TRANSFORMATIONS

Compiled By: Hajj Mustafa Ali

How I Became a Muslim – By Abdur-Rahman Bundgard

From time to time I have deeply reflected upon how I came to embrace Islam.  Not because I consider my person or my story to be something special, but rather due to the fact that few Europeans have embraced Islam, it warrants this story being told and shared with others who might benefit from my experience.  It is my intention to put forward the events leading up to and just after my becoming Muslim, and to focus some on the reasons why there has not been a more wide spread acceptance of Islam by westerners in general.  Finally and ultimately the reasons are with Allah in His all encompassing wisdom.  For even now as I reflect on how I came to this most glorious of paths, I find myself not in a position to give the final answer.

I embraced Islam during my stay in Kenya in the year 1975.  People at that time also asked me the same question, alas they did not get the same reply as I am about to give today.  This path is one of revolution, dynamic and in constant fluctuating change.  It is a path that evolves as you evolve, so that I am constantly uncovering and discovering new points of significance each time I consider this deep question.  For the purposes of this story I will begin with the one experience that moved my heart more than anything else at the beginning of the journey.  In Kenya I became so deeply moved by the good behavior of the Muslims I met.  Their courtesy amongst themselves and towards me touched me like nothing else had done before.  There was a code of behavior that made it possible for there to be harmony amongst family, friends and society in general.  Everyone and everything had its place in the whole.  It impressed upon me and acted as a reminder of the perfect balance that is the universe and here in a microcosmic way it reflected the harmony and meaning of the entire cosmos.

I went to Kenya as a member of the Danish peace corps, which is linked to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In the beginning of my stay in Kenya I worked in the western part nearby a town called Kisumu at Lake Vistoria.  Then in 1973 I was transferred to Isiolo which is located in the frontier area.  This area was mainly primitive, small villages and tribes living as they have for centuries, with spears arrows, body paint made of clay and a simple loin cloth covering their private parts if any at all.  It was also from here going north that the majority of Muslims lived.  In Kenya Muslims make up about 15-20 % of the total population.  There are areas that are almost exclusively Muslim, they are along the coast, Mombassa, Malindi and in the north eastern areas.

When I arrived in Isiolo in 1973 I saw a population of Muslims that had experienced a great deal of suffering, mainly due to the civil war in the years just before independence 1964-67.  Most Muslims belonged to two tribes called Boranas and Somalis.  The civil war was brutal, government forces pushed through the villages confiscating lands and property whenever there was the least suspicion of collaboration with rebel troops and often with no reason at all other than for personal gain, steeling property and the open abuse of innocent people.  The people I had met were still suffering from the results of this most devastating war.

My work was to take care of the orphan population and destitute children who out of necessity succumbed to roaming the streets like scavengers, scrounging for food and shelter.  An orphan house was constructed and we began a poultry farm project to support and feed ourselves.  An extensive agriculture scheme for the destitute nomads was also established, these noble nomadic tribes had lost all their animals and the entire way of life crushed by the end of the war.  They were now digging ditches and learning to grow their own food.  I was here amongst these seemingly devastated people that my heart became moved so deeply.  In all their trouble and outward disaster not once did I ever hear them complain about their situation.  They remained patient with everything that was happening around them.  They still laughed and had plenty of time to play with their children and pour out kindness and welcoming, wearing what little ever they had with those around them.  I began to see that there was inner reality that was like water in a clay vase sipped out into everything.  Soon I found my role reversed, rather than I being there to teach, it was I who was the student.  The more time I spent with these people, the more in-depth I realized my ignorance was.  I soon was invited to their homes always being treated with respect and generosity, what little they had they shared with me.  These Muslims were untied in that their actions and their words were one in the same.  Their reality was Islam.  Their actions spoke louder to my heart and mind than any thing else I had ever encountered before.

Suddenly it dawned on me that I am a prisoner of my conditioning and that meeting these people showed me and opened up a way for me to consider that I had another option.  That there was another way to live, and that way was opened up for me at this point and for anyone who could see it.  I could not deny what was so clearly and profoundly in front of me.  I had no choice.  If I am to call myself anything then let it be a Muslim.  From the little acts of daily life, those small kindnesses, and generous behavior I saw the one hand behind the many.  It was like everything had come into focus for the first time in my life.  I often wondered how was it that I had never seen it before or how I had even existed as anything else other that one submits to the One and only reality.

I returned to Denmark in 1978 a changed man.

Upon returning to Denmark I began to mix with other Muslims residing in Denmark.  Most of them came to the west seeking a better standard of living.  Mostly a mix of immigrant workers, doctors and other professionals and businessmen.  It always struck me deeply that whenever anyone of them would be introduced to me, inevitably the first question they would ask me is, why I became a Muslim?  Setting curiosity aside and those rare cases there were those asked sincerely, out of Iman.  I found that most asked because of their own lack of knowledge and practice.  As though they were looking towards me to provide an answer to why they are Muslims.  So often whenever asked this question, I would turn it around and ask them: Have they ever pondered the reasons that they are Muslim?  Have they reflected on their own reason for being?  Where did they come from?  Where are they going?  What are they doing in the west?  What will happen to their children without the encouraging Islamic environment needed to raise Muslim children?

With non-Muslims it was the same.  They would always with arrogant forcefulness put the question to me.  Why did you become a Muslim?  I would ask them how is it that you have followed an empty way of life that has led themselves and society around them to the lowest in man?  Glorifying material life!  Only to wind down six feet under!  Did they ever ponder that there might be a real way to live, in harmony with what God wants for them, to achieve the highest place in the universe?

