MARXIST TO MUSLIM
My path to Islam: By Daniel Whitcombe
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE MOST BENEFICIENT, THE MOST MERCIFUL
[No part of this article may be used or reproduced in anyway. This article represents the originator`s personal views and opinions, which do not necessarily reflect those of IHIC.]
This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favour to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith (Qur’an- 5:3)
I am writing this article so that others- God willing- may come to see Islam in its proper manifestation, free from media bias and cultural baggage, and may come to realise as I did that Islam is the divine truth revealed to humanity by Allah (the sovereign creator of all that exists) to bring humankind out of falsehood to truth and salvation. In this article I intend to give an account of the thoughts and convictions which eventually persuaded me to accept the sacred path of Islam, and then the true path of Islam- that being Shi’ism through the Holy Prophet and his pure progeny (a.s). I hope to present Islam in its proper manifestation and to address some of the major myths and misperceptions, and to elaborate on them in the mould of proper Islamic teachings. I must emphasise that in order to derive benefit from this article, and Islam in its proper manifestation, one must approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and employ logical reasoning in order to decipher the truth of the matter. If one can achieve this- God willing- they will have taken the first major step in a long journey towards truth and salvation on the sacred path of Allah (s.w.t).
Before converting to Islam I had no interest whatsoever in formal religion, and as a consequence of my university studies had come to view all formal religious doctrines as bogus innovations employed to subjugate the unenlightened masses into conforming to and accepting the ideological beliefs and customs of their respective ruling classes. In that stage of my life however I do not think that I could have been considered an atheist in the proper sense of the term, after all I had attended a Catholic secondary school in Melbourne and had the belief firmly instilled in me that there was a transcendent divine power that had brought all of creation into existence. What I rejected however was the formal articulation of divine religions and their respective ideologies.
During my studies at university whilst studying politics and international relations I became an ardent Marxist firmly opposed to exploitation, subjugation, avarice, and excessive individualism. Naturally enough these convictions only enhanced my contempt and hostility to all formal religions, which I viewed as inherently conservative, and which all served to support the interests and ideology of oppressive despotic ruling elites. Subsequently I adamantly believed in the humanist and existentialist philosophies that posited that the dignity and freedom of humankind could only be attained by allowing the individual to have complete freedom to forge their own destiny- a destiny that must be pursued independently from transcendent forces such as God, and all predetermined value systems. To me the idea that humanity must recognise and submit to a divine power that could not be empirically proven seemed repressive and utterly absurd.
During this time of course I had heard of Islam- mainly through September 11- and recognised that Islam or more specifically ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ had now taken the place of socialism and communism as the main ideological rival to capitalist democracy. Naturally with my anti-religious beliefs and complete ignorance of the laws and ordinances of Islam I held an overwhelmingly negative view of Islam and sincerely hoped that the world could be purged of such an oppressive atavistic ideology, and that the Muslims could be educated to think rationally about the world and social affairs. I must add that these views were formulated by examining Islam through the eyes of Western civilisation and the biased deceitful media.
My first proper encounter with the tenets of Islam came while studying a history unit as part of my degree whereby we studied the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan . I cannot pinpoint why but I became fascinated with the Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamic revolution. I deeply admired Imam Khomeini for his dour uncompromising demeanour and his selfless dedication to Iran ’s anti-imperialist struggle. God be praised, despite all the misleading propaganda circulating in the west I came to identify the Imam as an individual who was endowed with the characteristics essential for leadership in the modern era- an individual that has an uncompromising quest for the truth, a concern for justice and morality, lives an austere lifestyle- in contrast to the profligate self seekers that preside over national political arenas today, and someone who sees leadership as a duty not a privilege. As a result of my new found interest I went on to read Imam Khomeini’s most prominent work Islamic Government: Governance of the jurist. I must say that I was extremely surprised in the content of the book, for if the content in the book ‘Islamic government’ is an accurate portrayal of what Islam is truly meant to represent then no fair minded morally upstanding individual could accuse Islam of being oppressive and atavistic in essence.
