But for now, that's where you can find Fatih Seferagic.
When Seferagic was just four years old, his family fled war-torn Bosnia. He eventually ended up in Houston, Texas, when he was 14 years old and that’s when he gained a following after putting his Quran recitations up on YouTube.
Seferagic will be the first to tell you that it’s not unusual for followers of the Quran to have some or all of it memorized. However, it’s a much smaller number of people who have the voices to recite it doing public prayer. And even smaller number who develop fame over it.
Seferagic is passionate about the Quran, which he has had memorized since he was nine. As a 23-year-old, he’s social media savvy. He understands the power of music. And his fingertips are on the pulse of pop-culture to help convey his love for the Quran.
“The biggest influence today comes from musicians and it’s through their words. If you want to get a message, like Tupac, he could have written articles, done interviews, he could have made a movie, you watch a film once, maybe ten times in your life, you love it. You like a song, you might listen to it every day for the rest of your life,” said Seferagic.
Seferagic knows that with his Eastern European looks, part of his popularity comes from just looking like a young American white guy.
“There’s not many white people who do what I do. Most of the people who do what I do are Arabic speaking or brown or whatever. Like in the beginning it was very, my video that first went viral, someone took my video, reuploaded it with Arabic title that said, white guy from America reciting, so amazing,” Seferagic said.
“Just listening to it, it can touch your soul and it’s just so beautiful and melodic and peaceful that whether you understand it or not, it has an impact on you, Seferagic said.
Seferaragic said that the pureness of listening to the Quran is what draws people in.
“No musical instruments, no guitars, no autotunes, no editing, nothing, just vocals,” Seferagic said.
Feb 18, 2018 at 2:53pm PST
But how Seferagic ended up in Stilwell is about love, indirectly love of the Quran, more directly romantic love.
Seferagic travels around the world as a speaker and as a popular Quran reciter. But it was love of a woman that brought him to Stilwell, Kansas, a small town just south of the suburbs of Johnson County, Kansas. Stilwell is where Ayat Youssef and her family – originally from Syria – live.
Seferagic and his wife married last month. And even though they met over a 1400-year-old holy text, their personal love story started in a very modern way.
“We kinda met on Instagram. I was always his fan since 2014 and he followed me on his private account and that’s how we got to talk,” said Youssef.
Youssef, said that the two met in person over a year ago in Houston and they each knew they were meant to be together.
“He definitely is a celebrity. And a lot of my friends know him. Like a lot of my friends didn’t believe I just married him, they were like oh my God, I just listened to him like a few days ago. But I just feel like he’s a humble, down-to-earth guy,” Youssef said.
Seferagic is happy about the unlikely path that led him to an unlikely place, but said he believes that he and his new wife will probably relocate in the future, possibly abroad where he will more formally study Arabic.
However, for now when Fatih is home from his travels, he recites for his community. Tariq Aziz is happy Seferagic does that.
“We are very privileged to have him. I have not heard a qari like him in my life before. I was quite moved frankly. We are very blessed having this type of qari in Kansas,” Aziz said.
A qari is one who recites the Quran.
“It’s really touching. I was crying when he was reading the Quran,” Aziz said.
Imad Dean is a leader at the Islamic Center of Johnson County. He likes that Seferagic helps spread the word that the religion of Islam is fundamentally one of peace.
“The message of Quran is that there should be harmony, love, compassion between people of different faiths, different races and different colors,” Dean said.
Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon.