Modern materialism and the spirituality of Islam [Archives:2007/1036/Culture]

March 26 2007

Nisreen Shadad

A symposium about modern materialism and the spirituality of Islam launched last Monday, noting how the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) faced the problems and social crises of his day and how his solutions fit today's social problems.

Luke Martin, a new Muslim from Britain, discussed the Prophet Mohammed's prophetic characteristics, saying, “He is a mercy for the whole world,” while Herman, another new Muslim from Namibia, related his conversion story.

Hisham Al-Attas, a teacher of comparative religion at Hadramout's Dar Al-Mustafa discussed the core points of abuse, specifically, women's and children's abuse. After enumerating today's social crises, he offered solutions from Islamic instruction.

“In the United States, according to Times magazine, 1994 issue 4, one-third of women have experienced violence and four women die every day at the hands of their husband or sweetheart according to Nation for Women-Now (www. Fifty percent of British women are beaten by their husband, according to the BBC, while in Canada; a wife is killed every day according to Survey of Spousal Assaults Reported to Police in 1995. In Russia, 36,000 women are beaten by their husband or sweetheart daily. In Russia as well a woman is killed every hour according to Amnesty organization,” Al-Attas stated. “We can't deny that Muslim countries also suffer such things; however, such huge numbers don't exist. The remedy for Muslims is between their hands – they need only follow it,” he noted.

The symposium lecturers assured that we must follow the Prophet Mohammed, who never beat his wives. “The prophet said: 'The best of you are the best in their behavior toward their families and I am the best of you in my behavior toward my family,'” Al-Attas quoted.

According to him, the hijab is one solution provided to solve the rape of women because it saves them and makes them more secure, as well as reflects a woman's personality rather than her beauty or the form of her body.

Al-Attas considers forbidding the drinking of alcohol as another solution, noting, “Drinking [alcohol] is forbidden in Islam. As statistics prove, one-third of rapes occur while men are under the influence of alcohol.”

In number 287 in chapter 34 entitled, “Treating Women Well,” of Riyad Al-Saliheen (an authentic hadith), Abu Hurayra states, “The messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said: 'The most perfect of believers in belief is the best of them in character. The best of you are those who are the best to their women.'” [Al-Tirmidhi]

Al-Attas stated, “Ninety-one percent of Americans have seen a psychologist or advised others to go to them and 73 percent say the main thing causing worry and depression is money. Every 18 minutes, a person commits suicide in the U.S.”

He continued, “Our relationship with Allah is the heart's remedy. Praying five times a day and remembering Allah all the time strengthens the relationship between creation and Creator. The feeling that Allah loves us and has mercy upon us makes man draw closer to Him out of love,” he continued.

Martin related his conversion story and what most caused him to embrace Islam.

He admires Yemen and is proud to be in a country the Prophet Mohammed praised. “He mentioned the softness of your hearts, so make use of such open hearts to love your prophet. Know him in order to love him, because it's hard for anyone to love someone about whom he knows only a little,” Martin exhorted.

“Look to the Prophet Mohammed's biography and read about his manners, morals and character with both Muslims and non-Muslims,” he urged, recounting, “There was a Jewish man who daily threw dirt at the prophet's door to annoy him. One day, the dirt wasn't there, so the prophet began to worry about the Jew because he didn't see dirt at his door. He asked about him and discovered that the Jew was ill. He visited him, surprising the Jew by his greatness, because although he annoyed him, he cared about him. The Jew witnessed and then converted to Islam.” Martin continued, “The prophet is the man who is weeping for us. One day while he was among his companions, he said, 'I long to see my brothers.' His companions asked, 'Aren't we your brothers?' to which he replied, 'My brothers are nations that never saw me, but they give family and wealth out of love for me.'” He added that he longs to see or meet such a great and merciful man.

During his remarks, Martin presented what the Prophet Mohammed offers to the whole world, as well as some Western witnesses to his greatness. “In a July 15, 1974 Time magazine article entitled, 'Who Were History's Great Leaders?' American psychoanalyst Jules Masserman said, 'Leaders must fulfill three functions: provide for the well-being of the led, provide a social organization wherein they feel relatively secure and provide them a set of beliefs.'

“[Louis] Pasteur and [Jonas] Salk are leaders in the first sense, while [Mahatma] Gandhi and Confucius, on one hand, and Alexander [the Great] and [Julius] Caesar on the other, are leaders in the second and perhaps the third sense. Jesus and Buddha belong in the third category alone, but perhaps the greatest leader of all time was Mohammed, who combined all three functions, and to a lesser degree, Moses did the same.”

He continued, “In his 'Historie de la Turquie' (Paris, 1854) the famous French poet Alphonse de LaMartaine wrote, 'If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astonishing results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Mohammed? Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs, founder of 20 earthly empires and one spiritual empire – that was Mohammed. Regarding all standards whereby human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?'”

Martin concluded, “In his book, “The Prophet Mohammed: A Biography,” Christian Anglican author Barnaby Rogerson enthusiastically wrote about the prophet, 'Even when viewed in an entirely secular perspective, he remains a superhero. Only by marrying the best qualities of certain characters from European civilization – say, a combination of Alexander the Great, Diogenes and Aristotle, or the Emperor Constantine, St. Paul and St. Francis – can you begin to understand the measure of the man.'”

