Mr. Nuh Keller



What  follows  is  a  personal  account  of  a  scholar  I  have  been writing  to  for  over  a  year  and  had  the  blessing  of meeting when I invited him to do a lecture tour around England. He is quite unique  in  that  he  seems  to  be  one  of  the  few  reverts/converts  to have achieved Islamic scholarship in the fullest sense of the word in traditional  and  orthodox  Islam,  having  studied  Shafi'i  and  Hanafi Jurisprudence (fiqh) and tenents of faith (`aqidah). I hope it will serve as an inspiration to those who have moved closer to Islam but have not yet taken the Shahadah, and as a reassurance to those that have taken the Shahadah but are trying to find their feet in the beautiful ocean of Islam, and also as a reminder and confirmation to those of us who were blessed with being born into Muslim families, Amin.

Mas`ud Ahmed Khan

Born  in  1954  in  the  farm  country  of  the  northwestern United States, I was raised in a religious family as a Roman Catholic. The Church provided a spiritual world that was unquestionable in my childhood, if anything more real than the physical world around me, but  as  I  grew  older,  and  especially  after  I  entered a  Catholic university  and  read  more,  my  relation  to  the  religion  became increasingly called into question, in belief and practice. One reason was the frequent changes in Catholic liturgy and ritual that occurred in  the  wake  of  the  Second  Vatican  Council  of  1963,  suggesting to laymen that the Church had no firm standards. To one another, the clergy spoke about flexibility and liturgical relevance, but to ordinary Catholics  they  seemed  to  be  groping  in  the  dark.  God  does  not change,  nor  the  needs  of  the  human  soul,  and  there  was  no  new revelation from heaven. Yet we rang in the changes, week after week, year after year; adding, subtracting, changing the language from Latin to  English,  finally  bringing  in  guitars  and  folk  music.  Priests explained and explained as laymen shook their heads. The search for relevance left large numbers convinced that there had not been much in the first place.

A second reason was a number of doctrinal difficulties, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, which no one in the history of the world, neither priest nor layman, had been able to explain in a convincing way, and which resolved itself, to the common mind at least, in a sort of  godhead-by-committee,  shared  between  God  the  Father,  who ruled  the  world  from  heaven;  His  son  Jesus  Christ,  who  saved humanity on earth; and the Holy Ghost, who was pictured as a white dove and appeared to have a considerably minor role. I remember wanting to make special friends with just one of them so he could handle  my  business  with  the  others,  and  to  this  end,  would sometimes pray earnestly to this one and sometimes to that; but the other two were always stubbornly there. I finally decided that God the Father must be in charge of the other two, and this put the most formidable  obstacle  in  the  way  of  my  Catholicism,  the  divinity  of Christ.  Moreover,  reflection  made  it  plain  that  the  nature  of  man contradicted the nature of God in every particular, the limitary and finite on the one hand, the absolute and infinite on the other. That Jesus was God was something I cannot remember having ever really believed, in childhood or later.  Another  point  of  incredulity  was  the  trading  of  the Church  in stocks and bonds in the hereafter it called indulgences. Do such and such and so-and-so many years will be remitted from your sentence in purgatory that had seemed so false to Martin Luther at the outset of the Reformation. I also remember a desire for a sacred scripture, something  on  the  order  of  a  book  that  could  furnish  guidance.  A Bible was given to me one Christmas, a handsome edition, but on attempting to read it, I found it so rambling and devoid of a coherent thread that it was difficult to think of a way to base one's life upon it. Only later did I learn how Christians solve the difficulty in practice, Protestants  by  creating  sectarian  theologies,  each emphasizing  the texts  of  their  sect  and  downplaying  the  rest;  Catholics  by downplaying  it  all,  except  the  snippets  mentioned  in  their  liturgy. Something seemed lacking in a sacred book that could not be read as an integral whole.

