Frustrations of a Muslim Convert

Frustrations of a Muslim Convert: Committed to Islam, vexed by Muslims

by Michael Young

A cautionary tale.  How for one theologically motivated convert to the pure monotheism of Islam, certain fellow Muslims have turned the Straight Path into something of a rocky road.


Introduction
Lack of Induction
Internet - The good, the bad and the dangerous!
Beware the Zealots!
Must we proceed at the pace of the most prudish?
“Muslim name” and attire
Relationship with non-Muslim parents
So-called “Islamic Causes”
Final Thoughts


Introduction

I have been a Muslim for over two years now.  Whilst I am deeply satisfied with Islam on an intellectual and theological level, much too often I have been far from happy in my experiences with fellow Muslims on a practical level.  I have faced considerable difficulties in my attempts to develop as a Muslim.  Although I have made the acquaintance of many Muslims through various mosques I have attended, this has been overwhelmingly only on a superficial level.  I am close only to two Muslims in the city where I live.  I met them coincidentally.  One is a neighbor, the other a former colleague whom I now rarely see.

Lack of Induction

Although I have a good intellectual knowledge of the basic theology of Islam and Islamic history (largely self taught, by necessity not out of choice), two years after my conversion I am to some extent still struggling with the practical daily basics.  According to a hadith,

“The search for knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim.”  (Ibn Majah, Baihaqi).

And a convert needs to search for more knowledge than a born Muslim who has had a lifetime of schooling in the faith.  But in my personal experience, it seems that established Muslims make at best only a token effort to assist new Muslims in fulfilling their obligation.

People who have come into contact with evangelical Christians know the routine - you are bombarded with literature and cajoled to go to Bible study, church services, prayer meetings etc several times per week.  There’s never a moment’s peace.  They will take over your life if you let them.  In stark contrast, those enquiring about Islam are likely to have a completely opposite experience.  You are the one who will probably have to drive matters forward and investigate things for yourself.  Not only, in my experience, are you likely to be left entirely to your own devices, it’s even hard to get useful information and practical help when you do want it.  There generally tends to be little organized to either attract converts or teach them systematically about Islam.  Moreover, most Muslims know little about Christianity and so are unable to relate to a practicing Christian’s starting point.  And while there are now Muslim web sites dealing with this topic, their tone is often belligerent, arrogant or condescending and therefore off-putting and counterproductive.

To my profound disappointment, as far as my Islamic education is concerned, I have been left to fend for myself.  It would seem that no mosque I have visited has a systematic induction program for new converts.  The mosques in my area are all dominated by south Asian immigrants, with a sprinkling of Africans on Fridays.  They are not attuned to the needs of indigenous converts.  In fairness, I seem to be the only white person (i.e. convert) at the mosques I attend, so they may not perceive a need.  But nevertheless, I live in a major city with a significant Muslim population and many mosques.  Surely there must be somewhere where a new Muslim adult can receive training in the practical daily basics.  Surely the established Muslim community should know where to refer the convert even if they are not suitably geared up themselves at the local mosque.

The Catholic Church has a thorough practical and theological induction program not just available to but actually compulsory for people who wish to join it.  The Anglican Church actively advertises its Alpha Course to attract and teach new converts.  We Muslims seem to have nothing organized.

When it comes to lack of both meaningful social welcome and organized teaching of Islam for new Muslims, American convert, teacher and writer, Yahiha Emerick, hits the nail on the head in his article Ten Things Every Muslim Must Do.  At number six on his list, he says:

If you see any new Muslims at your Masjid (mosque), then partially “adopt” them into your family. The convert experience is basically one of isolation and loneliness. You’d be surprised to know that most converts are outright ignored by the people in the Masjid. Beyond a few pleasantries and handshakes, they are usually never made to feel welcome or accepted. They are often cut off from their non-Muslim friends and relatives so they are doubly vulnerable. A new convert should be invited into various people’s home for dinner a minimum of six times a month. Get together with others and make sure you all put the new convert on your guest list for any sort of gathering.

If only!

Internet - The good, the bad and the dangerous

Since my conversion to Islam I have had some horrible experiences with Muslims both on the Internet and face to face.  I briefly mention these experiences here as a warning to other new Muslims.  The Internet can be a wonderful place for learning about Islam.  In fact, since my conversion, the Internet has been my primary source of materials with which to educate myself further about Islam.  There are many excellent sites, but I would caution the new Muslim not to accept the information on all sites blindly, particularly if they have an arrogant, strident or unpleasant tone or stray from plain facts and concentrate on controversial opinion or on an overtly political agenda.

