Mr. Zoltan! Mr. Zoltan!
Shouts the little boy wanting the attention of his Islamic Studies summer school teacher.
We are on the second floor of a building on Oxford Street East in London, Ontario.
The Muslim Association of Canada, has transformed what was standard office space back in 2007 into the very busy London MAC Youth Centre of today.
Four days a week this summer, any number of Muslim students can be heard in the halls shouting, Mr. Zoltan! Mr. Zoltan!
Zoltan Kíss (pronouned Keesh) was not much older than the children he now teaches when at 14 he became a Muslim.
Or rather, he found he had no choice but to accept Islam, as he reached his first reading of Chapter 31 of the Qur’an.
The Chapter emphasizes moderation. And indeed, everything about Brother Zoltan, seems rooted in moderation.
In the north-west pocket of London, Ontario is a social housing complex named Limberlost. Numerous immigrants call this place home. Any number of them are Muslim. And that’s where Zoltan grew up.
He didn’t know his father and his mom raised him the best she could before re-marrying.
Part of that upbringing included finding a faith community to belong to, eventually settling on a non-denominational Christian Church with leanings towards fellowship.
Being a kid in Limberlost in recent years meant many of your friends were Muslim.
Zoltan engaged his piers with what he was learning from The Bible in a friendly manner. They in turn would answer back with what they knew from The Qur’an.
After a few years of this back and forth, Zoltan decided to read the Qur’an for himself. Not with any intention of becoming Muslim, but with an idea to better know how to reverse-dawah his Muslim friends. He asked one of them for an English Translation of The Qur’an…
And, you can guess the rest of the story.
On a scale of one to ten in Revert Stories, that numerous Born Muslims seem to fascinated with, they might rate this one as an eight.
Yet as I listened to Zoltan continue, there was much more to it that just an eight out of ten.
Two or three weeks after first reading Chapter Luqman and becoming Muslim, Zoltan was inside the London Muslim Mosque.
An 11 year old Bosnian boy was also at the Masjid. His father had just died and the visit was Janaza related. This was his first-ever visit inside a Masjid.
Despite the circumstances, the young Bosnian boy was happy to make a connection with Zoltan.
He tried to think of shared words between his native Bosnian and Zoltan’s Hungarian. They both came up with a few each. It was obvious even then to the 14 year old Zoltan that this interaction was helping the 11 year old deal with becoming an orphan.
Suddenly though, a Hijabi Auntie walks up to the Bosnian boy, grabs his ear, pulled out the earring which was there, said something about it not being Islamic and walked away.
The kid was shocked. Zoltan was instantly stunned and angry.
The kid left the masjid, and to Zoltan’s knowledge, he never returned to the London Muslim Mosque, nor to the Religion of Islam.
So what if the kid had an earring?
HE WAS JUST A KID.
He also had just lost his father. And this becomes his real first interaction with Muslims?
This was a defining moment in Zoltan’s life. He knew he’d never treat any child like that. Keep in mind, he himself is 14 when this happened. As a revert of only a few weeks, he too could have followed the 11 year old and walked away from the Masjid and Islam forever.
He did not.
Zoltan resolved to never put any kid through such a trauma.
He stuck around the London Muslim Mosque and became involved and known to the wider congregation. They must have seen the potential in him. Despite being from Limberlost and unable to afford the Islamic high school, he was able to attend tuition-free.
He is forever grateful to those that sponsored his high school years as it formed the foundation for who he is today.
It still wasn’t easy. His fellow students were born Muslims and knew many of the basics. Zoltan was a bit shy at first in asking his friends about such day-to-day basics, fearing it would reveal how limited his Islamic Knowledge was.
By age 15, he had turned to Shaikh Google.
Looking back, Zoltan feels using Google to learn about Islam can be both very, very, very good or very, very, very bad.
Partly to correct or complement his studies under Shaikh Google, Zoltan went and learned about different groups of Muslims. You name it, from Sufi to Salafi, he took them at face value, finding The Good in them all.
Afterwards at Western University, he would become President of the Muslim Students Association, before graduating.
He completed a degree in Health and Physical Education and is now a Teacher in the regular school system on weekdays, and an Islamic Studies teacher on some evenings and weekends.
This Ramadan, along with Omar who teaches Arabic Studies, he is teaching Islamic Studies at the MAC Youth Centre to grade school kids and early high school youth.
During a break as the youth are engaged in free time, Zoltan sums up his overall worldview.
The Sahabah Were Not a Utopia
He explains that looking at the lives of any number of The Companions of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), some were depressed, others were alcoholics, many had real problems which we today may relate to.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) accepted them all.
Zoltan relates a final story which has changed his life and confirmed his worldview when it comes to teaching young people.
The story from the time of The Prophet (pbuh) is something about a young boy who misbehaved in the marketplaces outside the Prophet’s Masjid in Madinah. He engaged in petty theft to the point merchants complained directly to The Prophet about this young man.
Yet, when this same boy entered the Masjid, he would pray beside The Prophet (pbuh) and was fully behaved.
The Prophet (pbuh) answered the merchants something to the effect that, not to worry, as the boy had begun to observe the congregational prayers, in time, his good habits would displace the bad ones. So, patience was in order.
And that Patience is what the 11 year old Bosnian Boy needed so many years ago inside the London Muslim Mosque.
Ten years later, we come full circle inside the London Muslim Mosque.
The story about being patient with a misbehaving boy from the time of The Prophet (pbuh) is what 24 year old Zoltan Kíss mentions when talking about an 11 year old Bosnian Boy who once had an earring ripped out of his ear while attending to his father’s funeral.
Indeed, The Sahabah Were Not a Utopia.
And neither are we.
If you’re ever in doubt and find yourself in London, just ask Mr. Zoltan! Mr. Zoltan!