Imam Chris Caras
Imam Chris Caras converted to Islam as a high school junior, in October, 2001 in Peoria, Illinois. Although he was raised Christian and previously attended both Lutheran and Greek Orthodox churches, Chris accepted Islam having never met a Muslim before in his life, but mesmerized by what he read in the Quran of penetrating and concise grand and beautiful message. Before Islam, Chris wanted to be president of the United States, and vowed never to smoke, drink, or have girlfriends.
Chris began pursuing Islamic studies after being appointed secretary of the Knox College Islamic Club and imam of Galesburg, IL. He left Knox College, worked in retail and welding until he performed the Islamic "Hajj" pilgrimage to Mecca. He then studied at the renowned Islamic University of Medinah, Saudi Arabia. Chris completed their two-year Arabic learning institute followed by their four-year bachelor's degree program in Islamic theology, history, and education, graduating with honors in 2013. He taught grade school Islamic studies for one year in Peoria, and then went to Malaysia for two years to earn his masters in Islamic Law and Legal Theory, finishing in 2016 from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM aka UIA Universiti Islamiya Antarabangsa). His master’s research focused on mass surveillance and transgender rights in Islam.
Chris and family moved to St Louis, Missouri in late 2016. He first worked with CAIR-Missouri, under executive director Faizan Syed, and then Chris served as the volunteer director of the Islamic Information Center. He also taught Quran and religion at Al-Salam Day School while simultaneously serving as imam-spiritual leader of Belleville, Illinois Mosque and Islamic Education Center. Chris designed programs for mentoring and teaching new Muslim converts, as well as published dozens of articles on his personal blog specifically for new Muslims on how to cope with Islam, life and relationships after making the testimony of faith. He also designed full theological, Arabic and history curricula with textbooks and testing material.
Chris has always enjoyed a good relationship with his parents who have been together for over 40 years. His father is a retired federal judge and former US marine and his mother an RN. His wife is an accomplished Quran recital teacher of Pakistani descent, born in Louisiana while raised in Saudi Arabia, where they married in 2008. Both husband and wife are soft-spoken introverts that are raising their three extroverted sprouts together.
A message from Imam Chris:
My mission is to educate and inspire towards Islamic multi-cultural cohesion and eradicate spiritual ignorance to combat extremism and nurture a healthy rounded Western Muslim identity, appreciative of our legacy, optimistic and adaptive for our future. I believe imams and religious educators are not merely for performing familiar duties, but are the most fundamental elements of the Muslim community, signifying long-term spiritual leadership that worshipers may come to trust for decades.
The masjid should not be policed by uncles and aunties but be inclusive and welcoming places for all who seek greater purpose within the Islamic worldview. I hope to educate and inspire not only within the walls of the masjid but to coordinate with other masjids, local MSAs, prisons, interfaith groups, libraries and educational institutions. I'm not afraid of big and new ideas or benefiting from the good practices of other communities.
I look at fiqh comparatively and holistically although I lean towards Hanbali opinions, which I have generally found to be the most flexible and accommodating. I follow athari theological creed, have a deep love for history, the Arabic language, and the Prophet’s Sunnah legacy. I believe western based scholars are the most proper source for answers and solutions to western questions and dilemmas, but I take the opinions of traditional scholars, whether long deceased or living in Muslim countries, as a starting point for related ijtihad. Whenever I preach and teach, I work to do so in a manner that garners hearts and stimulates minds.
Networking and consultation are gold to me. I view our community as a team with a common goal. I see the benefits of interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural conversations. I favor progressive politics but take conservative stances on various issues. I believe the first and most important step in da`wah is living by admirable prophetic example, grass roots involvement and volunteering for local social causes.