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Page 10

The Islamic Bulletin

Issue 10

Page 11

The Islamic Bulletin

Issue 10

Besides being thoroughly instructed in Hebrew by her father while

growing up and also in school, she said she was now spending all

her spare time studying Arabic. However, with no previous warning,

Zenita dropped out of class and although I continued to attend all of

his lectures to the conclusion of the course, Zenita never returned.

Months passed and I had almost forgotten about Zenita when

suddenly she called and begged me to meet her at the Metropol-

itan Museum and go with her to look at the special exhibition of

exquisite Arabic calligraphy and ancient illuminated manuscripts of

the Quran. During our tour of the museum, Zenita told me how she

had embraced Islamwith two of her Palestinian friends as witnesses.

I inquired, “Why did you decide to become a Muslim?” She then

told me that she had left Professor Katsh’s class when she fell ill with

a severe kidney infection. Her condition was so critical, she told

me, her mother and father had not expected her to survive. “One

afternoon while burning with fever, I reached for my Holy Quran

on the table beside by bed and began to read and while I recited

the verses, it touched me so deeply that I began to weep and then

I knew I would recover. As soon as I was strong enough to leave

my bed, I summoned two of my Muslim friends and took the oath

of the “Shahadah” or Confession of Faith.”

Zenita and I would eat our meals in Syrian restaurants where I ac-

quired a keen taste for this tasty cooking. When we had money to

spend, we would order Couscous, roast lamb with rice or a whole

soup plate of delicious little meatballs swimming in gravy scooped

up with loaves of unleavened Arabic bread. And when we had

little to spend, we would eat lentils and rice, Arabic style, or the

Egyptian national dish of black broad beans with plenty of garlic

and onions called “Ful”.

While Professor Katsh was lecturing thus, I was comparing in my

mind what I had read in the Old Testament and the Talmud with

what was taught in the Quran and Hadith and finding Judaism so

defective, I was converted to Islam.

Q: Were you scared that you might not be accepted by the


A: My increasing sympathy for Islam and Islamic ideals enraged

the other Jews I knew, who regarded me as having betrayed them

in the worst possible way. They used to tell me that such a repu-

tation could only result from shame of my ancestral heritage and

an intense hatred for my people. They warned me that even if I

tried to become a Muslim, I would never be accepted. These fears

proved totally unfounded as I have never been stigmatized by any

Muslim because of my Jewish origin. As soon as I became a Muslim

myself, I was welcomed most enthusiastically by all the Muslims as

one of them.

I did not embrace Islam out of hatred for my ancestral heritage or

my people. It was not a desire so much to reject as to fulfill. To me,

it meant a transition from parochial to a dynamic and revolutionary


Q: Did your family object to your studying Islam?

A: Although I wanted to become a Muslim as far back as 1954, my

family managed to argue me out of it. I was warned that Islamwould

complicate my life because it is not, like Judaism and Christianity,

part of the American scene. I was told that Islam would alienate me

from my family and isolate me from the community. At that time

my faith was not sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures.

Partly as the result of this inner turmoil, I became so ill that I had

to discontinue college long before it was time for me to graduate.

For the next two years I remained at home under private medical

care, steadily growing worse. In desperation from 1957 - 1959 my

parents confined me both to private and public hospitals where I

vowed that if ever I recovered sufficiently to be discharged, I would

embrace Islam.

After I was allowed to return home, I investigated all the opportuni-

ties for meeting Muslims in New York City. It was my good fortune

to meet some of the finest men and women anyone could ever

hope to meet. I also began to write articles for Muslim magazines.

Q: What was the attitude of your parents and friends after you

became Muslim?

A: When I embraced Islam, my parents, relatives and their friends

regarded me almost as a fanatic, because I could think and talk of

nothing else. To them, religion is a purely private concern which at

the most perhaps could be cultivated like an amateur hobby among

other hobbies. But as soon as I read the Holy Quran, I knew that

Islam was no hobby but life itself!

Q: In what ways did the Holy Quran have an impact on your life?