Martin's conversion story

To summarize a life-changing experience – one of great joy and also sadness, of peace and also struggle – into a short story really is impossible; however, I hope to recall some of the events in my life that led me to convert to Islam.

As a young teen, I was involved in the average daily routine of any young Westerner; however, I always enjoyed contemplating and writing poetry.

It was in high school that a friend of mine introduced to me Islam. Before my introduction, I wondered why Muslims didn't eat and starved themselves for one month of the year (Ramadan), so my curiosity led me to try it for myself. Roughly 10 days into Ramadan, I started to feel a light in my chest – the light of faith. I still had very little knowledge; therefore, I carried on with my normal life.

After reading some books, my knowledge increased. I felt uneasy eating the haram meat, pork; therefore, I decided to stop eating pork and even stop drinking alcohol and began eating only halal meat. As time went on, I began to pray. I remember being afraid of people entering my room, so I blocked the door with a small cupboard!

Thus, I began following Islamic instructions while I was a non-Muslim: I prayed every day, I left alcohol, I started eating halal meat and fasting during Ramadan. The only thing left was to perform the Hajj. Of course, the most essential part of all of this was the Shahada: “La illah il Allah Mohammed rassulullah.”

After five months of praying, fasting and eating halal food, my friend had strongly urged me to accept Islam. It was just what I needed and during the month of Muharram, I accepted Islam.

When I told my father, he immediately went out to buy some books about Islam. I remember showing him the beautiful athan (call) to prayer from Mecca and he was deeply influenced. As time went by, we spoke about Islam and one night, I remember there was a big argument because out of the intensity of his spiritual journey, he had become angry. I remember I immediately went into my room and prayed to Allah, as I always say to myself, “Never give up on Allah's mercy.” Al-hamdulillah, by the mercy of Allah, my father embraced Islam!

It's clear that the spirituality of Islam was a fundamental factor in both my father's conversion and mine, so much so, that my mother began fasting during Ramadan, although she's still a Christian!

My dear brothers and sisters, I ask for your sincere prayers. I advise myself and you to never give up on the beauty of Allah and his divine mercy He continuously bestows upon us every moment like a cool, gentle rain upon a barren desert.

Herman's conversion story

I was born and raised in a country in southern Africa by a family who really went out of their way to ensure that I received a good education and life skills. I owe my family a lot and everyone who took part in my upbringing. This good upbringing later made me long for a family of my own; however, the two things preventing me from realizing my desire were freedom and finances. Therefore, I saved up all the money I had and bought a plane ticket to the U.K. in the hopes that this would be the key to my dreams.

I found a job and really began earning some good money. However, my goals suddenly changed from wanting to build a family to just caring about how much money I could gather. My happiness became related to my financial state: Are my clothes expensive? Are my shoes in style? Is my mobile phone top of the range? I really became exhausted by this rat race and it was at this point that I started thinking about my purpose in life.

I was a Christian at that time and the whole concept of the trinity was confusing to me, as well as the story of the prophet Lot (pbuh) who was disrobed after having drunk alcohol and then had intercourse with his daughter. Additionally, the weekly Sunday service and praying only at times of need weren't really working for me. But now in Islam, we have a continuous connection with our Lord and there's no way one can forget Him.

However, before I could accept Islam, I had a problem because I had a greatly distorted view of Islam and Muslims, whom I pictured as bearded men carrying weapons, causing chaos and violence whenever they go, abusing their wives and transgressing their rights.

While in London, I worked at a sports center. One day, a customer with a beard walked in and requested to view the swimming pool, which was open for public use. Since he wanted a private pool, he left the center shortly thereafter. However, I kept in touch with him in the hopes of helping him find what he was looking for and that was where the relationship grew.

His good character attracted me more than anything, as I saw in him honesty, humility, love, tolerance and generosity. The more I got to know him, the more I visited him and my knowledge of Islam grew. The hospitality he showed me was always very good.

I reached a point where I realized that Islam was the truth, but I didn't have the desire to accept it. I remember I had many excuses at that time and I lived in an intense internal struggle. I wished I could purify myself and accept the truth humbly; however, I worried about what my parents and friends would think of me. It was too difficult to change my religion, begin a new life with new instructions and even harder to face my family and society. I thought it over for a long time.

“Do you accept Islam as the truth?” my Muslim friend asked and I answered, “Yes;” however, it was difficult for me to put it into action. The question that really affected me was what happens if one dies without having accepted Islam? I refused to answer him, but I knew deep down what my outcome would be, so my response was to chase him out of my apartment! After he left, his question remained in my heart and hovered in my head. It was time to face myself first and answer the questions in both my head and my heart. I was living in darkness and if I died, surely I'd be resurrected in the same state. Since I had accepted this life, there was no way to refuse it after death. I wanted to be raised up in light and purified by admitting the truth, so I ran out of my apartment and headed to my Muslim friend's house. Although I had chased him from apartment and been rude to him, he still gave me a warm welcome and the tender hospitality he had given me previously.

I said the Shahada, which took less than a few seconds; because I thought I was going to go through a big ceremony. I later found out that this one who had informed me about Islam also previously was a non-Muslim like me!