Doctors Who Embraced Islam

Dr. Abdul Karim Germanus (Hungary)
Professor of Oriental Studies

About the Author:

Dr. Abdul Karim Germanus is a well known Orientalist of Hungary and is a scholar of world repute. He visited India between the wars and for sometime was also associated with Tagore's University Shanti Naketen. Later on he came to Jamia Millie Delhi. It was here that he embraced Islam. Dr. Germanus is a linguist and an authority on Turkish language and literature and it was through oriental studies that he came to Islam. At present Dr. Abdul Karim Germanus is working as Professor and Head of the Department of Oriental and Islamic Studies at the Budapest University, Hungary.

It was on a rainy afternoon in my adolescence that I was perusing an old illustrated review. Current events mingled with fiction, and descriptions of far-off countries, varied in its pages. I turned the leaves indifferently for a while when suddenly a wood-cut arrested my eyes. The picture represented flat-roofed houses from among which here and there round cupolas rose gently into the dark sky enlivened by the crescent. The shadow of men squatting on the roof clad in fantastic robes stretched out in mysterious lines. The picture caught my imagination. It was so different from the usual European landscapes: it was an Oriental scene, somewhere in the Arabian East, where a story-teller told his gaudy tales to a burnoused audience. It was so realistic that I fancied I could hear his melodious voice as he entertained us, his Arab listeners on the roof and me, a sixteen-year-old student sitting in a soft arm-chair in Hungary. I felt an irresistible yearning to know that light which fought with the darkness in the picture. I began to learn Turkish. It soon dawned upon me that the literary Turkish language contains only a small amount of Turkish words. The poetry is enriched by Persian, the prose by Arabic elements. I sought to master all the three, in order to enter that spiritual world which spread such a brilliant light on humanity.

During a summer vacation I was lucky to travel to Bosnia, the nearest Oriental country adjacent to ours. As soon as I settled in a hotel I dashed forth to see living Muslims, whose Turkish language had only beckoned to me through its intricate Arabic script from the pages of grammar books. It was night, and in the dimly-lit streets I soon discovered a humble cafe in which on low straw stools a couple of Bosnians enjoyed their kayf. They wore the traditional bulging trousers kept straight at the waist by a broad belt bristling with daggers. Their headgear and the unfamiliar costume lent them an air of truculence. It was with a throbbing heart that I entered the kahwekhame and timidly sat down in a distant corner. The, Bosnians looked with curious eyes upon me and I suddenly remembered all the bloodcurdling stories read in fanatical books about Muslim intolerance. I noticed that they were whispering among themselves and their topic was my unexpected presence. My childish imagination flared up in horror; they surely intended to draw their daggers on the intruding `infidel'. I wished I could safely get out of this threatening environment, but I dared not budge.

In a few seconds the waiter brought me a cup of fragrant coffee and pointed to the frightening group of men. I turned a fearful face towards them when one made a gentle salaam towards me accompanied with a friendly smile. I hesitatingly forced a smile on my trembling lips. The imagined `foes' slowly rose and approached my little table. What now? ---- my throbbing heart inquired --- will they oust me? A second salaam followed and they sat around me. One of them offered me a cigarette and at its flickering light I noticed that their martial attire hid a hospitable soul. I gathered strength and addressed them in my primitive Turkish. Is acted like a magic wand. Their faces lit up in friendliness akin to affection --- instead of hostility they invited me to their homes; instead of the falsely anticipated daggers they showered benevolence upon me. This was my first personal meeting with Muslims.

Years had come and passed in a rich variety of events, travels and study. Each opened new vistas before my curious eyes. I crossed all the countries of Europe, studied at the University of Constantinople, admired the historic beauties of Asia Minor and Syria. I had learnt Turkish, Persian and Arabic, and gained the chair of Islamic studies at the University of Budapest. All the dry and tangible knowledge that was hoarded up throught centuries, all the thousands pages of learned books I had read with eager eyes --- but my soul remained thirsty. I found Ariadne's thread in the books of learning, but I yearned for the evergreen garden of religious experience.

