...[T]he message of Islam continues to penetrate the Western mind, appealing to the spiritual hunger which is at the basis of the human experience. Just as Americans embraced Buddhism from defeated Japan after WWII, they are increasingly embracing the spirituality of the supposedly conquered Muslim world today.
Over the past 20 years, an estimated 20,000 people in England have converted and, as in many other countries, the movement toward Islam has accelerated. One Dutch Islamic centre claims a tenfold increase in converts since 9/11, while the New Muslims Project, based in Leicester and run by a former Irish Catholic housewife, reports a steady stream. A 1999 United Nations survey showed that between 1989 and 1998, Europe's Muslim population more than doubled. Today, about 13 million Muslims live in Western Europe: 3.9 million in Germany, 3.3 million in Britain, 7.5 million in France. Surprisingly, there has been a surge in conversions to Islam since September 11, especially among affluent young white Britons.
So the tradition that Pickthall embodied continues. Austrian correspondent for the Franfurter Zeitung Leopold Weiss (Muhammad Asad) left Europe in 1922 for what was supposed to be a short visit to an uncle in Jerusalem. Weiss counted himself an agnostic, having drifted away from his Jewish moorings despite his religious studies. There, instead of becoming a Zionist, he was struck by how Islam infused everyday lives with existential meaning, spiritual strength and inner peace, though he was disappointed in the corruption of Muslim society. In the mountains of Afghanistan a young provincial governor finally told him, "But you are a Muslim, only you don't know it yourself." When he returned to Europe, he saw that "the only logical consequence of my attitude was to embrace Islam.
"Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other: nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. As a spiritual and social phenomenon, it is still in spite of all the drawbacks caused by the deficiencies of the Muslims, by far the greatest driving force mankind has ever experienced; and all my interest became, since then, centred around the problem of its regeneration."
After the establishment of Pakistan, he was appointed the Director of the Department of Islamic Reconstruction, West Punjab and later became Pakistan's alternate representative at the United Nations. He authored Islam at the Crossroads and Road to Mecca, published a monthly journal Arafat and, like Pickthall, an English translation of the Quran.
Charles Le Gai Eaton, a former British diplomat and author of Islam and the Destiny of Man, relates how he overheard a young woman telling a Christian minister she was not sure she believed in human progress. "The Minister answered her so rudely and with such contempt that I could not resist the temptation to say: 'She's quite right - there's no such thing as progress!' He turned on me, his face contorted with fury, and said: 'If I thought that, I would commit suicide this very night!' Since suicide is as great a sin for Christians as it is for Muslims, I understood for the first time the extent to which faith in progress, in a 'better future' and, by implication, in the possibility of a paradise on earth has replaced faith in God and in the hereafter. Deprive the modern Westerner of this faith and he is lost in a wilderness without signposts."
October 1, 2007
The article Finding the Inner Muslim Prince, by Eric Walberg and published in Al-Ahram Weekly Online, is quite an interesting read, and I've decided to re-publish two more excerpts (in addition to the excerpt I re-published the other day on Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall). The first is of two men who reverted to Islam, Leopold Weiss (Muhammad Asad) and Charles Le Gai Eaton. Eaton's quotation, on Western mankind having substituted faith in "progress" and a "better future" for a faith in God and the hereafter, is rather thought-provoking. The next post will deal with two women who reverted to Islam.