After being acquainted with the norms and ideals of Islam I naturally wanted to further my investigations. Subsequently I browsed through various books, articles, and web-pages to gain an adequate conception of what Islam really represents. After finding out that Tawheed (The Uniqueness and oneness of God) was the essence of Islam I was genuinely surprised at the logical and practical nature of Islamic teachings. Not only did I find that Islam had the most logical conception of God and theology, but I found that far from legitimating inequality and oppression, Islam is vehemently opposed to both these social diseases and advocates extensive measures to ensure that these conditions do not materialise in society. Also with respect to war and violence, it became obvious to me that Islam does not condone unprovoked violence or terrorist attacks whatever the circumstances might be. Islam being a religion that is a total way of life comprising a social system, and governmental and administrative functions naturally legislates for defensive measures (jihad) to defend the Islamic territory when it is under siege. This defensive war is permissible only with the consent of the appropriate authorities on the condition that certain prerequisites are met. Distortions of jihad have been perpetrated by corrupt immoral Muslims for their own political ambitions, and by the openly hostile enemies of Islam who wish to slander the word of God, and the teachings of the holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) for their own decadent aspirations.
Before becoming acquainted with the teachings of Islam I had the notion permanently implanted in my mind that Islam was an inherently intolerant ideology that refused to accept the dignity and legitimacy of other religions and schools of thought. First of all to refute this common misperception that permeates western society, the Noble Qur’an unambiguously refutes these assertions.
“There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
By this verse it should be recognised that an individual is free to choose whatever ideology or religion that they believe is the most accurate portrayal of the universe and the correct path to salvation, according to authentic Islamic teachings. Further, in an Islamic state, by law a non-Muslim’s freedom, property, and life is to be protected on the condition that they abide by state law and regulations.
Those who accuse Islam of being an inherently intolerant and or authoritarian religion have relied on Qur’anic verses to confirm their case. Such as….
“This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed my favour to you. I have chosen Islam as your faith” (5:3).
“He that choses a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will surely be among the losers” (3:85)
The truth of the matter is that those that rely on these sorts of verses to prove that Islam is an inherently intolerant religion usually only do so to advance their own self-serving agendas. For this sort of argumentation is a complete distortion of the facts, because as we have previously observed the Qur’an clearly states that an individual is free to follow the religion of their choice and may not be compelled into accepting Islam. Furthermore when one rationally assesses the situation they will realise that the position adopted by Allah (s.w.t) in the Qur’an is the only logical step to take. For if a divine power has created humankind and all that exists for a purpose and with a set of injunctions that must be adhered to as Allah states in the Qur’an:
“I created the Jinn and Mankind only that they might worship me” (51:56)
“We have ordained a law and prescribed a path for each of you” (5:48)
Would it then be logical for that divine power to say to his creation “disregard the injunctions in my admonition, you are free to pursue whatever path in life suits your individual fancies, in addition you are free to postulate your own metaphysical doctrines, and to invent whatever gods you see fit. Furthermore irrespective of your beliefs and actions you will all be rewarded equally in the hereafter”.
Without doubt any rational minded person must be able to see the absurdity manifest if this position were to be adopted. For indeed if Allah (s.w.t) has created the universe it is only logical and just that his creation should be compelled to follow his divine path articulated by him, and expect consequences in this world if not definitely in the next for failure to comply with divine revelations. To look at the matter from a different perspective look at the situation that prevails in all contemporary societies. All these societies possess leaders that determine what laws will be made and what path the members of that society must follow. Many of these leaders have been elected through the democratic process; others have been imposed on the society. Regardless of how the leaders have been selected it is these leaders that either through personal decrees or through parliaments create the laws that govern their respective societies. Once these laws have been passed it becomes incumbent on each and every citizen to follow the laws and dictates implemented in that society. Even in the so called free countries of the west non-compliance and deviation from the established codes of conduct will at the very least result in a loss of autonomy and in many cases severe punishment, which in certain countries around the world will include torture and loss of life. Henceforth in Islam with Allah being the sole creator of the world, and the sovereign legislator it can hardly be seen as intolerant that one be threatened with reprisals for deviating from his divine path. One might add that had the Qur’an openly permitted individuals to digress from the defined path and not threaten consequences for doing so that would clearly bring into question the authenticity of the document. The very fact that Allah in the Qur’an is stringent that humanity must follow his sacred path is a testament to its authenticity.
