Renowned author James A. Michener is quoted on this subject as saying "No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam.... The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Quran is explicit in support of the freedom of Conscience... quoted from Islam, The Misunderstood Religion, Readers Digest (American Ed.) May 1955.
1955? Why then is this still one of the most widely held beliefs about Islam from non- Muslim people?
Still the "Misunderstood Religion," media coverage of today propagates this misconception in its handling of any story associated with anyone that is Muslim. Recently a tragedy occurred in the case of a man who took the lives of his two children and himself... in the news he wasn't described as 'Christian' father sacrifices the lives of his family after a terrorist attack on home. Serbs are referred to as "Serbs", and not "Extremist Christian Serb forces". In no other instance in news coverage are people referred to by a preface as to their religion, except in the case of Muslims. This is blatant discrimination. It is ascribing the actions of individuals in conjunction with the beliefs held by a third of the human population.
Hitler is not referred to as the "Christian" Hitler. The Crusaders' saving the world from the infidels carried the sign of the cross as their symbol of unity, in spite of the fact that they were invading a land not their own with a Sword; sacking, plundering, robbing the wealth of those lands, not only of their material wealth but of their knowledge of science, literature, math, astronomy, medicine, etc. Wasn't that the Sword of Christianity? The Spanish Inquisition is a frightening example of a "Sword" being used to force the 'acceptance' of Christianity. Do all Christians believe in the methods of the Spanish inquisition?
Another example is of The Ku Klux Klan which is seen with the most powerful symbol of Christianity, the cross, as a burning brand in what is certainly "terrorism". Are they referred to as a "Fundamentalist Christian Organization"? Do Christians agree with their actions or interpretations of the gospels?
What are the beliefs held by the believers of Islam, the "most misunderstood religion"? Can one really believe that any religion be promoted under duress or by force? Religion is a gift of faith and illumination bestowed by God. As quoted by M.K. Gandhi, "I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was rigid simplicity, the utter self- effacement of the Prophet (Mohammed), the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble." Young India, 1924.
One must look at "cultural" prejudice in examining this question. How often are Muslims referred to as "third world"? Does not "third world" imply to the western mind third rate, uncivilized or primitive? Can anyone who has examined history refute the influence of the Muslim world on today's knowledge of scientific thinking? This prejudice towards the Muslim people lingers from the time of the Crusades. What about the numerous sects of Christianity? Are we Muslims to believe that the term Christian is synonymous with the actions of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Methodist, Baptist, etc., which in themselves differ in the interpretation and practices of their beliefs? And finally, how many Western people automatically equate the word Muslim with Middle Eastern peoples?
This ignores the vast groups of Muslims from all over the world. In fact Islam knows no geographic boundaries. One billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe-from the southern Philippines to Nigeria-are united by their common Islamic faith. Only 18% live in the Arab world; the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. At least one out of every seven persons in the world is a Muslim. Being "Muslim" is not a cultural, geographic, social, or political issue. It is one of spirituality, faith in the Supreme Being, and belief in the teachings of the Prophets.
The Quran is precise in its message for every aspect of our lives regardless of nationality, ethnic and cultural origin, gender, or social- economic level. It not only reaches all levels of understanding and intelligence, but takes into account human frailty and guides us to social conduct which allows us to live together in this world with one another with dignity, honesty, and kindness. But it must be practiced according to the teachings of the Quran. This is a task which requires constant striving and effort; hence, the importance of constant contact with God through daily prayer. It is a "code of conduct" that is concise, pure, understandable, merciful, and hopeful. It is for these reasons--the simplicity of Islam--that Islam has spread so rapidly through the ages. The Quran states:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error." (Qur'an 2:256)
Islam is the Sword of Truth, whose mere shine eliminates falsehood just like light wipes darkness. Islam is the fastest growing religion today.
"When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory, and thou dost see the people enter Allah's Religion in crowds." (Qur'an 110:1-2)
Islam continues to pierce the hearts of countless men and women. Below are the impressions of some people who embraced Islam. All from different countries speaking different languages and having different backgrounds.
AHMED HOLT, a British Civil Contractor who embraced Islam in 1975, says: "The Sword of Islam is not the sword of steel. I know this by experience because the sword of Islam struck deep into my own heart. It didn't bring death, but it brought a new life; it brought an awareness and it brought an awakening as to who I am, what I am, and what I am here for." The sword of Islam strikes through God's grace.
Those not born into Islam feel the special grace of this sword of light when touched by its mighty power and truths.
