Br. Idris Knapp (Manager of Winnipeg Central Mosque)

Profiled by: Sr. Tasneem Vali

Canoes, the wilderness, fishing and boat building are his hobbies. It is no wonder why Idris (Darrell) Knapp moved all the way from Indianapolis, IN to Winnipeg, MB. I expected the usual interview about background, what led him to Islam, problems after embracing Islam without family support etc… but I got an insight into life, the Muslim community in Winnipeg, what the role of a Muslim should really be and how to build my own Wacky Lassie (a small canoe).

I asked Br. Idris to talk to me a little about his background and what motivated him to embrace Islam. The answer surprised me and made me reflect upon my character and how people perceive me as a Muslim. Br. Idris embraced Islam in 1985 at the age of 18, subhan’Allah. He was raised in the Midwest  USA, with 2 brothers and his parents. His father was a Range Officer for Marion County Sheriff Dept. and so they were avid campers, going fishing and hiking as a way of life. When Idris was in his teens there was a Greyhound (a bus service that ran coast to coast) deal $99 for 99 days. That meant he could travel all over the US for $99 in 99 days getting off and on wherever and whenever he wanted.

Little did Idris realize that this would lead to a change in how he perceived life. He travelled with a friend and an older brother – backpacking and hitchhiking all over America, soaking in the beautiful environment and surroundings. In 1984 on his travels, a year before he embraced Islam, he met some people from West Africa and Trinidad at a place where they all were staying. These African brothers asked him why he was travelling, was he running away from home? There was also an older man, Tachaka Muhammad from the Ivory Coast and he asked Br. Idris, “What do you think of sleeping under the stars, seeing different people and places?” They went on to discuss the significance of life, which then took a spiritual turn. At this time Br. Idris had read the Bible and wondered, “If Jesus (AS) prayed to a God, why should he worship Jesus (AS) as a God? God should be above creation.” Idris did not find the Bible very informative on this topic. Tachaka Muhammad had given Br. Idris his phone number and told him to call if he ever needed anything. When writing it down Br. Idris asked, “How do you spell Muhammad?” Tachaka replied, “Just like the Prophet (SA’WS).” This piqued Idris’ curiosity. Who was this new Prophet and what was this religion where people were so and good and kind- hearted. Br. Idris was moved by Tachaka’s character and that is the best form of Dawah.

Br. Idris didn’t know anything about the Prophet so he went to the public library to look up Muhammad. Everything he found was derogatory and that inspired him to research further. He figured, “If all these ‘scholars’ (orientalists) didn’t like this man, there must be something to it.” Finally Br. Idris found Haykall’s biography on the Prophet (SA’WS) and learned from it. The more he started researching the more he realized that there were facts to back up all the claims. That is when he decided he was going to embrace Islam. Br. Idris says, “I knew the Prophet (SA’WS) before I knew “La ilaha illAllah”.” A Puerto Rican Imam, Ali Abdullah gave him the name Idris, saying, “You look like an Idris.” He also inspired him to learn Arabic saying, “Are you going to rely on someone else to interpret your faith? Wherever Islam spread, the people learnt Arabic.” Br. Idris says, “Arabic is easy – just putting in the time to study is hard.”

He has performed Hajj in 2000 and met his wife while travelling in the US, got married and moved to Winnipeg. They have 3 lovely children, a boy and two girls and a grandchild. Even though, his immediate family (parents and brothers) and extended family are not Muslim, he still has close ties with them. “You must realize that just because you become Muslim you do not forget your parents and family, they support me and I care for them.” Part of Br. Idris’ open nature, caring character and concern for people comes from being raised by older people. He laments that kids now do not know their grandparents.

I asked him, “What do new converts need, from your experience?” An axiomatic reply, “They need the company of other converts, people like them in a similar situation to talk to. Cultural groups need to rise above their safety nets, and faith should trump everything. Muslims should give new converts room to be themselves, practice what is Halal from their culture. Help pull each other up”

T: What is your favorite ayah from Quran?

Br. I: The ayah in Surah al-Imran, “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” and the last verse of Surah Taubah.

T: What is the greatest change you see in yourself after embracing Islam?

Br. I: It is a gradual change, not a drastic one. I try to stay away from bad influences.

 

T: Mention a few things lacking in our community?

Br. I: Lack of volunteers and funds. We also need to support seniors and recognize people who have disappeared from the community. In the US, the African American community has worked very hard to create an Islamic Culture that is indigenous to North America. You can become a Muslim and still retain parts of your culture. We need space for teenagers like integrated community centers. There is no space the teens can call ‘my’ space.

T: Has anyone been inspired by the change in you after accepting Islam?

Br. I: Alhamdulillah, yes through targeted Dawah in the US.

T: What is the major difference between a convert and a person who is Muslim by birth?

Br. I: Converts embrace Islam after conscious research and go against the norm to do it. Few people who are born into Islam have that kind of approach. So take a sensible logical approach when talking to each other.

T: What is your long-term legacy and what are your short-term goals?

Br. I: Long term I want to see the Muslim community work as one body, the new immigrant and refugee families need us. Most organizations are working in different capacities to fulfill needs, but there should be more cohesion and collaboration.

As we talked at length about our lack of Dawah as a community to the First Nations , this incident struck me. Br. Idris said that a First Nation friend, an older and wiser gentleman, told him, “The entire world was colonized; imagine if your religion did not prohibit intoxicants, you would be in the same boat as us.” Readers I leave you with this thought. We talked about other issues but that could be a whole other article. Br. Idris is definitely an asset our community is blessed to have, may Allah bless him and his family.

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