These encounters with people would always bring about in me a deep sense of gratitude.  Having come from a western society, bereft of any dynamic spiritual movement, that Allah in His Mercy would have seen fit in His wisdom to gift me this glorious path to knowledge of the all-Mighty.  I could not find the events or situations to justify reasonably how is it that I was somehow different.  I grew up the same as others and eat and lived in similar conditions.  I can only lower my head knowing that it was only by grace and generosity that I came to this path.

This having been said, I can now reflect on my past and see that the hand of guidance was always with me and that it is without a doubt with everyone, anyone with an awakened heart, to see His hand over everything and everyone.

I was a young man during the sixties.  It was a time when the wheels of so-called progress were turning at high speed.  Material standards of living were being improved on all levels of society.  At the same time there was a movement amongst the youth of the world that began to question the very foundations of the western society.  Ideas, such as self-discovery and enlightenment circulated through the movement.  Young people everywhere in the west began experimenting with different modes of living.  Whether they went to the land or to the cities, there emphasis was on the spiritual and a turning away from traditional western materialism.  For a while it seemed like the whole world was going through a change and for some it was thought to be the heralding of a new golden age of peace and love for all.  But with all things good in their intention it was not strong enough or wise enough to protect itself from those who would misdirect it for their own personal power and gain.  Soon this movement became co-opted.  The vision went from universal peace to world peace to peace in oneself.  Here it became subjective and individual with redefining the movement's goal to material remedies.  Hence by the late seventies the pendulum swung to the other direction.  All the high ideals became drowned in a conditioning of desecration, with its only way out the all-mighty buck.  So hippies became Yuppies and innocents became corrupted.

In reflection many years later I realized it had to end this way.  For it was in truth only a semi-local phenomenon.  While we had the luxury of time and material well being to sit and discuss “alternative life styles”  the people of the so-called “third world”  were becoming poorer and poorer.  That for the most part these peoples who make up the majority of humanity on this planet, had not in the least had been effected by what we called the “heralding of the golden age”.  Life had not changed for these peoples for some in thousands of years.

This is what really began to wake me up.  The contradictions and polarity of east and west, north and south.  I soon became aware of how narrow the vision and perspectives are in the west, and how little we really know of the rest of the world.  The real story has not been told!  It has been purposefully hidden!  I had to find out.  The more I looked the more lies I saw.  The more lies I saw the more convinced that there had to be the truth.  This was the hand of guidance.  Opening my heart to the question: Who am I?

This led me to study eastern philosophy, politics and culture together with religion.  As I soon found out in most case these two were inseparable.  I realized after my studying that it was not satisfying just to read about them, like reading a menu.  I wanted to have the meal, so I set out to experiment with them.  I wanted to go out and try them on.  This led me to Africa and back to the beginning of this story, my embracing of Islam.

Today in Denmark there are at least 30,000 Muslims, 500 plus are native Danes.  I have been dealing with Islamic affairs and the improvement of conditions for the Muslim community in Denmark.  I have been working as the secretary of the Islamic Cultural Center, which is the largest Islamic organization in Denmark.  We have established a primary school for Muslims which has been approved by the Danish authorities and receives subsidies of 85% plus.  I also work together with an Islamic radio program called “Radio Al-Fatiha”.  It delivers programs in Turkish, Arabic, Urdu and English.  These efforts are not only supported by local government, but by the entire Muslim community.

A strong dialogue has been set up between the Muslims and the local Dane community.

A Muslim must be a vehicle of light into the world.  This means that by correct behavior, service to others in need, that he purifies himself and the world around him.  This inner purity and clarity comes with struggling with oneself.  We have all been brought up with a set pattern of conditioning.  Once the path of Islam comes into your life it begins to discriminate between what is useful knowledge and what is a burden upon us.  Weighing us down and occupying our attentions with illusory images and ideas.

This wanting of purification has brought me to the blessed company of great teachers, scholars and men of inner awakening and knowledge.  These men and women are scattered throughout the world, rare as they are but their serving anyone who is sincere of wanting to know.

The last few years in the company of these people have brought me to places like Pakistan.  To the illuminating company of such person as Sufi Barakat Ali and Said Shaykh Ikram Hussain.  Men who wear themselves out in the service of others.  Also to the most unlikely place, America to San Antonio Texas where I attended the Sufi Gathering of 1982 and heard the illuminating instructions of Shaykh Fadlalla Al-Haeri.

The experience of self-knowledge or discovering an inner reality, tasting fragments of the boundless mercy of the Knower Himself, gave the undersigned the needed clue and motivation to go on.  I discovered that all things in this creation are like sign posts guiding one down the road of real fulfillment.  Guiding one to the garden of hereafter.

This way this transaction which in Arabic is called the “Din”, means simply to live in accordance with the laws recognizable in nature and viewed through reflection as the attributes and living names of the highest personality-Allah may His name be forever exalted.  This way Islam which means submission, submission and peace, when adhered to, brings to the seeker balance.  He realizes his or her place in the entire scheme of the universe and takes his place as befitting Allah highest creation.  This one message has been coming to humanity from the beginning of time.  Completed in the final revelation and walking example, the Qur’an and the Messenger of God, Muhammad (S.A.W.A.W.S. – May Allah be pleased with him).

May Allah guide you in your sincerity to His most beautiful path and root your steps upon the road to His garden.