Brought to you by: Imperial College Ahlul Bayt Society

Contents Introduction...........................................................................3 Philological Analysis.................................................................3 Embracing Islam: A civilized Phenomenon..................................5 Social Concerns......................................................................7 * Personal Restrictions under Islam......................................7 * Complications with family and friends................................8 Political Issues......................................................................10 * Fundamentalism...........................................................10 * Other communities: Winning or losing because of conversion?............................................................................... .....11 Practical advice.....................................................................11 Conclusion...........................................................................12

Introduction
Islam, which in the Arabic language means “submission” (to God), is the completion of the Semitic monotheistic message. Its coming was heralded in the Bible, where the Holy Prophet Jesus gave glad tidings of a merciful prophet who would come for humanity. Within only a few decades of the Prophet Muhammad’s death, Islam had spread swiftly throughout the world, extending as far east as Central Asia and as far west as Spain. The theological, legal, and mystical doctrines of Islam later developed outside the Arabian Peninsula in areas such as Syria and Iraq, where an “Islamic Identity” was formed through a merging of Arab culture with the cultures of the Near East which had been refined through conquest and conversion. Islam is now the dominant religion in Indonesia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa; worldwide, it is the faith of approximately one billion people. Islam is one of the most dynamic, multifaceted religions of the world; but at the same it also remains grossly misunderstood. In recent decades, we have witnessed numerous people from many countries embracing Islam. According to The Almanac Book of Facts, the world population increased 137% within the past decade; but whereas Christianity’s population increased 46%, Islam’s increased 235%, 100,000 people per year are embracing Islam in America alone, and for every one male who embraces Islam, four females embrace Islam.

Philological Analysis
Before studying this subject further, we feel it necessary to provide an analysis of the chosen term, which has been used in this booklet to describe those who come into the faith. We have noticed that many within the Western academic milieu have implemented the term: ‘Conversion’. The Western mass media and communications channels have also adopted it unremittingly. Many new Muslims did not welcome this implementation, as it does not sufficiently and accurately reflect their act. Although conversion involves a “change” to a new path, lifestyle and a new set of ideas, it portrays a misguiding message, as it implies a severe “change”. Many such ‘converts’ do not consider their choice of religion and lifestyle in this way, but view it in terms of a rediscovery of their true selves. Many such individuals nowadays reject using the term “convert”. I have met many new Muslims who prefer being called “revert”, because of the Qur’anic belief that all human beings are Muslim at birth, whether or not they later deviate for one reason or another. Embracing Islam is considered as a reversion of the human being to their original natural state, as opposed to a horizontal shift from one community to another. However we disagree with the use of the word ‘revert’, as it implies a return to a bad or wrong habit from the past. Contemporary English dictionaries support this claim unquestionably.

To quote from the “Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English”: “Revert to: sb/sth v. 1. to go back to a former condition or habit, especially one that was bad: As soon as they stopped farming, the land reverted back to wilderness”. Concerning the word ‘reversion’ the same dictionary says: “Reversion: n (singular, n) formal 1. A return to a former, usually bad, condition or habit: the danger of a reversion to tribal warfare in the region”.1 In Collins English Dictionary one reads: “Revert (Intr; foll. By to) 1. to go back to a former practice, condition, belief etc: she reverted to her old wicked ways”. 2 Even though the examples cited by the dictionaries indicate the element of changing back to a previous state, new Muslims would certainly not like to adopt a word that is used in conjunction with the word ‘wicked’! In order to identify the most appropriate term to indicate those coming into the religion, it is first necessary to stipulate the crucial requirements that such a term should fulfil. These are as follows:
• When coming into the religion of Islam, one voluntarily adopts a new

ideology. Such ideas, which in their essence are in absolute harmony with man’s innate nature, may however require the person to accept ideas and practices that are dissimilar to those of his previous non-Islamic lifestyle.
• When a person accepts Islam as the true path of life, it is done so with

enthusiasm and eagerness. It is a positive process, and therefore should never be interpreted in a negative way.
• Apart from these semantic points, an appropriate term should be

