How Islam Touched Their Hearts?-Renda Toshner

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A Turkish-American Architect

Renda was born in America in a Turkish home.  He was not a new Muslim, but he didn’t have any idea of Islam until his youth.His life story has many lessons for us.

Let me first describe the Turkish community living around Detroit in Michigan.  Turks started migrating to America in the 1970’s.  Now their third generation is thriving in America.  They hold very high professional jobs and successful businesses.  Most of them live in the rich suburban areas of Detroit.  They are financially well established and socially well connected with government officials.  I was introduced to them recently, as I participated in a few of their funeral services at the Tawheed Mosque in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  I had closer interaction with them when I was invited to visit their homes and their Turkish social club.  I found out that as Muslims they had melted into American society.  This trend is not unique with the Turkish community.  Many Muslim immigrants have come to America from different lands and have melted into American society, thereby losing their Islamic identity.  On the other hand, we observe that many Muslim immigrants are better practicing Muslims in America than in their homelands.  Their children even outshine their parents in the practice of Islam due to the religious freedom in America.

Renda’s parents were prominent members of this American Turkish community.  They were both physicians and did very well financially.  Thus, Renda was born in an affluent family.  Nevertheless, they brought up their son without any kind of Islamic education.

Renda completed his high school and joined a university.  He had no idea about Islam until he started mixing with overseas Muslim students at his campus.  America and American universities offer a great deal of freedom of choice and do not interfere with such personal choices.  Since Renda had a very gentle nature, the Islamic teachings and practices attracted him.  He was surprised to discover that he was born in a Muslim family, but family circumstances kept him far away from the knowledge and practice of Islam.  Renda learned more and more about Islam every day and tried to put it into practice.

Renda was very smart in his studies.  He proceeded to architectural engineering and finished the coursework very easily.  He joined an American architectural firm when he was preparing for his professional license examination. It usually takes a few years to pass the license examination after a few attempts.  Renda was so clever that he passed the licensing examination in only one try.

Renda’s growth in Islamic knowledge and practice was similarly very outstanding.  He benefited a great deal from the Islamic activities at the Anarbor Mosque and the Muslim community there.  His parents had retired and chose to go back to Turkey.  They settled down in their native country for the rest of their lives.  Renda chose to stay in America since he liked the Anarbor Muslim Community.  He wanted to increasingly take part in Islamic activities.  I used to give the Friday Sermon(Juma’ Khutba) once a month in the Anarbor Mosque at Michigan State University.  He was usually the Muazzan(the person who calls for the prayers) of this large mosque.  I recall that in one Juma’ Khutba I described the story of Prophet Yousuf(peace be upon him; pbuh).  In this story I mentioned that the brothers of Yousuf(pbuh) tried to use his shirt to prove that he had been eaten by wild animals.  Later, when the wife of Aziz tried to have an affair with him, his shirt served as proof that the wife of Aziz was guilty.  Much later the shirt of Yousuf(pbuh) was used to regain and repair the eyesight of his grieved father.  I added that if Yousuf’s shirt could perform such miracles, how unique that person would be who wore it.  Renda liked these remarks and called me on phone as soon as I reached home.  He asked me, “Are these your ideas?”  I told him, “Not at all.  Anything I say is from Tafseer(explanations and interpretations of the Qur’an written by Islamic scholars).  I am not a scholar and I do not have the right to give explanations of the Qur’an from myself.”

Renda wished to look like a Muslim physically as well.  He wore Islamic Turkish dress all the time, even on the job.  I asked him, “Does your employer object to your dress since you have to represent the firm in many places?”  Renda said, “They have to accept me the way I am if they want me.”  I repeated, “Don’t you experience some prejudice at your job because of Islamic dress?”  Renda bluntly said, “That is their problem.”  I like this turban.  I asked him to show me how to tie it up so gracefully.

Renda made outstanding contributions to various Islamic communities.  He used to present Islam to the inmates of American prisons.  This requires a great deal of time and patience.  Renda’s experiences with prisons were very positive.  Renda felt that these new Muslims in prison needed a special form of brief but comprehensive literature.  He developed such pamphlets on his own and at his own expense.  He wanted me to review these pamphlets.  I found these very pertinent for the use of new Muslims.  May Allah reward him for these efforts.

Renda’s contribution to the Farmington Hill’s Mosque is also unique.  About a two and a half-acre land was purchased for a mosque in Farmington Hills.  Renda came up with many options for constructing the mosque and the parking lot at that site.  The present architectural layout of the mosque was exclusively done by Renda.  Bids were taken from various firms for the architectural drawing.  Renda’s company gave a high bid.  Renda’s advice was to pick the lower bid of another firm.  Renda, however, did the detailed drawing of the mosque to help this firm.  We both had very lengthy and tiresome meetings with the architectural firm.  Renda never complained about it.  Without Renda’s professional help, this mosque would never have been built.

Renda’s personal life was very unique too.  He went to Turkey to get married.  He did not ask his parents to find him a girl from a rich family.  Instead, Renda told me that he picked a girl from an average family on his own.  He knew that his wife did not know anything about Islam, but he was confident and determined to teach her Islam.  Renda felt that Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) and all other prophets were ordered by Allah to start preaching and teaching among their near and dear ones first.  Renda not only taught her Islam, but served as an outstanding model for her.  With the help of Allah she acquired Islamic knowledge very fast.  Both cherished this Islamic way of life.  Allah blessed them with two daughters.

Renda did not want to stop here.  He wanted more and more participation in Islamic activities while his beloved wife cooperated with him fully.  That was the time when the war in Bosnia was in full swing.  Muslims were being killed and tortured every day.  Muslim youth from many countries went there to help the Bosnian Muslims.  Renda could not resist and made up his mind to go there as well.  He left his wife and young children in Anarbor City and appointed a wali or guardian for them from among the Turkish Muslim students.  He called me to say salam(peace) and to make me aware of his family arrangements.  Renda was a very cool minded, confident person and was very firm in carrying out his decision.  He especially wanted to help the orphan children of Bosnia.  After a while we heard that Allah made him a shaheed(martyr) in Bosnia.

The Anarbor Muslim Community was very proud of Renda and his family.  They immediately established a trust and collected a substantial amount of funds.  This money is to be used for the education of Renda’s children when they reach college level.

Renda’s wife is very noble.  She is growing more and more Islamically by understanding and memorizing more and more of the Quran and Ahadith[the sayings, deeds and approvals accurately narrated from Prophet Mohammad(pbuh)].  Renda’s children are very intelligent like him.  His wife is raising them with a remarkable Islamic background.

We are told that Renda’s mother and father in Turkey are also proud to be parents of a shaheed. Similarly, the Muslims of the Tawheed Mosque in Farmington Hills, Michigan are thankful to Allah for the design of their mosque by this shaheed. May Allah grant him a lofty place in Paradise.

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