Monday, January 5, 2009

What others say about MARYAM JAMEELAH'S books.

Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus) is quite a well-known figure in the Muslim world now. This book, comprising various essays by her, some of which were written even before she formally, embraced Islam. Starting with the story of how she got interested in Islam when in New York, the book is by and large a critical survey of the writings of modernist Muslims like Mr. A. A. Fyzee of India and Ziya Gokalp of Turkey. The writings of orientalists like Mr. Wilfred Cantwell Smith have also been critically examined. Maryam Jameelah is a great admirer of al Ikhwan al Muslimun of Egypt. The two Muslims of this century highly praised by her are Sayyid Qutb and Allama Muhammad lqbal. Towards the end of the book she has also treated in a philosophical vein such topics as the prohibition of pictures and the significance of "Taqbir." The book ends with a negative answer to the question, "Is Westernization inevitable?" The book is well bound and deserves wide publicity. 

The Radiance Viewsweekly, Delhi,

  In this collection of essays, she makes a brilliant analysis of the folly and futility of compromising the principles and spiritual values of Islam in a vain attempt to prove their compatibility with the material aspirations and drive or aggrandizement that set apart the spirit of the modern West. She is firmly opposed to the so-called westernizers within the fold of Islam and with eloquent reasoning, she argues that Islamic society can flourish and contribute its own in a technocratic civilization without having to sacrifice the inner principles of its being. 

Dawn, Karachi,

  It goes to the credit of an American-born convert that she made a searching criticism of the philosophical sources of western materialism, modern philosophy, and the fallacy of modernism. Showing the futility of the apologetic approach of Muslim modernists towards Islam, she demands that they should put an end once and for all interpreting Islam through foreign criteria and summon the courage to stand up and defend an unadulterated Islam. She upholds Islam in its pure form and stresses the necessity for a re-evaluation of Islamic history in that light. Written in a bitter tone but lucid style, the book makes very useful reading. 

The Pakistan Observer, Dacca.

  The book is extremely readable and thought provoking. Also it contains a number of seminal generalizations, each one of which asks for a book. Like all true Muslims, the author combines practice with preaching. Her photograph at the beginning of the book shows her enveloped from head to foot in Islamic Purdah. This eminent lady has proved that Purdah, if observed according to Allah's laws, cannot impede women's mental development but in fact is a sign of her dignity and nobility. 

The Criterion: Journal of the Islamic Research Academy, Karachi


  This is the inquiry of a restless soul, courageous and bold, frank and forthright, promising and challenging. The day of Islamic supremacy, this American-Jewish convert pleads, shall not be far away if only the Muslims realize their destiny, live up to the ideals of Islam, strive to uphold the Word of God in every walk of their lives to establish Islam in its entirety in political, social, economic cultural and all other aspects. Then Islam would be a living force and not just an academic proposition. As in other writings of hers, Maryam Jameelah is at her best when she takes to account Western philosophy, thought, ideals and practices. Her advantage is that she was brought up and nurtured in Western society and educated and trained in the Western tradition, so naturally she is better fitted to know its dark spots and the mainsprings of evil which have polluted Western society and which are now corroding the foundations of Muslim society with its obnoxious influences. The personalities, movements and parties dedicated to the cause of the revival of Islam, particularly in our own age, have been very ably summed up and the penetrating eyes of the author have been able to assess remarkably well the real worth and status of persons and parties of the recent past and present. Few writers on Islam have that balanced outlook, that courage to speak the truth, that integrity of mission, that maturity of thought and detailed grasp on the subject which this American-born lady displays in her short, terse essays. 

The Criterion, Karachi.


  Really! Amazing! Incredible! What? - are exclamations that come out often as one feels the impact of this great exposure and indictment of Zionism and the Christian church. The author conveys much of her points by the very words of the people she talks about. To avoid quoting out of context, she uses many lengthy extracts. The result is a very fair, balanced and objective presentation. None can deny that this is the greatest assault on Judaism and Christianity both in theory and practice coming from a Muslim pen for a very long time. How has she set about it? Firstly, it must be mentioned that the author's history places her at a position of advantage to perform such a task. She grew up in a Jewish family, a member of the Jewish minority in Christian America and then embraced Islam. Being a near insatiable bibliophile as well entitles her to a claim of inside knowledge of the three faiths. All these assets are brought into good use here. The lengthy chapter on Judaism is a well-documented outline of Jewish beliefs, culture, complexes, deviations and history. The author provides an analysis of the background to the rise of Zionism and how a racist religion, garbed with modern political and military sophistry and bred on the support of Western treachery and collusion, has grown into the menacing monstrosity of Zionism. The second chapter contains the post energetic refutation of Christianity that I have ever come across. It is a historical, a moral, an academic and indeed, an outright refutation of Christianity. The author answers the usual Christian accusations against Islam with even greater vehemence. In this, one sees how much she detests the apologetic approach of answering back. Rather she throws the whole table on the Christians. She gives a lucid and highly informative analysis of the aims and moods of operation of the Christian missionary. The last chapter rounds off beautifully her arguments against racist Judaism and neo-imperialist, man-made Christianity. She presents Islam as the only authentic religion through which mankind can be united. This book is Maryam Jameelah's best work to date. 

The Muslim: Journal of the Federation of Student Islamic societies in the United Kingdom and Eire, London.


  This nicely printed book has much to commend itself to readers. Since the story was written by a convert from Zionism who herself witnessed all the ups and downs, her treatment of the whole tale is superb. Besides the elements of suspense and surprise, vivid description and good characterization sustain the reader's interest at high pitch. The plot from beginning to end is so well woven that the reader's interest never sags. The pen-portraits of Ahmad Khalil, his brother, Khalifa and his cousin, Rashid are very well drawn and life- like. 

The Pakistan Review, Lahore

  Religious exaltation is well known but faith has its depths too when overwhelmed by suffering, pain and defeat, man is sustained by Allah's love. Ahmad Khalil in parts successfully conveys the quiet piety of those who live in true humility before Allah. The book catches the religious dignity or the common Muslim family living next to the soil where women are modest and hardworking and the men brave and industrious. The characterization of the sensitive boy, Khalifa, whose life is haunted by the brutality of the Israelis, shows that the author is capable of presenting psychological realities. Many people in the West believe that the Israelis have a better right than the Arabs to Palestine because they are "progressive" and have made the desert bloom. The poor and the backward deserve the worst that comes to them. Ahmad Khalil is a stirring repudiation of this theory of "progress". 

The Criterion, Karachi.

Short Biography Of Maryam Jameelah

Maryam Jameelah was born Margaret Marcus to a Jewish family in New Rochelle, NY, on May 23, 1934. She grew up in a secular environment, but at the age of nineteen, while a student at New York University, she developed a keen interest in religion.

Unable to find spiritual guidance in her immediate environment, she looked to other faiths. Her search brought her into contact with an array of spiritual orders, religious cults, and world religions; she became acquainted with Islam around 1954. She was then greatly impressed by Marmaduke Pickthall’s The Meaning of the Glorious Koran and by the works of Muhammad Asad, himself a convert from Judaism to Islam. Jameelah cites Asad’s The Road to Mecca and Islam at Crossroads as critical influences on her decision to become a Muslim.

Through her readings in Islam she developed a bond with the religion and became a vocal spokesperson for the faith, defending Muslim beliefs against Western criticism and championing such Muslim causes as that of the Palestinians. Her views created much tension in her personal life, but she continued to pursue her cause.

She embraced Islam in New York on May 24, 1961, and soon after began to write for the Muslim Digest of Durban, South Africa. Her articles outlined a pristine view of Islam and sought to establish the truth of the religion through debates with critics. Through the journal, Jameelah became acquainted with the works of Mawlana Sayyid Abu Ala Mawdudi, the founder of the Jamaati Islami (Islamic Party) of Pakistan, who was also a contributor to the journal.

Jameelah was impressed by Mawdudi’s views and began to correspond with him. Their letters between 1960 and 1962, later published in a volume entitled Correspondences between Maulana Mawdoodi and Maryam Jameelah, discussed a variety of issues from the discourse between Islam and the West, to Jameelah’s personal spiritual concerns.

Jameelah traveled to Pakistan in 1962 on Mawdudi’s advice and joined his household in Lahore. She soon married Muhammad Yusuf Khan, as his second wife.

Since settling in Pakistan, she has written an impressive number of books, which adumbrated the Jamaati Islami’s ideology in a systematic fashion. Although she never formally joined the party, she became one of its chief ideologists.

Jameelah has been particularly concerned with the debate between Islam and the West, an important, albeit not central, aspect of Mawdudi’s thought.

Her significance, however, does not lie in the force of her observations, but in the manner in which she articulates an internally consistent paradigm for revivalism’s rejection of the West. In this regard, her influence far exceeds the boundaries of the Jamaati Islami and has been important in the development of the Muslim world.

The logic of her discursive approach has recently led Jameelah away from revivalism and the Jamaati Islami. Increasingly aware of revivalism’s own borrowing from the West, she has distanced herself from the revivalist exegesis and has even criticized her mentor Mawdudi for his assimilation of modern concepts into Jamaati Islami’s ideology. Her writings in recent years embody this change in orientation and reveal the influence of traditional Islam.

