Monthly Spotlight: Shaykh Saeed Purcell

By Badees Nouiouat

Born in Miami, Saeed and his family drove around half the country before settling in Arizona. After a brief stay in New Mexico, they moved to Minnesota, where he spent most of his childhood years in the south side of Minneapolis. 

Saeed’s eight-year faith journey led to him embrace Islam about 27 years ago, on January 1st, 1993. In his junior year of high school, he began to explore other faiths and denominations after not getting the answers he was looking for in the Methodist faith that he was raised in. He explored the Pentacostal church, where he learned to see religion as a way to lead your life with strict laws. Growing up in the Methodist church, he had learned to see the Bible as a book of stories, similar to a history book.

When he entered college, Saeed’s struggles to find faith led to him seek a self-indulgent lifestyle that left him feeling empty. After returning to Minnesota, he renewed his search for the truth by learning about religions such as Daoism, Confucianism, and even Native American spirituality. 

He eventually started looking into Islam after being influenced by Muslim hip hop artists that he loved to listen to. During this time of his life, many artists such as Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, Lakim Shabazz, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest were embedding Islamic messages in their music. Saeed especially noticed many references to Malcolm X which led him to study the life of the Muslim American icon. 

Saeed had studied the history of the civil rights movement so he was acquainted with Malcolm X from that standpoint. However, it wasn’t until he picked up The Autobiography of Malcolm X that he learned about the later stages of Malcolm’s life where he left the Nation of Islam, traveled to Mecca for Hajj, and embraced orthodox Islam. Saeed was extremely inspired by how Malcolm saw Islam as the solution to racism in America.

The next logical step for Saeed was to read the Quran. He went to a local African American bookstore and purchased the only copy of the Quran they had. He began reading it from the very beginning and it immediately resonated with him. Then he stumbled upon Ayah 62 of Surah Al-Baqarah, which, he says, “hit him like a lightning bolt.”

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve”[Quran 2:62].

This ayah seemed to answer the exact question he had in his mind since childhood. Growing up, he asked leaders at his church what would happen to  Jews and people of other faiths but he never got a satisfactory answer. He felt like a piece of the puzzle to his faith was missing, but nobody could give him an answer that fit. He didn’t know what the answer to his question was, but he knew that when he found it, he would know. And now he had found it.

Saeed always trusted that the truth would come as long as he truly wanted to find it. He knew that when he found it, he would feel it was right in his heart. After he read this ayah, he knew that it was not a question of whether or not he would accept Islam but when he would accept Islam.

A couple of months later, he took his shahada on Friday, January 1st, 1993. Before this day, he had been going to jumuah at the masjid for over a year while simultaneously attending Sunday church services. Once he took his shahada, he immediately began to practice what he had already learned about. Even before becoming Muslim, he had attempted praying and fasting. He first focused on learning the Arabic phrases for prayers and then began studying Islam further. 

Although Saeed had many helpful people around l to teach him what he needed to know as a new Muslim, he says he was lucky. Many new Muslims don’t have enough support. One thing we can do is try to understand how new things are for them, says Shaykh Saeed. “We should not be so quick to judge others that we become a barrier from someone coming to the masjid. There is a sensitivity that needs to be there,” he continues. 

The same applies to the youth, says Shaykh Saeed. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with growing up in today’s society as a youth. Although a young person might not be doing as well as you’d want them to, you don’t know if you’d be doing worse than them growing up with today’s struggles and temptations.”

Saeed’s approach to da’wah is something he believes strongly in. “I don’t believe in pushing pamphlets in people’s hands, trying to get a 10 minute shahada like you see online. I don’t think these are effective. You have to be able to be a friendly person and have positive interactions with people. Even if you don’t give them a Quran or a pamphlet; if you have a warm, positive conversation with someone, they will walk away with a good impression of Muslims. That alone can be a huge, impactful experience. 

When people feel like they are being preached to, they will shut down. They will stop listening to you like they would in a regular conversation. One of the biggest fundamental mistakes people make when giving da’wah is they talk before they listen. Once when I was at the University of Texas at Dallas, we had a da’wah booth. One of the people who came to talk to us said he seriously believed in Greek Mythology. If you didn’t hear his beliefs before you begin to recite your da’wah bullet points then you would be getting nowhere. If you listen, you can pick up on something very particular that you can speak directly to rather than just reading the same generic speech.”

Shaykh Saeed is now working for Irving Masjid involved in New Muslim Education. He also works full time for ICNA in da’wah efforts around the metroplex, along with being involved on college campuses such as the University of Texas at Dallas. Catch his weekly lecture at ICI every Monday after Isha!

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