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IN RETROSPECT

MUSLIM

The One Who Embraces Islam

Qamar Shamim Rahman


When the Muslim Ummah calls humanity to Islam, and by the Grace of Allah (swt) people embrace Islam. What should we name such persons? This question is not as simple as we might think it is. A few years back, the common term used was "converts". But the word "convert" seems unsatisfactory because this word, according to Webster's Unabridged Encyclopaedic Dictionary, means "to change, transmute, transform or adopt a different religion, party, opinion" etc. The word "convert" seems to be against the Islamic thought that every human being is born as a Muslim and any change is a result of their environment. The word "revert", then, seems to be more suitable, as it means to return to a former habit, practice, belief, condition, etc, and to go back in thought or discussion.

If we go back to the time of the Prophet (s), when people coming into the fold of Islam was an everyday phenomenon, we see that these people were not called converts or reverts or any other name. Was humanity then not born into Islam? We understand that everyone who accepted Islam as his or her way of life was simply called a "Muslim". It is difficult to understand why we shy away from the name Muslim. Why can we not call our brothers and sisters, who have come into the fold of Islam and chosen Islam to be their way of life, simply Muslims? "Muslims" is the most suitable name, as the word means those who have surrendered their will to the Will of Allah (swt).

If we argue that those who have just come to the fold of Islam have some specific needs, which is true, then we may call them new Muslims. We hope that these new Muslims will sooner or later become self-sufficient in Islamic knowledge and every other aspect of life, and will become like every other Muslim in society.

When we read the stories of the prophets in the Holy Quran, we learn that each one of them referred to themselves and their followers as Muslims. For example, Prohet Nuh (a) said to his people:

"No reward have I asked of you: my reward is only due from Allah, and I have been commanded to be of those who submit to Allah's Will (in Islam)"

(Quran, 10:72)

In this verse, Prophet Nuh (a) says that he has been commanded by Allah (swt) to be one from amongst the "Muslimeen". In other words, Prophet Nuh (a) called himself and his followers "Muslimeen".

Prophet Ibrahim (a) is mentioned in the Holy Quran as a Muslim:

"Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith and bowed his will to Allah's, (which is Islam) and he joined not gods with Allah."

(Quran, 3:67)

This verse portrays Prophet Ibrahim (a) as a Muslim who was not a Mushrik (one who makes partners with Allah (swt) ). He taught the same lesson to his children:

And this was the legacy that Abraham left to his sons, and so did Jacob; "Oh my sons! Allah hath chosen the Faith for you; then die not except in the faith of Islam.

(Quran, 2:132)

Prophet Ibrahim (a) and his son Prophet Ismail (a) joined in prayer to Allah (swt) to make them and their descendants Muslims:

"Our Lord! Make us Muslims, bowing to Thy (Will), and our progeny a people Muslim bowing to Thy (Will); "

(Quran, 2: 128)

From these three verses we understand that Prophet Ibrahim (a) and his son wished themselves and their descendants to be called Muslims. All the other prophets also preferred to be called Muslims: for example Prophets Lut (a) (see 51: 35-36), Yusuf (a) (see 12: 101), Musa (a) (see 10: 84), and Isa (a) (see 3: 52).

Thus, the Holy Quran is a witness that all the prophets, their followers and their descendants were called Muslims. But when the true religion got distorted, and people began to go astray, they segregated themselves into distinct groups. Then came the last prophet, Prophet Muhammad (s) as a mercy to humankind, who called the whole universe towards Islam, and everyone who came into the fold of Islam was proud to be called a Muslim, for this is the name Allah (swt) gave to the final revival of the Faith:

"And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Apostle may be a witness for you, and ye be witness for mankind! So establish regular prayer, give regular charity, And hold fast to Allah! He is your protector ­ the best to protect and the best to help."

(Quran, 22: 78)

This verse is very meaningful and says a lot. Certainly, accepting Islam means surrendering one's will to the Divine Will, striving and struggling in the path of Allah (swt). Islam is not a difficult religion to follow, nor is there any compulsion in Islam (Quran 2:256). To become a true Muslim is dependent on individual determination and effort. Experience tells us that some new Muslims have become much better Muslims than many of those who have been born into Muslim families, through their own efforts and by integrating well into the Muslim community.

As soon as a person decides to accept Islam as the way of life, the Islamic Shariah becomes his or her principle in life. Says Maulana Maudoodi in his Tafheemul Quran, soon after a person accepts Islam or declares faith, the muezzin calls for salaah, and the time comes for a test of faith. The new Muslims who have not yet had a chance to learn the method and manner of performing salaah, make ablution and stand in a row, with their brothers and sisters in Islam, proud to be counted as Muslims. This shows the act of holding fast to the rope of Allah (swt) together.

We understand that when a person accepts Islam, all previous sins are forgiven and she or he becomes as innocent as a newborn baby. In many ways their spiritual needs are also like those of a child, i.e. starting afresh. This also means that a process of growing up is needed. For this growing up, self help and self effort are as important as a helping hand.

We can take some lessons from those people at the time of the Prophet (s) who were called Ashabe-Suffah. Their name was derived from the verandah-like place called "Suffah" in Masjid Al-Nabwi, where these people made their dwelling. These Muslims devoted their time to learn Islam. Their number fluctuated as some people, when they became self-sufficient, moved on and others joined in. Likewise, new Muslims can be helped. If these people integrate into the Muslim community and make an effort of frequent visiting, the learning process will become easy.

We learn from the Holy Quran that there were certain obligations which became necessary on proclamation of faith:

"O Prophet! When believing women come to thee to take the oath of fealty to thee, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forging falsehood, and that they will not disobey thee in any just matter, - then do thou receive their fealty, and pray to Allah for the forgiveness (of their sins): for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."

(Quran, 60:12)

Yusuf Ali in his explanation of this verse writes that similar oaths were taken by men. There is no authority on earth that has the right to exempt anyone of these obligations, and accepting Islam means accepting all its obligations.

The similarity of all Muslims is that we are all responsible for our own actions. We all will be judged by our deeds. We will be rewarded and punished according to our actions and deeds. Upon acceptance of Islam, a person becomes innocent and all his or her previous sins are forgiven. But from the same moment, every action and deed is counted for the reckoning in the world Hereafter, on the Day of Judgement. The Holy Quran says:

"To all are degrees (or ranks) according to their deeds: For thy Lord is not unmindful of anything that they do."

(Quran, 7: 132)

The new Muslims also have obligations to Allah (swt). They have to strive and learn as quickly as possible. They have to have a sense of belonging to the Muslim community. It is therefore important to call them Muslims so they can identify themselves with other Muslims. If we segregate them from the start and call them reverts, we are creating an identity crisis. So let us all integrate and become a united Muslim Ummah. We all have the same religion, same Shariah and same way of life, and we are all Muslims.




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