Non-Muslims, Read This!
By: Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen
Did you ever ask yourself the question: "Why am I not a Muslim?" Probably not. But please consider it for a few moments.
Many will say that they are not Muslims because they were not raised that way. They were raised as Jews, or Baptists, or as Hindus, or as Buddhists, or, like me, as Roman Catholics, or even without any structured religion.
But is this a good reason for maintaining a religion?
Should one hold on to a way of life for no other reason than that it is the way in which one was raised? Certainly, it will be agreed that if one were brought up in a family whose way of life were organized crime, it would be better if one broke with the ways of the past, no matter how much disappointment it might cause a father who had visions of his son becoming a major racketeer. Even many people within the world of organized crime would admit this much. I do not mean to suggest that adherence to a faith other than lslam is in any way comparable to membership in a clan of thugs.
The point is merely that when one considers why one is not a Muslim, it is not enough to note that one was raised that way. We must assure ourselves that the way in which we were raised is not merely good, but confronted with other ways, we must convince ourselves that our own way is at least no worse than the alternatives.
It is written in the Holy Qur'an:
"And when it is said to them, Follow what Allah has revealed, they say: 'No, we follow that wherein we found our fathers.' What! Even though their fathers had no sense at all, nor did they follow the right way." (2:170).
Here a philosophical problem presents itself. Many contemporary Western thinker's have noticed that our values, our ideas of good and bad, right and just, reasonable and unwarranted, all make sense only within the context of a tradition, a way of life, or an ideology. How, then, could a communist consider Islam objectively? He has not alternative, it is argued, but to judge islarn on the basis of communist values, and on this basis, communism will naturally seem superior.
So, these philosophers contend, we are each locked within our own traditions; the possibility of some transcendent objectivity is a myth. Often such thinkers compare value judgments with regard to morality and rationality to aesthetic judgments. It makes no sense to claim that French Impressionist painting is better or worse than the painting of China during the Tang dynasty.
Likewise, it is held, it makes no sense to claim that Islam is superior to Hinduism. Just for the sake of argument, let us grant the point of this analogy. Even if it were correct that there can be no objective comparison of entire traditions, there is a more personal question which cannot be so easily avoided.
If I am a painter who is exposed to both Tang and Impressionist painting, I might find that my own personal talents are better suited to one tradition rather than the other. Through study I might find that my own self appreciation of my work demands the intensive study of one rather than the otherof these traditions. In addition, to the standards within the traditions by means of which the works of those traditions are judged, the individual may come to appreciate the potential of a tradition to benefit his or her own talent. In the case of art, this imaginative projection concerns itself largely with matters of personal taste.
The choice of ideology is in important ways different from aesthetic choices. Religion and ideology demand that the attempt be made to transcend personal taste. But like the aesthetic choice among artistic traditions, the choice of spiritual paths involves one in an imaginative projection. As alternative paths are studied, one imagines oneself on those paths and wonders at how one might benefit. Of course, the values in terms of which benefits are weighed will have something to do with the background one brings to thejudgement. But these values are not cast in stone. Most importantly, gradual change is made possible through love.
Through love, or sympathetic understanding, one can come to an appreciation of other values. The plasticity of generalization allows other values to be seen as mere variants of one's own.
If one is to be honest with oneself as one considers the question of religious choice, one must make some attempt to open one's heart to that which is alien. Those who are not even willing to make the initial effort necessary to open their hearts to the serious appraisal of Islam are referred to in the Qur'an as kafirun, literally, those who cover themselves or hide.