Moreover,  when  I  went  to  the  university,  I  found  that  the authenticity  of  the  book,  especially  the  New  Testament, had come into considerable doubt as a result of modern hermeneutical studies by Christians themselves. In a course on contemporary theology, I read the Norman Perrin translation of The Problem of the Historical Jesus  by  Joachim  Jeremias,  one  of  the  principal  New Testament scholars  of  this  century.  A  textual  critic  who  was  a master  of  the original  languages  and  had  spent  long  years  with  the  texts,  he  had finally  agreed  with  the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann that without  a  doubt  it  is  true  to  say  that  the  dream  of  ever  writing  a biography  of  Jesus  is  over,  meaning  that  the  life  of  Christ  as  he actually lived it could not be reconstructed from the New Testament with any degree of confidence. If this were accepted from a friend of Christianity and one of its foremost textual experts, I reasoned, what was left for its enemies to say? And what then remained of the Bible except  to  acknowledge  that  it  was  a  record  of  truths  mixed  with fictions,  conjectures  projected  onto  Christ  by  later  followers, themselves at odds with each other as to who the master had been and  what  he  had  taught.  And  if  theologians  like  Jeremias  could reassure  themselves  that  somewhere  under  the  layers  of  later accretions  to  the  New  Testament  there  was  something  called  the historical Jesus and his message, how could the ordinary person hope to find it, or know it, should it be found?

I studied philosophy at the university and it taught me to ask two things of whoever claimed to have the truth: What do you mean,and how do you know?

When I asked these questions of my own religious tradition, I found no answers, and realized that Christianity had  slipped  from  my  hands.  I  then  embarked  on  a  search  that  is perhaps not unfamiliar to many young people in the West, a quest for meaning  in  a  meaningless  world.  I  began  where  I  had  lost  my previous belief, with the philosophers, yet wanting to believe, seeking not philosophy, but rather a philosophy.
I  read  the  essays  of  the  great  pessimist  Arthur  Schopenhauer, which  taught  about  the  phenomenon  of  the  ages  of  life,  and  that money, fame, physical strength, and intelligence all passed from one with the passage of years, but only moral excellence remained. I took this lesson to heart and remembered it in after years. His essays also drew attention to the fact that a person won’t to repudiate in later years  what  he  fervently  espouses  in  the  heat  of  youth.  With  a prescient wish to find the Divine, I decided to imbue myself with the most cogent arguments of atheism that I could find, that perhaps I might find a way out of them later. So I read the Walter Kaufmann translations of the works of the immoralist Friedrich Nietzsche. The many-faceted  genius  dissected  the  moral  judgments  and  beliefs  of mankind with brilliant philological and psychological arguments that ended  in  accusing  human  language  itself,  and  the  language  of nineteenth-century  science  in  particular,  of  being  so  inherently determined and mediated by concepts inherited from the language of morality that in their present form they could never hope to uncover reality. Aside from their immunological value against total skepticism, Nietzsches  works  explained  why  the  West  was  post-Christian,  and accurately  predicted  the  unprecedented  savagery  of  the  twentieth century, debunking the myth that science could function as a moral replacement for the now dead religion.

At a personal level, his tirades against Christianity, particularly in The Genealogy of Morals, gave me the benefit of distilling the beliefs of  the  monotheistic  tradition  into  a  small  number  of  analyzable forms.  He  separated  unessential  concepts  (such  as  the  bizarre spectacle of an omnipotent deity suicide on the cross) from essential ones, which I now, though without believing in them, apprehended to be but three alone: that God existed; that He created man in the world and defined the conduct expected of him in it; and that He would judge man accordingly in the hereafter and send him to eternal reward or punishment. It was during this time that I read an early translation  of  the  Koran  which  I  grudgingly  admired,  between agnostic  reservations,  for  the  purity  with  which  it presented  these fundamental concepts. Even if false, I thought, there could not be a  more  essential  expression  of  religion.  As  a  literary  work,  the translation, perhaps it was Sales, was uninspired and openly hostile to its  subject  matter,  whereas  I  knew  the  Arabic  original  was  widely acknowledged  for  its  beauty  and  eloquence  among  the  religious books of mankind. I felt a desire to learn Arabic to read the original.

