Thursday, 5 August 2010
Letter to Papa
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is a letter by a close friend of mine, David, to his father trying to explain his conversion to Islam. He wrote and rewrote the letter many, many times before he actually sent the letter. He converted in Singapore, at Darul Arqam Singapore. His father was back in their native land, in Europe. One of the hardest things to do after the conversion is sometimes to inform the family, the friends and even the professional circles, in some cases, of the change in religion. Different people have different experiences on the matter. It is seldom easy and sometimes, Muslims forget that we had a whole other life and a whole different set of friends. The letter below has been reproduced with his permission, and explores his journey of faith before finally coming to Islam.
“On a rather personal level, given the past few years, I have been doing some soul searching of my own and have often asked myself questions to the meaning of life and why we are here. I have always been an inquisitive person ever since my childhood days and have had tonnes of questions regarding a lot of things. I used to ask myself why we are here, where did we actually come from and where do we go after we die. And the past few years after secondary school, since I had time, I decided to try and find the answers to my own questions. I began to look at philosophy and various works of literature because some of the poems and written works were of quite a deep nature and I enjoyed it very much. As time went by, I began to realise the spiritual side of literature which could not be explained by literature alone. I noticed that a lot of philosophers of the past had links to science and thus, I decided to look in to the world of science to find the answers to our existence. Upon doing so, I realised that science was closely linked to aspects of mathematics and I had a brief look at the conceptualisation of it.
Over time, my studies brought me to the topic of history and geography. And through all that, I was surprised to note that although the Greeks had a big part to play in what we know as science and mathematics today, it was actually the Arabs who cultivated what we know as modern science and mathematics today. I came across the time in history in which Spain was a Muslim Empire back in the Dark Ages of Europe. At that point in time, Europe was still very much rural and lacked the infrastructure that we take for granted today. Thus, we could say that Europe was very much 3rd world or worse. However, Spain was the exception. At that time, Spain was considered to be the epitome or the perfect example of a 1st world empire within Europe. They were known for their developments in science, in particular geology, astronomy and mathematics. I was surprised to note that the Arabs who migrated to Spain and emerged to form this formidable empire were one of the first few to actually come up with the banking and financial system. They were also one of the first few to develop the concept of an open university as well as a modern plumbing system. A plumbing system in those days was absolutely unheard of and thus, a remarkable concept! Not only that, they developed mathematical concepts that were revolutionary and played a big part in the mathematics we know today. A particular example worthy of mention was the Muslim Arab, ibn Sina, commonly referred to as Avicenna by the Europeans.
As George Sarton, author of a History of Science wrote in his book ‘Introduction to the History of Science’, ‘One of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent figure in Islamic learning was ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna. For a thousand years he has retained his original renown as one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history. His most important medical works are the Qanun (Canon) and a treatise on cardiac drugs. The Qanun fi ath-Thibb is an immense encyclopaedia of medicine. It contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of nervous ailments.’
Some of the most famous Arab-Islamic thinkers and scientists. Here are some examples. Imam ibn Sina (r.a.) is known as Avicenna in the West. This one man produced a textbook on the practice of medicine, known as the Canon, that was so comprehensive it was the main medical guide in Europe for more than five centuries. In another book he classified all known pharmaceuticals and their uses. He also determined that the speed of light was constant. Imam Jabir ibn Hayyan (r.a.) is considered the father of modern chemistry. Imam Abu ‘Abdullah al-Battani (r.a.), like many other scientists in the Muslim world, he knew the world was round. He was the first to correctly identify the length of the solar year to the second. Imam Muhammad al-Khwarizmi (r.a.) is the founder of algebra, and he also laid the foundation for trigonometry. Imam Hasan ibn al-Haytsam (r.a.) established the science of optics and linked algebra with geometry. Imam Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (r.a.) correctly established the circumference of the earth and studied the difference between the speed of sound and the speed of light.
It is amazing to note that one of the first few people to actually practise cartography were actually the Arabs of the Spanish Empire. They did so with the help of astronomy and believed that the earth was round. In those days, people laughed at the idea of the earth being round and most still thought it was flat. Therefore, hardly anyone ever entertained this idea of the Muslims except for few individuals who came in to contact with these Muslims, for example, Christopher Columbus. There are various other prominent figures from the Arab world that have contributed to what we now take as a ‘Western invention.’ I was under the impression in the past that everything came from Europeans. How naive I was indeed.
