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Islam in Perspective

Maryam Jameelah: Islam fascinated her since childhood

Maryam Jameelah, a New York based Jewish woman who reverted to Islam at the age of 27, passed away in Lahore on Oct. 31. She was 78. Born as Margret Marcus in New York in a non-observant Jewish family, Maryam Jameelah developed a keen interest in religion when she was 19. She explored Judaism and other faiths and reverted to Islam in 1961. She settled in Pakistan in 1962 and never returned to the United States. She is survived by husband and five children and has over 30 books on Islamic culture to her credit. Her books include “Western Civilization condemned by itself,” “Islam and modern man,” “Islam and Modernism,” “Modern Technology and the Dehumanization of Man,” “Orientalism” and “Western Civilizations and Man,” etc. With her books, articles and review articles published in many reputed journals and magazines, she rekindled the spirit of Islamic mission in numerous young men and women.
In her open letter to her parents published in The Universal Message and on, she presented very logical arguments for them to consider Islam as their way of life. She writes very fervently: “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…. 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)….”
Once the truth of Islam became evidently clear after having studied the Qur’an, she did not let any fear, greed or relationship coming her way to join Islam. Leaving her native land for good, she began rendering academic services to Islam as her life mission and established an exemplary precept with her ideal social life.
As a tribute to this great scholar of Islam, we reproduce a very detailed interview which she had given to The Islamic Bulletin, Canada, a few years back. Here below is the first part of that interview:
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 (recitation of Qur’an) chanted by the celebrated Egyptian Qari, Abdul Basit. But on Juma 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 10. 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.

To be continued next week

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