Saturday, December 25, 2010

Islamic perspective on conversion

Islamic perspective on conversion
Hameed Abdul Karim.
The Blessed Prophet Muhammad was the last Messenger of God Almighty, or religious founder according to those of other faiths, making his advent about 625 years after Jesus Christ the Messiah. It is a historical fact that Islam has spread rapidly ever since Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation. Large parts of Africa, and nations like Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Persia fell under the sway of Islam no sooner they came in contact with the simple and irresistible tenets of the faith, with “God is One” and “Muhammad is the Messenger of that God” as its rallying cry.

The spread of Islam was not to remain confined to the region and the faith was destined to make vast strides reaching the shores of far away China in no time. The myth that the sword spread Islam stands shattered when we observe that Indonesia, a nation of many religious persuasions at one point of time, is today the largest Muslim country in the world. Malaysia, Pakistan (then India), Philippines, Maldives and Bangladesh also bear ample testimony that Islam was not spread by violent means in the region because there is no record of Arab military conquests of these nations. On the contrary nations that were not Muslim had colonised these Muslim lands along with many other nations in the world that were not Muslim, spreading their faith by means that don’t seem fair in the present day context.

Talking of military conquests Islam, at a time when it was politically weak, achieved its most brilliant spiritual conquest when the Seljuk Turks embraced Islam in the eleventh century thus becoming the first nation to adopt the faith of the people it conquered. History was to repeat itself in the thirteenth century when the marauding Mongols became Muslims after they conquered Iraq.

During the first Crusade too there was a section of soldiers comprising Germans and Lombards under the command of a certain knight named Rainaud who went over to the Seljuk Turks and embraced Islam. There is also a stirring story of Ananda; a grandson of Qubllay Khan, and himself a viceroy of a region in the Mongol empire embracing Islam at a time when the Mongols were battling against the rising tide of the faith. To use a sporting parlance these conversions went against the run of play.

But the word ‘conversion’ is itself anathema to Muslims because nobody ‘converts’ to the faith but rather ‘reverts’ to it. According to the Holy Qur’an everybody is born with the ‘Deen al Fitrah’ (Holy Qur’an 30 30) which means the original faith’ which in its essence means that ‘God is One’. Elaborating on this Aya (verse) the Blessed Prophet Muhammad said that all children are born Muslim and it is their parents who direct them to other faiths.

But a Muslim is not necessarily perturbed about people following other faiths because God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an that if He had so willed He could ‘certainly have brought every soul its true guidance’ (Qur’an 32:13) and the fact that He hasn’t is His business. But that does not in any way mean that a Muslim is not required to speak about Islam to non-Muslims. Indeed that is a duty, a sacred one at that, imposed on every Muslim, male and female, by God Almighty. In His book the Holy Qur’an He urges Muslims to “Invite (all) 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 receive guidance” (Qur’an 16:125).

The operative word in this verse is ‘invite’ (Da’wah) and not ‘force’ with the emphasis on preaching and wisdom. No Muslim ‘converts’ a non-Muslim to Islam. It is only God Almighty who does that with His Mercy and Guidance. The duty of the Muslim is only confined to the invitation and exhortation, leaving the rest to God Almighty.

Instead of forcing non-Muslims to Islam, which is the common perception, Allah Almighty urges Muslims ‘not to revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance’ (Qur’an 6:108). In this verse Allah not only teaches Muslims to be of good nature but also shows compassion to those who are not of the faith by preventing them from reviling Him in their ignorance’ And why shouldn’t He be compassionate towards non-Muslims? After all He is the One who has created them and all of mankind ‘from a single pair of male and female and made you in nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise one another). Surely the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous amongst you” (Holy Qur’an 49: 13).

To guide His creatures Allah sent 124 thousand Messengers to all people speaking to them in their mother tongue. Evidence of this could be found in the Veddah community of our country. Up until today, to the best of my knowledge, they have not made an image or an idol for purposes of worship. The same could be said of the Aborigines of Australia. This clearly indicates that they have received a Messenger and his message has passed down the line to the present day generations.

The Islamic belief is that the Prophet Muhammad was sent as the last and final Messenger of God for the whole of mankind with a mission to complete God’s message. The fact that he made his advent in the world in the full glare of history is clearly borne out by the historians who have recorded events of his life and message in minute details His life on earth is not covered in misty myths or hazy legends. Islam is the only religion that does not take its name from a person or place. The word Islam literally means ‘Peace and its spiritual connotation is ‘submission to the Will of God. The Qur’an constantly reminds us that the Prophet Muhammad was only a Messenger and not a deity to be worshipped. He was sent to the world a ‘Mercy to all creatures’ (Holy Qur’an 21:107) and so it’s quite natural that he should exhort all Muslims to ‘Spread my Message even if you know only one sentence’.

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