Finding Islam at the flea market

Finding Islam at the flea market

Finding Islam at the flea market
February 21
22:44 2017

In a sea of knick knacks and truck nuts, Dr. Iftikhar Choudhry stands out from inside his booth.

He smiles as his bespectacled eyes search for contact with patrons fogging along the asphalt streets on mobility scooters and cowboy boots.

“Good morning, sir, ma’am,” he said. “May I interest you in a free copy of the Quran?”

Here at the 380-trades-days, everything has its price.

From confederate flags and medieval weaponry to antiques and custom jewelry, people from all around Collin County come in droves to haggle and barter.

But one item is given away for free — the Quran.

The Islamic Association of Collin County has been coming to the Third Monday Trade days in McKinney for the past six years, handing out Qurans and pamphlets on Islam for educational purposes.

Choudhry said it’s his obligation as both a citizen and a Muslim to expose people to his faith. He said it’s rare for anyone to convert to Islam based on their service, adding the main benefit is people seeing Islam as something other than what they see on the news.

“I think it helps so people can see what the real Islam is like because the perception from the media isn’t reality,” Choudhry said. “I think it’s very important to humanize Islam, because we are real people.”

Instead of terror, patrons at the flea market see a human with a smile giving out what they love the most for free.

Most of the people who pass give a polite “no thanks” and continue to shop. But on Sunday, the group had to crack open a new box of Qurans to meet the demands of the after church rush.

McKinney resident Tim Garner, 45, picked up a copy on Sunday despite saying he’s a devout Christian.

“It’s educational,” Garner said. “I’m interested in what I believe and why I believe it.”

Another Mckinney resident and Christian who picked up a copy was Cathy Wright. Wright said her desire to grab a copy was for educational purposes.

“I took one because I don’t really know anything about it,” Wright said.

Syed Nadeem, 43, ran the first shift at the booth on Sunday morning. He has come to hand out Qurans at the flea market for the past three years.

Choudry’s table is covered from end to end in educational pamphlets, free Qurans in English and Spanish, a visual graphic and candy. His goal is not necessarily to convert others to Islam, but to provide firsthand education. Jake King

He said most of the people who pick up a copy are those curious about the religion. Other people normally have questions about his faith.

“Sometimes they ask good questions, sometimes they ask bad questions,” Nadeem said. “At least they know we’re here.”

But much like the fraction of a percentile who mar the perception of Islam, Choudhry said the one percent who react with hatred make him vigilant.

Choudhry said some have come up to the booth yelling, calling him a terrorist and accusing him of being a member of ISIS. He said when people come up and react with anger, he doesn’t respond or feed the argument, but instead he turns the other cheek in hopes that it will diffuse the situation.

But on Sunday, aside from one man replying “hell no” to the offer of a free Quran, everyone who passed reacted cordially.

“They relate us towards ISIS,” he said. “They are distoring Islam, maligning Islam and making things harder for all Muslims. We are as against ISIS as anyone can be.”

As a safety precaution, the IACC makes sure to put two people at the booth at all times. But unfortunately, the need for vigilance does not end at the Third Monday Trades Days.

For Mousa Daabes, a member of the McKinney Islamic Center, his daughter was recently harassed while driving for wearing a hijab. He said some things have gotten better and others worse.

In 2013, the McKinney Islamic Center was shot up with paintball guns. But two weeks ago, in reaction to the President Trump’s executive order for a temporary travel ban, McKinney residents turned up with chalk to inscribe a different kind of graffiti around the mosque.

“You are welcome in Mactown,” “we want you here,” “McKinney loves you” and “this is your home” were all inscribed on the sidewalk next to the mosque.

“It was heart warming,” Daabes said. “The graffiti, the messages, brought tears to my eyes.”

Daabes said the messages, as well as the recent protests at DFW airport, touched him and gave him hope in dark times.

The dark times, Choudhry said, give him purpose in what he does at the booth as well as being a Muslim, a father, a rheumatologist and a citizen from Plano. He said although it’s discouraging to see people fear his religion, it only emphasizes the importance of what he does.

“My conscious is clear, I’m not hiding,” Choudhry said. “It’s a duty towards mankind, we have a message.”

Featured Image: Iftikhar Choudhry, Ph. D, shows a Quran in Spanish to an interested young man at the market. Choudry provides Qurans in both English and Spanish. Jake King

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Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson

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