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An interview with Br. Ahmed Murad Ph.D

Has Al-Qari helped you learn how to recite Quran? Has Salatbase taught you how to pray? If so, you're not alone. Thousands have benefited from these and other Sound Vision Islamic multimedia programs. And to a large degree, Br. Ahmed Murad has to be thanked for that.

Br. Ahmed Murad is Sound Vision's Multimedia Development Manager. He is the brains behind many of our products and the smooth functioning of Sound Vision's website. In this interview, we probe the mind of this brother who has not just technical talent, but a personal commitment to pleasing Allah and serving Muslims as well.

SV: What exactly is your role at Sound Vision and what kind of projects have you been involved with at Sound Vision?

AM: I develop multimedia programs at Sound Vision. I am also currently acting as webmaster for Sound Vision's website and most of the technical programming for it. I have somehow been involved in all of the multimedia computer programs that Sound Vision has produced.

My first contribution to Sound Vision was the QuranBase program in 1989. This was the first computer program released by Sound Vision, and the first of its kind in Islamic computer software with a very fast textual search of the whole Quran in the English language.

I also worked on the initial development of the HadithBase program, which was the second computer product, released by Sound Vision during the DOS days of PC. Khalid Khan did the final development of this program.

Later on, I worked on developing the Al-Qari program for the PC based on the Mac version that was released earlier. It was first developed as a DOS program and later converted into a Windows native program.

Al-Qari plus is the most recent version of it which now contains the full Quran in CD quality sound. I also helped in editing the text and preparing the Arabic text for the SalatBase program.

SV: Why did you decide to get involved with Islamic media? Is it connected to your educational background?

AM: My formal training has been as a scientist with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Washington State University. I worked in my profession as a research scientist studying DNA repair mechanisms until 1995.

Most of my technical skills in computer programming and multimedia developments are self-taught. Basically, I dislike working with 'black boxes,' whether it is computer or anything else. So when I first purchased my own computer in 1987, I decided to learn everything about it and how to program it.

It is a continuous process and I am still trying to keep up with the technology as it moves ahead in leaps and bounds.

Using these skills in the service of Islam came without any thinking in the context of my life-long desire to live a purposeful life as a Muslim. Everything I do has to fall under this overall goal of life. The way I learn new technology is to pick a useful project and then take it to completion, rather than first learning the tools and then thinking about what I can do with it. I did the same thing when I was learning computer.

I have been involved in doing things for Sound Vision on a volunteer basis since its very beginning. In 1995, an offer was made to me by [Sound Vision president Br. Abdul Malik] Mujahid to join Sound Vision on a full-time basis.

It was not an easy decision to leave my formal profession and financial stability of working as a scientist in the growing field of molecular biology. But, my desire to spend most of my time directly working for Islam and contributing my share to the future of Islam in North America, prompted me to accept this offer.

Having lived in the West for 23 years, I feel that it is my duty to give something back. I do not have any regrets for doing so, knowing well that it will be almost impossible for me to go back to being a scientist again.

SV: Your father, the late Khurram Murad, was an influential author and Islamic activist. How has he influenced you personally and professionally?

AM: Personally, whatever I am, and to whatever extent I have been able to develop a sense of purpose and meaning in life, I contribute that to my parents, both my father and my mother.

My father is, of course, more well-known, but my mother also has an equal part in it, if not more. They shaped and molded my life without ever dictating what I must do. The real gratitude is of course to Allah, but everything He gave me was through my parents.

My father's influence on me has always been subtle but profound. That's just the way he was. Never directly telling me what I must do, but somehow I knew what he desired of me (maybe not always).

Although, it was the love and affection with which he treated all of us at home that would make me want to go his way. It would have been difficult to not agree with his logic also. I did consult with him [about] whatever I wanted to do, but in the end it was my decision. I cannot think of anytime in life when he demanded of me anything, while always willing to give anything good I ever needed.

SV: Where do you see Sound Vision headed in ten years in terms of the type and quantity of its multimedia products (i.e. CD-Roms, etc.)?

