PATTERNS OF DA’WA IN AMERICA: BY THE HAND
By Faruq Abd al Haqq (Robert) Crane
This Islamic community is growing faster in America than anywhere else on earth. Why? Perhaps an answer lies in the pattern of personal experience. My own experience is unique, like everyone else’s, but it is also typical.
People often ask me why I became a Muslim? I answer by saying that I didn’t, because I’ve always been. There was no great conversion. I haven’t changed my thinking, but only deepened it since I made the shahada a decade ago.
A better question is why I am a Muslim. I can answer that by talking about tawhid (the Oneness of Allah,) and ’ Adl (the principles of justice that derive from it.) But for me personally, the real question is why Allah led me to Islam. This neither I nor anyone else will ever know until the Day of Judgement. The answer for every Muslim and Muslima lies somewhere in the unique path that Allah has chosen for each one.
Part of the path Allah chose for me was my birth in the twentieth century A. C. in America. I could have been born in the Sudan as a Dinka, but I was not, and I could have grown up before the final disintegration of the Muslim umma before the onslaught of Western colonialism, but I did not.
Like all new Muslims today, I am part of a great community of believers and part of a movement of revolutionary change at this juncture in history. This undoubtedly is an important reason why I and others are Muslims; so we should try to understand the responsibilities that flow from the great gift of iman in the modern world.
We Muslims are trained by reading the Qur’an to see that in our universe change is essential to its purposive nature, though we often ignore the beauty inherent in this fact. We have all seen the clouds gather rapidly before the breaking of a storm, and many have watched the nearly imperceptible advent of dawn. Our own lives move even more slowly. We all can notice the aging of our bodies, but only a few philosophers of history can detect the on-going and inevitable rise and fall of entire civilizations. This is part of the Divine Plan and therefore has Divine purpose.
All of us now alive in the world are part of an epochal watershed in history, triggered by the bankruptcy of the secular civilization that produced the giant skyscrapers in New York and now piling the bodies of the homeless at their feet. This civilization is based on man’s worship of himself and can lead only to the destruction of the person, the community, and of all civilization everywhere.
In His mercy, Allah seems to be strengthening those in the United States, the Soviet Union, and in much of the Third World who see the only solution in the renewal of what we might call the epistemology of transcendence, i.e. on recognition that all truth and purpose come from Allah, not from man. This recognition derives from every person’s instinctual, God-given awareness of the transcendent majesty of one’s Creator and of His constant presence and closeness. This awareness is expressed in a search for ever greater knowledge and love, and in a commitment to the integrity and transcendent value of the human community, which alone can generate culture and sustain the resulting civilization.
Schooled in the Qur’anic paradigm of history, developed in some detail by ibn Khaldun six centuries ago, we Muslims can see the internal rot of seemingly invincible nation-states, especially the Soviet Union and the United States. And we can watch for the eternally valid signs of civilizational renewal, as did ibn Khaldun at a similar time in global history.
Ibn Khaldun lived at the time of the Mongol invasion, which triggered the end of the classical Islamic civilization. He looked beyond the catastrophic but nevertheless surface events of the universal destruction to see the cause of disintegration in a loss of commitment to transcendent religious purpose.
His major thesis, conveniently ignored by Western scholars, is that civilization depends on what we would nowadays call culture. As a deeply religious Muslim, though he is honored erroneously in the West as the secular father of modern sociology, economics, and historiography, Ibn Khaldun defined culture as an awareness, expressed in everything from art to politics, of moral absolutes. And this awareness operates not merely on an individual level, but most importantly as a community phenomenon, a commitment, which he called asabiyyah, to the integrity and transcendent value of family, village, and nation. In an Islamic society these represent various levels of umma. When cultures rise, so do civilizations, and when a culture dies its dependent civilization does not long survive, though the lag between cause and effect, now exceeding two centuries in the West, may obscure the dynamic process.
Only the blind can fail to see that today, as the secular powers in the world politics are falling into internal decay, another force is rising, even in the heartlands of America and the Soviet Union. Beneath the superficial level of shifting patterns in geo-politics, a deeper and genuine change seems to be growing among all the peoples of the world in their commitment to transcendent purpose.
