In early 2007, I had recently gotten married and was searching for authentic Islamic sources for my wife and I. I started watching PEACE TV and got interested in the lectures of Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips.
I also had the habit of buying any book I found written by Ibn Taymiyyah (RA. During this time I came across a book called "Ibn Taymiyyah's essay on the Jinn" translated and edited by Dr Abu Amueenah Bilal Philips. On the back cover of the book was a link to the Islamic Online University (IOU).
I joined the IOU that week (its free!) and took up the only available course "The dawah training course" as the website had recently opened up. That was a new beginning for me. Through modules consisting of PDF notes, audio and video lectures and MCQ (multiple choice question) tests, as well as assignments, I began to re-study Islam and change many of my opinions.
During this time, I started talking to Dr Bilal Philips about many of our differences and my doubts in his content. He was the first teacher who could answer my questions in a manner that satisfied my intellect and never stopped me from asking questions or questioning his opinions and I developed a deep admiration for him. That year in November, I journeyed to Mumbai, India for the first time to attend the Peace Conference and meet this amazing man.
The conference was amazing and I met many other amazing people before I got to meet the Shaykh, including Shaykh Salem Al-Amry, Zain Bhikha, Yusuf Estes, Iesa Washington and Musa Cerantonio amongst others. Finally, on the eight night of the conference I managed to sneak past the guards long enough to greet and introduce myself to Dr Bilal, he then told them to let me into the VIP area and I had the honor that night of dining with the Shuyukh and meeting Dr Zakir Naik! I sat with Dr Bilal Philips and Shaykh Hussein Yee and had dinner with them. Two nights later, I once again had dinner in the VIP area with Dr Bilal Philips.
During this trip, I bought at least ten books written by Dr Bilal and read all of them, including Fundamentals of Tawheed, Evolution of Fiqh and Tafseer Surah Hujarat. It was one of the most memorable and life-changing journeys of my life.
Since 2007, gradualy the IOU introduced more free courses and I did as many as I could. As of now, I have completed almost ten courses through the IOU including Foundations of Islamic Studies, Usool Tafseer, Usool Hadith, Fiqh of Fasting to name a few. I owe a lot of my knowledge to Dr Bilal Philips and his IOU and I ask Allah to reward them all greatly.
My relationship with the IOU did not stop there however, as the university grew, they needed more staff, in 2008 I found myself taking up a voluntary post to assist in facilitating the courses. The university grew so fast that today, there are over 13000 students studying the free short courses on the IOU, Alhamdulillah.
In 2009, I went to India once again, this time to Chennai to teach in a new school that Dr Bilal Philips had founded, the Al-Fajr International School. I stayed in India for two months before returning. Even though I enjoyed the job and loved the children I met there, and really appreciated the time I spent in Dr Bilal's company, I found the living conditions in Chennai difficult for myself and my family so I returned to South Africa.
In 2010, a new chapter begins in the IOU. Dr Bilal Philips has introduced the first ever tution-free BA in Islamic Studies course online. Alhamdulillah, he has hired me as a Tutorial Assistant for this course, I will be assisting and tutoring the students in the fields of Arabic, Fiqh and Aqeedah. It is an exciting new initiative and I am grateful to Allah for allowing me to be part of something so big and important.
As of today, close to 800 students have registered for the first semester in the IOU's BAIS program. I ask Allah to make the IOU a great success, to use it to change the lives of millions and revive the correct understanding of His deen, to reward Dr Bilal for all his hard work, as well as all those involved in this and all other important Islamic projects.