All this research was quite overwhelming for me and it led me to ask where these people got their inspiration or their sources from? The answer I got was most unexpected. According to various sources most of these prominent scientists were from the Arabian Peninsula and were thus followers of the Islamic faith. And Islam is based on the Qur'an, said to be the Revealed Word of God. These sources actually mentioned that these scientists actually got their inspiration and information from the Qur’an. Before this, I had never taken religion of any form seriously. But this started to change. I thought to myself if this was actually true then it is worth exploring. I began to move on to reading up on religion and soon enough it became a full-fledged study. I read up on the various faiths, especially the three Abrahamaic faiths, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Buddhism and Hinduism were also touched on. I enjoyed the basic teachings of all the faiths and was particularly touched by Buddhism as a way of life. The history and practise of these faiths is so rich and I often wondered why people believed in it so firmly. But I soon began to understand why. As time went by I realised to truly understand a religion, I would have to understand what the religion is based on: God.
I was never sure about the concept of God in the past and never bothered to find out because everything in life was pretty much just available to me. Once I started studying the concept of God though I began to ask myself, ‘How is it that we have everything just here?’ Just like that? The more I studied, the more I understood the fact that God among the Abrahamaic faith is deemed to be the Creator of this universe and everything within it. Everything that we see, hear, taste, feel, smell, and everything that we are, everything we are able to perceive around us is His Creation. On top of that, the fact that we are able to perceive things is of His doing as well. It made sense to me that if God is truly the Creator of all that exists and ever did and ever will exist then He would have Created the sources of science and mathematics and geography and astronomy and etcetera. And He would be the All-Knowing. And in that case, who could know it better than the One Who Created it all in the first place?
As time went by, I began to see patterns among the three Abrahamaic faiths. Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe in the One God and there is no other than Him and that He Created everything in this world and beyond. In terms of the prophets, all three faiths believe in the same prophets all the way up to Jesus (a.s.). Yes, I was even surprised to note that Muslims believe in Jesus (a.s.) though they call him ‘Isa. The only exception is that the Muslims do not see Jesus (a.s.) as the Son of God or God because they believe God is the All-Great and thus beyond any form of Creation and therefore beyond our imagination. And if God is the all great, He would not need to beget a son or put himself in the form of a man which would be lowering Himself in a way. It made sense, honestly. Of course, what I am writing now is an extremely brief summary of my findings and is a concept that many people may not grasp on first glance thus, I shall not go in to detail for now.
But coming back to my scientific findings, I realised upon looking through the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an, that they all had interesting revelations on science. It was astonishing. Imagine, texts that were written thousands of years ago, mentioning scientific facts which were only proven 200 over years ago. How is it that these people knew about them? I had always thought that these texts were written by people. But our modern studies have already proven that scientists like Newton and Einstein and many more only proved these theories around two centuries ago. And even these scientists themselves have said that there must be something greater behind it for no man could have known this back then. Then I began to look at the ideology behind these scriptures; all three faiths actually believe that the texts they have are the ‘literal word of God.’ That would mean that God Revealed to one or few people these exact words which they then recorded down. To imagine that would of course be hard and most people would ridicule it. But think about it: if no man could have known this back then, who could have known these scientific facts? Would it not make sense that if God Created everything that He would Know these facts? And if that is true, would it not make sense that He could have Revealed it to mankind for them to progress and develop? I think I was definitely on to something there.
However, as time went by I began to realise some fallacies among the Jewish and Christian texts. First of all, the original revelations of the Torah to Moses cannot be proven to exist anymore in Hebrew. Also, the original language of revelation to Jesus of the Bible is proven to have been in Aramaic - a language which is no longer used. The Bible is also have said to have been translated in to different languages a number of times and thus, theologians and scientists both have gone as far as to say that its true word has been lost in translation and time. I have read some authentic books which demonstrate that the words of the Torah and the Bible are no longer traceable and authentic. Even members of the two faiths themselves admit that.