YUSUF ISLAM, formerly known as Cat Stevens says, "It will be wrong to judge Islam in the light of the behavior of some Muslims shown in the media." An analogy often repeated but still appropriate is, "If you see a beautiful car moving down the road, all shiny, new and bright, but the driver of that car is drunk and crashes the car against a wall, you don't say what a bad car it must be... you feel sorry that the car is badly used by the driver." Look at the "vehicle", not the driver, and strive to operate the beautiful car in a manner appropriate to its integrity. Yusuf Islam continues, "Islam guides all human beings in the daily life- in its spiritual, mental and physical dimensions, but we must find the sources of these instructions, the Quran and the example of the Prophet. Then we can see the ideal of Islam."
BOGDAN KOPANSKI (now Bogdan Ataullak Kopanski): originally Polish now American; PhD in history and politics, had a very interesting journey to Islam and faced severe hardships; was imprisoned twice by the Polish communist regime (1968, 1981-82). He embraced Islam in 1974. "When I was 12 years old I rejected illogical and contradictory faith of the Church. Two years later in 1962- I was fascinated by victorious struggle of the Algerian Muslim mujahhideen against French colonialism. It was the first ARROW of Islam.... The high school and earliest days of my education in the University, I was a typical example of 'rebel generation' of Reds.... My way to the Truth of Al- Qur'an was slow and unpaved.... In 1974 I visited Turkey, I wrote my M.A. dissertation about Sultan and Caliph Suleiman Kanuni's policy towards Polish Kingdom.
There, I was hit by the most beautiful voice of mankind, ADHAN, the call to prayer. My hair stood up. Unknown powerful force led me to old masjid in Istanbul. There, old smiling Turkish, bearded men taught me WUZU, ablution. I confessed to tears SHAHADAH and I prayed my first SALAH Maghrib.... I swept out the rubbish ideologies.... The First time in my life, my mind was relaxed and I felt pleasure of Allah's love in my heart. I was a Muslim...."
WILFRED HOFMAN, PhD in Law (Harvard) German ambassador to Algeria, " For some time now, striving for more and more precision and brevity, I have tried to put on paper in a systematic way, all philosophical truths, which in my view can be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt. In the course of this effort it dawned on me that the typical attitude of an agnostic is not an intellectual one; that man simply cannot escape a decision to the greatest harmony with overall reality. Thus, I realize, not without shock, that step by step, in spite of myself and almost unconsciously, in feeling and thinking I have grown into a Muslim. Only one last step remained to be taken: to formalize my conversion. As of today, I am a Muslim.
VENGATACHALAM ADIYAR (now Abdullah Adiyar): Indian, noted Tamil writer and journalist; worked as a news editor in Dr. M. Karunanidhi's daily MURASOLI for 17 years; assisted 3 former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu; received Kalaimamani Award (Big Gem of Arts) from Tamil Nadu Government in 1982. He embraced Islam in 1987. "In Islam I found suitable replies to nagging queries arising in my mind with regard to the theory of creation, status of woman, creation of universe, etc. The life history of the Holy Prophet attracted me very much and made easy for me to compare with other world leaders and their philosophies."
HERBERT HOBOHM (now Amam Hobohm): German diplomat and social worker. An intellectual who has been serving the German diplomatic missions around the world. Presently working as Cultural Attache at the German Embassy in Riyadh. He embraced Islam in 1941."I have lived under different systems of life and have had the opportunity of studying various ideologies, but have come to the conclusion that none is a perfect as Islam. None of the systems has got a complete code of a noble life. Only Islam has it; and that is why good men embrace it. Islam is not theoretical; it is practical. It means complete submission to the will of God."
CASSIUS CLAY (now Muhammad Ali); American, three times World Heavyweight Champion, formerly a Christian. He embraced Islam in 1965. "I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat on the day of HAJJ (Muslims' pilgrimage), was the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere there as over a million and a half pilgrims invoked God to forgive them of their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessings. It was an exhilarating experience to see to people belonging to different colors, races and nationalities, kings, heads of states and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority. It was a practical manifestation of the concept of equality in Islam."
If one studies the Quran it is impossible to withhold belief in its words. "Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to compliment and support each other. Nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure." This from LEOPOLD WEISS (Mohammad Asad), Austrian statesman, journalist, former foreign correspondent, and author.
This then is "The Sword of Islam "... the spiritual light and power of belief in the one supreme creator and ruler of all mankind and the message of hope brought to us in the Quran. A sword of steel holds no power over this true "Sword of Islam".
The Islamic Bulletin
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