phonetically easy, morphologically short and socio-linguistically widely accepted. The most suitable term, which fulfils the above requirements and which, reflects the factual act is: Embrace, and its derivatives. We read in the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary: “Embrace 2.(formal) to accept an idea, a proposal, a set of beliefs, etc, especially when it is done with enthusiasm: to embrace democracy/Islam”. 3 Also we read in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2000): “embrace: vb. 3. to take up esp. readily or gladly.” P. 377 From the Longman dictionary we quote: “Embrace 3. (formal) to accept and use new ideas, opinions, etc. eagerly. 4. (formal) to start to believe in a religion or political system: she embraced the Muslim Faith”. 4 In conclusion we observe that phonetically this term is simple, its structure is concise and its socio-linguistic account is widely accepted by the compilers of well-known English dictionaries. Thus it bears all the necessary semantic implications and holds no negative connotations or potential meanings, which could lead to its misuse by the mass media or proponents against Islam and Muslims.

We are of the firm belief that one should try to refrain from using other terms, which may unwittingly incorporate some negative implication. Instead we recommend the promotion of the technical term, ‘Embracing’ and its derivatives, and would like to encourage the wise mass communications media to adopt it assiduously.

Embracing Islam: A civilized Phenomenon
“I really had a difficult time because I was getting rich and famous, and at the same time, I was sincerely searching for the Truth. Then I came to a stage where I decided that Buddhism is all right and noble, but I was not ready to leave the world. I was too attached to the world and was not prepared to become a monk and to isolate myself from society. I tried Zen and Ching, numerology, tarot cards and astrology. I tried to look back into the Bible and could not find anything. At this time I did not know anything about Islam, and then, what I regarded as a miracle occurred. My brother had visited the mosque in Jerusalem and was greatly impressed that while on the one hand it throbbed with life (unlike the churches and synagogues which were empty), on the other hand, an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity prevailed.” –Yousef Islam (Cat Stevens) This is often how the path of embracing begins, and sometimes this is how it ends. There are a number of issues that should be reflected upon when one discusses embracing Islam. These issues may take space in the mind of those who are considering the values and teachings of Islam. Islam itself is more than just a spiritual teaching, designed to allow escape from a gloomy lived reality. Islam is a way to live in happiness and worship God. Even the concept of “worship” itself in Islam means more than it does in other religions, encompassing more than just prayer and fasting. Islam is a religion that gives equal value to knowledge as it does for deeds, and it sets the more abstract, spiritual values on equal footing with those that affect practical life. As Muslims we encourage embracing Islam. However, it should be understood that encouraging it does not stem from some tribal desire to increase the population of the Islamic community. Islam is far more concerned with quality than it is with quantity, and Islam gives the highest priority to increasing the knowledge and values of its community’s members. It is hoped that embracers will bring their own unique and special contributions to the Muslim community’s life. Encountering someone who chose to become Muslim should make all born-Muslims think about the value of their religion. Muslims are obliged to reveal their high moral system and sophisticated teachings to non-Muslims; but many times, when someone else accepts the teachings of the religion, it has little effect on the beliefs and allegiances of those already born into it. Nonetheless, the growing phenomenon of people embracing Islam is encouraging non-practicing Muslims to reconsider and re-examine their lifestyle. Before going further into this discussion, it is worth highlighting the following points about embracing Islam:
• Embracing Islam is an act of a civilized person. The person who embraces