However, what surprised me was that of all the texts that exist in our world today, the only original Revelation that exists until this day and has not been changed is in fact, the Qur'an - the book of the Muslims. Now, the Qur'anic revelation is proven to be over 1,400 years old. But it still exists in its original language of Arabic and text. This has been proven as the oldest existing copies of the Qur'an are kept in two museums - one in Turkey and one in Uzbekistan. Modern science has already proven that these two are the oldest and the words are exactly the same from the date of its compilation, not long after revelation, all the way up to the copy of the Qur'an that we find in book stores today. And what is most intriguing to note is that Muslims are so careful to preserve the Arabic text of it, even among the English or German translation so as not to lose the original meaning.
Upon further study, I found some basic facts on Islam. Muslims believe that after Jesus (a.s.), a last and final prophet was to emerge by the name of Muhammad (s.a.w.). This has apparently been revealed in the Torah of the Jews as well as the Bible. Of course, Jews and Christians debate over the fact that it is Muhammad (s.a.w.). If you look at the translated versions of the Bible and Torah you may note that a ‘Praised One’ is to come. After some time, I realised that in Arabic ‘Praised One’ means ‘Ahmad.’ And guess what? ‘Muhammad’ means in English: ‘the Most Praised One.’ Some interesting fact there. Muslims also believe that the Qur'an was Revealed to Muhammad (s.a.w.) either directly from God to him or through the angel Gabriel (a.s.) from God to Muhammad (s.a.w.). Now, what is amazing to me is that Muhammad (s.a.w.) could neither read nor write but he recited these Revelations that until this day are the most exquisite and highest level of Arabic literature that exists. So, there is hardly a way he could have come up with these verses on his own since he never went to school.
Coming back to my earlier topic and research on science and mathematics, I wish to relate the facts that I found in the Qur'an. Some of the amazing facts mentioned n the Qur'an really blew me away. And apparently they amaze some scientists even until this day. For example, the ratio of land to water on planet earth is mentioned in the Qur'an accurately. In description, the Qur'an uses the word ‘ocean’ 32 times and the world ‘land’ 13 times. That gives a ration of 71.11 to 28.88, the exact figure for the distribution of water and land over the earth. The formation of the embryo in the womb is Mentioned in the Qur’an exactly according to duration and formation of the embryo, from the moment the sperm meets the egg to the day the soul is ‘placed’ in to the body and the baby is born. The Qur’an also Mentions that the earth is surrounded by a ‘protective canopy that shields us,’ the ozone layer. Rain falls from the sky, collects underground and comes out as springs - the water cycle. The mountains have roots like tent pegs to stabilise the Earth lest the surface will move and shake us too much, plate tectonics. The Qur’an Mentions that the earth is almost egg-like in shape and not a perfect sphere.
These are just a few of the many other scientific facts present in the Qur'an, all of which are unknown in Muhammad's time. As mentioned before, most of these discoveries were only made about 200 years ago. As Dr. Maurice Bucaille, a French scientist who undertook to study this aspect of the Qur'an wrote in his book ‘The Bible, The Qur’an & Modern Science’, ‘The relationship between the Qur'an and science is a surprise, especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord.’ Dr. Bucaille has also written a book that actually disproves Darwin’s theory of evolution and it is an amazing read. Do let me know if you would be interested in reading some of the books as I have them.
So, there you have it, some of the things I have been occupying myself with over the past years. Now, coming to the main point of my letter, after all this soul searching and undertaking this long journey, I have learnt not just a lot about what is around me but I have also learnt a lot about myself as a person. My perception of religion has indeed changed and I have realised that all religions only promote good. There is absolutely no traditional religion that promotes evil. And if people do not believe that, I challenge anyone to start reading up on religion and proving me wrong by finding any aspect of deliberate evil in any religious text.
As mentioned in my previous letter to you, I have also realised how politics and the media have brainwashed our society to thinking that Islam is evil and a religion of terrorists and Arabs. People would be surprised to find that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the Western world. A lot of it is due to the high number of people converting to Islam. These are things people would only know if they decided to do just a bit of basic research. However, most people choose to remain in the pool of ignorance. At the end of the day, God Gave us free will and we are free to exercise it as we please. However, the consequences of all that we will have to bear after we leave this world.
