The Islamic Bulletin
The Islamic Bulletin
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
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
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
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
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
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.