Following from what we have discussed above logic dictates that Islam cannot be construed as an intolerant religion, but is it as many suggest an authoritarian ideology. There is no doubt that Islamic law strictly regulates the lives of the believers, and the Qur’an makes it explicitly obvious that the believer must act in accordance with Allah and his Messenger
“Say: Obey God and his messenger” (3: 32)
“It is not for true believers- Men or women- to order their own affairs if God and his apostle decree otherwise” (33: 36)
One must however bear in mind that since Allah (s.w.t) created the universe it is him alone that knows what is good and beneficial for humankind, and thus when Allah has decreed a matter it is only fitting and just that all of humanity should adhere to the injunctions without fail. Indeed when one studies the noble Shari’a with an unprejudiced mind they will discover that nothing that is truly good for you has been prohibited. Many find the prohibitions against drinking alcohol, engaging in sexual licence, and loose dress codes punitive and hard to fathom, but as the Qur’an attests
“You may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you know not” (2: 216)
Indeed many in today’s world particularly in Australian society find the idea of prohibiting alcohol abominable and an attack on individual rights. Undoubtedly if Alcohol was to be prohibited in Australia there would be mass riots and demonstrations. But the fact of the matter remains that if you go to any public hospital or psychiatric ward you will be able to get a clear indication of the detrimental effect that the consumption of alcohol has had on countless individuals and families, and the damage that it causes to societies. One must also mention in addition that medical science can attest to the fact that excessive drinking leads to permanent short term memory loss, even at a young age, which leads to debilitating problems in all aspects of one’s life, particularly educational and vocational pursuits. In this respect the noble Qur’an gives us wise council
“They ask you about drinking and gambling. Say: There is great harm in both although they have some benefit for men; but their harm is far greater than their benefit” (2: 219)
“Believers, alcohol and games of chance, idols and divining arrows, are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them that you may prosper” (5: 90)
With respect to the prohibition of fornication and sexual licence one only needs to look at the damage that marriage failures and illegitimate births cause on both individuals and society to realise the wisdom behind these prohibitions. With respect to illegitimate births, the economic conditions faced by a large percentage of children born out of wedlock deprives the children of the chance to receive a decent upbringing and education, and robs them of the opportunity to live a dignified life style. With the ever increasing trends of reducing the size and scope of governments, and pressure to lower taxes to encourage direct foreign investment in virtually all national economies, the adverse conditions of children born out of wedlock and or into unstable family structures is only likely to be exacerbated. Furthermore psychological research has demonstrated that children living with de-facto partners- as often happens with children born out of wedlock and into unstable relationships- are at a much greater likelihood of being victims of child abuse and domestic violence. The prohibition of sexual license would not totally eradicate the problem but it would no doubt significantly reduce the severity of the issue. One can be in no doubt that it was with the knowledge of these issues in mind that Allah (s.w.t) prohibited the practice of pre-marital relations for the benefit of individuals and the society at large.