The Qur'an, which is accepted by Muslims as the Word of God, is not addressed exclusively to believers. The Qur'an makes a universal appeal. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was not sent merely to save the Arabs; the Qur'an itself testifies to the Prophet:
"And We have not sent you but as a bearer of good news and as a warner to all mankind,but most men do not know." (34:28)
The kafirun themselves are addressed in the Qur'an. They are warned of the torments of hell. They are warned that their lives will he in vain:
"The parable of those who disbelieve their Lord: Their works are as ashes on which the wind blows hard on a stormy day. They have no power over aught they have earned. That is straying far away." (14:18)
"And those who disbelieve, their deeds are as a mirage in a desert, which the thirsty man deems to be water, until when he comes to it, he finds it naught, and he finds Allah with him, so He pays him his due.
And Allah is swift at reckoning."
"Or like darkness in the deep sea, there covers him a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud, (layers of) darkness one above another, when he holds out his hand, he is almost unable to see it. And to whom Allah gives not light, he has no light." (24:39-40)
There is much to ponder here. Why is it that the kafir, the one who refuses to open his heart to that which is unfamiliar, to the message of Islam, is in the dark? Not only does the kafir block the light of the revelation, but by closing his heart he becomes unable even to see his own hand.
Even true recognition of one's self becomes impossible. Without love, without the openness that admits of conversion as a real possibility. Without openness to Islam, one closes the way to self-discovery. True self-discovery is not possible unless one is willing to risk giving up the labels in terms of which one has thought of oneself.
Without self-discovery, one's deeds, one's life, is misunderstood. I cannot understand the significance of what I do it I do not understand who I am. So the deeds of the kafir are as a mirage. Without understanding the significance of what I do, my actions become vain, as ashes on a stormy wind.
There are other reasons than simple closed-mindedness which one may have for refusing to heed the call to Islam.
One may protest that one does not understand islamic doctrine. But the doctrine of Islam is quite simple: "There is no divinity but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God." The first part of this testimony is a concise affirmation of monotheism. To investigate the second part, there are many translations of the Qur'an, with commentaries, which may be studied, and the Life of Muhammad by Martin Lings may be recommended.
There is more to being a Muslim than the affirmation of doctrine by which one becomes a Muslim. Becoming a Muslim means becoming a member of the Ummah, the worldwide Muslim community. If one looks at the Muslim world, one may be repelled by the poverty and ignorance in which so many Muslims live. Apropos of this sentiment, it is worth pondering the reaction of the tribal leaders to the mission of the Prophet Noah (a.s.):
"But the Chiefs of the Unbelievers among his people said: 'We see you as nothing but a man like ourselves, nor do we see that any follow you but the meanest among us, injudgment immature, nor do we see in you any merit above us; in fact we think you are a liar.'" (11:27) To this Noah replied: "And 0 my people! I ask you for no wealth in return; my reward is from none but God;
but I will not drive away those who believe, for they are to meet their Lord, and you I see are the ignorant ones."
"And 0 my people! Who would help me against God if I drove them away?
Will you not then take heed?" (11:29-30)
Muslims have mosques and Islamic centers throughout the world. You are welcome to visit them. Ask the Muslims about Islam. Question us about our faith. God willing, you will be received with courtesy. We hope that any faults you find with us will not be interpreted as indication of any deficiency in Islam, but only as our own failings to abide by the guidance brought for all men by the Messenger of God, Muhammad (s.a.w.).
The material advantages which have increased so rapidly since the decline of religion in the West are occasionally seen as reason to disregard Islam. God warns in the Qur'an (Surah al-Fajr) that many other peoples have had corrupt cities and have been proud of their tall buildings. The Lord has chastised them. Their cities are in ruins. Do we think we will last forever?
The excessive love of wealth is a distraction from such considerations.Of all the vices which prevent the call of the prophets from being heeded, one to which allusion is frequently made in the Qur'an is pride.
The kafirun are described as disdainful, insolent, haughty, arrogant and proud. Can we be confident that pride in the wealth we prize and the medical and other scientific advances whose fruits we enjoy has not hardened our hearts against the timeless message brought by the Prophet of Islam? "Wealth and children are the adornment of life ofthis world; but the ever abiding , good works, are best in view of your lord in reward, and are best as hopes." (18:46)