On a vacation home from school, I was walking upon a dirt road between  some  fields  of  wheat,  and  it  happened  that the  sun  went down. By some inspiration, I realized that it was a time of worship, a time to bow and pray to the one God. But it was not something one could rely on oneself to provide the details of, but rather a passing fancy, or perhaps the beginning of an awareness that atheism was an inauthentic way of being.

I carried something of this disquiet with me when I transferred to  the  University  of  Chicago,  where  I  studied  the  epistemology  of ethical  theory  how  moral  judgments  were  reached  reading  and searching  among  the  books  of  the  philosophers  for  something  to shed  light  on  the  question  of  meaninglessness,  which was  both  a personal concern and one of the central philosophical problems of our age.  According to some, scientific observation could only yield description statements of the form X is Y, for example, The object is red, Its weight is two kilos, Its height is ten centimeters, and so on, in each of which the functional was a scientifically verifiable is, whereas in  moral  judgments  the  functional  element  was  an  ought,  a description  statement  which  no  amount  of  scientific observation could  measure  or  verify.  It  appeared  that  ought  was  logically meaningless,  and  with  it  all  morality  whatsoever,  a  position  that reminded me of those described by Lucian in his advice that whoever sees  a  moral  philosopher  coming  down  the  road  should  flee  from him as from a mad dog. For such a person, expediency ruled, and nothing checked his behavior but convention.

As  Chicago  was  a  more  expensive  school,  and  I  had  to  raise tuition  money,  I  found  summer  work  on  the  West  Coast  with  a seining boat fishing in Alaska. The sea proved a school in its own right,  one  I  was  to  return  to  for  a  space  of  eight  seasons,  for  the money.  I  met  many  people  on  boats,  and  saw  something  of  the power  and  greatness  of  the  wind,  water,  storms,  and  rain;  and  the smallness of man. These things lay before us like an immense book, but my fellow fishermen and I could only discern the letters of it that were within our context: to catch as many fish as possible within the specified time to sell to the tenders. Few knew how to read the book as a whole. Sometimes, in a blow, the waves rose like great hills, and the captain would hold the wheel with white knuckles, our bow one minute plunging gigantically down into a valley of green water, the next  moment  reaching  the  bottom  of  the  trough  and  soaring upwards towards the sky before topping the next crest and starting down again.

Early in my career as a deck hand, I had read the Hazel Barnes translation of Jean Paul Sartres "Being and Nothingness", in which he  argued  that  phenomena  only  arose  for  consciousness  in  the existential  context  of  human  projects,  a  theme  that recalled  Marxs 1844 manuscripts, where nature was produced by man, meaning, for example,  that  when  the  mystic  sees  a  stand  of  trees,  his consciousness  hypostatizes  an  entirely  different  phenomenal  object than a poet does, for example, or a capitalist. To the mystic, it is a manifestation;  to  the  poet,  a  forest;  to  the  capitalist,  lumber. According to such a perspective, a mountain only appears as tall in the context of the project of climbing it, and so on, according to the instrumental  relations  involved  in  various  human  interests.  But the great natural events of the sea surrounding us seemed to defy, with their stubborn, irreducible facticity, our uncomprehending attempts to come to terms with them. Suddenly, we were just there, shaken by the forces around us without making sense of them, wondering if we would  make  it  through.  Some,  it was true, would ask God help at such moments, but when we returned safely to shore, we behaved like men who knew little of Him, as if those moments had been a lapse into insanity, embarrassing to think of at happier times. It was one of the lessons of the sea that in fact, such events not only existed Stories of New Muslims90but perhaps even preponderated in our life. Man was small and weak, the forces around him were large, and he did not control them.

