The Christian-Muslim Bridge at Richmond Law
Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Eighteen months before his death, Professor Carroll passed by me in the hallway and stopped. “I don’t mean to bother you, but you’re Qasim Rashid, right?”
I turned to see a well-dressed, handsome individual. He wore a suit and a trimmed, graying beard. His piercing blue eyes matched his tie, and his smile was as authentic as they come. “Yes, Professor, I apologize — I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“I’m John Carroll,” as he extended his hand, “do you have a minute?”
I was actually running late to a class, but something about him drew me in as I embraced his hand. “Sure.”
He leaned in and paused, taking a deep breath. “I don’t know how to say this, Qasim, but…
I just want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for that lunatic threatening to burn the Quran in Florida. As a Christian, I want you to know that I condemn his act, and that I’m here to help however I can.”
I was stunned, speechless and heartbroken. He continued.
“I think people don’t understand that Muslims consider the Quran the word of God. As Christians, we consider Jesus the word of God. So, burning the Quran is actually not like burning the Bible, it’s like burning Jesus.”
“Professor Carroll, who are you?” was all I managed to mutter.
“I’m John Carroll.”
“Yes, I know that, but, why are you doing this? You don’t need to apologize for that lunatic.”
“Maybe not, but maybe I just wanted to be sure.”
The next day I needed to finalize our faculty adviser selection for the newly proposed Muslim Law Student Association. As the founder, I was wavering on whom to ask — but now knew my answer immediately. I emailed Professor Carroll, requesting him to accept the role, burden and responsibility, writing: “I’m confident that our different backgrounds yet common goal will cater to the underlying theme of pluralism I hope MLSA will foster. I already know my own perspective as a Muslim, but I cannot possibly know the perspective of a Christian. I think [this] will be a great strength going forward.”
Professor Carroll, in his patented humility and compassion, replied: “Thank you for your kind words. As I get to know you better, I am beginning to realize that I cannot understand even the Christian perspective without also understanding your perspective.” He graciously accepted the role and became the catalyst that changed countless lives. Under his leadership, MLSA hosted six unprecedented Islamic scholarship events at Richmond Law and two community service events, including a blood drive that collected more than 100 donations.
Ten months before Professor Carroll’s death, my wife, son and I were guests in his home for dinner, a privilege that my wife and I immensely cherish. As was our habit, he and I prayed together before eating.
Six months before Professor Carroll’s death, he, his wife and his eldest daughter were guests in our home during Ramadan, to break fast with us. As was our habit, we prayed together before eating. I recited from the Quran: “Surely, those who have believed, and the Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians — whoso believes in God and the Last Day and does good deeds, on them shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (5:70)
Two weeks before his death, Professor Carroll and I took one last stroll around the lake at the University of Richmond. “You know, this is my third year here, and I’ve never once walked around this entire lake,” I commented. “Really?” replied Professor Carroll. “I love it here, and on a beautiful day like this, it would be a crime not to enjoy it.” As we circled the lake he turned to me and said, “Did I ever tell you about my family history?” I smiled, “No, but I’d love to hear it.”
One week before his death, Professor Carroll attended our Christian-Muslim interfaith event that we hosted in conjunction with the Law Students for Reproductive Justice. This would prove to be the last time I spoke to him.
Mere days before his death, I saw Professor Carroll’s office door open and will never forget as I passed by, expecting, but failing, to say hello on my way back.
On the beautiful afternoon of March 8, 2012, John F. Carroll IV took his final trip around that lake, and physically stopped. His soul, however, continued. From God we are, and to God must we return.
Much like the first time he passed me in the hallway, Professor Carroll’s entire life passed me by in an instant. But much like how he stopped me in that hallway, today I stop everyone reading this and ask you to continue to build the bridge Professor Carroll helped me build during our time together.
A bridge built on respect, compassion, generosity and love — of God and of mankind. If we work together to help each other “however we can,” we will do what Professor Carroll has already magnificently done, and leave this world a better place.
Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
Qasim Rashid is a 3L at Richmond Law. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/MuslimIQ.