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.
Would you explain in a general way the spiritual situation of a man from a Western country?
To answer this question in a satisfactory way it is necessary to go back in history to the beginning of the 17th century. At that time a new wind was blowing up which was shortly to reach gale force and wreak havoc with the traditional and true God-centred view of existence, which had until that time been accepted by the vast majority of people, leaving a very barren landscape in its place. This wind was known as the "new philosophy" and the English poet John Donne poetically expressed its effect in a very eloquent way. He wrote:
"And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply and all relation."
In the "new philosophy" the spiritual gave way to the material. Men became concerned with quantity rather than quality. Human consciousness became more and more confined within the limits of the material universe. The "new philosophy", which was scientific materialism in its germinal stages, penetrated and impermeated the mind set of ordinary people. The pervasive nature of the scientific world view had a profound and far reaching effect on human consciousness. In fact for the human being the result was devastating. It was as if an impenetrable barrier became erected between the spiritual and material worlds and as the scientific world view inexorably imposed itself on and pervaded human consciousness, human beings became, in real terms, cut off from a true view of existence.
Up until this time people had been living at the centre of the universe with the sun and moon and stars revolving around them, above which were the celestial spheres of angelic activity all encompassed by the Throne of God, whose unseen Hand moved and directed the whole affair. From that time on, people lived on an insignificant mineral mass, a mere part of a minor planetary system, one of countless others lost in the unimaginable vastness of limitless space.
For the ordinary person it was just like being suddenly uprooted from a small social environment where everyone is known to each other, the hierarchy clear and unquestioned, all the relationships tried, tested and trusted, the atmosphere benign, all the paths well-trodden, every corner familiar, every livelihood assured, and off-loaded into the alienation and impersonality of a giant modern megapolis whose barren streets seem to go on forever, where every quarter is the same yet unfamiliar, where the dominant energy is fear and mistrust, where even near neighbours are strangers.
Belief in God, which had been an inextricable part, a given, of the human situation, became at best an optional extra and increasingly frequently not an option at all. And, of course, as this happened belief in the other foundational realities of existence, the angelic worlds and Divine revelation and human accountability, all of which, of course, depend on belief in God, were themselves eroded and all but washed away. How beautifully though despairingly Matthew Arnold expresses what happened in those famous lines of his poem Dover Beach:
"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world."
And the tide has gone a long way further out since then.
The fact is that inner fabric of Christendom, on which all Western society is based, having been severely frayed by the storms of the reformation, was then completely ripped apart by the onslaught of the "new philosophy". I want to say here that I am not talking of Christian beliefs or personal piety. What I am referring to is the legal and moral structure of European society. Christianity progressively lost its ability to impinge in any real way on society so that it is now obvious in so many ways that in social terms Christianity has disintegrated beyond the possiblity of restoration and that it is demonstrably no longer capable of furnishing that clear guidance which is so necessary for there to be a healthy and just human situation.
The scientific world view has now intruded into every aspect of life and every corner of the earth and our education merely serves to reinforce it and articulate it. All of us have been immersed in it since our childhood and none of us has escaped its influence. Nearly all of us view existence through a Galilean telescope and see a Newtonian mechanistic universe with a mind permeated by Cartesian dualism.
It is, however, now clear that this "scientific" view of existence has now been scientifically discredited by the scientists themselves. Rutherford and Bohr showed conclusively that the atom, the supposedly basic building block of existence, was mostly empty space. Max Planck showed that some of the basic premises of classical physics were mistaken. When Werner Heisenberg formulated his famous uncertainty principle, the cat was really among the pigeons. Determinacy, the singular connection of cause and effect, was rightly regarded as the rock on which natural philosophy was built and now with Heisenberg this safe basis, this basic premise, had been taken away. Matter, rather than being the lifeless substance posited by Newton, mechanistically determined by being acted on by outside forces, turns out, at its very heart, to be composed of energy itself. Rather than being inert and predictable it is in fact highly dynamic and very mysterious. So the position reached by scientists at the leading edge of research is that the door to understanding the unity of existence is once again open. The history of Being, to use Hegel's expression, has reached a point where the prevailing climate of opinion has made tawhid, unitary knowledge, the true description of reality, once more accessible to human consciousness in a real way. Scientific truth no longer stands in opposition to metaphysical truth barring the way to a deeper understanding of the nature of existence. While the full implications of the quantum change in perspective have yet to filter down to the level of general consciousness the forest has been cleared and the path is open.
Thus it can be seen that the european tradition has arrived at the thresh-hold of Islam and it is also clear that Islam and only Islam can provide the necessary spiritual, intellectual and social framework to free us from the strangle-hold of the New World Order and the system which sustains it. The other religious traditions are nothing but archaelogical fragments, incomplete or altered teachings, intended for other peoples and former times. The philosophical tradition has worn itself out and become lost in details and abstractions. The scientific tradition is inhuman and appears bent on self-destruction. It is only in the final dispensation of divine guidance expressed in the Qur'an and demonstrated by the last of God's Messengers, Muhammad, that the key to the future can be found.
How much work has been done on the building of the mosque in Granada?
Al-hamdulillah the project will be all but completed, inshallah, by the time this is published but only after many years of constant effort and struggle. The community in Granada first acquired the land for the mosque more than twenty years ago. It is a unique site in the Albaycin quarter of Granada (part of the old Muslim city) on the skyline at the top of the valley side directly opposite the main buildings of the palace of the Muslim kings of Granada, the Alhambra. It took fifteen years to get permission to build the mosque, largely due to the implacable hostility of the Catholic Church, which until recently retained a strong political influence in Granada. Once permission had finally been obtained it was the archaeologists turn to obstruct proceedings.
Finally work got under way and the foundation stone was laid and the basic concrete framework erected. Then, however, it was the turn of the Muslims to delay the project and the funding which had been supporting the building up to that point was cut off. Nearly three years passed during which the community in Granada searched ceaselessly and extensively throughout the Muslim world for help to complete the mosque but in spite of several promises nothing concrete emerged. Then one day Shaykh Sultan of Sharja was visiting Granada and saw the unfinished building. He asked about it and, may Allah reward him, undertook to pay the costs of completing it and has proved true to his undertaking.
Although many mosques have now been built throughout Europe none of them have the significance of this new mosque in Granada. Granada was the last city in western Europe to be under Muslim rule and so the symbolic importance of the return of Islam to it in the form of a beautiful, traditionally built, new mosque is far greater than anywhere else. This is undoubtedly the reason that the Catholic Church has fought tooth and nail to stop it happening. It will however, inshallah, become a true centre for the teaching and propagation of Allah's deen and it will also hopefully realise the worst fears of those enemies of Islam who have so actively tried to stop it coming into existence and become the focus of a huge advance in the re-Islamicisation of the Iberian peninsula and Europe as a whole.