Sometimes a boat would sink and men would die. I remember a fisherman from another boat who was working near us one opening, doing the same job as I did, piling web. He smiled across the water as he  pulled  the  net  from  the  hydraulic  block  overhead, stacking  it neatly on the stern to ready it for the next set. Some weeks later, his boat overturned while fishing in a storm, and he got caught in the web and drowned. I saw him only once again, in a dream, beckoning to me from the stern of his boat. The tremendousness of the scenes we lived in, the storms, the towering sheer cliffs rising vertically out of the water for hundreds of feet, the cold and rain and fatigue, the occasional injuries and deaths of workers these made little impression on most of us. Fishermen were, after all, supposed to be tough. On one  boat,  the  family  that  worked  it  was  said  to  lose  an  occasional crew  member  while  running  at  sea  at  the  end  of  the  season, invariably the sole non-family member who worked with them, his loss  saving  them  the  wages  they  would  have  otherwise had to pay him.

The  captain  of  another  was  a  twenty-seven-year-old who delivered millions of dollars worth of crab each year in the Bering Sea. When I first heard of him, we were in Kodiak, his boat at the city dock they had tied up to after a lengthy run some days before.

The captain was presently indisposed in his bunk in the stateroom, where  he  had  been  vomiting  up  blood  from  having  eaten  a  glass uptown the previous night to prove how tough he was. He was in somewhat better condition when I later saw him in the Bering Sea at the  end  of  a  long  winter  king  crab  season.  He  worked  in  his wheelhouse up top, surrounded by radios that could pull in a signal from  just  about  anywhere,  computers,  Loran,  sonar,  depth-finders, radar.  His  panels  of  lights  and  switches  were  set  below  the  180-degree sweep of shatterproof windows that overlooked the sea and the men on deck below, to whom he communicated by loudspeaker.

They often worked round the clock, pulling their gear up from the icy  water  under  watchful  batteries  of  enormous  electric  lights attached to the masts that turned the perpetual night of the winter months into day. The captain had a reputation as a screamer, and had once  locked  his  crew  out  on  deck  in  the  rain  for  eleven  hours because one of them had gone inside to have a cup of coffee without permission.  Few  crewmen  lasted  longer  than  a  season  with  him, though they made nearly twice the yearly income of, say, a lawyer or an advertising executive, and in only six months. Fortunes were made in the Bering Sea in those years, before over fishing wiped out the crab.

At present, he was at anchor, and was amiable enough when we tied  up  to  him  and  he  came  aboard  to  sit  and  talk  with  our  own captain. They spoke at length, at times gazing thoughtfully out at the sea  through  the  door  or  windows,  at  times  looking  at  each  other sharply  when  something  animated  them,  as  the  topic of  what  his competitors thought of him. "They wonder why I have a few bucks", he said. "Well I slept in my own home one night last year." He later had  his  crew  throw  off  the  lines  and  pick  the  anchor,  his  eyes flickering warily over the water from the windows of the house as he pulled away with a blast of smoke from the stack. His watchfulness, his walrus-like physique, his endless voyages after game and markets, reminded  me  of  other  predatory  hunter-animals  of  the  sea.  Such people, good at making money but heedless of any ultimate end or purpose,  made  an  impression  on  me,  and  I  increasingly  began  to wonder  if  men  didn't  need  principles  to  guide  them  and  tell  them why  they  were  there.  Without  such  principles,  nothing  seemed  to distinguish  us  above  our  prey  except  being  more  thorough,  and technologically capable of preying longer, on a vaster scale, and with greater devastation than the animals we hunted.

These considerations were in my mind the second year I studied at Chicago, where I became aware through studies of philosophical moral systems that philosophy had not been successful in the past at significantly influencing peoples morals and preventing injustice, and I  came  to  realize  that  there  was  little  hope  for  it  to  do  so  in  the future. I found that comparing human cultural systems and societies in  their  historical  succession  and  multiplicity  had  led  many intellectuals  to  moral  relativism,  since  no  moral  value  could  be discovered  which  on  its  own  merits  was  transculturally  valid,  a reflection  leading  to  nihilism,  the  perspective  that  sees  human civilizations as plants that grow out of the earth, springing from their various  seeds  and  soils,  thriving  for  a  time,  and  then  dying  away. Some  heralded  this  as  intellectual  liberation,  among  them  Emile Durkheim  in  his  "Elementary  Forms  of  the  Religious  Life",  or Sigmund Freud in his "Totem and Taboo", which discussed mankind as if it were a patient and diagnosed its religious traditions as a form of a collective neurosis that we could now hope to cure, by applying to  them  a  thorough  scientific  atheism,  a  sort  of  salvation  through pure science.