I would also urge new Muslims to avoid email forums or chat rooms about Islam absolutely.  There are some nasty people lurking there - self-styled pseudo scholars preaching hellfire, doling out personal abuse and decrying sincere Muslims as non-believers.  I was left utterly demoralized at one time and very, very angry on several occasions.  I have now unsubscribed from all such forums.

“Verily, Allah is mild and is fond of mildness, and He gives to the mild what He does not give to the harsh.”  (Muslim)

If a website or e-group you come across is far removed from the above, then remove yourself from it!

There are also nice, well-meaning people who offer advice about matters of faith and practice without being in any way qualified to do so.  If they get things wrong, they could unwittingly be leading the uninitiated astray and doing more harm than good.  Be wary of accepting anything without a quotation from the Quran or authenticated hadith to back it up.

Having said that, if it is one of the nasty brigade who has come seemingly armed with references, firstly check the actual quotation in your Quran.  Have they really only quoted what is there or have they embellished it with their own interpretation?  It happens.  And, if the quotation is genuine but sounds harsh to your ears, then use a commentary to become aware of the context in which the verse was revealed.  Read widely.  For every hard-line, unpleasant interpretation, there is usually a mild one from a serious writer or scholar.

Beware the Zealots

Some real-life encounters can also be disconcerting.  Whilst I have enjoyed an excellent rapport with some converts, the proverbial “zeal of the converted” can overflow in others.  Some can turn into hard-line absolutists - a caricature of a Muslim.  Also beware the political zealots.  Recently while in London I had to endure a sermon at Jumma salat (Friday afternoon congregational prayers) held at a university in which the student acting as imam was very obviously pushing the agenda of a radical minority political grouping and spoke at length about whom it was our duty to kill!

Sadly far too many young Muslim men in England - the occasional convert and, particularly, the sons of Asian immigrants - get far too worked up about this or that political agenda and are in danger of overlooking the peaceful, spiritual core of Islam.  As the writer Abdal-Hakim Murad puts it in his excellent essay British and Muslim, unsettled, discontented second generation Asian immigrant Muslims in Britain tend to

locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centered religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.

Amen to that!  These young radicals are prone to behave in the most obnoxious and nasty manner towards those other Muslims who do not agree with them.

I would simply call the following words from the Quran and ahadith to their attention:

“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path, and who are truly guided.”  Quran 16:125

“Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?  It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” (Muslims & Bukhari)

“Reviling a Muslim is disobedience to God, and fighting with him is infidelity.”  (Bukhari, Muslim)

“Narrated Anas ibn Malik:  The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Three things are the roots of faith: to refrain from (killing) a person who utters, “There is no god but Allah” and not to declare him unbeliever whatever sin he commits, and not to excommunicate him from Islam for his any action.”  (Abu-Dawud)

“The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self.”  (Bukhari)

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.” (Muslim)

“Whoever is kind, Allah will be kind to him; therefore be kind to man on the earth. He who is in heaven will show mercy on you.”  (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)

“You will not enter paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith till you love one another.”  (Muslim)

“You have two characters which God likes; gentleness and deliberation.” (Muslim).

“By Him in whose hand my soul is, you will not enter paradise unless you believe, and you will not truly believe unless you love each other.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

”…Try to pass your mornings and evenings in a state where your heart is free from all ill-feelings, jealousy and hatred for everyone, and remember that this is my Sunnah, and he who loves my Sunnah will be with me in paradise.” (Tirmidhi)

“Those in whose hearts is no mercy for others will not attain the mercy of Allah.”
(Bukhari and Muslim)

“Verily, Allah is mild and is fond of mildness, and He gives to the mild what He does not give to the harsh.” (Muslim)

“One who lacks kindness of heart lacks all good.” (Muslim)

“Allah is gentle and loves gentleness in all things.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Must we proceed at the pace of the most prudish?