My brain was satiated but my soul remained thirsty. I had to divest myself of much of that learning I had gathered, in order to regain it through inner experience, ennobled in the fire of suffering, as the crude iron which the pain of sudden cold tempers into elastic steel.

One night Prophet Muhammad appeared before me. His long beard was reddened with henna, his robes were simple but very exquisite, and an agreeable scent emanated from them. His eyes glittered with a noble fire and he addressed me with a manly voice, "Why do you worry ? The straight path is before you, safely spread out like the face of the earth; walk on it with trusty treads, with the strength of Faith.

"O Messenger of God", I exclaimed in my feverish dream in Arabic, "it is easy for you, who are beyond, who have conquered all foes when heavenly admonition has started you on your path and your efforts have been crowned with glory. But I have yet to suffer, and who knows when I shall find rest ?"

He looked sternly at me and then sank into thought, but after a while he again spoke. His Arabic was so clear that every word rang like silver bells. This prophetic tongue which incorporated God's commands now weighed upon my breast with a crushing load; `A lam naj'all'l-Arda mihadan --- Have We not set the earth as a couch, and the mountains as stakes, and created you in pairs, and made your sleep for rest ... !

"I cannot sleep." I groaned with pain. "I cannot solve the mysteries which are covered by impenetrable veils. Help me, Muhammad, O Prophet of God! help me!"

A fierce interrupted cry broke forth from my throat. I tossed chokingly under the burden of the nightmare --- I feared the wrath of the Prophet. Then I felt as if I had dropped into the deep --- and suddenly I awoke. The blood knocked in my temples, my body was bathed in sweat, my every limb ached. A deadly silence enveloped me, and I felt very sad and lonely.

The next Friday witnessed a curious scene in the huge Juma' Masjid of Delhi. A fair-haired pale-faced stranger elbowed his way, accompanied by some elders, through the thronging crowd of believers. I wore an Indian dress, on my head a small Rampuri cap, I put on my breast the Turkish orders, presented to me by previous sultans. The believers gazed at me in astonishment and surprise. Our small party paced straight on to the pulpit, which had been surrounded by the learned, respectable elders, who received me kindly with a loud salaam. I sat down near the mimbar, (pulpit) and let my eyes gaze on the beautifully ornamented front of the mosque. In its middle arcade wild bees had built their nests and swarmed undisturbed around it.

Suddenly, the adhan (call to prayers) was sounded and the mukabbirs, standing on different spots of the courtyard, forwarded the cry to the farthest nook of the mosque. Some four thousand men rose like soldiers at this heavenly command, rallied in close rows and said the prayer in deep devotion - I one among them. It was an exalting moment. After the Khutba (sermon) had been preached, `Abdul Hayy took me by my hand and conducted me to the mimbar, I had to walk warily so as not to step on someone squatting on the ground. The great event had arrived. I stood at the steps of the mimbar. The huge mass of men began to stir. Thousands of turbaned heads turned into a flowery meadow, curiously murmuring towards me. Grey-bearded `ulama (Savants) encircled me and stroked me with their encouraging looks. They inspired an unusual steadfastness into me, and without any fever or fear I slowly ascended to the seventh step of the mimbar. From above I surveyed the interminable crowd, which waved below me like a living sea. Those who stood after stretched their necks towards me, and this seemed to set the whole courtyard in motion. `Ma'sha Allah` exclaimed some nearby, and warm, affectionate looks radiated from their eyes'.

"Ayyuh al-Saadaat al-Kiram", I started in Arabic --- `I came from a distant land to acquire knowledge which I could not gain at home. I came to you for inspiration and you responded to the call'. I then proceeded and spoke of the task Islam had played in the world's history, of the miracle God has wrought with His Prophet. I explained on the decline of present-day Muslims and of the means whereby they could gain ascendancy anew. It is a Muslim saying that all depends on God's will, but the Holy Qur'an says that `God betters not the condition of people unless they improve themselves'. I built my speech on this Qur'anic sentence and wound up with the praise of pious life, and the fight against wickedness.

Then I sat down. I was aroused from the magnetic trance of my speech by a loud `Allahu Akbar', shouted from every nook and corner of the place. The thrill was overwhelming, and I hardly remember anything but that Aslam called me from the mimbar, took me by the arm and dragged me out of the mosque.