A: One evening I was feeling particularly exhausted and sleepless,

Mother came into my room and said she was about to go to the

Larchmont Public Library and asked me if there was any book that

I wanted? I asked her to look and see if the library had a copy of an

English translation of the Holy Quran. Just think, years of passionate

interest in the Arabs and reading every book in the library about

them I could lay my hands on but until now, I never thought to

see what was in the Holy Quran! Mother returned with a copy for

me. I was so eager; I literally grabbed it from her hands and read

it the whole night. There I also found all the familiar Bible stories

of my childhood.

In my eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school

and one year of college, I learned about English grammar and

composition, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek in current use,

Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, European and American history,

elementary science, Biology, music and art--but I had never learned

anything about God! Can you imagine I was so ignorant of God

that I wrote to my pen-friend, a Pakistani lawyer, and confessed to

him the reason why I was an atheist was because I couldn’t believe

that God was really an old man with a long white beard who sat up

on His throne in Heaven.

When he asked me where I had learned this outrageous thing, I

told him of the reproductions from the Sistine Chapel I had seen in

“Life” Magazine of Michelangelo’s “Creation” and “Original Sin.” I

described all the representations of God as an old man with a long

white beard and the numerous crucifixions of Christ I had seen

with Paula at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in the Holy

Quran, I read:

“Allah! There is no god but He,-the Living, The Self-subsisting,

Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are

all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is thee can inter-

cede in His presence except as He permiteth? He knoweth what

(appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them.

Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He

willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth,

and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for

He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).” (Quran 2:255)

“But the Unbelievers,-their deeds are like a mirage in sandy

deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water;

until when he comes up to it, he finds Allah there, and Allah will

pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account. Or (the

unbelievers’ state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep

ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by

(dark) clouds: depth of darkness, one above another: if a man

stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! For any to whom

Allah giveth not light, there is no light!” (Quran 24:39-40)

My first thought when reading the Holy Quran - this is the only

true religion - absolutely sincere, honest, not allowing cheap com-

promises or hypocrisy.

In 1959, I spent much of my leisure time reading books about

Islam in the New York Public Library. It was there I discovered four

bulky volumes of an English translation of Mishkat ul- Masabih. It

was then that I learned that a proper and detailed understanding

of the Holy Quran is not possible without some knowledge of the

relevant Hadith. For how can the holy text correctly be interpreted

except by the Prophet to whom it was revealed?

Once I had studied the Mishkat, I began to accept the Holy Quran

as Divine revelation. What persuaded me that the Quran must be

from God and not composed by Muhammad (PBUH) was its sat-

isfying and convincing answers to all the most important questions

of life which I could not find elsewhere.

As a child, I was so mortally afraid of death, particularly the thought

of my own death, that after nightmares about it, sometimes I would

awaken my parents crying in the middle of the night. When I asked

them why I had to die and what would happen to me after death,

all they could say was that I had to accept the inevitable; but that

was a long way off and because medical science was constantly

advancing, perhaps I would live to be a hundred years old!

My parents, family, and all our friends rejected as superstition any

thought of the Hereafter, regarding Judgment Day, reward in Para-

dise or punishment in Hell as outmoded concepts of by-gone ages.

In vain I searched all the chapters of the Old Testament for any clear

and unambiguous concept of the Hereafter. The prophets, patriarchs

and sages of the Bible all receive their rewards or punishments in

this world. Typical is the story of Job (Hazrat Ayub).

God destroyed all his loved-ones, his possessions, and afflicted him

with a loathsome disease in order to test his faith. Job plaintively

laments to God why He should make a righteous man suffer. At the

end of the story, God restores all his earthly losses but nothing is

even mentioned about any possible consequences in the Hereafter.

Although I did find the Hereafter mentioned in the New Testament,

compared with that of the Holy Quran, it is vague and ambiguous. I

found no answer to the question of death in Orthodox Judaism, for

the Talmud preaches that even the worst life is better than death.

My parents’ philosophy was that one must avoid contemplating the

thought of death and just enjoy as best one can, the pleasures life

has to offer at the moment.

According to them, the purpose of life is enjoyment and pleasure

achieved through self-expression of one’s talents, the love of family,

the congenial company of friends combined with the comfortable

living and indulgence in the variety of amusements that affluent

America makes available in such abundance.

They deliberately cultivated this superficial approach to life as if it

were the guarantee for their continued happiness and good-fortune.

Through bitter experience I discovered that self-indulgence leads

only to misery and that nothing great or even worthwhile is ever

accomplished without struggle through adversity and self-sacrifice.