Religion and in particular, Islam, has opened my eyes on a lot of things, not just science and the physical world, but it has also wonderful teachings on love and peace in the world. Part of the Islamic faith is to believe in the ‘Sunnah’ which is the way of the Prophet Muhammad. It is a proven fact that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is the most well-documented religious figure in world history. The records and collected writings on him are astoundingly detailed, from simple things like how he used to eat, to how he used to treat strangers, family members, how he handled war fare and so on. He is known to have been the most prolific example of a human being that ever existed in terms of piety, good nature, fairness and all other good qualities that one can imagine. Again, if there be any doubt, libraries around the world will prove it to anyone that this is no fabrication.
An example of his good nature was often demonstrated in warfare, when the Muslims were required to protect their community in the early days and when they were under siege by the unbelievers. Muhammad (s.a.w.) stated very clearly that the Muslims were only to fight those who oppose them and the Muslims were not allowed to harm anyone who was not involved in the conflict. The Muslims were also not allowed to harm women, children, the elderly and not even destroy plants or the property of others! All in all, the Islamic way of life has really improved my personal life in every aspect because it provides a guide to all aspects of life. Thus, I have inculcated that guide in to my life to great effect.
I decided to convert to Islam on March 16th, 2007. In the beginning, I only shared it with three of my closest friends as I was worried about how the family would react. So, I lived my life as a Muslim in secret. All in all, it went all right and no one noticed. I decided to take my time and seek more knowledge on other things and not just Islam. But at the same time, I was also accumulating more Islamic knowledge. After more than a year, I felt very comfortable with myself and the Islamic way of life had improved every aspect of my life tremendously. Family life, social life, education, national service. We are taught to emulate the remarkable character of Muhammad (s.a.w.) as closely as we can since he was the best example of a true gentleman and much more. My friends have noticed the positive change in me, H_____ and R___ have noticed the change and even Mama has noticed that I am more obliging and more kind towards her, and spending more time with her, taking her out to dinner and such. Islam, by the way, strongly encourages us to honour and respect our parents, regardless of how our parents treat us.
Thus, I have decided to show a sign of respect by sharing with you my conversion as it has had a very significant impact in my life. I only shared it with Mama two weeks ago. She was not thrilled by it and is finding it difficult to accept. But she has let me be and I believe she will get used to it in due time. At the end of the day, nothing has changed. I will always remain her son and your son. My name remains the same and will not change even though most people have the wrong perception that one has to change their identity upon conversion. That is false information. The only thing that has changed is my religion and my outlook on life, as well as my character. And I believe it has changed for the better. Thus, I see no reason how it would affect anyone else in a negative manner. My friends have been very accepting and kind and life goes on as per normal. H_____ and R_____ are okay with it. The only request Mama has made for now is not to share it with the aunties and cousins for her personal reasons. I will respect that choice of hers.
I can understand if your initial reaction is one of shock and perhaps even anger. I believe you have shared with me your personal thoughts on Islam and Muslims. However, I also believe that there is a lot more the both of us can learn about Islam. I am not asking you to convert. That is no right of mine to decide. But one of our duties as a Muslim is to share what our faith is about with other people. I am hereby inviting you to learn about Islam, if you would like to, and you are most welcome to ask questions. Should you like to know more I would be more than happy to recommend a few books for you to read. The choice is entirely yours to make. Just as is Mentioned in the Qur’an. ‘There is no compulsion in religion’, there is no compulsion for you to accept the information that I have shared with you, nor am I forcing you to find out more about it. It is merely a sincere extension of the hand of a son to his father so, that his father may learn more about his son's decision and his faith. I believe I have just shared years of personal experience with you so, it may be a bit hard to take in one letter.
Before I end it though, I wish to share with you a statement by the most well-known Austrian convert to Islam to date, Leopold Weiss also known as Muhammad Asad: ‘Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other; nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking; and the result is a structure of absolute balance and solid composure.’ I look forward to receiving a letter from you and hearing your views.
May Peace and Blessings be upon you,