"Why this hurry ?" I asked.

Men stood before me and embraced me. Many a poor suffering fellow looked with imploring eyes on me. They asked for my blessing and wanted to kiss my head. "O God!" I exclaimed, "Don't allow innocent souls to lift me above them! I am a worm from among the worms of the earth, a wanderer towards the light, just as powerless as the other miserable creatures. The sighs and hopes of those innocent people ashamed me as if I had stolen or cheated. What a terrible burden it must be for a statesman, in whom people confide, from whom they hope for assistance and whom they consider to be better than themselves!"

Aslam liberated me from the embraces of my new brethern, put me in a tonga and drove me home.

The next day and the following ones people flocked to congratulate me and I gathered so much warmth and spirit from their affection as will suffice me for a lifetime.
From "Islam, Our Choice"

Dr. Ali Selman Benoist (France)
Doctor of Medicine

As a Doctor of Medicine, and a descendant of a French Catholic family, the very choice of my profession has given me a solid scientific culture which had prepared me very little for a mystic life. Not that I did not believe in God, but that the dogmas and rites of Christianity in general and of Catholicism in particular never permitted me to feel His presence. Thus my unitary sentiment for God forbade my accepting the dogma of the Trinity, and consequently of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Without yet knowing Islam, I was already believing in the first part of the Kalima, La ilah illa 'Allah (There is no deity but Allah), and in these verses of the Qur'an:

"Say: He, the God, is One; God is an absolute unity;
He never begot, nor was He begotten; and there is
none equal to Him." (Al-Qur'an 112:1-4)

So, it was first of all for metaphysical reasons that I adhered to Islam. Other reasons, too, prompted me to do that. For instance, my refusal to accept Catholic priests, who, more or less, claim to possess on behalf of God the power of forgiving the sins of men. Further, I could never admit the Catholic rite of Communion, by means of the host (or holy bread), representing the body of Jesus Christ, a rite which seems to me to belong to totemistic practices of primitive peoples, where the body of the ancestral totem, the taboo of the living ones, had to be consumed after his death, in order better to assimilate his personality. Another point which moved me away from Christianity was the absolute silence which it maintains regarding bodily cleanliness, particularly before prayers, which has always seemed to me to be an outrage against God. For if He has given us a soul, He has also given us a body, which we have no right to neglect. The same silence could be observed, and this time mixed with hostility with regard to the physiological life of the human being, whereas on this point Islam seemed to me to be the only religion in accord with human nature.

The essential and definite element of my conversion to Islam was the Qur'an. I began to study it, before my conversion, with the critical spirit of a Western intellectual, and I owe much to the magnificent work of Mr. Malek Bennabi, entitled Le Phenomene Coranique, which convinced me of its being divinely revealed. There are certain verses of this book, the Qur'an, revealed more than thirteen centuries ago, which teach exactly the same notions as the most modern scientific researchers do. This definitely convinced me, and converted me to the second part of the Kalima, 'Muhammad Rasul 'Allah' (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah).

This was my reason for presenting myself on 20th February 1953 at the mosque in Paris, where I declared my faith in Islam and was registered there as a Muslim by the Mufti of the Paris Mosque, and was given the Islamic name of 'Ali Selman'.

I am very happy in my new faith, and proclaim once again:

"I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's servant and Messenger."

From "Islam, Our Choice"

Dr. Hamid Marcus (Germany)
Scientist, Author & Journalist

About the Author:

Dr. Hamid Marcus was also the editor of Moslemische Revue, Berlin.

