Dr. R.L. MELLEMA (Hollander)

(Dr. Mellema is the director of the section concerned with Islamic Works of Art of the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam. He is known for his works ‘Babies of  Wyang’, ‘Information About
Pakistan’ and ‘Introducing Islam’.)

In 1919, I began to study oriental languages in the University of Leiden. My teacher was the universally known professor Hurgronje, who had perfect command of the Arabic language. As he taught me how to read, write and translate in Arabic, he gave me the Qur’ân al-kerîm and the works of al-Ghazâlî as textbooks.

The subject I was majoring in was the ‘Islamic law’. I read a number of books about Islam, Islam’s history, and Islamic sciences so far published in the European languages. In 1921 I went to Egypt and visited the Al-Az-har Madrasa. I stayed there for about one month. Later, in addition to Arabic, I learned Sanscrit and Malay. In 1927 I went to Indonesia, which was a British dependency at that time. I began to learn Javanese in a high school in Jakarta. For fifteen years I educated myself not only in the language of Java, but also in the cultural history of old and new Java. Throughout that period of time, I on the one hand contacted the Muslims and on the other hand read the Arabic books available to me. The Japanese invaded the Indonesian islands during the Second World War.

I was one of the prisoners that they captured. After an extremely severe life in captivity which lasted until the end of the war, I returned to Holland and found a job in the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam. There I resumed my Islamic research. They asked me to write a booklet telling about the Muslims in Java. This, also, I accepted, and completed, too. Between 1954 and 1955 I was sent to Pakistan to conduct a study about the Muslims there. As I have already stated, the only books that I had read about Islam until that time had been written in the  European languages. After I went to Pakistan and established direct contact with Muslims, my views of Islam took a sharp turn for the favourable. I requested my Muslim brothers in Lahore to take me to their mosque. They were pleased at my request and took me there for a Friday prayer. I watched the worship and listened to the prayers with great attention. It had so strong an impact on me that I almost lost consciousness in rapture. I now felt myself a Muslim and a Muslim brother when I shook hands with Muslims. I expressed my feelings as follows in the fourth issue of ‘Pakistan Quarterly’:

“Next we went to a smaller mosque. A preaching lecture was scheduled to be delivered by a scholar who was a professor from Punjab University and who knew English well. As he began his preaching, he said to the audience, ‘We have a guest, a Muslim brother, who has come here from a distant country, Holland. I shall mostly add English words into the Urdu language so that he
will understand me better,’ and then he performed an exquisite preaching. I listened with attention. After the preaching was over, I meant to leave the mosque, when Allâma Sâhib, who had brought me to the mosque, said that the Muslim brothers who had been watching me with attention would be pleased if I should be kind enough to give them a speech, a brief one in the least, and
that he would translate my speech into the Urdu language. Upon this I made the following short speech: ‘I am here from Holland, which is quite a long way from here. There are very few Muslims in my homeland. Those few Muslims requested me to extend their salâm[1] to you. I am very happy to know that you have achieved your independence and to see that the world has been enriched
with one more Muslim state. Established seven years ago, Pakistan has already secured its position. After all those difficulties you experienced in the beginning, your country has in the long last attained salvation and is now improving with speed.

There is a bright future ahead of Pakistan. When I go back home, I will have so much to tell my compatriots about your kind and polite behaviour, about your magnanimous generosity, and about your warm hospitality, of which I shall spare no minute details. I shall never forget the warm affection you have displayed towards me.’ No sooner had Allâma Sâhib finished translating my
statements into Urdu than all the Muslims in the mosque rushed towards me and began to shake hands with me, and the whole place resounded with a mellow roar of congratulatory exclamations, which has preserved its unique moment of happiness in my memories. The heartfelt manifestation of brotherhood moved me so profoundly that I began to enjoy the happiness of entirely having joined the community of Muslim brothers.”

The Pakistani Muslim brothers showed me that Islam is not merely a collection of theories and proved that Islam means beautiful moral quality first of all and therefore being a good Muslim requires possessing a pure moral character. Now let me answer the second question, i.e. your question,  “What was the strongest attraction that pulled you towards Islam?”

The reasons that attracted me towards embracing Islam and attached my entire heart to the Islamic religion are as follows:
1) A unitarian belief in Allâhu ta’âlâ. Islam recognizes one great creator. This great creator is not begotten, nor does he beget. What could be as logical and as rational as believing in one creator? Even the simplest-minded person would find it right and will believe in it. This single great creator, whose name is Allah, is in possession of the greatest knowledge, the greatest hikma, the greatest power, and the greatest beauty. He has infinite mercy and compassion.

2) Rejecting any intermediary between Allâhu ta’âlâ and the born slave. In Islam the born slave comes into direct contact with his Creator and worships Him directly. No one is necessary between Allâhu ta’âlâ and the born slave. People learn their duties pertaining to this world and the next from the Book of Allâhu ta’âlâ, the Qur’ân al-kerîm, from hadîth-i-sherîfs, and from books written by the scholars of Ahl as-sunna. Only to Allâhu ta’âlâ are they responsible for their actions. Allâhu ta’âlâ, alone, has the authority to reward or punish a person. Allâhu ta’âlâ will not hold any of His born slaves responsible for what he has not done, nor will He enjoin on him something beyond his capacity.

3) The infinite mercy innate in Islam. Its most explicit indication is an âyat in the Qur’ân al-kerîm, which purports, “No one shall be compelled to  become a Muslim.” Our Prophet, Muhammad ‘alaihis-salâm’, commands that a Muslim should acquire knowledge, by going to the farthest places if necessary. One other precept that Muslims are commanded to observe is to be respectful of the religions previous to Islam, especially as regards their essentials that have remained unchanged.

4) A fraternal unification of Muslims, whereby discriminations due to race, nationality and colour are crossed out from the outset. This ultimate goal has been realized only by Islam in the entire world. During the periods of Hajj (Muslims’ pilgrimage to Mekka), hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all corners of the world come together, wrap themselves in the uniform (clothing called) Ihram, and prostrate themselves, a colossal expression of all Muslims’ fraternity.

5) The equilibrium that Islam maintains between corporeal and spiritual realities. The other religions emphasize only spirituality and a number of absurd, grotesque tenets. On the other hand, Islam gives equal considerations to the soul and the body and dictates to man how he should maintain cleanliness, not only spiritually, but also bodily. It integrates man’s spiritual improvement with his corporeal needs and describes in an extremely illustrative language how he should live in full control of his physical activities.

6) Islam’s prohibition of alcohol, drugs, and pork. In my opinion, the gravest calamities that have befallen mankind has been on account of alcohol and drugs. Prohibition of such indulgences would suffice as an illustration of Islam’s enormous prescience and the gigantic distance whereby it is ahead of its time.

[1] Islamic word for greeting, well-wishing and offering best wishes.

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