by Stephen Suleyman Schwartz
|Qur’an and tespih,|
Greetings to all people of sincerity. I am 68 years old and will reach 20 years as a Muslim in a few months, alhamdulillah! I began studying Sufism (Islamic spirituality) through Catalan Catholic sources at 18. I had no formal religious education in childhood. My mother was Christian and my father was Jewish but they were radical leftists and that ideology was their religion and, at least publicly, mine until 1984(!), when I was 35. In breaking with the radical left I came out regarding a long-standing fascination with religion. In 1997, at 48, I became Muslim. I pray and fast and read Qur’an daily.
I think every believing Muslim would want to be asked and to answer this question. The message of Qur’an defines Islam. We love it as the infinite expression of divine generosity. We are enjoined not to treat it as a literary product notwithstanding its beauty, which is that of Allah, the only source of glory.
|The flag of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.|
I have often been asked what impelled my acceptance of the faith of Muhammad, peace be upon him. My decision came in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, in 1997, at the time of the death of Princess Diana, may she be rewarded. She was beloved in Bosnia.
|The Magribija Mosque, 16th c. CE, Sarajevo – Photograph 2009 Via Wikimedia Commons.|
I was then on a humanitarian mission for the Council of Europe. I had been engaged in the issues around the Yugoslav wars since the late ’80s. In 1997 I carried with me the Penguin English edition of Qur’an by N.J. Dawood, which is controversial but has the merit of being clear and direct. Qur’an is an unsurpassably articulate rescript of the speech of God aimed at all human hearts through the mouth of Angel Gabriel and communicated to the Prophet. It should not be spoiled in its transmission by rhetorical affectations reflecting the influence of the King James Version of The Bible, as lofty and dignified in the eyes of Muslims as the latter is. Qur’an stands with Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as one of the Holy Books in Islam. But Qur’an stands alone as a straightforward communication by God to us. (I later supported the Sarwar translation but have more recently come to prefer the Oxford Haleem translation.)
|The Alipaša mosque in Sarajevo, which encompasses a cemetery for patriots.|
In 1997 in Sarajevo, among the scarred buildings and tormented people and forests of new grave markers and desecrated holy sites, I read surah 28 of Qur’an in the courtyard of the gorgeous classic-Ottoman Alipaša mosque. In verses 15–17 God recalls to us that after Musa (Moses), peace be upon him, has slain an Egyptian overseer who was beating a Jewish man, Musa prays to God and is forgiven for his sin. Musa then swears that because he has received God’s mercy he will never serve an oppressor.
|Moses [Musa] Strikes the Egyptian. A common Renaissance illustration in haggadot, including many printed in Turkey, as well as in Christian volumes.|
I read that passage and realized I had found my religion.
|Without radical affectations in costume, but fighting for the dignity of their sisters and brothers, and the right to live in harmony with all. The Bosnian woman soldier deserves the respect and praise of every Muslim believer.|
I have preached on this topic in some distinguished mosques, mash’allah. And Allah knows best.
|Bosnian chief Islamic cleric (reis-ul ulema) Husein efendija Kavazović.|
First posted on islamicpluralism