Part of an interview with Abdalhaqq Bewley
How did you get in touch with Islam?
There is no, one, simple answer to this question. The true and fundamental response to it, which I now know from the famous Qur'anic ayat in Surat al-A'raf (7:172), is that I came into contact with the reality of Islam before I even arrived in this world when Allah asked all the gathered spirits of the human race whether they acknowledged Him as their Lord and we all said that we did. So in one way my discovery of Islam was just Allah's mercy to me in allowing me to consciously acknowledge in this world what had happened in the world of spirits before I was born.
There is, however, also the way that this realisation unfolds within the course of a person's life and I think that it is true for almost everyone who becomes Muslim that their entry into Allah's deen is rarely the result of a flash of inspiration which comes suddenly out of the blue. It is more usually the end of a process of searching for the truth which takes place over what may be a period of years. The light of Allah's guidance to us generally filters through our layers of acquired darkness until finally the darkness is dispelled and we are able to see the truth for what it is.
In my case I think I was always dimly aware of the presence of Allah and this awareness waxed and waned, being sometimes undeniable and sometimes almost disappearing altogether. At first I tried to fit this god-consciousness into the Christian framework within which I was brought up but I did not find any real spiritual nourishment there. In my late teens I "walked on the wild side" a little, indulging considerably in wine, women and song! But even during this time Allah sent me timely reminders of His presence, sometimes in the most unlikely situations! Then I discovered that my father, who died when I was two years old, had been engaged on a spiritual search at the time of his death and I decided to take up the search myself. This ended up with my meeting my future shaykh, who himself had just become Muslim, with a mutual friend in a London street. He invited me to tea, and then to live in his house, and finally to accompany him on a trip to Morocco.
It was there in Fes that I first met Islam as such. I remember well the moment that I finally saw that Islam was the only valid spiritual path. We were standing one evening looking down onto the great madina of Fes. It was maghrib time and the adhan was rising on the voices of hundreds of muezzins from the countless minarets of the city. At that moment a shepherd passed us driving a small flock of sheep and goats. The man we were with exchanged a few words with him and when the shepherd left I asked him what they had been talking about. He said, "I asked him where he had come from and where he was going and he replied that he belonged to Allah and was returning to Him." I said to myself, "If this simple Muslim shepherd has this kind of knowledge, Islam is certainly the way for me." The following day I said the shahada and entered Islam.
What is the part of Islam, in your opinion, which attracts some Europeans to convert to Islam?
Every human being, including every European, has a heart. The human heart is the seat of belief and the organ capable of acquiring knowledge of Allah. Because of this every human being is potentially able to become a believer and when Allah wishes to guide someone, wherever in the world they come from, He fills their heart with belief in Him and this leads them to become Muslim. There are as many ways of this happening as there are people who become Muslim but it is certainly true that there are certain more spiritual aspects of Islam which directly affect the heart, particularly all the various forms of dhikrullah, and in the case of Europeans, as well as others, these aspects are frequently a significant element in their conversion to Islam.
In the case of Europeans, however, the head often takes precedence over the heart and so intellectual considerations also play a dominant role in the conversion of people from this continent to Islam. All intelligent Europeans are aware that there is a great deal wrong with the society in which they live and so another important factor in the decision to become Muslim is the fact that Islam offers cogent solutions to many of the ills which afflict the post-modern, secular, consumer world they inhabit.
Let us take a few examples. A vast proportion of the crime both violent and otherwise which has reached such epidemic proportions in our time is closely related to the consumption of alcohol and drugs. I know this to be true because I used to spend some time every week visiting prisons and in nine out of ten cases of the inmates I saw, alcohol or drugs proved to have been a large part of the reason they found themselves incarcerated. If you add to this the vast percentage of alcohol induced accidents, the growing incidence of alcoholism with its attendant social problems and the unprecedented number of people dependant on drugs of all kinds, the Qu'ranic injunction forbidding intoxicants needs no further elucidation.
The effect of usury, particularly in its most prevalent form of lending money at interest is felt by every single inhabitant of the world. In Britain alone the staggering sum of more than twenty billion pounds – that is twenty thousand million pounds – is owed by private individuals to credit companies, banks, stores, building societies and money lenders for consumer goods bought on credit and I am sure that this must increasingly be the case throughout the Balkans as well. The human cost of this is increasing distress and discord in a great number of families and for many absolute despair at not being able to make ends meet, leading to a growing number of suicides.
On the international scene, the situation is the same or even worse. In some countries the gross national product is not sufficient to pay even the interest on the money that has been borrowed, which means that every one in those countries is working for foreign banks. The situation is apalling and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The underlying effects of usury have corroded every aspect of human life in subtle ways that are not immediately obvious but which can be traced directly back to the introduction and practice of usury. Suffice it to say that usury is a poison which pollutes all it touches. It was forbidden to the Jews and Christians but they got round their law. Its prohibition in the Qur'an leaves no room for manoeuvre.
It cannot be denied that the spread of the scourge of AIDS which now threatens so many millions of lives has been almost exclusively due to sexual promiscuity on a scale never before witnessed by the human race and more particularly by homosexual practices which were until very recently recognised as unnatural and illegal by every society in the world. The way that this abhorrent deviance has turned from being anathema to being almost universally accepted and approved of is one of the wonders of the modern world. Apart from this there are the terrible crimes of rape and incest whose regular and increasing occurence has made them seen almost commonplace.
Again, in this vital area of life Islam holds the key. Far from being suppressed, sexuality is explicitly encouraged within Islam and ample space is given for its expression. However its limits have been made clear and the penalties for overstepping them extremely severe. At the same time opportunities for sex outside the prescribed limits are kept at a minimum. Because extended families and the giving of hospitality are part and parcel of Islamic life, Muslim family life is full and open and the dangerous emotional currents which frequently lead to crime in the nuclear family situation are harmlessly dissipated in the general melee.
Much has been said about the barbarism of criminal law in Islam, but there are two points that are rarely pointed out. One is that it can only ever be applied in a situation where Islam is dominant and those who are subject to it accept it. The second is that it is overwhelmingly effective. In Saudi Arabia where Islamic law is probably applied more than anywhere else – even if extremely unevenly – I have seen someone leave a large pile of money unattended for fifteen minutes while they were off seeing to something else, without any fear of it being taken, and it is quite routine for shopkeepers to leave shops full of valuable goods completely unattended while they go off to pray. The relief of living in this atmosphere after the smash and grab climate we are used to has to be experienced to be understood. It generates a completely different attitude to life and property. And the fact is you do not see hundreds of people walking about with no hands.
The last and perhaps most important aspect of Islam I want to mention is the incalculable effect of the physical act of prayer which punctuates the day of every Muslim. This act puts the worship of God back where it belongs at the centre of human life and ensures the health of society as a whole. It gives people a correct perspective on existence so that they do not become totally engrossed in the life of this world. It is a continual reminder of the insubstantial nature of this life, that death is inevitable and that what follows it depends on the way we live and goes on forever. The acceptance of accountability implicit in this attitude makes people prone to live within Allah's limits rather than to wantonly trangress them. It creates a situation where people see that immediate self-gratification is not necessarily in their best interests and that generosity and patience and good character really do have benefits in them.
These are a few of the aspects which attract Europeans to Islam although I would like to emphasise again that guidance is in Allah's hands alone, that there is no general rule, and that everyone's story of their individual journey to Islam is entirely unique.