Whilst I have enjoyed many conversations about Islam in mixed male-female company (including with ladies who wear hijab), a small but vociferous minority of female born Muslims I have encountered have been very stand-offish and overly prudish.  I was disgusted and offended by the ongoing inconvenience this type of Muslim woman subjected the men to at a week-long residential Quranic Arabic course I attended.  It was my understanding that the course was supposed to be for indigenous converts only.  Certainly it was advertised in a magazine aimed specifically at new Muslims.  However, a handful of immigrant and foreign student born Muslimahs were nevertheless allowed to attend, something which I feel with the benefit of hindsight was a major mistake.  Despite the fact that the Quran teaches us that

The believing men and women, are associates and helpers of each other. (Al-Taubah 9:71)

Some of these women insisted on complete segregation of the sexes at all times outside of the classroom - a pretty extreme interpretation - imposing their will on the overwhelming majority of the group who were converts.

My own understanding is that what is improper is for one man and one woman to be alone together, but there should not be a problem about other mixing provided that proper Islamic behavior is maintained.  I, a man, would never even have had the opportunity to discover Islam in the first instance were it not for friendships with several born Muslims (three of whom were women) prompting me to investigate the religion.

This understanding is in line with a fatwa issued by the fatwa committee of Islam Online.net, which consists of respected, scholars, some of them internationally known and many of whom were trained at Al-Azhar.  They state:

In principle, conversation between males and females is lawful, so long as both of them observe the Islamic rules and manners of talking to members of the opposite sex. If the conversation is decent and abides by the rules of Islam, then it is permissible

After the first evening of the Quranic Arabic course, at the instigation of some of the born Muslim women in the group, we men were banished from the common room and forced to take refreshments in another building which was some distance away and unheated.  They even tried to get us banned from entering the residential building by the main entrance, forcing us to use the unlit fire escape instead, to access the men’s accommodation on the top floor.  This sparked a revolt.  The men refused to comply. We were livid.  Here we had come to learn Quranic Arabic so as to deepen our understanding of our religion, and there they were, sowing discord, casting aspersions and treating us so shamefully!

I feel strongly that those women who did not wish to be in the presence of men should have removed themselves from the mixed company rather than having us men excluded from the common space.  That small group of women at the course created ill-feeling and poisoned the atmosphere.  They deprived the large western convert majority of the opportunity to associate socially with a significant body of fellow new Muslims for the first time, to benefit from each others’ knowledge and insights and to share experiences with one another.  Such women would do well to remember this hadith:

“Blessed are the women of the Helpers. Their modesty did not stand in the way of their seeking knowledge about their religion” (Bukhari and Muslim).

These “Unhelpers” through the imposition of their Űber-modesty actually stood in the way of others seeking knowledge.  Astaghfirullah!

That men and women are allowed to mix apart from one on one in seclusion is clearly borne out by early Islamic history.  For example, Muslim women at the Battle of Uhud not only tended the wounded but took an active part in the fighting.  They also participated in the battles of Al Khandaq and Junain.  No segregation of the sexes there.  There is also the Bukhari hadith of Asma bint Abu Bakr being offered a ride by prophet Mohammed (pbuh) behind him on his camel.  Although she declined out of shyness, she was later rebuked for doing so by her husband, who took a more practical view.  Again no segregation of the sexes.

Ibn Katheer, the historian, told that after the death of Caliph Umar:

“Abdur Rahman bin Auf undertook to consult the people about the candidates Uthman bin Affan and Ali bin Abi Talib. He was collecting and collating the general opinion of the Muslims through their leaders. He consulted them singly as well as collectively; privately as well as publicly. He even reached to the Muslim ladies in their privacy”.(Al Bidayah Wa-‘Nihayah),

i.e. they conferred privately in the sight of others but out of earshot.  But no segregation of the sexes.

According to the prominent Sudanese Muslim scholar and leader, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi who is widely portrayed in the west as an Islamic fundamentalist, in his seminal 1973 work On the Position of Women in Islam and in Islamic Society there was free mixing of the sexes not just for religious occasions but socially as well.  He states that:

“Islam does not call for segregation between men and women….The tradition of early Muslim Society was for women to attend all public meetings and festivals….Another aspect of women in Apostolic society was revealed by an account of Sayidah Ayishah about how she attended a spectacle of the Ethiopians: “By God the Prophet was by my chamber’s door while the Ethiopians were showing their spear games in Al Haram. The Prophet (peace be upon him) covered me with his shawl so that I may too watch their feats. I was watching them from behind his shoulder. He would pose there for my sake till I choose to break off”.

