Professor of Comparative Religion Shares his Journey to Islam

My name is James Frankel. I’m a professor of comparative religion. I teach classes of Islam at the University of Hawaii.

Some brothers asked me if I could speak about my experiences so hopefully insha’Allah I could do this today and I hope this will be helpful to anybody. May Allah give us all hidayah.

I came to Hawaii in 2008, and before that I lived in New York city where I was born and raised. I was born in 1969 and grew up in Manhattan, part of the time in Brooklyn for a few years in my life. For the most part, I had a very happy family life.

My parents raised me not with any particular religion but I think with a basic set of moral values. Actually, by heritage I have a Jewish background, but I grew up in a very secular household where there wasn’t a lot of religious practices.

The only connection I ever had with a religion was from my father’s side, my grandmother who was a practicing Jew. It’s from her that I learned a few things, bible stories, stories of the prophets.

For a brief period my parents actually attempted to send me to a Hebrew school to learn more but I was not very comfortable there and actually got kicked out for asking too many questions, so this is probably my character that brought me to where I’m today. As a professor and as a Muslim, I continued to ask a lot of questions.

So, I grew up in this way without any religious foundation. This continued through my life and my late teens. I had actually 2 experiences that are worth mentioning. One, at the age of 13, I read the communist manifesto of Karl Marx and decided that I was a communist. I thought the values were sound and thought the philosophy was potentially beneficial to people.