Today she lives in Lahore and continues to write on Islamic thought and life.



Maryam Jameelah


The most radical movement in recent times which is revolutionizing the whole social structure and changing the entire basis of human relationships is the Feminist movement, popularly known as the drive for Women’s Liberation.

The Feminist movement is not a unique product of the modern age. Its historical precedents reach back into antiquity. In his Republic, Plato advocated the abolition of the family and social roles determined by sex; in literature, the ancient Greek classical comedy, Lypsistrata and much marc recently, Henrick Ibsen’s (1828-1906) drama, A Doll’s House preached feminist ideals. The Victorian economist and philosopher, John Stuart Mill and the German socialist, Friedrich Engels in his essay, The Subjection of Women, which he wrote in 1869, laid the core foundations of Feminism. In 1884 Angels publicly proclaimed marriage as a “dreary mutation of slavery,” urged its abolition and suggested public responsibility for the rearing of children.

In America, Feminism was the outgrowth of the movement for the abolition of slavery and the Temperance movement for the legal banning of liquor. Women who joined these organizations soon discovered that to make their cause effective, they required political power. The historical milestone of the Feminist movement was the Seneca Falls Convention in 1948 which in its manifesto, demanded women’s rights to her complete control over her property and the he right to divorce her husband, guardianship of the children and an end to sexual discrimination in employment along with the right to receive equal pay with men for the same work, and most important, female franchise. As the campaign for women’s suffrage grew, the more conservative Feminists limited their cause to the single issue of suffrage. In 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment to the American constitution giving women the vote, the majority of women activists as ‘well, as the public assumed that with female franchise, women’s rights had been fully obtained. After this, the Feminist movement lay dormant for more then than forty years. 

On December 14, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive order establishing the President’s Commission on the status of women. Its mandate was “to examine and recommend remedies to combat the prejudices and obsolete customs and morals which act as obstacles to the complete realization of women’s rights.” The President’s Commission was the first official body ever to examine the status of in the United States.

Thus the “silent fifties” came to an abrupt end with the beginnings of Feminist confrontation politics in the early 1960’s – marches, pickets and sit-ins. College and university girls began to participate in these political activities.

In contrast to the women who assembled at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and merely protested against the ill-treatment and abuse of women by drunken husbands and achievement of their legitimate rights in marriage, control of property and earnings and equal pay with men for the same work, the demands of the modern successors are far more radical. In the largest most enthusiastic Feminist demonstration ever held, on August 26, 1970, hundreds of women marched down Fifth Avenue, New York City carrying placards which read: 


Today’s Feminists are implacably opposed to any social roles being determined by sex. Feminists assert the absolute and unqualified equality of men and women, not withstanding anatomical differences. They deny that there is any inherent biological distinction between men and women on the basis of sex which determines that the wife should be the housewife and mother and the husband the breadwinner and authoritarian head of the family. They believe that women should take just as active role in sexual intercourse as men and not be passive. They demand the abolition of institutional marriage, home and family, asset complete female sexual freedom and that the upbringing should be a public responsibility. They insist that all women should be given the right to complete control over their reproductive lives. They are demanding that all restrictions must be lifted from laws governing contraception so that devices can be publicly advertised and available over the druggist counter to any women regardless of her age and marital status and purchasable without a doctor’s prescription. All laws restricting abortion should be removed and that women have a legal right to abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Abortions should not only be available at demand but should be supplied free by the state to any women who wants one so that the poor can take full advantage of facility. 

In schools all course must be equally co-educational – home economics must no be exclusively female and shop mechanics for boys. Segregation must be broken down in gymnasiums and physical education. Girls should be allowed to compete in all sports and physical exercises with boys at all ages. All mass-media must be radically changed to eliminate sex-stereotyping roles and portray women as equal to men in all fields of work and production. Children’s books are criticized by feminists because they do not show in their stories more single-parent families, unmarried mothers and divorces women as models for the children. Girls should be given mechanical toys to play with and boys should be given dolls. Instead of traditional institutions of marriage, home and family, radical Feminists propose men and women living in large communes where the welfare and rearing of the children would be public responsibility. They are demanding that child-care centers are made available to parents on a 24-hour basis provided to the public as free on demand just as parks, libraries and recreational facilities are taken for granted in most American communities. Women must be financially independent and no profession or occupation should be banned to her on account of her sex.

A lot of women who may say that they just want to play the traditional roles are simply fearful - or unable to imagine other ways of being. Old roles can seem to offer a certain security. Freedom can seem frightening especially if one has learned how to achieve a certain degree of power inside prison. Perhaps they are just afraid of choices. We don’t seek to impose any­thing on women but merely to open up all possible alternatives. We do seek choice as one of the functions, which makes people human beings. We want to be full people, crippled neither by law or custom or our own-chained minds. If there us no room in that in nature, then nature must be changed!1

One of the “alternative choices” for women the Feminists seek to make socially acceptable is Lesbianism (female homosexuality). One of the branches of feminism is the homophile organization known as The Daughters of Bilitis the aim of which is to promote Lesbianism.

The women’s liberation movement has members who were lesbians before its existence and those who have become lesbians since their involvement with the movement. For some of the latter, Lesbianism is a form of political protest. Say the radical feminists. “Lesbianism is one road to freedom - freedom from oppression by men.”2

The Lesbian minority in America, which may run as high at ten million women, is a woman, who is drawn erotically to women rather than to men. Perhaps the most logical and least hysterical of all statements about homosexuality is the following by Dr. Joel Fort psychiatrist and public health specialist and Dr. Joe K. Adams, psychologist and former mental health officer. The statement made in August 1966 is as follows: “Homosexuals like heterosexuals should be treated as individual human beings and not as a special group either by law or social agencies or employers. Laws governing sexual behavior should be reformed to deal only with clearly anti-social behavior involving violence or youth. The sexual behavior of individual adults by mutual Consent in private should not be a matter of public concern.3

What is the end-result of the radical feminist movement? What kind of society does Women’s Liberation seek to attain?

Thus women for men are alternatively angels and slaves to be worshipped one minute and spurned and exploited the next but seldom treated as equals. Concerning sex, our society has taught total abstinence for the first decade of sexual maturity (even masturbation is considered at best an unavoidable evil,) then life-long fidelity to one partner. All the while society does its best both to keep us ignorant and confused about what a well developed sex-life can be and to convince us that the forbidden fruits of promiscuity surpass anything the “moral’ person can ever taste. What a bundle of paradoxes! If instead we could face without flinching our homosexual impulses and curiosity about how this or that act with such a person might feel, then we might be able to distinguish between an impulse which is immoral and involuntary and action which of course must be taken deliberately in accordance with its likely consequences and our overall values and goals. What would happen if men rejected the male stereotype and acknowledged the values of oneness, humility, discussion, consideration, cooperation and compromise along with humility, respectful disagreement and conflict. We would not deny the richness of our sexual imagination nor the natural sexual element in all relationships. Just how it occurs-talking, touching, dancing or making love should be our guilt-free choice based on our own honest needs rather than a “moral” “masculine” stereotype.

What about the question of “fidelity” to one partner versus a diverse sex-life? Most adults seem to need to have a primary relationship, which comes before all others. If a problem in the primary relationship, which is the most demanding but also the most potentially rewarding kind, makes us try to escape through an outside flirtation or “affair,” this is bad not because of the sexual acts committed but because it is an escape. The problem remains unsolved.

All our relationships tend to be over-reserved. We need to loosen up and learn to express affection-openly and physically. Would men’s and women’s liberation of the sort I have just described destroy the traditional American family? I think so. It is an institution with many drawbacks. Considerations of efficiency and economy and exposure to the difficulties and opportunities inherent in larger groups living and working together make it a good idea to experiment with some “communal” kinds of arrangement.4

In Muslim countries, fortunately, the Feminist movement has not yet touched such extremes as this but as a result of westernization, Purdah is rapidly disappearing and women, revolting against their tradi­tional roles, are patterning their lives more and more am the models of their Western sisters.

