Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I The Pioneer | May 9, 1999 | Page 5
Conversion in Islamic thinking is not synonymous with proselytisation in the formal sense. It is an event which takes place in a person’s life as a result of intellectual revolution or spiritual transformation. It is not simply leaving one religious tradition for another. What is meant by conversion is that the individual has discovered the truth after an exhaustive search for it and then by his own choice, abandoned one religion for another. During his final phase in 6 AH, the Prophet of Islam sent invitation letters to the neighbouring rulers of his time, by which they were directly invited to accept the message of Islam.
For instance, in his letter to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius I, the Prophet wrote these words : “Accept Islam and you will be blessed with peace.” Similarly at any gathering in Mecca, the Prophet would make a point of going to that place and address the gathering thus : O people, say there is no God but God and you will attain God’s grace. At first glance this was an invitation to people to change their religion. But the study of the Qur’an tells us that it was in actual fact an invitation to a transformation in thinking, instead of a change of religion in the simple sense. In the first phase of Islam, some Arab Bedouins had accepted Islam just be reciting the Kalema, the creed of Islam, while they had not undergone any change in character at a deeper level.
The Qur’an admonished them in strong terms : The Arabs of the desert say, ‘We believe’, Say, “You have not believed yet; but rather say, ‘We have accepted Islam, for the true faith has not yet entered into your hearts.” (49:14) From this we learn that conversion according to Islam means a thorough transformation of the person and not just a change of religion in the everyday sense. Similarly, criticising the ways of Jews and Christians, the Qur’an says : “Say : ‘We take on God’s own dye — and who has a better than God’s?/And we are His worshippers.”’ (2:138) A formal method of religious conversion was prevalent among the Jews and Christians known as baptism. In this ritual ceremony the convert is dipped in water.
The hue of water was considered to symbolise purity, and their priests believed that dipping someone in pure clean water purified him, and he was thus converted to a new religion. According to the verse quoted above, pouring water outwardly does not purify a person, for the attainment of purity necessitates a transformation of the total human personality. The convert is suffused with the hue of God and he adopts God’s ways in thought, word and deed. The Qur’an refuses to give its seal of approval to conversions which are mere formalities. In ancient Medina about 300 people had become Muslims by reciting the Islamic creed.
Apparently they even said their prayers, and fasted, but they did all this in a hypocritical manner, paying only lip service : their inner state did not correspond to their outward pronouncements. They claimed allegiance to Islam by word of mouth but, as regards the state of their hearts the Islamic spirit was lacking. The Qur’an brands the ‘Islam’ of such people as a falsity : When the hypocrites come to you, they say : ‘We bear witness that you are God’s apostle.’ God knows that you are indeed His Messenger, and God bears witness that the hypocrites are lying.’ (63:1) What is meant by true religious conversion is illustrated by an incident in which some verses from the Qur’an were read to a gathering of Christians, about 70 of them were so deeply moved that they abandoned their ancestral religion and converted to Islam.
As the Qur’an puts it : When they listen to that which was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes filled with tears as they recognise its truth. They say : ‘Lord, we believe. Count us among Your witnesses. Why should we not believe in God and in the truth that has come down to us ? Why should we not hope for admission among the righteous?’ (5:83-84) Religious conversion in actual fact is the result of a realisation. When the individual’s search for truth finds a convincing answer, his heart is intensely moved. His eyes are filled with tears. His whole existence is moulded in the hue of truth. It is then that he emerges a new and altogether different person, having undergone a transformation. Religious conversion in actual fact is the result of a realisation. When the individual’s search for truth finds a convincing answer, his heart is intensely moved. His eyes are filled with tears. His whole existence is moulded in the hue of truth.