Islam is often perceived to be “regressing” from a civilized Western life towards an uncivilized or primitive Islamic life. The Muslim embracer is a

sincere member of his community, and he enters into it by the use of his reason, intellect, and free will. If we define a “civilized” person as one who open his or her mind to the truth and seeks the truth from authentic sources (which, for a Muslim, is the Qur’an), then surely embracing is the most civilized of phenomena. There are many other religions, which do not welcome conversion, such as Judaism; many Jews feel that converts to Judaism are somehow not really Jewish, and that welcoming converts is something outside the Jewish tradition.
• Embracing Islam is natural for both genders. Islam is attracting all kinds of

people from our contemporary societies. The majority of Muslim embracers are women. Muslims are proud to announce that the first adult embracer in the early period of Islamic history was a woman, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadija.
• Embrace is as old as Islam itself. Muslim communities emerged from a society

where polytheism reigned, alongside Christianity and Judaism. Islam proselytized amongst these religions from the beginning. The historical record demonstrates that the vast majority of Muslim embracers in the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and Sicily came from Christianity. Throughout the history of the religion, Islam has attracted embracers from other religions by the strengths of its doctrines and ideas.
• Embracing Islam is global. The statistics record a pattern of numerous

conversions throughout Europe and America. In a contemporary study of the relationship between Islam and Christianity, Bernard Lewis described Islam as the first universal, multiracial, multiethnic religion. The human mind’s search for the truth is not restricted by geography or culture, and human beings themselves create whatever boundaries exist. These facts should convince any impartial individual to look at the phenomenon of conversion with open and objective eyes. There are many misconceptions and concerns about embracing that should be made clear, and there are many issues that appear in a person’s mind when they are thinking about embracing Islam. Many of these concerns stem from several misconceptions about Islam.

Social Concerns
* Personal Restrictions under Islam. Embracing Islam is a challenge, but almost all those who have experienced it describe it as exciting, as a time of real personal and spiritual growth and as a time of intensified feelings. For some of those who view the teachings of Islam superficially, they may seem complicated and difficult to hold in a materialistic world such as our own. However by looking deeply into the goals and ideology of Islam various facts will be revealed. Islamic beliefs and practices (Shari’ah) were created for the good of individuals and society. Many believe that all religions – including Islam – stand opposed to freedom and dignity. It is argued that social, personal and human freedom first emerged in Europe, and that it would be futile to try and unite freedom and Islam. They maintain

that Islam (and all other religions) have nothing to do with freedom, and that this socio-political idea of “freedom,” which has become prevalent in the world, is a European and Western invention (stemming from the French Revolution) that cannot be reconciled with an Oriental religion such as Islam. The reality is quite the opposite. Freedom was expressed in Islam centuries before the intellectuals, thinkers and revolutionaries of Europe made human freedom one of the principal human rights. Freedom, in its most sublime and divine form, means the liberation of the human spirit from contamination, lusts, desires and evil dependence upon material constraints. This understanding of freedom remains the exclusive domain of divine theologies, and secular ideologies have never been able to comprehend or accept it. The freedom advocated in the French revolution, which is being advocated throughout the entire Western world, was a petty, limited and worthless freedom, compared to the freedom advocated by the divine schools of thought.5 Nowadays, the overtone of freedom is blurred with so many thoughts and ideologies that it is impossible to find a clear definition for it. In some societies, freedom is viewed in an absolute manner, one that leaves no space for moral values and/or individual responsibility. A civilized and free woman, for instance, is the one who appears half naked in public. In reality no real freedom is created or practiced by this behaviour; all that has happened is that personal desires, lusts, and whims have been obeyed. The price paid for this “freedom” is the destruction of the moral psyche of the society at large. This deification of absolute personal freedom is obviously absurd. No one would deny that if an automobile driver was given absolute freedom on the road he would not only risk his own life, but the lives of all others that are sharing the road with him. Such recklessness is obviously not “freedom” in any real sense. True freedom is the freedom of mind and the liberation from the cage of self-desires. This is the special kind of freedom offered by Islam. It is freedom, combined with responsibility that guarantees true happiness for individuals and society. True freedom is the freedom of a mind, which bases itself on justice. An absolute freedom is never a synonym for happiness, however much some primitive mind may believe. Islamic embracers are choosing to become Muslims with their own free will and volition. Conversely, we see throughout history how Christian states have given Muslims a choice between death and conversion to Christianity. Probably the most notorious example of this phenomenon of forced conversion occurred during the Christian conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. And even though the Christians of Iberia were powerful and sophisticated enough to defeat the Muslims throughout the peninsula, Spain continued to face a complex problem even after conquest. Like the Jesuits in Elizabethan England, Moriscos (converted Muslims) and Marranos (converted Jews) in Spain were seen as both a religious and a political threat. Not only were they suspected of being closet infidels, they were also accused of complicity with the Muslim powers. * Complications with family and friends. If a non-Muslim embraces Islam, he is likely to face many obstacles from family and former friends. However, it is unadvisable to sacrifice the truth for the satisfaction of people. There are priorities in life, and the right guidance of our minds deserves the highest priority of all. If our minds are imprisoned inside the limitations of our society’s cultural expectations, we will never go beyond these cultural