Ayishah suggests: “you should fully appreciate a young girl’s interest in fun”. (Bukhari)

Again mixed company, this time even in a social setting for entertainment with due regard to Islamic modesty .  Not segregation of the sexes.

Dr Turabi states emphatically that

“There is no segregation of sexes in public domains” and cites examples of the Prophet instructing women to attend mosques and Eid prayers and addressing mixed male/female gatherings.  Educational assemblies, too were attended by men and women jointly. The Prophet (peace be upon him), in teaching the Muslims, used to address men and women together even where he was giving instruction, relating to conjugal matters.”

Dr Turabi also cites examples backed up by ahadith where the Prophet (pbuh) visited ladies in their home and even took his afternoon nap there.  Again no segregation of the sexes.

As Dr Turabi clearly states:

“In the model society of Islam, Muslims used to assemble freely and frequently; they were mostly acquainted with each other, men and women; they conversed and interacted intensively. But all those activities, were undertaken in a spirit of innocence and in the context of a virtuous society…Islam tolerates that one may greet women or talk to them in decent and chaste language and with good intent. The Prophet used to do so.”

He continues:

Over-caution may inhibit legitimate conduct on the pretext that it exposes to the risk of temptation and vice. This may lead to the distortion of the general social system of Islam which is based on the full participation of men and women in everyday life with piety and chastity. Indeed, segregation and isolation may well protect a woman from temptation, but it essentially denies her the benefits of the communal life of Muslims.

It denies and abrogates her legitimate role in the social process of cooperation in the promotion of knowledge and good work, in the mutual counseling of Muslims to do all that is beneficial and avoid all that is objectionable, in their solidarity for the maintenance of their well-being and the defense of their establishment. God says,

“The believing men and women, are associates and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is beneficial and discourage all that is evil; to establish prayers and give alms, and to obey God and his Messenger. Those are the people whom God would grant mercy. Indeed God is Mighty and Wise”. (Al-Taubah, 71)

The benefits drawn from that communal life of Muslims more than outweigh any preventive considerations in the segregation of sexes in ways not ordained or clearly implied in the formal text of the Sharia.

The whole thrust of Dr Turabi’s pamphlet is to highlight that Islamic teachings ensure “a fair deal for women”.  So often, misguided Muslim men whose Islam has become overlaid with centuries of non-Islamic cultural tradition, seek to segregate and sideline women.  How tragic and appalling that I am having to quote his scholarship AGAINST the wretched actions and attitudes of those women at the course I attended.

To quote Dr Turabi again:

The greatest injustice visited upon women, is their segregation and isolation from the general society. Sometimes the slightest aspect of her public appearance would be considered a form of obscene exhibitionism. Even her voice was bracketed in the same category. Her mere presence at a place where men are also present was considered shameful promiscuity. She was confined to her home in a manner prescribed in Islam only as a penal sanction for an act of adultery.

And to think that these women, whilst vexing the rest of us on the course, were inflicting this sort of injustice on themselves.

“Muslim Name” and Attire?

Another gripe I have is the ignorance of many born Muslims about what they believe to be the necessity for a convert to adopt a so-called Muslim name.  When I took my Shahada, I was asked not whether I wished to choose a “Muslim name” but what name I wished to adopt.  Not knowing any better at the time, I did reluctantly choose a new name, and used it briefly in Muslim circles.  However, I did not change any of my official documents.  Only later did I discover that there is, in principle, no requirement whatsoever to change one’s name.  The original converts to Islam at the time of Prophet Mohammed usually kept the Arabic name they always had.  The only exceptions were people who had a name with unpleasant or pagan connotations.  So-called “Muslim names” are, in the main, simply Arabic ones or traditional names from countries that were early adopters of Islam.  There is no requirement for a new Muslim to adopt one of these.

While I respect (though do not necessarily agree with) the choice of those Muslim converts who have adopted a new name, I expect all Muslims to respect the right of other converts such as myself to retain their original name.  I generally now use my “real” name, not the “Muslim name” that was initially thrust upon me.  Sadly I have come under pressure from some ignorant born Muslims on this matter.

