Dr. R.L. MELLEMA (Holland)
(Dr. Mellema is the director of the section concerned with Islamic
Works of Art of the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam. He is known
for his works 'Babies of Wyang', 'Information About Pakistan'
and 'Introducing Islam'.)
In 1919, I began to study oriental languages in the University
of Leiden. My teacher was the universally known professor Hurgronje,
who had perfect command of the Arabic language. As he taught me
how to read, write and translate in Arabic, he gave me the Qur'an
al-karim and the works of al-Ghazali as textbooks. The subject
I was majoring in was the 'Islamic law'. I read a number of books
about Islam, Islam's history, and Islamic sciences so far published
in the European languages. In 1921 I went to Egypt and visited
the Al-Azhar Madrasa. I stayed there for about one month. Later,
in addition to Arabic, I learned Sanskrit and Malay. In 1927 I
went to Indonesia, which was a British dependency at that time.
I began to learn Javanese in a high school in Jakarta. For fifteen
years I educated myself not only in the language of Java, but
also in the cultural history of old and new Java. Throughout that
period of time, I on the one hand contacted the Muslims and on
the other hand read the Arabic books available to me. The Japanese
invaded the Indonesian islands during the Second World War. I
was one of the prisoners that they captured. After an extremely
severe life in captivity which lasted until the end of the war,
I returned to Holland and found a job in the Tropical Museum in
Amsterdam. There I resumed my Islamic research. They asked me
to write a booklet telling about the Muslims in Java. This, also,
I accepted, and completed, too. Between 1954 and 1955 I was sent
to Pakistan to conduct a study about the Muslims there. As I have
already stated, the only books that I had read about Islam until
that time had been written in the European languages. After I
went to Pakistan and established direct contact with Muslims,
my views of Islam took a sharp turn for the favourable. I requested
my Muslim brothers in Lahore to take me to their mosque. They
were pleased at my request and took me there for a Friday prayer.
I watched the worship and listened to the prayers with great attention.
It had so strong an impact on me that I almost lost consciousness
in rapture. I now felt myself a Muslim and a Muslim brother when
I shook hands with Muslims. I expressed my feelings as follows
in the fourth issue of 'Pakistan Quarterly':
"Next we went to a smaller mosque. A preaching lecture was
scheduled to be delivered by a scholar who was a professor from
Penjab University and who knew English well. As he began his preaching,
he said to the audience, 'We have a guest, a Muslim brother, who
has come here from a distant country, Holland. I shall mostly
add English words into the Urdu language so that he will understand
me better,' and then he performed an exquisite preaching. I listened
with attention. After the preaching was over, I meant to leave
the mosque, when Allama Sahib, who had brought me to the mosque,
said that the Muslim brothers who had been watching me with attention
would be pleased if I should be kind enough to give them a speech,
a brief one in the least, and that he would translate my speech
into the Urdu language. Upon this I made the following short speech:
'I am here from Holland, which is quite a long way from here.
There are very few Muslims in my homeland. Those few Muslims requested
me to extend their salam [Islamic word for greeting, well-wishing
and offering best wishes.] to you. I am very happy to know that
you have achieved your independence and to see that the world
has been enriched with one more Muslim state. Established seven
years ago, Pakistan has already secured its position. After all
those difficulties you experienced in the beginning, your country
has in the long last attained salvation and is now improving with
speed. There is a bright future ahead of Pakistan. When I go back
home, I will have so much to tell my compatriots about your kind
and polite behaviour, about your magnanimous generosity, and about
your warm hospitality, of which I shall spare no minute details.
I shall never forget the warm affection you have displayed towards
me.' No sooner had Allama Sahib finished translating my statements
into Urdu than all the Muslims in the mosque rushed towards me
and began to shake hands with me, and the whole place resounded
with a mellow roar of congratulatory exclamations, which has preserved
its unique moment of happiness in my memories. The heartfelt manifestation
of brotherhood moved me so profoundly that I began to enjoy the
happiness of entirely having joined the community of Muslim brothers."
The Pakistani Muslim brothers showed me that Islam is not merely
a collection of theories and proved that Islam means beautiful
moral quality first of all and therefore being a good Muslim requires
possessing a pure moral character.
Now let me answer the second question, i.e. your question, "What
was the strongest attraction that pulled you towards Islam?"
The reasons that attracted me towards embracing Islam and attached
my entire heart to the Islamic religion are as follows:
1) A Unitarian belief in Allahu ta'ala. Islam recognizes one great
creator. This great creator is not begotten, nor does he beget.
What could be as logical and as rational as believing in one creator?
Even the simplest-minded person would find it right and will believe
in it. This single great creator, whose name is Allah, is in possession
of the greatest knowledge, the greatest hikma, the greatest power,
and the greatest beauty. He has infinite mercy and compassion.
2) Rejecting any intermediary between Allahu ta'ala and the born
slave. In Islam the born slave comes into direct contact with
his Creator and worships Him directly. No one is necessary between
Allahu ta'ala and the born slave. People learn their duties pertaining
to this world and the next from the Book of Allahu ta'ala, the
Qur'an al-karim, from hadith ash-Sharifs, and from books written
by the scholars of Ahl as-sunnat. Only to Allahu ta'ala are they
responsible for their actions. Allahu ta'ala, alone, has the authority
to reward or punish a person. Allahu ta'ala will not hold any
of His born slaves responsible for what he has not done, nor will
He enjoin on him something beyond his capacity.
3) The infinite mercy innate in Islam. Its most explicit indication
is an ayat in the Qur'an al-karim, which purports, "No one
shall be compelled to become a Muslim." Our Prophet, Muhammad
a.s., commands that a Muslim should acquire knowledge, by going
to the farthest places if necessary. One other precept that Muslims
are commanded to observe is to be respectful of the religions
previous to Islam, especially as regards their essentials that
have remained unchanged.
4) A fraternal unification of Muslims, whereby discriminations
due to race, nationality and colour are crossed out from the outset.
This ultimate goal has been realized only by Islam in the entire
world. During the periods of Hajj (Muslims' pilgrimage to Mecca),
hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all corners of the world
come together, wrap themselves in the uniform (clothing called)
Ihram, and prostrate themselves, a colossal expression of all
5) The equilibrium that Islam maintains between corporeal and
spiritual realities. The other religions emphasize only spirituality
and a number of absurd, grotesque tenets. On the other hand, Islam
gives equal considerations to the soul and the body and dictates
to man how he should maintain cleanliness, not only spiritually,
but also bodily. It integrates man's spiritual improvement with
his corporeal needs and describes in an extremely illustrative
language how he should live in full control of his physical activities.
6) Islam's prohibition of alcohol, drugs, and pork. In my opinion,
the gravest calamities that have befallen mankind has been on
account of alcohol and drugs. Prohibition of such indulgences
would suffice as an illustration of Islam's enormous prescience
and the gigantic distance whereby it is ahead of its time.