This revolution seems to be guided by the Divine strategy for personal and social change revealed in the teachings of all the Prophets on truth and justice. For those who have bothered to study Divine Revelation, the only source of guidance adequate to the task of cultural regeneration in a disintegrating world in the Qur’an, as manifested in the life of The Prophet Muhammad and explained for application in every aspect of life by the great scholars of the shari’ah and by wise men wherever they may be. And the only source of power to sustain those who are rightly guided is the Divine baraka, the direct power of Allah.
Somewhere in this great global movement, everyone of us who Allah has led to Islam has a role to play. When Allah calls a person to Islam, He does not do so solely to bring this person into His presence, both here on earth and in jinnah. Every Muslim was created with a responsibility to the Islamic umma and to the umma that is mankind. By submitting our lives to Allah we can find out what Allah as created us to be and do, but we can know this only imperfectly and to the extent that He wishes, for He guides and sustains us in ways unknown.
Everyone is led not merely by the environment selected by Allah but by direct intervention in his or her life, and sometimes through the agency of angels who are part of Allah’s infinite mercy. Although one rarely knows it at the time, in retrospect it is often clear that Allah has been leading one almost by the hand. This has occurred so often in my life that it seems incredible how I could have dismissed such occurrences as simply a mystery.
One such experience, in retrospect was the only really important event in my life. One summer after a trip to the Rocky Mountains, I developed a high fever and soon was hospitalized. The doctors were puzzled, until my record-high white-blood cell count brought in a diagnosis of trichinosis, the deadly disease that comes from eating pork. In my case, thousands of tiny worms had invaded all the muscles of my body, and unless my body could encapsulate them fast they would soon multiply into the millions. The doctors did not tell me this until later, because I almost died in the hospital and they thought that death would not be long delayed.
Perhaps I did die in the hospital.
Only Allah knows. Certainly I was no longer in this world. This was when I experienced the only absolute certitude that any human being can ever know, when he experiences the light of Allah. Then he knows what The Prophet meant when he was asked whether he had seen Allah. The Prophet gave the only possible answer in his declaration: “how can any man see Allah, when Allah is light!”
Allah also showed me the entire world from an enormous height and showed me millions of people on earth as individuals in one community. It is of course humanly impossible to distinguish at one time so many individual souls, which is why I know this vision was the work of Allah.
Why did Allah show me all this?
What am I to learn from it? I have never known. Until I became a Muslim, I never even mentioned it to anyone, because it seemed obvious that, whatever the reason, it was meant only for me, since it could not possibly have any meaning for anyone else. But this experience is not so unusual among Muslims in America, so we may find meaning in the overall pattern of Allah’s da’wa or “call” to His universal and eternal din.
Still, I have learned two things from this experience. The first is that such insights are best forgotten, because one cannot in fact remember them. All one can remember is the memory, which is not the reality, and one’s own memory can become a substitute for Allah, a false god. Allah gives you to understand what he wills and when He wills, no more.
More importantly, I learned that Allah is One, which is why I could never again actually believe in Christian theology and could never become a priest. I could explain the trinity as well as any Christian, but I know the truth because of direct experience. Whenever I asked Catholic theologians the explain how they could pray tone of the trinity and at the same time to God, the answer was always, “Don’t think about it.”
Later after I became a professed Muslim, a group of Christian scholars and missionaries came to me and said, “We hear you have problems.” I answered, “No, any problem I ever had has disappeared. My only problem was the impossibility to praying simultaneously to the finite and the infinite as One God.” Their only answer was, “Oh, but you don’t have to become a Muslim. We all have this problem!”
For years, I had searched for a word to describe God as I had known Him. I avoided Islam with all my might as a disgusting parody of truth, simply because all I knew were parodies of Islam. I was “reliably” told that for Muslims heaven is a whorehouse (all the huries, you know), and that in order to enter heaven every Muslim should kill a Christian. What could be more diabolical!
Eventually I met an actual live Muslim, an old man who dared to admit what he was. And he wasn’t at all what I had expected. We didn’t discuss religion, but he obviously loved all that God had created, including even me. Something was obviously wrong. I had sought the truth all my life, but here was something new.
And then I met other Muslims who seemed to know things that I thought no-one could understand. Eventually I learned that they had the word I thought must exist but could never find: Allah.
For the first time, I realized that Allah had not placed me alone in the world, and that I was one of the millions He had shown me the day I died.
Originally published in the Winter 1993 print edition of The American Muslim.