To be frank, I feel that adopting a “Muslim name”, makes it easier for one’s existing circle of family and friends to dismiss one’s conversion to Islam as an act of eccentricity which they can brush off.  By changing one’s name and starting to wear, say, Pakistani clothing, one confirms in their minds the foreignness or alien nature of what is supposed to be universal Islam.  I believe that these actions, or dare I say distractions, make it harder for most people from non-Muslim countries to identify with Islam, the welcoming and inclusive universal religion open to all, and see how it could be relevant to their own lives.  The following excerpt from an article on Islam written by Andrew Marr in the liberal British Sunday newspaper, The Observer, in January 1999 illustrates just how difficult most westerners find it to relate to Islam, even those who like to pride themselves on being open-minded and unprejudiced.  Marr writes:

Here is a movement which declares its undying opposition to Western liberal values; whose militants engage in terrorism; which dreams of a huge, sprawling Islamic community or ‘umma’, recreating the days of greatness of the early Caliphate. It has adherents round the world.

It looks and sounds alien. It is an ‘otherness’ which, thanks to immigration, penetrates deep into what used to be called Christendom (but is really seculardom, or Enlightenment-dom). To outsiders, Islam reaches from the veiled women of Bradford to the beheadings in Saudi squares; from young Brummies [inhabitants of Birmingham, England] to Yemen courtrooms. It is out there. But it is in here too.

Alien is not a word this newspaper approves of generally. But for a Western liberal, it has a literal truth when applied to Islam: I can see my fellow human, the Muslim, and touch, and talk of many things. But there is a thick, impenetrable mental bubble between us.

The spiritually motivated western convert to Islam, whose Islam is centered on God not agitation,  has a golden opportunity to depoliticize the widespread negative western perception of Islam and to diminish the impression that Islam is for strange, backward, sometimes frightening foreigners - Arabs and Asians - but not for westerners.  The western convert is uniquely placed to poke a hole in what Marr calls that “thick, impenetrable mental bubble” and allow non-Muslim fellow westerners the chance to look beyond the superficially “alien nature” they perceive to the unadulterated spirituality and theology of Islam.  In my view, this opportunity is thrown away or at the very least is hobbled by self-inflicted damage when a western convert unnecessarily adopts a foreign name and clothing, thus only reinforcing the preconceived notions and prejudices that non-Muslim fellow westerners tend to hold about Islam.

On page 52 of his book, On Contemporary Dawah (Calling to Islam), the London-based, Syrian-born Muslim scholar Shaykh Muhammad al-Abdah stresses that “First impressions always last”.  He cites an Abu Dawud hadith in which Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) states: You are about to reach your brethren from travel, so adjust your attire.”  According to the sheikh,

The intention of [Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh)] teachings was to engender in each Muslim not only fine character, but also its external realization - demonstrated in good taste in appearance, since an unappealing image is a cause for aversion.  Yet again this reinforces the Prophetic recommendation for Muslims to reform their character in all aspects, internal and external.

The consequence of this equitable character is an understanding of the necessity of an appropriate appearance when giving Da’wah.  Too often we find Muslims attired in a fashion that fosters derision or suspicion.  (My emphasis.)

My remarks above about the appearance and clothing of western converts to Islam were written principally from a male perspective.  Basically by ensuring that his body is covered from at least chest to knees in clothes that are not figure-hugging, a Muslim man satisfies the Islamic requirement for modesty.  Most western clothes for men comply with this requirement.  In the case of women, only the face and hands should be visible.  Female hijab (hair covering) is compulsory (though, very interestingly, in contrast with other Islamic requirements, no punishment in this life or the hereafter is specified in the Quran for failure to comply.)  Hijab takes a variety of forms in different Muslim societies and can be adapted to stylishly match modest though elegant western clothing for ladies.  Within the parameters of Islamic modesty, a Muslim women is allowed to dress nicely.  For the female western convert, it is not necessary to “go native” or resort to drab, dowdy, lesbian-looking cardigans!  I agree with Yahiya Emerick who is on record as saying that Muslim women should wear “fashionable hijab”, not “circus tents”.  Or for that matter be mistaken for the wife of Darth Vader.

Relationship with non-Muslim parents

Again with regard to the issue of a “Muslim name” and similar matters, I think it is also important to bear in mind here the teaching of Islam with regard to one’s duty to family, particularly one’s parents even if they are themselves non-Muslims.