boundaries in order to reach the truth. There is a wide spread belief that if someone embraces Islam, he will be viewed as a foreigner within his social milieu. But whether or not this happens is of no matter. It is worth remembering the words of Imam Ali, when he said: “There is no distinction higher than Islam, no honour more honourable than piety; no asylum better than self restraint; no intercessor more effective than repentance.”6 While non-Muslims often focus on the potential for cultural and social alienation, it is important to keep firm faith in light of the aforesaid aphorism. It should also be understood that Islam is a belief of the primordial and innate nature of man, (fitrah), that it is something ingrained in the human spirit, and that embracing Islam can never be considered as a truly alienating act. However it is very often that embracing Islam has resulted in a certain alienation from friends, family and society. In order to remedy this situation, an environment of mutual respect must be created between Muslims and non-Muslims, and emphasis must be placed on this “innate” understanding of Islam: that Islam is a belief that follows mankind’s original fitrah. With this understanding and this environment, these misleading fears will be banished and any apprehension about alienation will be destroyed at its roots. Embracing Islam should be considered as the most positive act for society. A woman who embraces Islam, marries a Muslim man, and establishes a respectable family with pious children, is no doubt working for the best interests of her society, and the benefits of such a woman’s actions are obvious to any rational thinker. “Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe, to be affected by Allah's remembrance, and that which has been revealed of the truth, lest they become as those who received the Scripture before and the term was prolonged for them and so their hearts were hardened and many of them were fasiq (rebellious, disobedient to Allah)”7 * Immigration to a Muslim country. As a result of the aforementioned alienation, which may sometimes occur, many embracers seek refuge in a Muslim country, hoping that in a Muslim society they will be better able to meet the standards of becoming a virtuous Muslim. Unfortunately, these individuals do not realize one important fact: Muslim societies are not necessarily the best examples of Islamic ideals. While understanding the motivations an embracer would have for immigrating, I ultimately feel that such a decision is based upon misconceptions that many embracers hold about Muslim societies. Immigrating to a Muslim country has its good and bad sides. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of Muslim societies (aspects which are themselves divorced from Islam) often outweigh the positive benefits of moving to a Muslim country. An embracer will certainly benefit from witnessing the real life of contemporary Muslim societies. The Muslim mind is not something that can be described; it can only be comprehended through participation in the lively daily life of a Muslim society. The practice of a Muslim society is an important matter in this regard. It is irrelevant what the nationality of that country is; what is important is the role Islam plays in its life. Nationality is a matter of convention, which does not support or contradict ideology, and it is not related to any belief that a person may hold. However, the negative sides of immigration are many. One of the greatest costs can be, ironically enough, to the embracer’s home country. If one’s goal is to settle down

in a Muslim society permanently, one should still bear in mind that, regardless of whatever ideology one holds, one still has the right, and perhaps an obligation, to live in one’s own homeland. If an embracer runs away from his society knowing that the problems of that society need to be reflected upon and changed, one’s abandonment of their homeland may only make things worse. The faults of the embracers’ societies are not in their nature, and they can ultimately be corrected and improved. Only ambitious and strong Muslims can bring about these changes. As long as the law leaves room for freedom of choice in ideology and belief, it will cause no harm for the embracer to speak up for the truth and work for the best in his own society.