From my earliest childhood, I have always wanted to accomplish

important and significant things. Above all else, before my death I

wanted the assurance that I have not wasted life in sinful deeds or

worthless pursuits.

All my life I have been intensely serious-minded. I have always

detested the frivolity which is the dominant characteristic of con-

temporary culture. My father once disturbed me with his unsettling

conviction that there is nothing of permanent value and because

everything in this modern age accept the present trends inevitable

and adjust ourselves to them.

I, however, was thirsty to attain something that would endure forev-

er. It was from the Holy Quran where I learned that this aspiration

was possible. No good deed for the sake of seeking the pleasure

of God is ever wasted or lost. Even if the person concerned nev-

er achieves any worldly recognition, his reward is certain in the


Conversely, the Quran tells us that those who are guided by no

moral considerations other than expediency or social conformity

and crave the freedom to do as they please, no matter how much

worldly success and prosperity they attain or how keenly they are

able to relish the short span of their earthly life, will be doomed as

the losers on Judgment Day.

Islam teaches us that in order to devote our exclusive attention

to fulfilling our duties to God and to our fellow-beings; we must

abandon all vain and useless activities which distract us from this

end. These teachings of the Holy Quran, made even more explicit

by Hadith, were thoroughly compatible with my temperament.

Q: What is your opinion of the Arabs after you became a Muslim?

A: As the years passed, the realization gradually dawned upon me

that it was not the Arabs who made Islam great but rather Islam had

made the Arabs great. Were it not for the Holy Prophet Muhammad

(PBUH), the Arabs would be an obscure people today. And were

it not for the Holy Quran, the Arabic language would be equally

insignificant, if not extinct.

Q: Did you see any similarities between Judaism and Islam?

A: The kinship between Judaism and Islam is even stronger than

Islam and Christianity. Both Judaism and Islam share in common

the same uncompromising monotheism, the crucial importance of

strict obedience to Divine Law as proof of our submission to and

love of the Creator, the rejection of the priesthood, celibacy and

monasticism and the striking similarity of the Hebrew and Arabic


In Judaism, religion is so confused with nationalism; one can scarcely

distinguish between the two. The name “Judaism” is derived from

Judah-a tribe. A Jew is a member of the tribe of Judah. Even the

name of this religion connotes no universal spiritual message. A Jew

is not a Jew by virtue of his belief in the unity of God, but merely

because he happened to be born of Jewish parentage. Should he

become an outspoken atheist, he is no less “Jewish” in the eyes of

his fellow Jews.

Such a thorough corruption with nationalism has spiritually impover-

ished this religion in all its aspects. God is not the God of all mankind

but the God of Israel. The scriptures are not God’s revelation to

the entire human race but primarily a Jewish history book. David

and Solomon (peace be upon them) are not full-fledged prophets

of God but merely Jewish kings.

With the single exception of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of

Atonement), the holidays and festivals celebrated by Jews, such

as Hanukkah, Purim and Pesach, are of far greater national than

religious significance.

Q: Have you ever had the opportunity to talk about Islam to

the other Jews?

A: There is one particular incident which really stands out in my

mind when I had the opportunity to discuss Islam with a Jewish

gentleman. Dr. Shoreibah, of the Islamic Center in New York, in-

troduced me to a very special guest.

After one Jumha Salat, I went into his office to ask him some ques-

tions about Islam but before I could even greet him with “Assalamu

Alaikum”, I was completely astonished and surprised to see seated

before him an ultra-orthodox Chassidic Jew, complete with earlocks,

broad-brimmed black hat, long black silken caftan and a full flowing

beard. Under his arm was a copy of the Yiddish newspaper, “The

Daily Forward”.

He told us that his name was Samuel Kostelwitz and that he worked

in New York City as a diamond cutter. Most of his family, he said,

lived in the Chassidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but

he also had many relatives and friends in Israel. Born in a small

Rumanian town, he had fled from the Nazi terror with his parents

to America just prior to the outbreak of the second world-war.

I asked him what had brought him to the mosque. He told us that

he had been stricken with intolerable grief ever since his mother

died 5 years ago. He had tried to find solace and consolation for his

grief in the synagogue but could not when he discovered that many

of the Jews, even in the ultra-orthodox community of Williamsburg,

were shameless hypocrites.