Brodhead native talks about becoming a Muslim
BRODHEAD--Some people might remember Matthew Braun as the teenager who started Brodhead High School's golf team with his father in 1988.
After Saturday, they might remember him as the man who helped them understand Islam.
Now 41, Braun became a Muslim at 23.
He invites people from his hometown and beyond to ask questions during a special program, “My Journey to Islam,” at the Brodhead Memorial Public Library on Saturday.
“I want to give them a clear understanding of the basics of Islam,” said Braun, who is volunteering his time for the talk. “I want to tell them what it is and what it isn't. After Sept. 11, there's been a lot of misunderstanding.”
His talk is one of three programs about Islam in upcoming weeks at the library.
“Braun is a local connection to something that may seem very distant to many people,” library director Nikki Busch said.
A former Lutheran, Braun has spent the last decade studying Arabic and Islam overseas. He lives with his wife in Dubai, and they have an apartment in Egypt.
Braun has studied the primary books of Islam, mainly the Koran, with the help of experts in the Middle East.
“It is important to go to the scholars who understand the primary sources,” he said. “Studying Islam has given me a larger perspective about how other people view things.”
Braun's journey from Brodhead to Islam began as a student at Beloit College, where he met a woman from Kuwait in 1990 and enrolled in a class about world religions.
“After I took the class, I realized Islam shared similarities with Christianity,” he said. “I continued to talk with other Muslims on campus and learned basic things about Islam. I always had to remind myself that the religion is not necessarily the same as the people who practice it. There is a clear distinction between what people do and what the religion says they are supposed to do.”
Some Muslims on campus drank alcohol, although it is not allowed. Some did not pray five times a day, although it is required, he said.
In graduate school, Braun pursued an advanced degree in exercise and health studies. He realized that some of the practices of Islam, like washing before prayer, went hand in hand with his beliefs about staying healthy.
“My professors were saying that if we just wash our hands more often, there will be less disease,” Braun said. “I also learned that some regular practice throughout the day, like meditating, reduces negative anxiety.”
He thought about the prayers of Islam in morning, at noon, afternoon, sunset and after sunset. He thought about how the prayers are priorities around which everything else happens. He also learned about research that appeared to show that people in hospitals do better when others pray for them.
“All of those things intrigued me,” Braun said. “Halfway through graduate school, I accepted Islam. There are no formal proceedings, but your acceptance needs to be declared before one witness who is Muslim.”
Later, he moved to Atlanta, where he, his wife and brother-in-law went to Centennial Olympic Park to listen to a concert July 27, 1996.
“A security guard told us to leave the bench we were sitting on,” Braun said. “My brother-in-law saw a bag underneath it. It ended up being a bomb.”
Authorities identified a 31-year-old carpenter, Eric Robert Rudolph, as the culprit in the bombing, which killed a mother and injured more than 100 others. Later, the man exploded another bomb outside an abortion clinic and another near a crowded gay and lesbian nightclub, both in Atlanta.
“I survived a religious terrorist attack,” Braun said. “It had a profound impact on me.”
In 2003, he moved overseas to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Later, he moved to Dubai. For two years, he studied Arabic at a language institute in the desert of eastern Yemen.
In 2006, he began working for Paradise Forever Support Group, a nonprofit group that inspires, educates and supports Muslims. The organization incorporated in Wisconsin in 2007 and is looking for a home office.
“We try to help new Muslims,” Braun said. “We realized a certain percentage was being led into radical Islam. We want to do our part to direct them to the middle way of Islam, so they are productive in our communities and in our countries. We inspire them not only to be good Muslims but also to be good human beings.”
Braun is fundraising coordinator for the Canadian-based support group and president of the Wisconsin branch of the organization. He chooses to wear long, loose clothing and a turban to be similar in style to the dress of the prophets, he said.
Braun looks forward to talking about his journey.
“It is important to keep an open mind,” he said. “Every religion has its people who are extreme and radical, but they do not represent the religion. The majority of us (Muslims) are good citizens.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.