Your Lord had decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you are kind to parents whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime.  Say not to them a word of contempt or repel them but address them in terms of honor and out of kindness lower to them the wing of humility and say: “My Lord, bestow on them your mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood”. (Quran 17:23-24)

Indeed there was an occasion when Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) commanded a believer to care for his non-Muslim parents rather than participate in Jihad (holy war).

Abdullah ibn Omar relates: “Once a person came to the Messenger of Allah and expressed his desire to participate in jihad in order to please Allah.  The Holy Prophet asked him “Are your parents alive?” The man said “Yes.  Both are alive”. The Holy Prophet said ‘Then go and serve them well”. (Bukhari and Muslim).

And also:

Mu’aviyah ibn Jahimah reported, Jahimah came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I intend that I should enlist in the fighting force and I have come to consult thee. He said “Hast thou a mother?” He said, “Yes.” He said: “Then stick to her, for paradise is beneath her two feet. (Nisai).

I felt that it was important that my parents who are both practicing Catholics should realize that I was not rejecting them, my upbringing or most of the things they held dear.  It was simply that I had come to a new understanding of theology.  Rejecting the name they had given me could really have been interpreted as being quite insulting to them, which in itself would be contrary to Islam.  I am thinking here of the following ahadith:

“He, who wishes to enter paradise at the best gate, must please his father and mother.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

One who cuts ties of relationship will not enter paradise. (Bukhari, Muslim).

The Lord’s good pleasure results from a father’s good pleasure, and the Lord’s displeasure results from the father’s displeasure.  (Tirmidhi).

“Messenger of God, who is most deserving of friendly care from me?” He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied, “Your mother.” He asked who came next, and He replied, “Your mother.” He asked who came next and He replied, “Your mother.” He asked who came next and He replied, “Your father.” (Bukhari, Muslim).

Indeed according to one hadith, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) states that showing kindness to parents takes precedence even over striving in the cause of Allah:

“Once the Prophet was asked: ‘Tell us, which action is dearest to Allah?’ He answered: ‘To say your prayer at its proper time.’ Again he was asked: ‘What comes next?’ Mohammed said: ‘To show kindness to parents.’ ‘Then what?’ he was asked, ‘To strive for the cause of Allah!’ “  (Ibn Masad, Bukhari)

In my case, I felt that abandoning for no good reason the very name given me by my loving parents would have been straining the ties of relationship, creating displeasure and certainly not indicative of showing kindness to or taking friendly care of my mother and father.

So-called “Islamic Causes”

When I, a westerner and a former practicing Christian, became a Muslim, I became just that - a Muslim, a believer in the religion of Islam, i.e. someone who believes in the oneness of God as opposed to the concept of Trinity and who accepts Mohammed (pbuh) as a prophet of God. I’m the same person with the same name, wearing the same western style of clothing (though now respecting the modest dress code of Islam) and eating the same style of food (though now making sure that my meat is halal).  I have not rejected my country, its culture or tradition.  I simply now hold different theological beliefs.

When I became a Muslim, I did NOT adopt an alien culture or become an Arab, a Pakistani or anything else.  Nor did I sign up as a supporter of a variety of nationalistic independence or separatist struggles around the world - Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Indonesia - just because the protagonists happen to be Muslims.  I get particularly fed up when I am bombarded with emails or encounter on websites supposedly dedicated to the religion of Islam calls to political action about the so-called “Islamic cause” of Palestine.  Let me state from the outset that I do have much sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people.  But, if this struggle is an Islamic one as apposed to a mainly ethnic, territorial one, will someone kindly explain to me why Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat attends the shirk-fest that is midnight Mass in Bethlehem every Christmas Eve?  Let me spell out the nature of the event which the leader of this so-called Islamic cause was attending.  I shall quote from the Creed which is recited during every Mass.  Virtually every utterance contained therein is theologically anathema to Islam:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
...
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Moreover, during the Mass it is common, though not compulsory or universal, for the priest to also lead the congregation in reciting the “Hail Mary”.  This is a prayer of intercession in which Jesus’ mother is addressed as Mother of God!