In the more fashionable and well-to-do urban classes, particularly in Tehran, the women spend less time in household work and more in social, professional, recreational and philan­thropic activities. To go to the dress-maker or the hair-dresser, to have morning coffee or lunch with friends, to shop and attend parties, these constitute the daily routine for such women. They also enjoy taking meals in fine restaurants, going on holidays and engaging in sports. An increasing number of women of this class take an interest in cultural and charitable work. (p. 77)

In the cities of Lebanon, women are increasingly seen outside the home. On Sundays there are as many women as men on the crowded beaches of Beirut - the younger generation, of course. Beach behavior undoubtedly is a symbol of the loosening of bonds. In Lebanon the acceptance of Western dress styles has reached a stage where among the westernized middle and upper classes, there is little restraint even on those girls who wish to dress provocatively. In all social groups girls display a tremendous preoccupation with clothes and they are not usually casual clothes except for beach wear or picnics. In the winter suits are worn but in summer the standard garb for the university girl is a tight silk dress or skirt and a more or less transparent blouse. High heels and nylon stockings are standard and make-up is elaborate. Some Muslim girls (not university students) wear a completely transparent symbolic veil over their faces. A few years ago, girls were shy about being seen on the beaches with bathing suits, especially in a bikini. Now they take it in their stride and many wear scanty two-piece bathing suits. (pp. 122-123)5

Feminism is an unnatural, artificial and abnormal product of contemporary social disintegration, which in turn is the inevitable result of the rejection of all transcendental, absolute moral and spiritual values. The student of anthropology and history can be certain of the abnormality of the Feminist movement because all human cultures that we know of throughout prehistorically and historic times make a definite clear-cut distinction between “masculinity” and “femininity” and pattern the social roles of men and women accordingly. The disintegration of the home and family, the loss of the authoritarian role of the father and sexual promiscuity have been directly responsible for the decline and fall of every nation which these evils become prevalent. 

Some may argue that if this is so, why is Western civilization so extraordinarily vigorous and dynamic and despite its decadence and moral corruption, still unchallenged in its world-domination?

When moral depravity, self-worship and sensual indulgence have touched extremes; when men and women, young and old have become lost in sexual craze; when men have been completely perverted by sexual excitements, the natural consequences leading a nation to total collapse will inevitably follow. People who witness the progress and prosperity of such declining nations, which indeed stand on the very brink of an abyss of fire, are led to conclude that their self-indulgence is not impeding their progress but accelerating it. They think that a nation is at the peak of its prosperity when its people are highly self-indulgent. But this is a sad conclusion. When the constructive and destructive forces are both working side by side and the constructive aspect on the whole seems to have an edge over the destructive aspect, it is wrong to count the latter among the factors leading to the former.

Take, for instance, the case of a clever merchant who is earning high profits by dint of his intelligence, hard-work and experience. But at the same time, if he is given to drink, gambling and leads a care-free life, will it not be misleading to regard that side of his life as contributing to his well-being and prosperity? As a matter of fact, the first set of qualities is helping him to prosper whereas the second set is pulling him down. If on account of the positive qualities, he is flourishing, it does not mean that the negative forces are ineffective. It may be that the devil of gambling brings his whole fortune to naught in a moment and it may be that the devil of drinking leads him to commit a fatal mistake rendering him bankrupt and it may be that the devil of sexual indulgence leads him to commit murder, suicide or some other calamity. One cannot imagine how prosperous and triumphant he would have been had he not fallen a prey to these evils.

Similarly is the case with a nation. In the beginning it receives an impetus from constructive forces but then, due to lack of proper guidance, it begins to gather round it the means of its own destruction. For a while the constructive forces drag it along under the momentum already gained. But the destructive forces that are working simultaneously weaken it so much that one stray shock can send it sprawling to its doom.6

Where can salvation for humanity be found?

From the point of view of social structure, the teachings of the Shariah emphasize the role of the family as the unit of society - the family in the extended sense and not in its atomized, nuclear modem form. The greatest social achievement of the Prophet in Medina was precisely in breaking the existing tribal bonds and substituting religious ones which were connected on the one hand with the totality of the Muslim community and on the other hand with the family. The Muslim family is the miniature of the whole of Muslim society and its firm basis. In it, the man or father functions as the Imam in accordance with the patriarchal nature of Islam. The religious responsibility of the family rests upon his shoulders. In the family, the father upholds the tenets of the faith and his authority symbolizes that of God in the world. The man is in fact respected in the family precisely because of the sacerdotal function that he fulfils. The rebellion of Muslim women in certain quarters of Islamic society came when men themselves ceased to fulfil their religious function and lost their virile and patriarchal character. By becoming themselves effeminate, they caused the reaction of revolt among certain women who no longer felt the authority of religion upon themselves.

The traditional family is also the unit of stability of society and the four wives that a Muslim can marry, like the four-sided Ka’aba, symbolize this stability. Many have not understood why such a family structure is permitted in Islam and attack Islam for it as if polygamy belongs to Islam alone. Here and again Muslim modernism carries with it the prejudice of Christianity against polygamy to the extent that some have gone even so far as to call it immoral and prefer promiscuity to a social pattern which minimizes all illicit relations to the extent possible. The problem of the attitude of the Western observer is not as important as that segment of modernized Muslim society which itself cannot understand the teachings of the Shariah on this point simply because it uses as criteria categories borrowed from the modern West.

There is no doubt that in a small but significant segment of Muslim society today, there is a revolt of women against traditional Islamic society. In every civilisation a reaction always comes against an existing force or action. In Islam, the very patriarchal and masculine nature of the tradition makes the revolt of those women who have become aggressively modernised more violent and virulent than, let us say, in Hinduism, where the maternal element has always been strong. What many modernised Muslim women are doing in rebelling against the traditional Muslim family structure is to rebel against fourteen centuries of Islam itself although many may not be aware of the inner forces that drive them on. It is the patriarchal nature of Islam that makes the reaction of some modernised women today so vehement. Although very limited in number, they are, in fact, more than Muslim men, thirsting for all things Western. They seek to become modernised in their dress and habits with impetuosity, which would be difficult to understand unless one considers the deep psychological factors involved.

From the Islamic point of view, the question of the equality of men and women is meaningless. It is like discussing the equality of a rose and a jasmine. Each has its own perfume, colour, shape and beauty. Men and women are not the same. Each has particular features and characteristics. Women are not equal to men. But neither are men equal to women. Islam envisages their roles in society not as competing but as complimentary. Each has certain duties and functions in accordance with his or her nature and constitution.

Man possesses certain privileges such as social authority and mobility against which he has to perform many heavy duties. First of all, he bears all economic responsibility. It is his duty to support his family completely even if his wife is rich and despite the fact that she is economically independent. A woman in a traditional Islamic society does not have to worry about earning a living. There is always a family completely even if his wife is rich and despite die fact that she is economically independent. A woman in traditional Islamic society does not have to worry about earning a living. There is always the larger family structure in which she can find a place and take refuge from social and economic pressures even if she has no husband or father. In the extended family system, a man often supports not only his wife and children but also his mother, sister, aunts, in-laws and sometimes even cousins and more distant relatives. Therefore in city life, the necessity of having to find a job at all costs and having to bear the economic pressure of life is lifted from the shoulders of women. As for the countryside, the family is itself the economic unit and the work is achieved by the larger family or tribal unit together.

Secondly, a woman does not have to find a husband for herself. Site does not have to display her charms and make the thousand and one plans through which she hopes to attract a future mate. The terrible anxiety of having to find a husband and of missing the opportunity if one does not try hard enough at the right moment is spared the Muslim woman. Being able to remain true to her nature, she can afford to sit at home and wait for her parents or guardian to choose a suitable match. This usually leads to a marriage which, being based on the sense of religious duty and enduring family and social bonds between the two sides, is more lasting arid ends much more rarely in divorce than the marriages which are based on the sentiments of the moment that often do not develop into more permanent relationships.

Thirdly the Muslim woman is spared direct military and political responsibility although in rare cases there have been women warriors. This point may appear as a deprivation to some but in the light of the real needs of feminine nature, it is easy to see that for most women, such duties weigh heavily upon them. Even in modern societies, which through the equalitarian process have tried to equate men and women as if there were no difference in the two sexes, Women are usually spared the military draft except in extreme circumstances.

In return for these privileges which the woman receives, she has also certain responsibilities of which the most important is to provide a home for her family and to bring up her children properly. In the home the woman rules as queen and a Muslim man is in a sense the guest of his wife at home. The home and the larger family structure in which she lives are for the Muslim woman her world. To be cut off from it would be like being cut off from the world or like dying. She finds the meaning of her existence in this extended family structure which is constructed so as to give her the maximum possibility of realizing her basic needs and fulfilling herself.

The Shariah therefore envisages the role of men and women according to their nature, which is complimentary. It gives the man the privilege of social and political authority and movement for which he has to pay by bearing heavy responsibilities, by protecting his family from all the forces and pressures of society, economic and otherwise. Although a master in the world at large and the head of his own family, the man acts in his home as one who recognize the rule of his wife, in this domain and respects it. Through mutual understanding and the realization of the responsibilities that God has placed on each other’s shoulders, the Muslim man and woman are able to fulfill their personalities and create a firm family unit which is the basic structure of Muslim society.7

In the vehement rejection of the cultural, moral and spiritual values, indispensable for maintaining the institution of the family, those who support the Women’s Liberation Movement are revolting against the whole Christian heritage of their own civilization.

Despite the evils of its feudalistic society and the abuses of the authority of the priesthood, medieval Europe enjoyed a social integration, stability, peace and harmony which is unknown to modern Europe. Here is a vivid and moving description of Christian family values practically implemented in medieval Europe as taken from the family chronicles of the famous German artist, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) who, although a devout Christian, presents a picture of his own home life as very close to Islamic ideals.