On  this  subject,  I  bought  the  Jeremy  Shapiro  translation  of "Knowledge and Human Interests" by Jurgen Habermas, who argued that there was no such thing as pure science that could be depended upon to forge boldly ahead in a steady improvement of itself and the world.  He  called  such  a  misunderstanding  scientism,  not  science. Science in the real world, he said, was not free of values, still less of interests.  The  kinds  of  research  that  obtain  funding,  for  example, were a function of what their society deemed meaningful, expedient, profitable,  or  important.  Habermas  had  been  of  a  generation  of German academics who, during the thirties and forties, knew what was  happening  in  their  country,  but  insisted  they  were  simply engaged in intellectual production, that they were living in the realm of scholarship, and need not concern themselves with whatever the state might choose to do with their research. The horrible question mark  that  was  attached  to  German  intellectuals  when the  Nazi atrocities became public after the war made Habermas think deeply about the ideology of pure science. If anything was obvious, it was that  the  nineteenth-century  optimism  of  thinkers  like  Freud  and Durkheim was no longer tenable.

I  began  to  reassess  the  intellectual  life  around  me. Like Schopenhauer,  I  felt  that  higher  education  must  produce  higher human  beings.  But  at  the  university,  I  found  lab  people  talking  to each  other  about  forging  research  data  to  secure  funding  for  the coming year; luminaries who wouldn't permit tape recorders at their lectures for fear that competitors in the same field would go one step further with their research and beat them to publication; professors envying with each other in the length of their courses syllabuses. The moral  qualities  I  was  accustomed  to  associate  with  ordinary, unregenerate   humanity   seemed   as   frequently   met   with   in sophisticated academics as they had been in fishermen. If one could laugh at fishermen who, after getting a boatload of fish in a big catch, would cruise back and forth in front of the others to let them see how laden down in the water they were, ostensibly looking for more fish;  what  could  one  say  about  the  Ph.D.s  who  behaved  the  same way about their books and articles? I felt that their knowledge had not developed their persons,  that the secret of higher man did not lie in their sophistication.

I wondered if I hadn't gone down the road of philosophy as far as one could go. While it had debunked my Christianity and provided some  genuine  insights,  it  had  not  yet  answered  the  big  questions. Moreover,  I  felt  that  this  was  somehow  connected  I didn't  know whether as cause or effect to the fact that our intellectual tradition no longer seemed to seriously comprehend itself. What were any of us, whether philosophers, fishermen, garbage men, or kings, except bit players in a drama we did not understand, diligently playing out our roles  until  our  replacements  were  sent,  and  we  gave  our  last performance? But could one legitimately hope for more than this? I read  "Kojves  Introduction  to  the  Reading  of  Hegel", in  which  he explained that for Hegel, philosophy did not culminate in the system, but  rather  in  the  Wise  Man,  someone  able  to  answer  any  possible question on the ethical implications of human actions. This made me consider  our  own  plight  in  the  twentieth  century,  which  could  no longer answer a single ethical question.