Undoubtedly the issue of hijab or the full body covering of women has been one of the most controversial issues between Islamic and western culture. In western civilisation the notion that women should cover their whole bodies when in the presence of non-familial relations is seen as inherently oppressive and demeaning. There is no doubt that in many societies where Islam is the dominant religion- Saudi Arabia being a notable example- women are viewed as being inherently inferior and subservient to men, yet in most cases these attitudes are cultural and have no precedent in Islamic teachings. Certainly the issue of hijab by itself does not contribute to these gender imbalances. For in reality hijab is used as a device to protect the dignity and status of women, as Islam wants the female to be recognised for her piety, intelligence, and individual characteristics unrelated to body image, rather than on superficial attributes such as glamour, body shape, and physical attractiveness. One must ask has the freedom to dress in whatever matter you please assisted women’s status and respect as intelligent human beings in the west. An honest evaluation will yield negative results, for sociological research has revealed that women working in the same occupations as men still on the whole earn less money and for the most part tend to be concentrated in professions in the lower segments of the labour market characterised by low wages, poor conditions, and little or no career advancement opportunities. With respect to elite sporting competitions and popular culture, women are generally noted for their physical characteristics rather than their talents and abilities. On the whole one must conclude that women in the west are largely viewed as sex and marketing objects rather than intelligent human beings despite the progress that has been made in gender relations.
It must also be documented that contrary to common assumptions Islam wants females to play an active role in the governing and administration of the Islamic society. It is explicitly clear that according to the tenets of Islam the female is free to occupy positions of government, administration, roles in the law courts and legal administration of society, she is free to pursue academic studies at university and to occupy posts as academics and professors in teaching institutions, and is encouraged to undertake religious education in subjects including philosophy, theology, law, and history. On this note it must be observed that women from all over the world go to the Islamic Republic of Iran to undertake seminary eduction in the holy city of Qom. Bearing these facts in mind it is clear that Islam certainly does not view women as being inferior to men. Thereby those that use the issue of hijab to promote claims of gender bias in Islam are clearly ignorant of the sacred aims of Islam: as Islam also legislates for a dress code for men that is different due to the physical differences between males and females. Thus Allah (s.w.t) in his ultimate wisdom has enjoined females to cover up their adornments not to repress them but in order to promote their dignity and status as intelligent human beings, and to prevent them from being manipulated into being utilised as sex objects for the promotion of financial gain by the powerful sections of society.
It is imperative that while addressing my conversion to Islam that I emphasise the fact that Shi’ism the path of the Prophet and his Ahl-ul-Bayt (pure progeny of the Prophet) (peace be upon them all) is the only true path to Islam. Unfortunately after deciding to convert to Islam I was mislead by the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought into believing that Shi’ism promoted polytheism, and that the Wahabi interpretation of monotheism is the only authentic version of Islam. After intending to convert to Shi’ism because I thought that the school of Ahl-ul-Bayt best represented what the Prophet (p.b.u.h) stood for, I was extremely disappointed to find out that allegedly the Shi’ite creed promoted polytheism, and hence amounted to disbelief in the unity and oneness of God- the essence of Islam. The crux of the issue revolves around the issue of Imamate. The Shia, the school of Ahl-ul-Bayt (a.s) believes that after the demise of the holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) Ali and his descendents (a.s) were meant to assume the leadership of the Islamic community (ummah). This was to be a divine appointment through God and it was only God who could appoint the leader. Being a divine appointment and thus being divinely guided, the school of Ahl-ul-Bayt believes that the Imam is infallible insofar as he is free from committing sin and making errors just like all the main schools of Islamic thought believe that the Prophet (p.b.u.h) was free from sin and error. In addition the Shia believes that the Imams like the Prophet possess esoteric knowledge of the faith, and matters pertaining to the universe.
The Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought maintains that the belief in the doctrine of the Imamate, and all that it entails represents Kufr (disbelief in the unity of Allah), since giving Allah’s creation supposedly divine attributes violates the Islamic conception of monotheism since it amounts to deifying a created being. After reading the Wahhabi scholar Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips book The Fundamentals of Tawheed: Islamic Monotheism I was resigned to the fact that Shiism amounted to Kufr (disbelief). Subsequently I went on to follow the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought. However after some months I became disillusioned with the principles of Wahhabism and broke off my Islamic associations and ceased to perform my religious duties. I cannot pinpoint exactly what dissuaded me from the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought but I think it was the general spirit of the ideology the drove me away. For the Salafi/Wahhabi movement sees Islam moving away from the ideal community. They maintain that the adoption of mere legalism and a return to a bygone era is the only way to see Islam attain its former height and glory.