Albrecht Durer, my beloved father, came to Germany, and stayed for a long time in the low countries, working with the great masters and finally came here to Nuremberg in the year of Our Lord 1455 on St. Eligius’s day. And on this same day (June 25th) there was the wedding of Philip Pircheimer in the castle and a great reception under the big lime tree. Thenceforth, for a long time, my beloved father, Albrecht Durer served the old Hiercrnonymus Holper until the year of our Lord 1467. Then he gave him his daughter Barbara, a handsome, virtuous maid, fifteen years of age and they were married eight days before St. Vitus (June 8).

This good mother of mine bore and brought up eighteen children, often had the pestilence and many other severe illnesses, endured great poverty, ridicule, scorn, alarm, and misfortune, yet she never bore revenge. These brothers and sisters of mine, my beloved father’s children, are all dead, some died young, the rest when adult. Only we three brothers are still living, so long as it may please God; namely, I, Albrecht and my brother Andreas, likewise my brother Hans. the third of that name out of my father’s children.

This said Albrecht Durer, the eider, worked hard all his life and had nothing else to live on but what he earned for himself, his wife and his children with his own hands. He also had all manner of grief, temptation and adversity. And all who knew him praised him for he led an honourable Christian life, was a patient and gentle man, peaceable towards everyone and he was very thankful to God. He had little-use for society and worldly pleasures; he was also a man of few words and Godfearing. My beloved father took great pains to teach his children to honour the Lord. For his greatest wish was to bring up his children well so that they would be pleasing in the sight of God and man. Therefore he continually told us to love God and behave honourably towards our fellow men.

And my father was especially fond of me for he saw that I was eager to learn. Therefore he sent me to school and when I had learnt to read and write, he cook me away from school and taught me the goldsmith’s craft. And when I had mastered this, I felt that [would rather be a painter than a goldsmith. When I told my father this, he was not pleased for he grieved at the loss of time I had spent as his apprentice. But in the end, he let me have my way and in the year of our Lord 1486, on St. Andrew’s day (30th November) my father hound me as apprentice to Michael Wolgemut to serve him for three years. In that time God gave me diligence and I learnt well but I also had to suffer much at the hands of his assistants. 

And after I had come home, Hans Frey negotiated with my father and gave me his daughter, Agnes and with her gave me 200 forms and we were married on Monday, July 7th before St. Margaret’s day in the year 1494.

Later it happened that my father became ill with dysentery and no one could cure him. And when he saw death approaching, he submitted to it calmly and patiently and commended my mother to my care and bade us to follow in the way of the Lord. He received the last sacraments and died a Christian death, leaving my mother a sorrowing widow. He had always praised her to me exceedingly as a most godly woman. Therefore I resolved never to forsake her. 

All my friends! I ask you in God’s name when you read of my pious father’s death to say a Paternoster and an Ave Maria for his soul and for the sake of your souls too, that we may, by serving God succeed in living a good life and dying a good death. For it is not possible that one who has led a good life should die an evil death for God is merciful. 

Now you shall know that in the year 5513, on a Tuesday before Rogation, my poor mother -whom I had taken care of for nine years since she came to live with me two years after my father died when she was quite penniless - was taken so ill early in the morning that we had to break open her door - for she was too weak to let us in and that that was the only way we could get to her. We brought her downstairs and she received both sacraments for everyone knew she was about to die. She had never been well since my father died. 

More than a year from the said day on which she fell ill, in the year of our Lord, May 17, 1514, two hours before dark, my pious mother, Barbara Durer departed from this life with all the sacraments, absolved from pain and sin by papal authority. Before she died, she gave me her blessing and wished me divine peace with much good advice to guard myself from Sm. And she was most afraid of death but she said she was not afraid to meet God. And my mother’s death grieved me more than I can say. May God have mercy on her soul ! It was always her greatest pleasure to speak of God and see that we honoured Him. And it was her custom. to go regularly to church and she always scolded me heavily when I did wrong. And she was always anxious lest I or my brothers should sin. And whenever I went out or came in, she would say, “God be with you !“ And she constantly gave us solemn warning and had continual concern for our souls. And I cannot say enough about her good works and the kindness she showed to everybody or of her good name.

And it was in her sixty-third year when she died. And I buried her fittingly in accordance with my means. May the Lord grant me that I too die a Christian death and that I may join Him and His Heavenly Host, my father, my mother and my friends and may Almighty God give us eternal life! Amen. And in death she looked far sweeter than when she was still alive.8

A uni-sexual society be proposed be the feminists - that is, a society which makes no cultural or social distinction between the sexes, a society without marriage, home and family, where modesty, chastity and motherhood are scorned, does not represent “progress” or “liberation” but degradation at its worst. The result is pure and unadulterated anarchy, confusion and chaos.

If so, why is Feminism so popular?

The social order founded on materialism is the oldest and most popular. No social order is more satisfying, none so easy to evolve and so readily acceptable to the majority of men in all climes and at all times. It has such a deep attraction for the masses that its roots need not go deep into the soil nor is it necessary to raise the level of human intelligence or make any sacrifice for its sake. One requires no altruism or endurance. One need only drift with the “times.” History bears witness to the fact that no social order has so persistently come to have its sway over humanity as it has done.9

Never has moral corruption and social decadence menaced mankind on such a universal scale as is the case now. The adoption of feminist ideals degrades humans lower than the animals. For animals live by their instincts and cannot do anything opposed to their nature. Among animals, homosexuality is unknown. The male is only attracted to the female of its own species. The male animal never goes with lust to another male or a female to another female. Among animals, the maternal relationship is completely severed as soon as the young are able to look after themselves. In most species, the father takes no interest in its offspring. There is no such thing as modesty, chastity, marriage or filial ties among. beasts. These concepts are unique with human beings. They are found in every culture at every stage of civilization and history. The feminists wish to abolish the very characteristics, which make man human and undermine the foundation of all his relationships and social ties. The result will be suicide, not only of a single nation as in the past, but of the entire human race.

1 The Rebirth of Feminism, Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, The New York Tomies, New York, 1971, pp. 228

2 Ibid, p.240. 

3 The New Woman; A Motive Anthology on Women’s Liberation, edited by Joanne Cooke and Charlotte Bunch-Weeks, New York, 1970. pp. 79-81.

4 Ibid., p.122-125.  

5 Women in the Modern World, edited by Raphael Palai. The Free Press, New York 1967. 

6 Purdah and the Status of Woman in Islam, Sayyid Abul ‘Ala Maudooda, Islamic Publications, Lahore, 1972, pp. 52-53. 

7 Ideals and Realities of Islam, Syed Hossein Nasr, George AIIen & Unwin, London, 1966, pp. 110-113. 

8 The Durer House in Nuremberg: Extracts from Durer’s Family Chronicles and Reminiscences, English translation by John M. Woolman, Nuremberg. pp. 34-46. 

8 Religion and Civilization, Abul Hasan All Nadawi, Academy of Islamic Research and 8 Publications, Lucknow, 1970, p. 45.

Articles and Books Of Maryam Jameelah



Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why I embraced Islam.

Quoted from her book "Islam and Modernism" 


(formerly Margret Marcus) 

I trace the beginning of my interest in Islam when as a child of ten , while attending a reformed Jewish "Sunday School" , I became fascinated with the historical relationship between the Jews an the Arabs. From my Jewish textbooks, I learned that Abraham was the father of the Arabs as well as the Jews. I read how centuries later when in medieval Europe, Christian persecution made their lives intolerable, the Jews were welcomed in Muslim Spain and that it was the magnanimity if this same Arabic-Islamic civilization which stimulated Hebrew culture to reach its highest peak of achievement. Totally unaware of the true nature of Zionism, i naively thought that Jews were returning to Palestine to strengthen their close ties of kinship in religion and culture with their semitic cousins. Together i believed that the Jews and Arabs would cooperate to attain another Golden Age of culture in the Middle East. 

Despite my fascination with the study of Jewish history, I was extremely unhappy at the "Sunday School". At this time i identified strongly with the Jewish people in Europe, then suffering a horrible fate under the Nazis and I was shocked that none of my class-fellows nor their parents took their religion seriously. During the services at the synagogue, the children used to read comic strips hidden in their prayer books and laugh to scorn at the rituals. The children were so noisy and disorderly that the teachers couldn't discipline them and found it very difficult to conduct the classes. At home the atmosphere for religious observance was scarcely more congenial. My elder sister detested the "Sunday School" so much that my mother literally had to drag her out of bed in the mornings and she never went without the struggle of tears and hot words. Finally my parents were exhausted and let her quit. On the Jewish holy days instead of attending Synagogues and fasting on Yum Kipper, my sister and i were taken out of school to picnics and gay parties in fine restaurants. When my sister and i were convinced our parents how miserable we were both at the Sunday School they joined agnostic, humanist organization known as the ETHICAL CULTURE MOVEMENT. 

The Ethical Culture Movement was founded late in the 19th century by Felix Adler. While studying for the rabbinate, Felix Adler grew convinced that devotion to ethical values as relative and man-made, regarding and supernaturalism or theology as irrelevant, constituted the only religion fit for the modern world. I attended the Ethical Culture "Sunday School" each week from the age of eleven until i graduated at fifteen. Here i grew into complete accord with the ideas of the movement ad regarded all traditional, organized religions with scorn. 