As a child I had felt an inner urge to learn all I could about Islam, and I had carefully studied an old Qur'an translation which I had found in the library of my home town and which dated back to 1750. It was the edition from which Goethe also drew his knowledge of Islam. At that time I had been deeply struck by the absolutely rationalistic and at the same time imposing composition of the Islamic teachings. I had also been very much impressed by the gigantic spiritual revolution which they evoked in the Islamic nations of that time. Later, in Berlin, I had the opportunity of working together with Muslims and listening to the enthusiastic and inspiring commentaries which the founder of the first German Muslim Mission at Berlin and builder of the Berlin Mosque, gave on the Holy Qur'an. After years of active co-operation with this outstanding personality and his spiritual exertions, I embraced Islam. Islam supplemented my own ideas by some of the most ingenious conceptions of mankind ever thought of. The belief in God is something sacred to the religion of Islam. But it does not proclaim dogmas which are incompatible with modern science. Therefore there are no conflicts between belief on the one hand and science on the other. This fact is naturally a unique and enormous advantage for a man who participated to the best of his ability in scientific research. The second advantage is that the religion of Islam is not an idealistic teaching which runs along blindly beside life as it is, but that it preaches a system which actually influences the life of a human being .... the laws of Islam are not compulsory regulations which restrict personal freedom, but directions and guides which enable a well-contrived freedom.

Throughout the years I have noticed time and again with deepest satisfaction that Islam holds the golden mean between individualism and socialism, between which it forms a connecting link. As it is unbiased and tolerant, it always appreciates the good, wherever it may happen to come across it.
From "Islam, Our Choice"

Dr. Umar Rolf Baron Ehrenfels (Austria)
Professor of Anthropology

About the Author:

Born as the only son of the late Baron Christian Ehrenfels, the founder of the modern structural (Gestalt) Psychology in Austria, Rolf Freiherr von Ehrenfels felt already as a child a deep attraction towards the East in general and towards the world of Islam in particular. His sister, the Austrian poetess Imma von Bodmershof, described this phase in her contribution to Islamic Literature, Lahore 1953. As a young man Ehrenfels travelled in the Balkan countries and Turkey, where he used to join prayers in mosques, (though a Christian) and was hospitably accepted by Turkish Albanian, Greek and Yogoslav Muslims. His interest in Islam increased by and by and Ehrenfels accepted Islam in 1927 and took on Umar as his Muslim name. He visitied Indo-Pakistan sub-continent in 1932 and took particular interest in the cultural-historical problems connected with the status and position of women. After his return to Austria, Baron Umar specialised in the study of anthropological problems of Matrilineal Civilizations in India. The Oxford University Press published his first anthropological book (Osmania University Series, Hyderabad, Deccan, 1941) on this subject.

When Austria was overrun by the Nazis in 1938 Baron Umar again went to India, worked in Hyderabad at the invitation of the late Sir Akbar Hydari and carried on anthropological field-work in South India and with the support of Wenner-Gern Foundation, New York, in Assam. Since 1949 he has been Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Madras and was awarded the S.C.Roy Golden Medal for original contributions to social and cultural Anthropology by the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1949. His numerous scientific and Islamic publications also include an illustrated two-volume work on Indian and General Anthropology, "Ilm-ul-Aqwam" (Anjuman Taragqqi-i-Urdu, Delhi, 1941) and a tribal monograph on the "Kadar of Cochin" (Madras 1952).

The essential features of Islam which impressed me most and attracted me to this great religion are as follows :-

  1. The Islamic teaching of successive revelation implies in my opinion the following: The source from which all the great world religions sprang is one. The founders of these great paths, prepared for peace-seeking mankind, gave witness to one and the same basic divine teaching. Acceptance of one of these paths means search for Truth in Love;

  2. Islam, in essence, means peace in submission to the Eternal Law.

  3. Islam is, historically speaking, the last founded among the great world religions on this planet.

  4. Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Islam and is thus the last in the sequence of great religious world-prophets.

  5. The acceptance of Islam and the path of the Muslims by a member of an older religion thus means as little rejection of his former religion, as for instance the acceptance of Buddha's teachings meant the rejection of Hinduism to the Indian co-nationals of Buddha. It was only later that schools of thought within Hinduism rejected the Buddhist way as heretical. The differences of religions are man-made. The unity is divine. The teachings of the Holy Qur'an stress this basic unity. To witness it, means acceptance of a spiritual fact which is common to all men and women.

  6. The spirit of human brotherhood under the all-encompassing divine fatherhood is much stressed in Islam and not hampered by concepts of racialism or sectarianism, be it of linguistic, historic-traditionalistic, or even dogmatic nature.

