TRANSFORMATIONS

Compiled By: Hajj Mustafa Ali

By the Hand

Why did I become a Muslim?  I answer that 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 shahadah almost 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 Judgment, which I fear.  The answer for every Muslim and Muslimah lies somewhere in the unique path that Allah has chosen for each one.

UMMATIC PURPOSE

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 ummah 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 others and I 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 ageing of our bodies, but only a few philosophers of history can detect the on-going and inevitable rise and fall of entire civilizations.  And this all has Divine purpose.

The geo-politicians are struck by a historically rapid shift in the global balance of power and influence.  In the forty years since World War 2, the USA’s share of gross world product has fallen from 52 to only 22 per cent, now below that of Western Europe.  And Japan has overtaken the Soviet Union.

For people who worship the gods of power, prestige, and pleasure, this is a big deal.  This reshuffling of the deck could even threaten the ultimate idol of a secular world, namely, the “stability of world order.”

Those who have absorbed the Qur’anic view of history see this reshuffling of relative material wealth as merely a superficial movement within the global Euro-American civilization.  The natural comment is “so what!”  If power is its aim, we are entitled to ask, how powerful is this civilization anyway?  Its two most powerful leaders have differing goals, but they share the single overarching purpose of controlling the world.  How are they doing?

Why we might ask did the most powerful nation on earth shrink from imposing a military “solution” to the “instability” that grew out of its own total lack of practical concern for economic justice in Central America?  Why did the second most powerful country on earth retreat before some tribesmen in Afghanistan on its very borders?  And why did both superpowers quail before the revolutionaries in Iran, who fought successfully alone for eight years to thwart the two global giants?

Schooled in the Qur’anic paradigm of history, developed in some detail by Ibn Khaldun six centuries ago, we Muslims watch for the eternally valid signs of civilizational change.  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 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 ummah.  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 world politics are falling into internal decay, another force is rising, and 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 is 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.

Somewhere in this great global movement, every one of us whom 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 ummah and to the ummah that is humankind.  By submitting our lives to Allah we can find out what Allah has created us to be and do, but we can know this only imperfectly and to the extent that He wishes, for He guides us in ways unknown.

BY THE HAND

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.

All my life Allah has led me to explore the unknown and has always protected me from harm.  The first time I ran away from home was at the age of 18 months, when my mother found me two blocks from home at the lip of a hill in the middle of the road about to be run over by a car.  I was an inveterate hitchhiker.  By the time I was fifteen, I had visited every state in the nation.  I filled in this missing state at the age of 17 when I was working my way on a merchant ship to China on the way to hitchhike across Mongolia.  When the ship docked for oil, I missed its departure, which probable saved my life.

One of my friends once quipped that if he had a dollar for every jail I have been in, he would be a rich man.  My first such experience occurred at the age of fifteen, when I hitchhiked to see for myself the misery of the Indians whose villages had been destroyed by a volcano in Mexico.  I reached the volcano but had no money to get back and after several days without food was picked up as a suspicious character by the police.  This gave me the opportunity to perfect m Spanish by learning first-hand why people end up in prison in Mexico.

My next imprisonment as at the age of 19 in East Germany, where I had gone to contact members of the underground in order to write a manual on how to overthrow a totalitarian state from within.  Having been raised on the history of my Native-American Cherokee ancestors, who fought a losing battle against their subjugation by the world’s most savage colonial power, I was always interested in the nature of evil and how to combat it.  The incarnation of evil I thought was modern Communism.

After an incredible odyssey evading the Communist police while crossing into East Germany near the Czechoslovak border, while others were brutally shot under my very eyes, I finally was caught by a routine identity check and thrown into the local prison in Plauen.  My cellmate I could tell had become an agent of the police, as had no doubt almost all the others, simply in order to stay alive.  We had a choice of solitary confinement on half rations or slave labor on full rations.  But it was not much of a choice because one would starve either way.  I believed my cellmate when he said that no one had been told why he was arrested to begin with and no one had been told how long he was to stay.

On principle I refused to work for Communist barbarians.  Since, as a linguist, I was fluent in both German and Russian, my cellmate and later the interrogators were convinced that I was a Russian escapee from the Gulag.  Later, when I was paraded before the populace on the way from one prison to another, the curiosity of the onlookers suggested that the rumor about the Russian escapee had spread beyond the prison walls.