Throughout my adolescence i remained under the influence of humanistic philosophy until, after i began to mature intellectually and atheism no longer satisfied me, I began a renewed search for my identity. For a time i joined a bahai group in New York called the "The caravan of East and West" under the leadership of a persian by the name of Mirza Ahmed Sohrab (D.1958) who told me that he had been the secretary of Abdul Baha, one of the founders of the Bahai. Initially i was attracted to the Bahai because of its Islamic origin and its preaching about the oneness of the mankind, but when I discovered how miserably they had failed to implement this ideal, I left them a year later bitterly disillusioned. When i was eighteen years old, I became a member of the local branch of the religious Zionist youth movement known as the Mizrachi Hatzair, but when i found out what the real nature of Zionism was, which made hostility between Jews and Arabs irreconcilable, I left several months later in disgust. When I was twenty and a student in New York University , one of my elective courses was "Judaism in Islam". My professor, Rabbi Abraham Issac Katsh, the head of the Department of Hebrew Studies there, he spared no efforts to convince his students -- all Jews many of whom aspired to become Rabbis-- that Islam was derived from Judaism. Our textbook, written by him * took each verse from the Quran , painstakingly tracing it to its alleged Jewish source. Although his real aim was to prove to his students the superiority of Judaism over Islam, he convinced me diametrically the opposite. I was repelled by the sub-ordination of the Hereafter, so vividly ported in the Holy Quran, to the alleged divine right of the Jews to Palestine. The Jewish God in the Old Testament and in the Jewish prayer book appeared to me distorted and degraded into some kind of real estate agent ! The fusion of Parochial nationalism with religion, I thought had spiritually impoverished Judaism beyond redemption. The rigid exclusiveness of Judaism I felt had a great deal of connection with the persecutions the Jews have suffered throughout their history. I reflected that perhaps these tragedies wouldn't have happened if the jews had competed vigorously with other faiths for converts. I soon discovered that Zionism was merely a combination of the racist, tribalistic Judaism with modern secular nationalism. Zionism was further discredited in my eyes when i learnt that few if any of the leaders of the Zionism were observant Jews and that perhaps nowhere is orthodox, traditional Judaism regarded with such intense contempt as in Israel. When i found nearly all important Jewish leaders in America uncritical supporters of Zionism who felt not the slightest twinge of conscience because of the terrible injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arabs, i could no longer consider myself a Jew at heart. 

One morning in November 1954, Professor Katsh during his lecture, argued with irrefutable logic that the monotheism taught my Moses (PBUH) and the Divine laws related to him at Sinai were indispensable as the basis for all higher ethical values.If morals were purely man-made as the Ethical Culture and other agnostic and atheistic philosophies taught then they could be changed at will according to mere whim, convenience or circumstance. The result would be utter chaos leading to individual and collective ruin. Belief in the Hereafter as the Rabbis in the Talmud taught, argued Prof. Katsh. was not mere wishful thinking but a moral necessity. Only those he said who firmly believed that each of us will be summoned by God on judgment Day to render a complete account of our life and rewarded or punished accordingly, will possess the self-discipline to sacrifice transitory pleasures and endure hardships and sacrifice to attain lasting good. While Prof. Katsh was lecturing thus, i was comparing in my mind what i had read in the Old Testament and the Talmud with what was taught in the Quran and Hadith and finding Judaism so defective , I was converted to Islam. 

Although i wanted to become a Muslim as far back as in 1954, my family managed to argue me out of it. I was warned that Islam would complicate my life because it is not like Judaism and Christianity, part of the American scene. I was told that Islam would alienate me from my family and isolate me from the community. At that time my faith wasn't sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures. Partly as the result of my inner turmoil, I became so ill that i had to discontinue college long before it was any time for me to graduate so that i never earned any diploma. For the next two years i remained at home under private medical care, steadily growing worse. in desperation from 1957-1959, my parents confined me both to private and public hospitals where i vowed that if i ever recovered sufficiently to be discharged i would embrace Islam. 

After i was allowed to return home, I investigated all the opportunities to meet Muslims in New York City and it was my good fortune to make the acquaintance of some of the finest men and women anyone could ever hope to meet. I also began to write articles for Muslim magazines and carry on an extensive correspondence with Muslim leaders all over the world. I corresponded with the late Sheikh Abrahimi, the leader of the ulema in Algeria, Dr, Muhammad El-Bahay of Al-Azhar, Dr. Mahmud F Hoballah , then the director of the Islamic center in Washington D.C., Dr. Hameedullah of Paris, Dr. Said Ramadan, the director of the islamic center of Geneva, and Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi. 

Even before i formally embraced Islam, i found the integrity of the faith in the contemporary world greatly threatened by the so-called modernist movement which aimed at adulterating its teachings with man-made philosophies and reforms. I was convinced that had these modernizes had their way , nothing of the original would be left ! As a child I had witnessed with my own eyes in my own family how the liberals had mutilated what had once been a Divinely revealed faith. Having been born a Jew and reared in a Jewish family ,i had seen how futile was the attempt to reconcile religion with atheistic environment. "Reformed Judaism" not only failed to check the cultural assimilation of the Jews i knew but actively encouraged the process. As a result they had become Jews by label only. None had any religion worthy of the name. Throughout my childhood, the intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy and superficiality of "reformed" Judaism was a vivid experience. Even at that early age i knew that such a watered down, half-hearted compromise could never hope to retain the loyalty of its members, much less their children. How dismayed i was when i found among the muslims, the same threat! How shocked i was when i found certain scholars and some political leaders within the Muslim community guilty of the identical sins for which the God in our Holy Quran has vehemently denounced the Jews! Convinced that God wouldn't spare us from calamity and doom us to the same fate the Jews have suffered unless we sincerely repented and changed our ways, I vowed that i would devote all my literary struggle to combating this menace from within before it was too late. 

Thus in his first letter to me of January 1961, Maulana Maudoodi wrote: 

"While i was scanning your essays. I felt as if i were reading my very own ideas. i hope your feeling will be the same when you have the opportunity to learn Urdu and study my books. And that despite the fact there has been no previous acquaintance between you and me, this mutual sympathy and unanimity in thought has resulted directly from the fact that both of us have derived our inspiration from one and the same source-- Islam "

Saturday, January 3, 2009


By Maryam Jameelah 

Dear Mother and Father,

I have now been living in Pakistan for more than twenty years during which time you have acquired an entire additional family of loved-ones there, adding much to your happiness. You have reached a ripe age, thank God, living longer in good health than I had ever expected. You have read all my books and Islamic literature I have sent you with a broad and open mind. Therefore you need no introduction to the subject I wish to discuss with you now and nothing I have to say will seem strange and new to you.

I wonder if you realize fully how very fortunate you are. So long as you can keep in reasonable health and are able to take care of yourselves, you can continue to enjoy a pleasant life. But do you ever think of the tragic faith of those hundreds of thousands of other older Americans, the victims of chronic illness and infirmities, who crowd to over-flowing hospitals and nursing homes (which are really charnel houses), the old-age homes and the senile wards of mental institutions? And do you ever think of those still greater numbers of older people who are widowed and live their lonely lives confined to their dingy rooms in constant fear of muggings, physical attacks and robberies by juvenile delinquents who prey on the old and infirm with no remorse or fear of punishment? The maltreatment of older people is a direct result of the collapse of the home and extended family. Does your elder sister - my aunt Rosalyn, a great-grandmother lovingly sheltered in a close and adoring family and a happy home, ever think how lucky she is and how few of her advanced age in America are left like her?

You must know that society in which you were brought up and have lived all your life is in a state of rapid disintegration on the brink of collapse. Actually the decline in our civilization was evident as far back as World War I but at that time few people except some intellectuals and artists were aware of what was happening. But since the end of World War II and especially during the last two decades, the rot has reached such a stage of advanced decay that nobody can any longer ignore it.

The moral anarchy in the absence of any respected, fixed standards of behavior and conduct, the obsession with perverted sex over the entertainment media, the mistreatment of older people, the divorce rate which has climbed so high that among the new generation, an enduring, happy marriage is becoming rare, child abuse, the destruction of the natural environment, the prodigious waste of scarce and valuable resources, the epidemic of veneral diseases and mental disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicides as leading cause of death, crime, vandalism, corruption in the government and contempt for the law in general - all of this has a cause.

The cause of this is the failure of secularism and materialism and the absence of absolute, transcendental theological and moral values. Deed does in the final analysis depend upon creed because if the intention is wrong, the work always suffers.

No doubt that it may bore you to read this. You will protest that if you are not theologians, philosophers or sociologists, then why bother about such "deep" matters when they do not seem to be of any direct concern to you? After all, you are happy and content living just as you are. You only wish to enjoy life right now, live entirely in the present and accept each day as it comes. If life is a journey, is it not foolhardy only to be concerned with pleasant and comfortable accommodations along the way and never to think about the journey's end? Why were we born? What is the meaning and purpose of life, why must we die and what will happen to each of us after death?