  7. This concept of divine fatherly love, however, includes also the motherly aspect of Divine love, as the two principal epithets of God indicate" Al-Rahman - Al-Rahim, both being derived from the Arabic root rhm. The symbolic meaning of this root equals Goethe's Das Ewing-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan, whilst its primary meaning is womb.

In this spirit the Church of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople has been made the principal source from which the great Muslim architects in the Near East took their inspiration when building mosques like that of Sultan Ahmad or Muhammad Fatih at Istanbul.

In this spirit the prophet gave these unforgettable words to his followers:

"Paradise lies at the feet of the Mother."

Prof. Abdul Ahad Dawud B.D. (Iran)
Formerly the Reverend David Bengamni Keldani, B.D.

"My conversion to Islam cannot be attributed to any cause other than the gracious direction of Almighty God. Without this Divine guidance, all learning, searching and other efforts to find the truth may even lead one astray. The moment I believed in the Absolute Unity of God, His Holy Apostle Muhammad became the pattern of my conduct and behaviour."
From "Islam, Our Choice"

Professor Haroon Mustapha Leon (England)
Etymologist, Geologist & Author

About the Author:

The Late Professor Haroon Mustapha Leon, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D., F.S.P., accepted Islam in 1882. He was a Fellow and Honorary Member of many learned societies in Europe and America. He was an able Philologist, and was at that time contributing a series of articles on the "Etymology of the Man's Language" to the 'Isle of Man Examiner'. His services to this important branch of science had frequently been recognised by learned bodies. The Potomac University (U.S.A.) conferred upon him the degree of M.A. Dr. Leon was also an earnest geologist. He frequently lectured on scientific and literary subjects before learned and other societies. He occupied the important position of Secretaire-General of "La Societe Internationale de Philologie, Sciences et Beaux-Arts" (founded 1875) and was the Editor of "The Philomathe" a scientific magazine, published from London. Dr. Leon received many decorations from Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan, the late Shah, and the Emperor of Austria.

One of the glories of Islam is that it is founded upon reason, and that it never demands from its followers an abnegation of that important mental faculty. Unlike certain other faiths, which insist upon their votaries implicitly accepting certain dogmas without independent inquiry, but simply on the authority of "The Church", Islam courts inquiry and counsels its disciples to study, search and investigate prior to acceptation. The Holy Prophet, of ever-blessed memory, said:

"Allah hath not created anything better than reason, the benefits which Allah giveth are on its account, and understanding is begotten of it."

On another occasion he said:

"Verily, I tell you, a man may have performed prayers, fasts, charity, pilgrimage and all other good works, but he will not be rewarded but by the manner in which he hath used and applied his reason."

The parable of the 'Talents' narrated by Saiyiddena 'Issa', i.e. Jesus (on whom be peace) is in strict accordance with Islamic doctrine, as also is the maxim: 'Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.' The similitude of those who follow blindly and who neglect to use the intelligence which the Divine Giver, of all good, hath bestowed upon them, is declared in the imperishable pages of Al-Qur'an ( Sura 52: Al-Jumm'a - 'The Assembly') to be that of 'an ass laden with books.'

The noble and learned Caliph, Hazrat Ali (on whom be peace) said:

"The world is darkness; knowledge is light; but knowledge without truth is a mere shadow."

Muslims believe that Islam is a term synonymous with truth, and that under the glorious and ever-brilliant sun of Islam, by the light of reason and knowledge, truth can be obtained but in order to obtain that knowledge, and thus attain that truth, man must use his reasoning faculties.

A most poignant pronouncement on this question was given by our Holy Prophet only a few days prior to his decease.

There he lay, the last and greatest of the grand chain of mighty men whom Allah, in His everlasting mercy and compassion, had sent to the world as inspired messenger of truth and of righteousness, his saintly head pillowed upon Hazrat 'Ayesha's loving knee.

The true believers of Medina, old and young, men and women -- nay, even the children -- had gathered, in loving sympathy there around the mat whereon lay Mustapha Al-amin, the chosen, the faithful, ar-Rasul-Allah. Tears glistened in their eyes, and coursed down the cheeks of even the most grizzled and valiant of the veteran warriors of Islam. Their leader, their friend, their beloved pastor, and, above all, their Prophet, he who had led them from the darkness of ignorance and superstition into the radiant brightness of the truth, had brought them into Islam, the habitation of peace, was about to pass from them. No wonder, then, that their eyes became fountain of tears, and their hearts were heavy and oppressed.