By feigning stupidity bordering on insanity, I convinced them that they would gain nothing by returning me to the Soviet prisons and that neither they nor anyone else could ever force me to betray my parents, whom I invented as a reason for my visit behind the Iron Curtain.

Finally, I was suddenly released, apparently so the police could follow me.  When I boarded a train going toward the West, instead of to my non-existent parents in Leipzig, the train was held up for half an hour, as I later learned, so that the Chief of Police and the Chief Interrogator could board it.  At that time, all the tracks connecting East and West Germany along this part of the frontier had been torn up, so the only access was by foot over a nearly impenetrable zone several miles deep.  I took the train to the last station, from which I thought I knew the way across.  I had hardly left the train when the two senior police officials appeared on either side of me.  But, to my amazement, I simply walked away and no one followed.

Only when I reached a woods a mile away, was an alarm sounded.  The church-bells of a border village, populated, I was later told, by agents of the police, summoned all the men from the fields to find me.  There was no way to escape so I merely sat in the small woods until dusk.  Soon motorcycles pulled up at the edge of the woods and teams of police dogs started following my trail.  But again I seemed simply to have disappeared.  When the dogs came to within 20 feet of me, they whined loudly and refused to go any further.

After an hour the coast was clear for me to make my way toward the border, or so I thought.  But when I emerged from the woods, suddenly sirens sounded all along the border for miles.  Somehow I avoided my pursuers by running for several hours, but finally I gave up and simply followed the railroad bed toward the west.  After a few minutes a border guard appeared next to the tracks and pointed an automatic weapon at me.  I made no effort to run, but when he was only ten feet away and looking right at me in the bright moonlight, I realized that again I had become invisible.  So I simply stepped aside and with a puzzled expression he passed by.

The next few hours I can remember only in disjointed flashes.  I remember falling through the ice in a swamp and feeling the water freezing to ice all over me.   I also know that I climbed over the main barbed-wire fence at the frontier, but also that I climbed over another one equally high.  In retrospect, what must have happened is that I made it out of East Germany into the West but then somehow crossed back again.

The next I remember is finding a village, going to the biggest house, and ringing the doorbell, thinking that I had finally escaped.  I must then have collapsed, because my next memory is of approaching sunrise and the shock of ringing the doorbell and simultaneously reading the sign on the door above me, in Russian:  “Headquarters of the Border Police.”

I decided there was no point in running anymore, so I simply waited for the border patrol to open the door.  When he was sound asleep and now with daylight I could find my way back across the frontier without the danger of being discovered.  Right outside of town I met a man who said he was fleeing to the West and would show me the way.  Naively I followed, right into a police trap.

This time I was imprisoned in the basement of a farmhouse together with about thirty other escapees.  Then commenced another of the apparent disappearing acts to which I should have already become accustomed.  All of the inmates in our farmhouse prison, except me were called out by name and led away.  Twice during the day the room was filled with newly captured people and twice again all were called out except me.  When I asked the guard what was going on, he did not hear me.

Finally, when a third group had been assembled during the ensuing night and again led out, I decided to walk out with them.  No one seemed to notice me, so I just kept on walking right on into West Germany.

At the time of these events and afterwards too, I simply dismissed them as a mystery.  I had no answers to what had happened so I simply did not think about it.  But what I had seen and heard about the injustices in a modern totalitarian state convinced me that I should go back and fight it in any way I could.

During the previous three years I had been seriously thinking about studying for the priesthood and joining the Jesuits, who were known as the “shock troops” of the Catholic Church.  I decided now to join the Franciscans instead, because they had been given the mission by the Pope to convert Russia back to Christianity.

But then I experienced the only really important event in my life, which made it impossible ever again to think of becoming a Christian priest.  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 hundreds of 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.  I still am convinced of this.

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 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 knew the truth because of direct experience.  Whenever I asked Catholic theologians to explain how one can pray to God without praying to one of the trinity instead, the answer was always, “Don’t think about it.”

For years, I 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 hurries, you know), and that in order to enter heaven every Muslim must 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'.