Father you have told me more than once that you cannot accept any traditional religion because you are convinced that theology conflicts with modern science. Science and technology have indeed given us much information about the physical world, provided us with abundant comforts and conveniences, increased efficiency and discovered remedies for many diseases that used to be fatal. But science does not and cannot tell us about the meaning of life and death. Science tells us "how" but it never answers the question "why"?. Can science ever tell us what is right and what is wrong? What is good and what is evil? What is beautiful and what is ugly? And to whom are we accountable for what we do? Religion does.

Today America is in many ways a repetition of ancient Rome in the terminal stages of her decline and fall. Thinking people know that secularism has failed to be a sound foundation of our social order. They are anxiously searching in other directions for a solution to the crisis but do not know yet where to find it. This is not of concern only to a few sociologists. The disease of national disintegration directly affects you and me and each one of us.

During its most critical period, ancient Rome adopted Christianity as its salvation and henceforth the Church dominated Europe for more than a thousand years. This put an end to many of the worst social and moral evils of decadent Rome and greatly raised the moral and spiritual standards of the people. Unfortunately during the formative period of its history, the Church compromised with paganism and secularism, adopting an elaborate priesthood and incomprehensive theology which could not resist the impact of the renaissance, the revival of the natural sciences and the radical secularism of the French Revolution. While Christians in Europe and America have deserted their faith wholesale leaving the churches almost empty, the missionaries continue to represent the vanguard of western imperialism and exploitation in Asia and Africa. 

After Christianity, the Jews comprise the second largest religious group in America who dominate politically, and economically, as well exercising considerable control over the media. But Judaism has always been parochial and tribal, seldom welcoming converts. It is not and has never been a universal faith. The Zionist movement which resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel, is the secular expression of Jewish nationalism and tribalism. The dreadful atrocities committed by the Israelis in occupied Palestine, the unprovoked aggression in Lebanon and adjacent areas and attempted genocide of the Palestine Arabs, depriving them of all human and political rights, is the logical result of this same narrow parochial outlook. This is the reason why even the most orthodox of the rabbis refuse to believe that Israel can do any wrong and uncritically support everything she does. These glaring moral and spiritual defects automatically disqualify Judaism as the faith of the future.

The Muslims comprise the third and fastest growing faith in America today. No longer is Islam confined to remote regions of the deserts and jungles of Asia and Africa. No longer is Islam foreign to the American scene. There are more than three million Muslims in America today and their numbers are increasing fast. There are thousands of students from all Muslim countries studying in American universities, and well-educated, highly-trained Muslims are busily at work in all professions. In the last two decades, hundreds of native-born American converts have swelled their ranks. At first most of the converts were black people who found in Islam, dignity, honor, self-respect and racial brotherhood as did Malcolm-X, but in recent years more and more white converts of European origin, searching for guidance in all the affairs of their formally chaotic lives, have also embraced Islam, making many sacrifices and enduring much hardships to do so. Few of them are fortunate as I am to have loving parent like you. Most of them suffer severe frictions with their non-Muslim parents and relatives. Today churches and synagogues are almost deserted but the newly-built mosques and Islamic centers, springing up in every important American city and town, are attracting rapidly growing numbers. Most of the new Muslims in America are young, intelligent and well-educated. What attracts so many young Americans to Islam?

Americans today, both young and old, are desperately searching for guidance. They know from bitter experience that the personal freedom and opportunities they as Americans enjoy are meaningless and self-destructive without reliable guidance, direction and purpose. Secularism and materialism are powerless to provide any positive or constructive moral values for Americans either individually or collectively. That is why after Christianity and Judaism have failed them, more and more people in America today are turning towards Islam. In Islam as new Muslims, they find a sane, healthy, clean and honest life. And for Muslims, everything does not come to an end at death. They look forward to an Eternity of bliss, peace and perfect happiness (in the Hereafter).

This Guidance found in the Holy Qur'an and the recorded words and deeds of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, is not only for foreign races in some far-away corner of the East, centuries ago. Here are to be found the solutions to all economic, social, moral and political problems which face us right here in the West today. Furthermore, Islam is not cold, remote and impersonal. Muslims have complete faith in a very personal God who not only created, sustains and rules the universe but also loves and deeply cares about the fate of each of us. The Holy Qur'an tells us that God is nearer to everyone of us than our jugular veins!

Since the Holy Qur'an is divine revelation, it cannot and will never be changed. Because it is perfect, it cannot be improved, revised or reformed. Since Muhammad, upon whom be peace, is the final Prophet, his guidance can never be superseded by any other. The Qur'an and Sunnah are addressed to all peoples, in every country of the West as well as the East. Since it is relevant for all times, in all places, it can never become obsolete or out-of-date.

You are both of very advanced age and there is so little time left. Yet it is not too late if you act now. If your decision is positive, your ties with your loved ones in Pakistan will not only be by blood but also in faith. You cannot only love them in this world but be all together with us forever in eternity.

If your decision is negative, I am very much afraid that your happy, comfortable and pleasant life will very shortly come to an end. As soon as the inevitable occurs, it is too late for remorse and regrets. The punishment will be terrible from which there is no refuge and no escape.

It is as your daughter who loves you and hopes to the end that you will be spared this fate. But the decision rests entirely with you. You have complete freedom to accept or reject: Your future depends upon the choice you make now.

All my love and best wishes.

Your devoted daughter,

(Maryam Jameelah).

(Courtesy: The Universal Message). Also see Iqra: The Islamic Journal, Nairobi, Rabi-ul-Awwal 1407, November 1986, p35-37.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Interview with Maryam Jameelah

Q: Would you kindly tell us how your interest in Islam began?

A: I was Margaret (Peggy) Marcus. As a small child I possessed a keen interest in music and was particularly fond of the classical operas and symphonies considered high culture in the West. Music was my favorite subject in school in which I always earned the highest grades. By sheer chance, I happened to hear Arabic music over the radio which so much pleased me that I was determined to hear more. I would not leave my parents in peace until my father finally took me to the Syrian section in New York City where I bought a stack of Arabic recordings. My parents, relatives and neighbors thought Arabic and its music dreadfully weird and so distressing to their ears that whenever I put on my recordings, they demanded that I close all the doors and windows in my room lest they be disturbed! After I embraced Islam in 1961, I used to sit enthralled by the hour at the mosque in New York, listening to tape-recordings of Tilawat chanted by the celebrated Egyptian Qari, Abdul Basit. But on Jumha Salat (Friday Prayers), the Imam did not play the tapes. We had a special guest that day. A short, very thin and poorly-dressed black youth, who introduced himself to us as a student from Zanzibar, recited Surah ar-Rahman. I never heard such glorious Tilawat even from Abdul Basit! He possessed such a voice of gold; surely Hazrat Bilal must have sounded much like him!

I traced the beginning of my interest in Islam to the age of ten. While attending a reformed Jewish Sunday school, I became fascinated with the historical relationship between the Jews and the Arabs. From my Jewish textbooks, I learned that Abraham was the father of the Arabs as well as the Jews. I read how centuries later when, in medieval Europe, Christian persecution made their lives intolerable, the Jews were welcomed in Muslim Spain and that it was the magnanimity of this same Arabic Islamic civilization which stimulated Hebrew culture to reach its highest peak of achievement.

Totally unaware of the true nature of Zionism, I naively thought that the Jews were returning to Palestine to strengthen their close ties of kinship in religion and culture with their Semitic cousins. Together I believed that the Jews and the Arabs would cooperate to attain another Golden Age of culture in the Middle East.

Despite my fascination with the study of Jewish history, I was extremely unhappy at the Sunday school. At this time I identified myself strongly with the Jewish people in Europe, then suffering a horrible fate under the Nazis and I was shocked that none of my fellow classmates nor their parents took their religion seriously. During the services at the synagogue, the children used to read comic strips hidden in their prayer books and laugh to scorn at the rituals. The children were so noisy and disorderly that the teachers could not discipline them and found it very difficult to conduct the classes.

At home the atmosphere for religious observance was scarcely more congenial. My elder sister detested the Sunday school so much that my mother literally had to drag her out of bed in the mornings and it never went without the struggle of tears and hot words. Finally my parents were exhausted and let her quit. On the Jewish High Holy Days instead of attending synagogue and fasting on Yom Kippur, my sister and I were taken out of school to attend family picnics and parties in fine restaurants. When my sister and I convinced our parents how miserable we both were at the Sunday school they joined an agnostic, humanist organization known as the Ethical Culture Movement.

The Ethical Culture Movement was founded late in the 19th century by Felix Alder. While studying for rabbinate, Felix Alder grew convinced that devotion to ethical values as relative and man-made, regarding any supernaturalism or theology as irrelevant, constituted the only religion fit for the modern world. I attended the Ethical Culture Sunday School each week from the age of eleven until I graduated at fifteen. Here I grew into complete accord with the ideas of the movement and regarded all traditional, organized religions with scorn.