AM: The multimedia technology, regardless of the physical medium used to deliver it (i.e. CD-Rom, internet, etc.) itself is growing exponentially. So it is not possible to put any limits on the scope and potential of what Sound Vision can do now or in next ten years.It is an extremely powerful medium to reach the human hearts and minds in ways that have not been possible. And it is the only medium that is in synch with modern human life.

Unfortunately, the Muslim psychology as a whole is not working in this direction and still lags behind the rest of the world. This is so despite the fact that there is equal accessibility to it, unlike traditional mediums of TV/radio/satellite, for Muslims or non-Muslims.

It is much more difficult to come up with resources to fund multimedia projects than it is to say, build a Masjid or an Islamic school. Masjids are important, but there is a disproportionate emphasis on traditional things. When a Muslim mind today thinks about giving for a cause, then a multimedia company would be furthest from his mind.

I think there are multiple factors for it and the commercial nature of this work also does not make it any easier. It's the same reason why it is proportionally more difficult to build an Islamic School and to collect funds for it than a Masjid.

Despite the lack of resources, what Sound Vision has been able to achieve for the global Muslim Ummah is much more with far less resources than a small local Muslim community is capable of. Many times in the past institutions may have been required to achieve the same results that these few multimedia programs and videos have accomplished.

Thousands of children and adults have grown up on these programs and learned to read Quran and were influenced in their Islamic development. The community's feedback is our only source of finding out how effective these programs have been.

But in real terms we have only scratched the surface. There is tremendous scope and potential for Sound Vision to grow in the next ten years, even with current meager resources. The Muslim community, especially in North America, needs to focus its attention in this direction at a time when the tools to influence society and the hearts and minds of people are being transformed from traditional sources to this new medium.

SV: Are you surprised by the success of programs like Al-Qari and Salatbase, which you were directly involved with? Why or why not?

It is the first time in history that so many Muslims are living as minorities in isolated communities all around the world, especially here in the Western world. So the traditional sources of Islamic education and personal development are not available to most of them.

Programs like Al-Qari and SalatBase are instrumental in fulfilling this need, as well as repackaging it in this new medium to make it more attractive for the children who are conditioned in this new medium. So, no it is not surprising.

SV: What motivates and influences you to work in Islamic media? Do your children and their future as Muslims on this continent have anything to do with it?

AM: The only motivation is being able to please my Creator by fulfilling my responsibility of 'Balagh' as a humble member of the Muslim Ummah.

I do not consider myself a very talented person, but I do want to give whatever I have. And I am thankful to Allah for everything that He has given and this opportunity to serve Him.

I am concerned about my children and desire, like every other parent, that my children may grow up to be fine and good human beings in line with that Fitrah (nature) on which Allah has created them. I do pray for it and hope from Allah that He will accept my prayers.

But just worrying about your own children is not sufficient and is not going to provide that protection that you are looking for, unless you also develop a concern for the environment and the society you are living in.

What we should impart to our children is a sense of purpose and meaning in life and a concern for the whole of humanity. If we make this our prime focus then the rest of the things may fall in place.

Muslims living on this continent do have a greater responsibility as members of the global Muslim Ummah. The center of civilization in today's world lies in the West, especially in North America.

If you go around the whole world, the most influential things that affect people's everyday lives come from America. Politically also, America is a power that is recognized all around the world and so whatever goes on here will have an influence on other parts of the world.

SV: What are your top five favorite Islamic books and why?

AM: Every book has its place and it is difficult to pick top five books. The top one book is obviously the Quran that has the most influence on my life.

I have not been affected by any book in the way that the Quran affects me and have not read any book as extensively as I have read Quran, not just as a religious duty, but because I really do want to read it.

And so it is difficult to bring any other book and place it beside it to say that these are my top five books. But, that's how it must be for anyone who reads Quran, believing in it.

Amongst contemporary Islamic scholars, I am most influenced by the writings of Syed Maududi.

SV: What is your favorite computer video game?
AM: I spend most hours of the day sitting in front of a computer screen, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I have never learned to play a computer game. I think my leisure time is quiet moments with myself or with a book.

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