Janesville Muslim happy to answer questions about his faith

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

JANESVILLE—Salih Duane Erschen has been telling people about Islam for years and welcomes questions about his faith.

“I've always been interested in being an open book,” the Janesville man said. “There are so many places in Wisconsin where people do not have a proper understanding of Islam.”

He embraces the chance to share what he knows and loves.

Erschen will be one of two Muslims who will talk about an Islamic view of worship and health in Janesville on Saturday, June 28. His friend and teacher Hajj Abdalbarr Brown of Madison will join him.

“There's a lot of sensitive questions out there,” Erschen said. “I've dealt with questions that might even be inappropriate, but I give an answer in line with what Islam is all about.”

A friend gave Erschen the Arabic name Salih, which is the name of a prophet in the Koran. It means sound and upright.

Erschen calls his journey to Islam “a wonderful romantic story.”

He grew up in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin and was raised as a Catholic. While visiting friends in Madison, he met Yasmin. The Somali woman introduced him to the Koran.

“I had not heard of the Koran,” he recalls. “I was intrigued to buy one. I read the Bible and the Koran at the same time.”

At 21, Erschen married Yasmin and declared his desire to be a Muslim on the same day.

“Most of my family was there,” Erschen said. “It was all very strange for them. They did not know if I was rational enough to make such big decisions. When it was all happening, it was difficult for my family to be fully embracing of the experience.”

More than 20 years later, Erschen and Yasmin have six children. He leads prayer at the Beloit mosque, and he works as chief of Deer Grove Emergency Medical Services.

During the last 20 years, Erschen has tried to help people understand Islam. He is director of the Madison Muslim Dawa Circle, a group that provides educational services.

“I just love to be able to speak from an American's mouth to other Americans,” Erschen said. “I'm just as American as pie. For many, it feels comfortable to talk to me.”

He explains his faith to quell misunderstanding.

“Many of the fears people have come from not understanding what Islam is about,” Erschen said. “I completely understand the small town point of view.”

Erschen and his family moved to Janesville from Beloit earlier this year.

Sometimes, his children see news stories that present Muslims negatively.

“I tell them to set a good example,” Erschen said. “I tell them it is necessary to help other people understand what it is we do and believe.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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