The Palestinians, obviously not all of whom are Muslims, are not being downtrodden by the Israelis because of their Islamic religion per se, but rather because they are not Zionists, not Jews in the ethnic sense and because they want their land back in the West Bank and Gaza and the right of return to “Israel proper” for those expelled in 1948, thus threatening the security and very existence of the State of Israel.  This is predominantly a geopolitical, ethnic, nationalistic issue, not a religious one.  That all Muslims, not just local Palestinians, have unfettered access to Al Aqsa mosque, the Noble Sanctuary and the Dome of the Rock, which constitute the third holiest site in Islam, is of course a major concern.  And naturally it is preferable that these areas fall under the sovereignty of a state whose population is predominantly Muslim.  But enough of this “Palestinian cause automatically equals Islamic cause” business, please.  I genuinely feel that Muslims who fail to distinguish between the secular/political and the religious/theological in this regard do a great disservice to the religion of Islam - the theology of Tahweed or the Oneness of God - to which we are supposed to be calling non-believers.

Final Thoughts

Based on my personal experience, my advice either to new Muslims or anyone considering the possibility of accepting Islam would be simply to judge a religion not by its adherents, many of whom may fall far short of the ideal in a variety of ways (and I include myself in that!), but rather by the theology and teachings of the religion itself.  To be honest, I remain in Islam very much in spite of and not because of my experiences with Muslims.  Only a handful have been of any help to me and quite a few hard-line politicos and joyless, uptight puritans have been a real hindrance.  However, despite my great disappointment at both the lack of organized support available to new Muslims and the widespread politically focused rather than God-centered Islam so prevalent today, plus my intense dislike of the nasty behavior and attitudes of some of the Muslims I have encountered in person and online, I have most definitely found in the religion of Islam an intellectual and theological satisfaction that I never knew in Christianity. And at the end of the day, one’s beliefs about God are what truly matters.

Allahu a`lam.  God knows best.

Footnotes

1.  The Bukhari hadith about Asma bint Abu Bakr being offered a lift.

Asma bint Abu Abkr said: “I used to bring, on my head, fruit kernels from the land which the Prophet (peace be upon him) had given to Al Zubair [her husband]. That land was at a distance of three farsakhs (about ten miles). One day I was on my way home with a load on my head when I met the Prophet with a number of Ansar. the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked me to ride, behind him on the camel, but I felt shy of joining the company of men. The Prophet (peace be upon him) realized that I was feeling shy and, therefore, continued his journey without me. Later I came to Al Zubair and told him how I met the Prophet (peace be upon him) with a company of Ansars, and how I declined his offer when he bade the camel to kneel so that I might ride behind him. I told Al Zubair I felt shy and remembered your jealousy over your self-respect and honor. On hearing that account Al Zubar said, ‘By God, your carrying fruit kernels is far more distressing for me than riding the camel with the Prophet’. (Bukhari).


2.  Hadith about social visits to ladies

According to Al Tabrani, Ibn-Harith heard Khaula hint Qais say: “the Prophet (peace be upon him) and I took meals in the same dish”. (AI-Isabah). Al-Shaffa bint Abdullah was one of the wise and prominent ladies of Madinah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit her and took his mid-day nap in her house. She arranged a bed and a sheet for him to sleep in. (Al-Isabah)

3.  Quote from Dr Turabi’s tract about social visits to ladies

“Lubabah bint Al-Harith, it is stated, was one of the first ladies after Sayyedah Khadijah, to embrace Islam. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit her and take his mid-day nap in her house. Umm-Waraga was a lady that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit. The Prophet (peace be upon him) allowed her to pray at home and to lead her staff, male and female, in prayer (Abu Dawoud). It was she who, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) conducted the battle of Badr, requested him to allow her to accompany him so that she might treat the patients and that perhaps God might bless her with martyrdom. (Al-Isabah). Fatimah bint Asad bin Hashim was a very pious lady. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit her and take his mid-day nap in her house. (Tabaqat)

Umm al Fadhl bint Al-Harith was the first woman to embrace Islam after Sayyedah Khadijah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to visit her and take his mid-day nap in her house. (Tabqat). All these were women of social distinction worthy of the Prophet’s consideration.”


4.  Shirk means the association of partners with God.  It is considered the gravest possible sin in Islam.


On Contemporary Dawah
by Shaykh Muhammad al-Abdah
© Eden Books 1998
Published by Eden Books
PO Box 9125
London
England
W3 0ZR


© Michael Young 2001 to 2006


This article dates from November 2000.  A greatly abridged version was published in the June 2001 issue of the British Muslim monthly magazine Q-News.  Originally published on IslamForToday and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.


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