In the agony of distress, almost of despair, one exclaimed: "O Prophet of Allah, thou art ill, thou mayest die, then what is to become of us?"

"You have Al-Qur'an" said Allah's Messenger.

"Oh, yes, Rasul-Allah, but even with that enlightening book and unerring guide before us, we have had at times to ask from you advice, counsel, and instruction, and if you are taken from us, O Prophet who is there to be our guide?" said the companions.

"Do as I did and as I have said," was the reply.

"But, O Prophet, after you have gone fresh circumstances may arise which could not have arisen during thy blessed lifetime; what are we to do then? And what are they to do who follow us?"

The Prophet slowly raised his illustrious and saintly head, and with the lurid light of prophecy and inspiration shining radiantly from his noble eyes exclaimed: "Allah hath given to every man as a personal monitor, a conscience and as a guide, his reason; then, use them in respect of all things and Allah's blessing will ever guide you aright."
From "Islam, Our Choice"

Dr. R. L. Mellema (Holland)
Anthropologist, writer and scholar

About the Author:

Dr. R. L. Mellema is the Head of the Islamic Section of the Tropical Museum, Amsterdam, and is the author of Wayang Puppets, Grondwet van Pakistan, Een Interprtatie van de Islam, etc.

What is for me the Beauty of Islam? What has Attracted me to this faith?

I began with my study of eastern languages at the University of Leiden in 1919 and attended the lectures of Prof. C. Snouck Hurgronje, the well-known Arabist. I learned Arabic, read and translated al-Baidawi's commentary on the Qur'an and al-Ghazali's reflexions on the Law. I studied the history and institutions of Islam from European handbooks as was usual in that time. In 1921 I stayed in Cairo for one month and visited the Al-Azhar. Besides Arabic I studied other languages such as Sanskrit, Malay and Javanese. In 1927 I left for the then Netherlands Indies to teach Javanese language and Indian cultural history at a special secondary school for advanced studies in Jogyakarta. For 15 years I specialised myself in Javanese language and culture (modern and old) and had little contact with Islam and no contact at all with Arabic. After a difficult period which I spent as a Japanese prisoner of war, I went back to the Netherlands in 1946 and found a new task at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. Here I had the opportunity to take up again my study of Islam, being instructed to write a short guide on Islam in Java.

I started to study the new Islamic State of Pakistan which was culminated in a journey to Pakistan in the winter of 1954/55. Having come to know Islam till now from European writers only, in Lahore I was confronted with quite another aspect of Islam. I asked my Muslim friends to be allowed to take part with them in the Friday prayers in the mosques and from now on I began to discover the great values of Islam.

I have felt myself a Muslim from the moment that I had to address the people in one of the Lahore mosques and had to shake hands with the innumerable new friends and brothers. I wrote about this event in an article, published in Pakistan Quarterly, Vol. V. no. 4, 1955, the following lines:

We were now to visit a much smaller mosque, where the sermon was delivered by a scholar who spoke English fluently and had a position of eminence at the University of the Punjab. He informed the congregation that he had deliberately interspersed more English words than usual in his sermon, as he thought that their brother who had come from a far country, the Netherlands, would then understand the Urdu discourse more easily. The sermon was followed by the usual recitation of two rak'ahs under the leadership of the Imam. This done a few more rak'ahs were performed in silence by those who felt the need to do so.

I was about to leave when Allamah Sahib, turning to me, observed that the assembly expected me to say a few words. He himself would translate them into Urdu. I went and stood before the microphone and quietly started to speak. I said how I had come from a far away country where only a few Muslims live, whose greetings I conveyed to the brothers present in the Mosque, who for the last seven years were so fortunate as to have their own Muslim State. In these few years the new State had succeeded in consolidating its position. After a difficult beginning they could undoubtedly look forward to a prosperous future. I promised them that, back in my country, I should bear witness to the great kindness and hospitality it had been my privilege to receive from all sections of the Muslim population in Pakistan. These words having been translated into Urdu had a wonderful effect, for, to my intense surprise, without even realizing at first what was happening, I saw hundreds of worshippers hasten forward to press my hands and to congratulate me. Old hands and young clasped mine with the most affectionate cordiality. But what struck and touched me most was the great warmth all these eyes radiated. At that moment I felt myself taken up in the great Brotherhood of Islam which extends throughout the world, and I was indescribably happy.