By contrast the school of Ahl-ul-bayt (Shi’ism) sees the Islamic community moving towards the ideal community with the return of the hidden Imam, Imam Mahdi (a.s) the just leader of humanity that will restore justice, peace, equality, and correct monotheistic worship before the end of time. With respect to the position of leadership the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought and the Sunnis in general do not place a great emphasis on the role of leadership. They generally see the position of leadership (Khalifa in Sunni doctrine) as being one who is primarily concerned with protecting the borders of the Islamic state and ensuring that the Sharia remains in operation. The leader is not one who has to possess divine knowledge or divine guidance. On the other hand the school of Ahl-ul-Bayt stringently believes that the only rightful leader of the Islamic community (Imamate in the Shia school of thought) is one who is appointed by Allah only, is divinely guided, is infallible from sins and era, and possess esoteric knowledge relevant to the time and conditions of the age, which is of course provided by Allah (s.w.t). The Shia maintain that only with the rightful divinely guided leader can justice, morality, and the tenets of Islam be implemented to the maximum benefit of the community. Thus it is the absence of a divinely appointed leader that has been the cause of the whole tragic history of human social and political relations according to the school of Ahl-ul-Bayt, and it is only with the return of the hidden Imam that justice will be reinstituted on earth.
One night after having ceased to perform my religious obligations, and having broken my associations with the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought, I was browsing the internet looking at the Imam Husain Islamic Centre website. I observed an article by Sheikh Mansour Leghaei on the infallibility of the Imams. The article explained that the qualities of infallibility from sin and error, and the esoteric knowledge possessed by the Imams (a.s) was not possessed by them independent of anyone else, but was provided for them through the divine guidance of Allah (s.w.t)- not independently of Allah as the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought distorts the principle of Imamate. Henceforth I came to understand that far from being divine beings in themselves, the special qualities that the Imam’s possess were given to them via the guidance of Allah (s.w.t). This can be the only logical explanation for the doctrine of Imamate and it certainly does not violate the principle of monotheism, because if this is the case then all Muslims including the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought would be guilty of violating the principle of monotheism, as Muslims unanimously believe that the Prophet Jesus (a.s) performed miracles (by the leave of God) and the prophet Muhammad (s) ascended to heaven on the night journey (Chapter 17 of Qur’an), an extraordinary occurrence that was achieved via the hand of God. Hence all extraordinary qualities possessed by Allah’s creation are given to them by the will of Allah (s.w.t), anyone who says otherwise is clearly guilty of violating the principle of monotheism which necessarily takes one out of Islam. Thus, those from the Salafi/Wahhabi school of thought when they label the Shia as disbelievers for believing in the doctrine of Imamate, distort the concept of Tawheed (unity and oneness of God) for the purposes of their ignorant irrational anti-Shia agenda.
God be praised, I had come to realise that Shi’ism was not at all a school of thought that promoted polytheism and is completely in accordance with the Islamic conception of monotheism. Due to negative sentiments derived from my Salafi/Wahhabi experience I still however questioned whether there was any precedent for the Shia doctrine of Imamate. For where in the Qur’an does the issue of divinely appointed leaders possessing divine guidance come up. A few days later I came across this verse in the Qur’an where Allah (s.w.t) is mentioning the Israelites.