It was thus as if this centuries unparalleled mastery of concrete things  had  somehow  ended  by  making  us  things.  I  contrasted  this with  Hegels  concept  of  the  concrete  in  his  "Phenomenology  of Mind".  An  example  of  the  abstract,  in  his  terms,  was  the  limitary physical  reality  of  the  book  now  held  in  your  hands,  while  the concrete  was  its  interconnection  with  the  larger  realities  it presupposed, the modes of production that determined the kind of ink and paper in it, the aesthetic standards that dictated its color and design, the systems of marketing and distribution that had carried it to the reader, the historical circumstances that had brought about the readers  literacy  and  taste;  the  cultural  events  that had  mediated  its style and usage; in short, the bigger picture in which it was articulated and  had  its  being.  For  Hegel,  the  movement  of  philosophical investigation  always  led  from  the  abstract  to  the  concrete,  to  the more real. He was therefore able to say that philosophy necessarily led to theology, whose object was the ultimately real, the Deity. This seemed to me to point up an irreducible lack in our century. I began to wonder if, by materializing our culture and our past, we had not somehow  abstracted ourselves from our wider humanity, from our true nature in relation to a higher reality.

At  this  juncture,  I  read  a  number  of  works  on  Islam,  among them the books of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who believed that many of the problems of western man, especially those of the environment, were  from  his  having  left  the  divine  wisdom  of  revealed  religion, which taught him his true place as a creature of God in the natural world and to understand and respect it. Without it, he burned up and consumed  nature  with  ever  more  effective  technological  styles  of commercial  exploitation  that  ruined  his  world  from  without  while leaving him increasingly empty within, because he did not know why he existed or to what end he should act. I reflected that this might be true as far as it went, but it begged the question as to the truth of revealed religion. Everything on the face of the earth, all moral and religious  systems,  were  on  the  same  plane,  unless  one  could  gain certainty  that  one  of  them  was  from  a  higher  source,  the  sole guarantee of the objectivity, the whole force, of moral law.

Otherwise, one man’s opinion was as good as another’s, and we remained in an undifferentiated sea of conflicting individual interests, in which no valid objection could be raised to the strong eating the weak.

I  read  other  books  on  Islam,  and  came  across  some  passages translated by W. Montgomery Watt from "That Which Delivers from Error"  by  the theologian and mystic Ghazali, who, after a mid-life crises  of  questioning  and  doubt,  realized  that  beyond the  light  of prophetic revelation there is no other light on the face of the earth from which illumination may be received, the very point to which my philosophical inquiries had led. Here was, in Hegels terms, the Wise Man, in the person of a divinely inspired messenger who alone had the authority to answer questions of good and evil.

I  also  read  A.J.  Arberrys  translation  "The  Koran  Interpreted", and I recalled my early wish for a sacred book. Even in translation, the superiority of the Muslim scripture over the Bible was evident in every line, as if the reality of divine revelation, dimly heard of all my life,  had  now  been  placed  before  my  eyes.  In  its  exalted  style,  its power,  its  inexorable  finality,  its  uncanny  way  of  anticipating  the arguments of the atheistic heart in advance and answering them; it was a clear exposition of God as God and man as man, the revelation of  the  awe-inspiring  Divine  Unity  being  the  identical  revelation  of social and economic justice among men.

I  began  to  learn  Arabic  at  Chicago,  and  after  studying  the grammar for a year with a fair degree of success, decided to take a leave of absence to try to advance in the language in a year of private study in Cairo. Too, a desire for new horizons drew me, and after a third season of fishing, I went to the Middle East. In Egypt, I found something I believe brings many to Islam, namely, the mark of pure monotheism upon its followers, which struck me as more profound than anything I had previously encountered. I met many Muslims in Egypt,  good  and  bad,  but  all  influenced  by  the  teachings  of  their

Book to a greater extent than I had ever seen elsewhere. It has been some fifteen years since then, and I cannot remember them all, or even most of them, but perhaps the ones I can recall will serve to illustrate the impressions made.

One was a man on the side of the Nile near the Miqyas Gardens, where  I  used  to  walk.  I  came  upon  him  praying  on  a  piece  of cardboard, facing across the water. I started to pass in front of him, but suddenly checked myself and walked around behind, not wanting to  disturb  him.  As  I  watched  a  moment  before  going  my  way,  I beheld  a  man  absorbed  in  his  relation  to  God,  oblivious  to  my presence, much less my opinions about him or his religion. To my mind,  there  was  something  magnificently  detached  about  this, altogether  strange  for  someone  coming  from  the  West,  where praying in public  was virtually the only thing that remained obscene.