So the people of Pakistan made me understand that Islam was more than just acquaintance with many details of the Law, that belief in the moral values of Islam had to come first and that knowledge should be conditional to reaching faith.

What is now for me the beauty of Islam and what in particular has attracted me to this faith!

I will try to give a short answer to these questions in 6 points.

1.        The acknowledgement of One Supreme Being, uncomplicated and easy to accept by every reasonable thinking creature: Allah, He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten and none is like Him. He represents the highest wisdom, the highest strength and the highest beauty. His Charity and Mercy are boundless.

2.        The relation between the Creator of the Universe and His creatures, of whom man has been entrusted with the supreme direction, is a direct one. The believer does not need any mediation; Islam does not need priesthood. In Islam contact with God depends on man himself. Man has to prepare himself in this life for the next. He is responsible for his deeds, which cannot be compensated by a substituting sacrifice of an innocent person. No soul shall be burdened beyond its capacity.

3.        The doctrine of tolerance of Islam, so clearly manifested in the well-known words: There is no compulsion in religion. A Muslim is recommended to search for the truth where he may find it; also he is enjoined to estimate the good properties of other religions.

4.        The doctrine of brotherhood of Islam, which extends to all human beings, no matter what colour, race or creed. Islam is the only religion which has been able to realise this doctrine in practice. Muslims wherever on the world they are, will recognise each other as brothers. The equality of the whole mankind before God is symbolised significantly in the Ihram dress during the Hajj.

5.        The fact that Islam accepts matter and mind both as existing values. The mental growth of man is connected inseparable with the needs of the body, whereas man has to behave in such a way that mind prevails over matter and matter is controlled by mind.

6.        The prohibition of alcoholic drinks and narcotic drugs. This is in particular a point in respect of which it may be said that Islam is far ahead of its time.

From "Islam, Our Choice"

Sister Penomee (Dr. Kari Ann Owen, Ph.D.)

July 4, 1997.
A salaam aleikum, beloved family.

"There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his messenger."

These are the words of the Shahadah oath, I believe.

The Creator is known by many names. His wisdom is always recognizable, and his presence made manifest in the love, tolerance and compassion present in our community.

His profound ability to guide us from a war-like individualism so rampant in American society to a belief in the glory and dignity of the Creator's human family, and our obligations to and membership within that family. This describes the maturation of a spiritual personality, and perhaps the most desirable maturation of the psychological self, also.

My road to Shahadah began when an admired director, Tony Richardson, died of AIDS. Mr. Richardson was already a brilliant and internationally recognized professional when I almost met him backstage at the play Luther at age 14.

Playwrighting for me has always been a way of finding degrees of spiritual and emotional reconciliation both within myself and between myself and a world I found rather brutal due to childhood circumstances. Instead of fighting with the world, I let my conflicts fight it out in my plays. Amazingly, some of us have even grown up together!

So as I began accumulating stage credits (productions and staged readings), beginning at age 17, I always retained the hope that I would someday fulfill my childhood dream of studying and working with Mr. Richardson. When he followed his homosexuality to America (from England) and a promiscuous community, AIDS killed him, and with him went another portion of my sense of belonging to and within American society.

I began to look outside American and Western society to Islamic culture for moral guidance.

Why Islam and not somewhere else?

My birthmother's ancestors were Spanish Jews who lived among Muslims until the Inquisition expelled the Jewish community in 1492. In my historical memory, which I feel at a deep level, the call of the muezzin is as deep as the lull of the ocean and the swaying of ships, the pounding of horses' hooves across the desert, the assertion of love in the face of oppression.