Political Issues
* Fundamentalism Unfortunately some young Muslims, who embrace Islam due to their previous deprivation of spiritual life and Divine guidance, tend to catapult from one extreme to another and hence adopt a fundamentalist approach. Islam is a path of moderation and on accepting Islam one should refrain from any form of extreme or excess. The entire ethical system of Islam is based on self-control and temperance. However many of these embracers are treated in such a pre-conceived and judgmental way, that they complain of being automatically viewed in a negative light. Recently, two European Muslims were shockingly accused of terrorism by the Israeli government. On another occasion, we read from Reuters that: “Israel has denied entry to former British pop musician Yousef Islam because he supports the Palestinian organization “Hamas”, as an Israeli official said on Thursday. Al-Islam, who was known as Cat Stevens before converting to Islam in 1977, landed in Israel on a flight from Germany early on Wednesday. He was held at the airport for several hours and sent back to Germany, as the government spokesman Moshe Fogel said.”8 Dealing with the huge misconceptions surrounding Muslims and terrorism requires a background knowledge concerning the politics that dominate our world. An embracer should always consider one fact: Islam is the religion of peace and intimacy. The word “terror” is a word that has quite often been propagandistically used by mass media. For some governments, propaganda is a dirty yet effective weapon by which they strike down their enemy. Islam condemns terrorism, but it supports self-defence, which is acceptable by anyone’s commonsense. The Zionists and their aggressive regime in Israel -in an attempt to benefit from the
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events of 11 September and its aftermath- have manipulatively misused the world’s conditions to justify their occupation of Palestine and attacks of South Lebanon. The reasons for this behaviour are becoming, after the Zionists’ withdrawal from South Lebanon, quite obvious. Despite the fact that Islam is perpetually being oppressed around the globe, there is still a continual attempt to portray Islam and the Muslims as the instigator of world conflicts (in places like Yugoslavia) and as the aggressor in numerous communal conflicts. History shows that Muslims in rule were just in their treatment of minorities, however history can be misused and manipulated by whomever to serve self-interest.

The Islamic view on oppression and injustice is quite stern. The Qur’an states: "Neither shall you make (others) suffer loss, nor shall you be made to suffer loss " 9, It is an exhortation to fight oppressors and defend one’s rights against one’s enemies, while at the same time avoiding unjustified aggression. * Other communities: Winning or losing because of conversion? While many community leaders speak about “losing” their religious communities because of their members embracing Islam, the question of “winning” or “losing” can only be raised on the individual level. Whoever embraces Islam assuredly ‘wins’. This question of “winning” or “losing” and the idea of competition between religious communities does not have any relevance when we discuss the actual Prophets and Messengers, such as Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses. These prophets carried a single unitary message, and even though they led different religious communities, they were not in competition with each other. It would make no sense for God to send three messengers with three contradicting messages; this would mislead people and, as such, is against His Justice and Wisdom. In reality, the essence of the message of Jesus Christ and Moses is the same as that of the messenger of Islam. Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses (along with all the other Holy Messengers of God, may peace be upon them all) will stand together against hypocrisy and injustice. Their messages all guide us towards the same goal. Islam is the most thorough and complete religion that takes care of every step a human being takes in his life. It includes the teachings of all the holy prophets, and it is a summation of all that they stood for in their lives.

Practical advice
The following is practical advice for those who are considering embracing Islam: Learn as much as you can about Islam! Reading is not only recommended, but necessary. If possible one should go to lectures, take the introductory courses on Islam, which are offered by many colleges and Muslim centres, and talk to some Muslim friends. Remember that Islam has an important ethnic component. You are joining a community, not just a religion, and so one needs to learn about different aspects of Muslim culture and Islamic countries. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with your partner, your friends, and your family. It is important to discuss your feelings openly. It is common to experience some moments of doubt or fear of the unknown. It is also vital that you stay in touch with your birth family. Embracing Islam does not mean you are abandoning your family, your friends, or your fond memories of past family life. When discussing embracing Islam with your family, explain your reasons to them directly and assure them of your continuing love. Many families are supportive, often to the surprise of the person embracing. Some families, however, do need reassurance, and need to have their questions answered patiently. There are also, sadly, some families who will nonetheless view the embracing as an abandonment.
• See if Islam's basic beliefs and practices make sense to you. Remember that