When I was eighteen years old I became a member of the local Zionist youth movement known as the Mizrachi Hatzair. But when I found out what the nature of Zionism was, which made the hostility between Jews and Arabs irreconcilable, I left several months later in disgust. When I was twenty and a student at New York University, one of my elective courses was entitled Judaism in Islam. My professor, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Katsh, the head of the department of Hebrew Studies there, spared no efforts to convince his students--all Jews, many of whom aspired to become rabbis--that Islam was derived from Judaism. Our textbook, written by him, took each verse from the Quran, painstakingly tracing it to its allegedly Jewish source. Although his real aim was to prove to his students the superiority of Judaism over Islam, he convinced me diametrically of the opposite. 

I soon discovered that Zionism was merely a combination of the racist, tribalistic aspects of Judaism. Modern secular nationalistic Zionism was further discredited in my eyes when I learned that few, if any, of the leaders of Zionism were observant Jews and that perhaps nowhere is Orthodox, traditional Judaism regarded with such intense contempt as in Israel. When I found nearly all important Jewish leaders in America supporters for Zionism, who felt not the slightest twinge of conscience because of the terrible injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian Arabs, I could no longer consider myself a Jew at heart.

One morning in November 1954, Professor Katsh, during his lecture, argued with irrefutable logic that the monotheism taught by Moses (peace be upon him) and the Divine Laws reveled to him were indispensable as the basis for all higher ethical values. If morals were purely man-made, as the Ethical Culture and other agnostic and atheistic philosophies taught, then they could be changed at will, according to mere whim, convenience or circumstance. The result would be utter chaos leading to individual and collective ruin. Belief in the Hereafter, as the Rabbis in the Talmud taught, argued Professor Katsh, was not mere wishful thinking but a moral necessity. Only those, he said, who firmly believed that each of us will be summoned by God on Judgement Day to render a complete account of our life on earth and rewarded or punished accordingly, will possess the self-discipline to sacrifice transitory pleasure and endure hardships and sacrifice to attain lasting good.

It was in Professor Katsh's class that I met Zenita, the most unusual and fascinating girl I have ever met. The first time I entered Professor Katsh's class, as I looked around the room for an empty desk in which to sit, I spied two empty seats, on the arm of one, three big beautifully bound volumes of Yusuf Ali's English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran. I sat down right there, burning with curiosity to find out to whom these volumes belonged. Just before Rabbi Katsh's lecture was to begin, a tall, very slim girl with pale complexion framed by thick auburn hair, sat next to me. Her appearance was so distinctive, I thought she must be a foreign student from Turkey, Syria or some other Near Eastern country. Most of the other students were young men wearing the black cap of Orthodox Jewry, who wanted to become rabbis. We two were the only girls in the class. As we were leaving the library late that afternoon, she introduced herself to me. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family, her parents had migrated to America from Russia only a few years prior to the October Revolution in 1917 to escape persecution. I noted that my new friend spoke English with the precise care of a foreigner. She confirmed these speculations, telling me that since her family and their friends speak only Yiddish among themselves, she did not learn any English until after attending public school. She told me that her name was Zenita Liebermann but recently, in an attempt to Americanize themselves, her parents had changed their name from "Liebermann" to "Lane." Besides being thoroughly instructed in Hebrew by her father while growing up and also in school, she said she was now spending all her spare time studying Arabic. However, with no previous warning, Zenita dropped out of class and although I continued to attend all of his lectures to the conclusion of the course, Zenita never returned. Months passed and I had almost forgotten about Zenita when suddenly she called and begged me to meet her at the Metropolitan Museum and go with her to look at the special exhibition of exquisite Arabic calligraphy and ancient illuminated manuscripts of the Quran. During our tour of the museum, Zenita told me how she had embraced Islam with two of her Palestinian friends as witnesses.

I inquired, "Why did you decide to become a Muslim?" She then told me that she had left Professor Katsh's class when she fell ill with a severe kidney infection. Her condition was so critical, she told me, her mother and father had not expected her to survive. "One afternoon while burning with fever, I reached for my Holy Quran on the table beside by bed and began to read and while I recited the verses, it touched me so deeply that I began to weep and then I knew I would recover. As soon as I was strong enough to leave my bed, I summoned two of my Muslim friends and took the oath of the "Shahadah" or Confession of Faith."

Zenita and I would eat our meals in Syrian restaurants where I acquired a keen taste for this tasty cooking. When we had money to spend, we would order Couscous, roast lamb with rice or a whole soup plate of delicious little meatballs swimming in gravy scooped up with loaves of unleavened Arabic bread. And when we had little to spend, we would eat lentils and rice, Arabic style, or the Egyptian national dish of black broad beans with plenty of garlic and onions called "Ful". 

While Professor Katsh was lecturing thus, I was comparing in my mind what I had read in the Old Testament and the Talmud with what was taught in the Quran and Hadith and finding Judaism so defective, I was converted to Islam.

Q: Were you scared that you might not be accepted by the Muslims?

A: My increasing sympathy for Islam and Islamic ideals enraged the other Jews I knew, who regarded me as having betrayed them in the worst possible way. They used to tell me that such a reputation could only result from shame of my ancestral heritage and an intense hatred for my people. They warned me that even if I tried to become a Muslim, I would never be accepted. These fears proved totally unfounded as I have never been stigmatized by any Muslim because of my Jewish origin. As soon as I became a Muslim myself, I was welcomed most enthusiastically by all the Muslims as one of them. 

I did not embrace Islam out of hatred for my ancestral heritage or my people. It was not a desire so much to reject as to fulfill. To me, it meant a transition from parochial to a dynamic and revolutionary faith.

Q: Did your family object to your studying Islam?

A: Although I wanted to become a Muslim as far back as 1954, my family managed to argue me out of it. I was warned that Islam would complicate my life because it is not, like Judaism and Christianity, part of the American scene. I was told that Islam would alienate me from my family and isolate me from the community. At that time my faith was not sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures. Partly as the result of this inner turmoil, I became so ill that I had to discontinue college long before it was time for me to graduate. For the next two years I remained at home under private medical care, steadily growing worse. In desperation from 1957 - 1959 my parents confined me both to private and public hospitals where I vowed that if ever I recovered sufficiently to be discharged, I would embrace Islam.

After I was allowed to return home, I investigated all the opportunities for meeting Muslims in New York City. It was my good fortune to meet some of the finest men and women anyone could ever hope to meet. I also began to write articles for Muslim magazines. 

Q: What was the attitude of your parents and friends after you became Muslim?

A: When I embraced Islam, my parents, relatives and their friends regarded me almost as a fanatic, because I could think and talk of nothing else. To them, religion is a purely private concern which at the most perhaps could be cultivated like an amateur hobby among other hobbies. But as soon as I read the Holy Quran, I knew that Islam was no hobby but life itself!

Q: In what ways did the Holy Quran have an impact on your life?

A: One evening I was feeling particularly exhausted and sleepless, Mother came into my room and said she was about to go to the Larchmont Public Library and asked me if there was any book that I wanted? I asked her to look and see if the library had a copy of an English translation of the Holy Quran. Just think, years of passionate interest in the Arabs and reading every book in the library about them I could lay my hands on but until now, I never thought to see what was in the Holy Quran! Mother returned with a copy for me. I was so eager, I literally grabbed it from her hands and read it the whole night. There I also found all the familiar Bible stories of my childhood. 

In my eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school and one year of college, I learned about English grammar and composition, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek in current use, Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, European and American history, elementary science, Biology, music and art--but I had never learned anything about God! Can you imagine I was so ignorant of God that I wrote to my pen-friend, a Pakistani lawyer, and confessed to him the reason why I was an atheist was because I couldn't believe that God was really an old man with a long white beard who sat up on His throne in Heaven. When he asked me where I had learned this outrageous thing, I told him of the reproductions from the Sistine Chapel I had seen in "Life" Magazine of Michelangelo's "Creation" and "Original Sin." I described all the representations of God as an old man with a long white beard and the numerous crucifixions of Christ I had seen with Paula at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in the Holy Quran, I read:

"Allah! There is no god but He,-the Living, The Self-subsisting, Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is thee can intercede in His presence except as He permiteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)." (Quran S.2:255)

"But the Unbelievers,-their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds Allah there, and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account. Or (the unbelievers' state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depth of darkness, one above another: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! for any to whom Allah giveth not light, there is no light!" (Quran S.24: 39-40)

My first thought when reading the Holy Quran - this is the only true religion - absolutely sincere, honest, not allowing cheap compromises or hypocrisy.

In 1959, I spent much of my leisure time reading books about Islam in the New York Public Library. It was there I discovered four bulky volumes of an English translation of Mishkat ul- Masabih. It was then that I learned that a proper and detailed understanding of the Holy Quran is not possible without some knowledge of the relevant Hadith. For how can the holy text correctly be interpreted except by the Prophet to whom it was revealed?

Once I had studied the Mishkat, I began to accept the Holy Quran as Divine revelation. What persuaded me that the Quran must be from God and not composed by Muhammad (PBUH) was its satisfying and convincing answers to all the most important questions of life which I could not find elsewhere.

