In the early days of Islam, Omar, who would later become a caliph, was in a frenzied rage and set out to assassinate Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As he passed the house of his sister, he heard her recite passages from the glorious Qur'an.
After rebuking her, something made him pause and contemplate the meaning of the verses. He had previously dismissed this new religion and listened to the hate-filled propaganda doing the rounds in the streets and valleys of Makkah. Convinced by the truth and beauty of the message, he immediately resolved to embrace Islam. The rest is glorious history.
History repeats itself in the most remarkable of ways. The city remains Makkah, but over 1,400 years later, and in the midst of all the new development, a man arrived who had a similar experience to that of the second caliph of Islam.
Just a few years ago, Arnoud van Doorn, a prominent Dutch politician from an educated and privileged family, was the vice president of the far right Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) in the Netherlands, an unashamedly anti-immigration and anti-Islamic party led by the infamous Geert Wilders. The party had produced hate-filled rhetoric not seen in Europe since World War II. Van Doorn’s former party was responsible for producing the film Fitna, which defamed Islam, resulting in widespread protests throughout the world.
And then came his change. “My story of how I came to Islam is not remarkable,” he says very humbly. When he saw the outrage caused by the film, he made a concerted effort to study the Qur’an, Hadith collections and the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him). After some time, he realized that Islam was the total opposite of what he had thought it was, and it then became easy to embrace the faith.
Van Doorn acknowledges that his views on Islam were formed 10 to 15 years ago based solely on negative stereotypes and prejudices spread by the media.
“For me, Islam was a violent religion that oppressed women and was no good for society,” he says.
After embracing Islam and assisted by the Toronto-based Canadian Da’wah Association, Van Doorn visited the Kingdom this week to perform Umrah. He also visited the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah.
Van Doorn met Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque and head of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques. Al-Sudais said he was delighted that Allah had selected Van Doorn to become a Muslim. Van Doorn expressed his sorrow and regret for helping to distribute Fitna, although he had no part in its production, to which Al-Sudais quoted the Qur’anic verse stating that good deeds wipe out bad ones. Van Doorn intends to do good by making a film about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), to present a true picture of Islam.
Van Doorn’s impression of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also been transformed. “Before I came here, people asked me why on earth I was coming here!” He has been surprised by the wonderful culture and friendly, hospitable people.
He thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for all the developments taking place in Makkah and the holy sites.
Van Doorn remains a member of the Dutch Parliament and a member of the Hague City Council. In his view, the rise and success of the far right in Europe is due to the continent's economic problems. This will only get worse, in his view, because Europe has a history of turning on its minorities when things get tough.
His advice to Muslims living in Europe is to be patient, steadfast and adhere to the standards of good conduct and fine character required by Islam. “Like it or not, we all represent Islam,” he says. “Any mistake we make could be attributed to our religion.”
Van Doorn came to the Kingdom courtesy of the Canadian Da’wah Association's celebrity relations program, which is inspired by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who sent out invitations to regional leaders inviting them to embrace Islam, according to its president, Shazaad Mohammed, who is an Ambassador for Peace with the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), which operates under the United Nations. He is also an adviser to many celebrities.
Former guests of the celebrity program include comedian David Chappelle, former rap stars Napoleon, Philadelphia Freeway, LOON and Jack Frost, and former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. The CDA plans many such high-profile trips in future.