I felt the birth of a story within me, and the drama took form as I began to learn of an Ottoman caliph's humanity toward Jewish refugees at the time of my ancestors' expulsions. Allah guided my learning, and I was taught about Islam by figures as diverse as Imam Siddiqi of the South Bay Islamic Association; Sister Hussein of Rahima; and my beloved adopted Sister, Maria Abdin, who is Native American and Muslim and a writer for the SBIA magazine, IQRA. My first research interview was in a halal butcher shop in San Francisco's Mission District, where my understanding of living Islam was profoundly affected by the first Muslim lady I had ever met: a customer who was in hijab, behaved with a sweet kindness and grace and also read, wrote and spoke four languages.

Her brilliance, coupled with her amazing (to me) freedom from arrogance, had a profound effect on the beginnings of my knowledge of how Islam can affect human behavior.

Little did I know then that not only would a play be born, but a new Muslim.

The course of my research introduced me to much more about Islam than a set of facts, for Islam is a living religion. I learned how Muslims conduct themselves with a dignity and kindness which lifts them above the American slave market of sexual competition and violence. I learned that Muslim men and women can actually be in each others' presence without tearing each other to pieces, verbally and physically. And I learned that modest dress, perceived as a spiritual state,can uplift human behavior and grant to both men and women a sense of their own spiritual worth.

Why did this seem so astonishing, and so astonishingly new?

Like most American females, I grew up in a slave market, comprised not only of the sexual sicknesses of my family, but the constant negative judging of my appearance by peers beginning at ages younger than seven. I was taught from a very early age by American society that my human worth consisted solely of my attractiveness (or, in my case, lack of it) to others. Needless to say, in this atmosphere, boys and girls, men and women, often grew to resent each other very deeply, given the desperate desire for peer acceptance, which seemed almost if not totally dependent not on one's kindness or compassion or even intelligence, but on looks and the perception of those looks by others.

While I do not expect or look for human perfection among Muslims, the social differences are profound, and almost unbelievable to someone like myself.

I do not pretend to have any answers to the conflicts of the Middle East, except what the prophets, beloved in Islam, have already expressed. My disabilities prevent me from fasting, and from praying in the same prayer postures as most of you.

But I love and respect the Islam I have come to know through the behavior and words of the men and women I have come to know in AMILA (American Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism) and elsewhere, where I find a freedom from cruel emotional conflicts and a sense of imminent spirituality.

What else do I feel and believe about Islam?

I support and deeply admire Islam's respect for same sex education; for the rights of women as well as men in society; for modest dress; and above all for sobriety and marriage, the two most profound foundations of my life, for I am 21 1/2 years sober and happily married. How wonderful to feel that one and half billion Muslims share my faith in the character development marriage allows us, and also in my decision to remain drug- and alcohol-free.

What, then, is Islam's greatest gift in a larger sense?

In a society which presents us with constant pressure to immolate ourselves on the altars of unbridled instinct without respect for consequences, Islam asks us to regard ourselves as human persons created by Allah with the capacity for responsibility in our relations with others. Through prayer and charity and a committment to sobriety and education, if we follow the path of Islam, we stand a good chance of raising children who will be free from the violence and exploitation which is robbing parents and children of safe schools and neighborhoods, and often of their lives.

The support of the AMILA community and other friends, particularly at a time of some strife on the AMILA Net, causes me to affirm my original responses to Islam and declare that this is a marvelous community, for in its affirmation of Allah's gifts of marriage, sobriety and other forms of responsiblity, Islam shows us the way out of hell.

My husband, Silas, and I are grateful for your presence and your friendship. And as we prepare to lay the groundwork for adoption, we hope that we will continue to be blessed with your warm acceptance, for we want our child to feel the spiritual presence of Allah in the behavior of surrounding adults and children. We hope that as other AMILA'ers consider becoming new parents, and become new parents, a progressive Islamic school might emerge... progressive meaning supportive and loving as well as superior in academics, arts and sports.

Maybe our computer whizzes will teach science and math while I teach creative writing and horseback riding!

Please consider us companions on the journey toward heaven, and please continue to look for us at your gatherings, on the AMILA net and in the colors and dreams of the sunset.

For there is no god but Allah, the Creator, and Muhammed, whose caring for the victims of war and violence still brings tears from me, is his Prophet.

A salaam aleikum.

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