As a child, I was so mortally afraid of death, particularly the thought of my own death, that after nightmares about it, sometimes I would awaken my parents crying in the middle of the night. When I asked them why I had to die and what would happen to me after death, all they could say was that I had to accept the inevitable; but that was a long way off and because medical science was constantly advancing, perhaps I would live to be a hundred years old! My parents, family, and all our friends rejected as superstition any thought of the Hereafter, regarding Judgment Day, reward in Paradise or punishment in Hell as outmoded concepts of by-gone ages. In vain I searched all the chapters of the Old Testament for any clear and unambiguous concept of the Hereafter. The prophets, patriarchs and sages of the Bible all receive their rewards or punishments in this world. Typical is the story of Job (Hazrat Ayub). God destroyed all his loved-ones, his possessions, and afflicted him with a loathsome disease in order to test his faith. Job plaintively laments to God why He should make a righteous man suffer. At the end of the story, God restores all his earthly losses but nothing is even mentioned about any possible consequences in the Hereafter. 

Although I did find the Hereafter mentioned in the New Testament, compared with that of the Holy Quran, it is vague and ambiguous. I found no answer to the question of death in Orthodox Judaism, for the Talmud preaches that even the worst life is better than death. My parents' philosophy was that one must avoid contemplating the thought of death and just enjoy as best one can, the pleasures life has to offer at the moment. According to them, the purpose of life is enjoyment and pleasure achieved through self-expression of one's talents, the love of family, the congenial company of friends combined with the comfortable living and indulgence in the variety of amusements that affluent America makes available in such abundance. They deliberately cultivated this superficial approach to life as if it were the guarantee for their continued happiness and good-fortune. Through bitter experience I discovered that self-indulgence leads only to misery and that nothing great or even worthwhile is ever accomplished without struggle through adversity and self-sacrifice. From my earliest childhood, I have always wanted to accomplish important and significant things. Above all else, before my death I wanted the assurance that I have not wasted life in sinful deeds or worthless pursuits. All my life I have been intensely serious-minded. I have always detested the frivolity which is the dominant characteristic of contemporary culture. My father once disturbed me with his unsettling conviction that there is nothing of permanent value and because everything in this modern age accept the present trends inevitable and adjust ourselves to them. I, however, was thirsty to attain something that would endure forever. It was from the Holy Quran where I learned that this aspiration was possible. No good deed for the sake of seeking the pleasure of God is ever wasted or lost. Even if the person concerned never achieves any worldly recognition, his reward is certain in the Hereafter. Conversely, the Quran tells us that those who are guided by no moral considerations other than expediency or social conformity and crave the freedom to do as they please, no matter how much worldly success and prosperity they attain or how keenly they are able to relish the short span of their earthly life, will be doomed as the losers on Judgement Day. Islam teaches us that in order to devote our exclusive attention to fulfilling our duties to God and to our fellow-beings, we must abandon all vain and useless activities which distract us from this end. These teachings of the Holy Quran, made even more explicit by Hadith, were thoroughly compatible with my temperament. 

Q: What is your opinion of the Arabs after you became a Muslim?

A: As the years passed, the realization gradually dawned upon me that it was not the Arabs who made Islam great but rather Islam had made the Arabs great. Were it not for the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Arabs would be an obscure people today. And were it not for the Holy Quran, the Arabic language would be equally insignificant, if not extinct.

Q: Did you see any similarities between Judaism and Islam?

A: The kinship between Judaism and Islam is even stronger than Islam and Christianity. Both Judaism and Islam share in common the same uncompromising monotheism, the crucial importance of strict obedience to Divine Law as proof of our submission to and love of the Creator, the rejection of the priesthood, celibacy and monasticism and the striking similarity of the Hebrew and Arabic language.

In Judaism, religion is so confused with nationalism, one can scarcely distinguish between the two. The name "Judaism" is derived from Judah-a tribe. A Jew is a member of the tribe of Judah. Even the name of this religion connotes no universal spiritual message. A Jew is not a Jew by virtue of his belief in the unity of God, but merely because he happened to be born of Jewish parentage. Should he become an outspoken atheist, he is no less "Jewish" in the eyes of his fellow Jews.

Such a thorough corruption with nationalism has spiritually impoverished this religion in all its aspects. God is not the God of all mankind but the God of Israel. The scriptures are not God's revelation to the entire human race but primarily a Jewish history book. David and Solomon (peace be upon them) are not full-fledged prophets of God but merely Jewish kings. With the single exception of Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement), the holidays and festivals celebrated by Jews, such as Hanukkah, Purim and Pesach, are of far greater national than religious significance. 

Q: Have you ever had the opportunity to talk about Islam to the other Jews?

A: There is one particular incident which really stands out in my mind when I had the opportunity to discuss Islam with a Jewish gentleman. Dr. Shoreibah, of the Islamic Center in New York, introduced me to a very special guest. After one Jumha Salat, I went into his office to ask him some questions about Islam but before I could even greet him with "Assalamu Alaikum", I was completely astonished and surprised to see seated before him an ultra-orthodox Chassidic Jew, complete with earlocks, broad-brimmed black hat, long black silken caftan and a full flowing beard. Under his arm was a copy of the Yiddish newspaper, "The Daily Forward". He told us that his name was Samuel Kostelwitz and that he worked in New York City as a diamond cutter. Most of his family, he said, lived in the Chassidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but he also had many relatives and friends in Israel. Born in a small Rumanian town, he had fled from the Nazi terror with his parents to America just prior to the outbreak of the second world-war. I asked him what had brought him to the mosque? He told us that he had been stricken with intolerable grief ever since his mother died 5 years ago. He had tried to find solace and consolation for his grief in the synagogue but could not when he discovered that many of the Jews, even in the ultra-orthodox community of Williamsburg, were shameless hypocrites. His recent trip to Israel had left him more bitterly disillusioned than ever. He was shocked by the irreligiousness he found in Israel and he told us that nearly all the young sabras or native-born Israelis are militant atheists. When he saw large herds of swine on one of the kibbutzim (collective farms) he visited, he could only exclaim in horror: "Pigs in a Jewish state! I never thought that was possible until I came here! Then when I witnessed the brutal treatment meted out to innocent Arabs in Israel, I know then that there is no difference between the Israelis and the Nazis. Never, never in the name of God, could I justify such terrible crimes!" Then he turned to Dr. Shoreibah and told him that he wanted to become a Muslim but before he took the irrevocable steps to formal conversion, he needed to have more knowledge about Islam. He said that he had purchased from Orientalia Bookshop, some books on Arabic grammar and was trying to teach himself Arabic. He apologized to us for his broken English: Yiddish was his native tongue and Hebrew, his second language. Among themselves, his family and friends spoke only Yiddish. Since his reading knowledge of English was extremely poor, he had no access to good Islamic literature. However, with the aid of an English dictionary, he painfully read "Introduction to Islam" by Muhammad Hamidullah of Paris and praised this as the best book he had ever read. In the presence of Dr. Shoreibah, I spent another hour with Mr. Kostelwitz, comparing the Bible stories of the patriarchs and prophets with their counterparts in the Holy Quran. I pointed out the inconsistencies and interpolations of the Bible, illustrating my point with Noah's alleged drunkenness, accusing David of adultery and Solomon of idolatry (Allah Forbid) and how the Holy Quran raises all these patriarchs to the status of genuine prophets of God and absolves them from all these crimes. I also pointed out why it was Ismail and not Isaac who God commanded Abraham to offer as sacrifice. In the Bible, God tells Abraham: "Take thine son, thine only son whom thou lovest and offer him up to Me as burnt offering." Now Ismail was born 13 years before Isaac but the Jewish biblical commentators explain that away be belittling Ismail's mother, Hagar, as only a concubine and not Abraham's real wife so they say Isaac was the only legitimate son. Islamic traditions, however, raise Hagar to the status of a full-fledged wife equal in every respect to Sarah. Mr. Kostelwitz expressed his deepest gratitude to me for spending so much time, explaining those truths to him. To express this gratitude, he insisted on inviting Dr. Shoreibah and me to lunch at the Kosher Jewish delicatessen where he always goes to eat his lunch. Mr. Kostelwitz told us that he wished more than anything else to embrace Islam but he feared he could not withstand the persecution he would have to face from his family and friends. I told him to pray to God for help and strength and he promised that he would. When he left us, I felt privileged to have spoken with such a gentle and kind person. 

Q: What Impact did Islam have on your life ?

A: In Islam, my quest for absolute values was satisfied. In Islam I found all that was true, good and beautiful and that which gives meaning and direction to human life (and death); while in other religions, the Truth is deformed, distorted, restricted and fragmentary. If any one chooses to ask me how I came to know this, I can only reply my personal life experience was sufficient to convince me. My adherence to the Islamic faith is thus a calm, cool but very intense conviction. I have, I believe, always been a Muslim at heart by temperament, even before I knew there was such a thing as Islam. My conversion was mainly a formality, involving no radical change in my heart at all but rather only making official what I had been thinking and yearning for many years.