“And when they grew steadfast and firmly believed in our revelations, we appointed leaders from among them who gave guidance at our bidding” (32: 24)
This verse makes it explicitly clear that Allah had appointed leaders for the Jewish community after the death of Moses (a.s), just as the Shia believe that after the death of the holy Prophet (s), Ali (a.s) was appointed by Allah to lead the ummah. In addition the divinely appointed leader would be one that would receive divine guidance just as the appointed leaders of the Israelites received divine guidance. Now if an individual is appointed by Allah to lead the community and is receiving divine guidance, and is to expound matters of religion, do you think that that individual would be capable of committing sins and abominations, and to commit clear errors while receiving divine guidance? One could surely not think so because it would hardly be right for Allah to send leaders on earth to guide the ummah with the purpose of interpreting articles of faith and morality while they were stepped in sin, and committing manifest errors. To do so would conflict with the justice of God because if the divinely appointed leader is committing sins and making manifest errors in interpreting religion how is humanity to know how to worship Allah (s.w.t) correctly. Therefore it is only rational that one assumes that the divinely appointed leader- Allah’s representative on earth- should be free from sin and error. But then one might ask where does the Qur’an speak of individuals who have been purified from sin and transgression? The answer arises
“And God only wishes to remove all abominations from you, O members of the Family (referring to the Prophet’s family), and to make you pure and spotless” (33: 33)
Many Sunni commentators contend that this verse refers specifically to the wives of the Prophet (p.b.u.h), as the previous part of the verse and the verse before it explicitly refers to the Prophet’s wives. However the part of the verse “O members of the family” is referring to males as the Arabic masculine plural is used in this instance meaning that males are being addressed in this verse here and not just the wives of the Prophet as in the previous part of the verse and the verses before it. Some English translations interpret the verse “O members of the family” as “O women of the household” but in light of the Arabic grammar used in the verse this interpretation is clearly erroneous. Furthermore, there are authentic Sunni Hadith (narrations of the Prophet’s words and actions) where the Prophet (p.b.u.h) narrates that the individuals referred to in this verse are Ali, Hassan, Hussein, and Fatima (peace be on them all).
Therefore one can deduce from the evidence presented above that the Shia position of Imamate is not only an authentic proponent of Islam, but also a mandatory component of the faith. The Qur’an clearly attests to the fact that Allah (s.w.t) has appointed divinely guided leaders for their respective communities after the death of their Prophets. It is also safe to assume that these leaders being divinely guided must be free from sin and abomination, and must be able to perform all their duties free from error. For as we have noted it would be unjust for Allah to appoint leaders giving divine guidance who mislead their communities by committing sins, and interpreting questions of faith and action incorrectly, thereby causing their communities to go astray. Therefore surely the leadership of the Islamic community after the demise of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) should have devolved upon Imam Ali and his descendents (a.s)- which the Qur’an testifies as having been purged of all sins and abominations- rather than to be freely elected by the community as the Sunni’s maintain. Sadly the degeneration of Islamic principles as a consequence of the death of Imam Ali (a.s), the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s), and the usurpation of power and subsequent despotism of the Umayyads, historically attests to the fact that the leadership of the ummah should have remained in the hands of the Ahl-ul-Bayt (a.s) (The Prophets pure progeny).
In conclusion, it was the belief in a transcendent divine power that created the whole universe, who is in the best position to judge what is the right and proper way for humankind to conduct its affairs, and to define its purpose in life, which led me to the sacred path of Islam. Seeing Islam in its proper manifestation free from cultural baggage and prejudiced propaganda opened my eyes to the fact that although humanist and existentialist philosophies are noble in theory, in reality they are flawed in practice. For when one digests the logic and rationality of the Qur’an they will comprehend that in order for humankind to attain true happiness and salvation they must submit to the universally defined path of the sovereign creator. The entirety of human social and political relations teaches us that by nature humankind is prone to avarice, licentiousness, carnal desires, selfishness, and arrogant pride. To this point in history no secular or materialistic ideology has managed to lead humankind out of these fetters, and one can almost certainly conclude that they never will. The only option is for humankind to follow the sacred path of its creator, which legislates for all aspects of life and provides for a just balance in all aspects of human affairs. In addition as we have observed the only true path to Allah (s.w.t) is through the Prophet and his pure progeny. Thus I would like to thank God almighty, the most beneficent, the most merciful, and the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe for guiding me to the true path of Islam. God willing I hope that many more will be rightly guided through the path of the Prophet and his pure progeny (a.s). Indeed all praise is due to God lord of the universe.