Another was a young boy from secondary school who greeted me near Khan al-Khalili, and because I spoke some Arabic and he spoke some English and wanted to tell me about Islam, he walked with me several miles across town to Giza, explaining as much as he could. When we parted, I think he said a prayer that I might become Muslim.

Another was a Yemeni friend living in Cairo who brought me a copy of the Koran at my request to help me learn Arabic. I did not have a table beside the chair where I used to sit and read in my hotel room, and it was my custom to stack the books on the floor. When I set the Koran by the others there, he silently stooped and picked it up, out of respect for it. This impressed me because I knew he was not religious, but here was the effect of Islam upon him.

Another was a woman I met while walking beside a bicycle on an unpaved  road  on  the  opposite  side  of  the  Nile  from  Luxor. I was dusty, and somewhat shabbily clothed, and she was an old woman dressed  in  black  from  head  to  toe  who  walked  up,  and  without  a word or glance at me, pressed a coin into my hand so suddenly that in  my  surprise  I  dropped  it.  By  the  time  I  picked  it  up,  she  had hurried  away.  Because  she  thought  I  was  poor,  even  if obviously non-Muslim, she gave me some money without any expectation for it except what was between her and her God. This act made me think a lot about Islam, because nothing seemed to have motivated her but that.

Many other things passed through my mind during the months I stayed in Egypt to learn Arabic. I found myself thinking that a man must have some sort of religion, and I was more impressed by the effect of Islam on the lives of Muslims, a certain nobility of purpose and largesse of soul, than I had ever been by any other religions or even atheisms effect on its followers. The Muslims seemed to have more than we did.

Christianity  had  its  good  points  to  be  sure,  but  they  seemed mixed with confusions, and I found myself more and more inclined to look to Islam for their fullest and most perfect expression. The first question we had memorized from our early catechism had been Why were you created? To which the correct answer was to know, love, and serve God. When I reflected on those around me, I realized that  Islam  seemed  to  furnish  the  most  comprehensive and understandable way to practice this on a daily basis.

As for the inglorious political fortunes of the Muslims today, I did not feel these to be a reproach against Islam, or to relegate it to an inferior position in a natural order of world ideologies, but rather saw  them  as  a  low  phase  in  a  larger  cycle  of  history.  Foreign hegemony  over  Muslim  lands  had  been  witnessed  before  in  the thorough  going  destruction  of  Islamic  civilization  in  the  thirteenth century by the Mongol horde, who razed cities and built pyramids of human  heads  from  the  steppes  of  Central  Asia  to  the Muslim heartlands,  after  which  the  fullness  of  destiny  brought  forth  the Ottoman Empire to raise the Word of Allah and make it a vibrant political  reality  that  endured  for  centuries.  It  was now,  I  reflected, merely the turn of contemporary Muslims to strive for a new historic crystallization of Islam, something one might well aspire to share in.

When  a  friend  in  Cairo  one  day  asked  me,  Why  don't you become a Muslim, I found that Allah had created within me a desire to belong to this religion, which so enriches its followers, from the simplest hearts to the most magisterial intellects. It is not through an act  of  the  mind  or  will  that anyone becomes a Muslim, but rather through the mercy of Allah, and this, in the final analysis, was what brought me to Islam in Cairo in 1977.

"Is  it  not time that the hearts of those who believe should be humbled to  the  Remembrance  of  God  and the Truth which He has sent down, and that  they  should  not  be  as  those  to  whom  the  Book  was  given  a  foretime, and  the  term  seemed  over  long  to  them,  so  that  their  hearts  have  become hard,  and  many  of  them  are  ungodly?  Know  that  God  revives  the  earth after it was dead. We have indeed made clear for you the signs, that haply you will understand."  [Qur'an 57:16-17]

Nuh  Ha  Mim  Keller  is  the  translator  of  "The  Reliance  of  the Traveller" [`Umdat as-Salik] by Ahmed Ibn Naqib al-Misri

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