Islam is a faith of good deeds, not forced creeds. There is special concern in Islam that one must act with morality as well as having firm beliefs and good

intentions. Most Muslims share a passion to make the world a better place.
• Experience Islam as it is lived. Visit a Muslim centre or attend a Muslim

ceremony, such as Juma’ah Prayers or A’shurah programs, especially when they are arranged in your own language.
• At some point in learning about Islam, preferably as early as possible but

especially as you get more serious about actually embracing Islam, you should talk to an ‘alim, a scholar who is like a Muslim clergymen or Imam. As you study and learn about Islam, you will read about different religious groups within Islam. There are ’alims for each of these groups, so it is important to study and understand the differences among the various branches.
• Consider the reason for thinking about embracing Islam! People choose to become Muslim for many different reasons. Some come to Islam after a long spiritual search, whilst others who eventually embrace had their interest sparked because of a romantic relationship with a Muslim! Among the most popular reasons given for embracing Islam are:

* Islam has a thorough religious belief system, and sensible teachings about life. * Becoming Muslim allows them to share the faith of their partner. * Becoming Muslim makes the family members religiously united. * Becoming Muslim will make it easier for children by giving them a unique and clear religious identity.

Conclusion
Embracing Islam for the spiritual wayfarer is a wise choice, which results in a prosperous home coming after a long and sometimes arduous journey through the various ideologies and religions. For the individual who embraces Islam, they will find themselves blessed with an unshakable foundation and unwavering sense of security, as well as the enrichment and fulfilment of their lives on all levels. They will encounter a life changing experience, but this does not have to be viewed as an over-night revolution but as a process, which will develop and evolve throughout their spiritual and practical lives. Although in many cases the embracer may face hostility from family, friends or the environment in which s/he lives, but s/he will nevertheless find a continuing wave of support in the real brothers and sisters s/he adopts within the new Islamic community. The factor, which makes such a community unique, is that it is quite different compared to the materialistic Western environment. It might not be so united or motivated by its faith, but the true believers are known and easy to be recognized by their pure love for the Creator, which lays paramount to all else. The embracer comes to understand that whatever s/he sacrifices for the sake of Allah, will never be forsaken and will be rewarded many times over. In response to the critics who portray Islam as a destructive and oppressive ideology, one only has to consider the historical facts and Muslims’ performance throughout

history, and the successful stories and statistics of those embracing the religion to understand that such allegations are merely a fallacy and insidious stereotypes and perhaps their claims instead reflect their own mentality and system of beliefs. As long as independently minded individuals continue to read and question, they will surely conclude that Islam in reality will provide the individual and society at large with the ultimate completed ideas for which they are searching. For the person who embraces Islam, they have a special duty in that they especially set forth an example of their faith to the society in which they live. They must therefore equip themselves with knowledge of their religion and through their righteous actions let others realise that Islam is the most sophisticated Divine teaching, and probably the only truly liberating way of life for mankind.
Notes:
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1

Longman p.1216 Longman/England 1995
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Collins English Dictionary p.1317 4 Edition 2000 Australia
3

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary p.408 Oxford University Press, England 2002
4

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, p.449, Longman/England 1995
5

Khamenei, A.S.A. “Freedom According to Islam and the West.” At-Tawheed 3 (3): 1999. 11-12
6

Spiritual Guidance, A Selection from the Sayings of Imam Ali (a.s). London: Institute for Islamic Studies, 1998. 17.
7

The Qur'an, tr. M.H. Shaker. Al-Hadeed: 16.
8

Reported by Reuter from the occupied Jerusalem on 13 July 2000.
9

The Qur’an. Al-Baqarah; 279.