By Yusuf, Scotland
(The below text represents the reflections of an Ahmadi brother from Scotland who accepted the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi (‘alayhi al-salam) in 2012)
“why Islam? What makes it different from any other religion and more importantly why should I embrace it?”.
That question is not always uttered through words alone. It tends to come from a place in a person’s being which intellectually questions the existence of God and the outward practice of Islam. I have to admit that if someone doesn’t know the background of our rituals, then the rituals themselves look very strange. Why would anyone rise before sunrise to wash and pray and repeat that another four times in a day. When we extract the outward ritual which the world sees from the inward life of the person then it does indeed become a matter of speculation. The actions look odd – why bow down, stand up and mutter words in Arabic. Really, to the untrained eye, it just simply looks plain “odd”.
However Prayer does not exist alone, it is an outgrowth from something much deeper. I remember once seeing an old well in the hills of Scotland. There was an old bucket which looked worn and dirty, but when that bucket was plunged into the water that lay far beneath the earth and drawn back to the surface it was transformed and its true use became clear. To any passer by however that bucket was a piece of trash which was kicked around. The frayed piece of rope attaching it to the top of the well however remained intact. A close eye could see its use. That old bucket when viewed properly was refreshing the many travellers who passed by on a hot day and cleansing itself as well as others during the process.
Materially speaking, in a crowded room could anyone possibly agree on their concept of who or what God is – we are in a world (or in the case of London, a city) where a multitude of individuals exist, each from their own background, thoughts, religious practices both internal and external. So based on that why would a person choose Islam over say Christianity or another Eastern Religion which might suit their lifestyle practices and bring about that sense of the sacred. There is a further difficulty with that question when we add terrorism, extremism and human faults and misinterpreted beliefs.
So, from the above, we know that Prayer is not simply a ritual or practice, it is an expression of the belief held inside. Likewise it might also be said that from the beliefs we all hold, we express ourselves outwardly. Perhaps if we have a favourite actor or an idea of what beauty is in our head we might carry a picture of that person or might try to dress in a way that we believe is appealing. These are just a few examples of how inward beliefs are expressed in an outward manner.
One of the most wonderful things about Islam is its unfoldment. Man is not simply growing to become aged, suffer and die. Islam was and is an impartation of Divine Truth to Mankind from God (In Islam we call Him Allah). Such unfoldment was demonstrated when the Koran was given to our Holy Prophet Mohammed (May Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him). This was a direct Revelation between God and Humanity. The Koran reminds us of our heritage, that is to say that our origin is of a Spiritual nature. That unfoldment is also personal and a daily, hourly, moment by moment, unfoldment in formal prayer but also in the people that we meet and things that we do, for Allah is always present with us.
Mankind is very curious about Death. Everyone wants to know what happens beyond the grave. There are even Churches out there trying to forge communications between the living and so called dead. But yet even if such communication were possible they would grow dramatically less with each passing day as we grow away from ignorance and materiality. As the caterpillar grows into a butterfly, he doesn’t return and mix with other caterpillars. It stands to reason then that with each advancing hour, we learn more about Allah and his unfoldment to us we learn to let go and stop looking for some kind of security from beyond the grave. In other words we learn to trust and simply to “be.”
One of the major differences between Islam and other Religions is what is contained in our Holy book, The Koran. It was revealed in the world’s oldest language and treatise upon treatise has been written on every single word of it, trying to grasp its metaphysical meaning. As promised in the Holy Koran we have also been given people in each generation who have been able to help us understand it more. People to whom Allah has called to dedicate to himself completely for the purposes of giving knowledge to others.
One of the striking things about the Holy Koran is how it describes Allah, it lists 99 Names showing us 99 qualities, like “The Friend” “The Comforter” “The King” “The Provider”. There are many more however the Koran lists these 99 particular ones.
By looking closely into these names, we can see that qualities such as joy and happiness and peace can never be owned by a person (whether living or dead) but they flow through all of humanity just as our blood flows through our material veins. They belong to our Creator and we reflect them just as a painting reflects the beauty of the Artist. This is quite a striking contrast from the message that we are given daily by the media. Somehow we rush to other people thinking they will “make us happy”. We often change our jobs to find “peace or more money”. Yet the secret really is realising that we can never be the source of our own happiness, joy, peace or provision. So we take these names, we claim them, we learn them, we work with them, so that the meaning is understood and we find that Allah is always with us, and through these qualities which are his, we can see him in all the things we do.
To truly become Muslim takes a lifetime – to learn to see unfoldment in our lives, to feel Allah’s presence and to trust him. When I first became Muslim I thought that I had to know every bit of Arabic and all of the theory and practice.
All I had to do was to learn to Love and to see Allah in my daily life. As I studied the Koran and learnt more about its teachings, I wanted to pray, that was a very different thing from the ritual which some people do without meaning, understanding or even desire. I look forward to every prayer now and with my every prayer I ask that I become a better person.