‘Have you heard, Chelsea Clinton is about to become a Muslim?’ This is now commonly heard among Muslims, especially in the US. ‘Yes. And if it had not been for that terrible car crash, princess Diana would have married Dodi and she, too, would have embraced Islam. Then there would have been Muslim heirs to the British throne.’ This theory concludes that there must have been a plot to eliminate Diana to preclude such a possibility.
Whatever the truth about the plot and it is difficult to know precisely there is nothing inherently wrong in Chelsea, or indeed princess Diana, showing interest in Islam. Chelsea certainly had obtained an English translation of the Qur’an, but it would be premature to assume from this that she was becoming a Muslim. As for Diana’s interest in Islam, the less said the better, although one would be hard-pressed to convince those who thrive on gossip. The issue here is not whether these ladies were or are really interested in Islam. The more pertinent question is the Muslims’ obsession with celebrities embracing Islam. Unfortunately, there are Muslims who have reduced Islam’s validity to such high-profile events. As the Qur’an mentions in many ayaat, it is Allah who provides guidance to whomever He wills, and for those who reject the Truth, a terrible punishment awaits.
The obsession with celebrities is not new. The most fantastic story was spun around Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, beginning in early 1983. We at Crescent International received phone-calls and letters from Muslims around the world inquirying about Armstrong’s conversion. The story was imaginative and rather fascinating: after returning from his moon journey in July 1969, Armstrong went on a world tour. It was claimed that when he arrived in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, he heard the adhan being called out. Intrigued by the sound, he inquired about it and was told that this was the Muslim call to prayer. He is reported to have said that he had heard the same sound when he landed on the moon. This led him to embrace Islam! When this story reached fever pitch, and we were inundated with calls and letters from around the world, we contacted Armstrong’s office in Ohio. This writer personally spoke to his secretary, who revealed that although Mr Armstrong had great respect for Islam, he had not become a Muslim and that the adhan story was pure fiction. She also said that the many calls and letters from Muslims from different parts of the world had intrigued her. She in fact offered to send a letter confirming our conversation and even requested that we publicise the facts to put the affair to rest.
Armstrong’s secretary did write to us confirming that her boss had not embraced Islam. This, however, was not enough for some Muslims. Later still, some journalists arranged a conference call through the US embassy in Delhi to talk to Neil Armstrong personally and to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, that he had not become a Muslim. Only then did the story come to some sort of an end, perhaps much to the disappointment of the hero-worshipping Muslims.
Some Muslims have spun similar stories about Yusuf Islam, formerly the singer Cat Stevens. To his credit, wherever Yusuf Islam has lectured, he has told Muslims to worship only Allah and not humans. This message, unfortunately, seems lost on many Muslims. It is interesting to note that Yusuf Islam did not discover the deen of Allah through the effort of any Muslim but by reading the Qur’an himself. He says that his own brother (a non-Muslim) gave him an English translation of the Qur’an. He did not read it for about three years. Then one day, he picked it and was fascinated. This is how he was led to Islam. Allah says in the noble Qur’an, He guides whomever He wills. Yusuf Islam is one of them, alhamdulillah.
There are many well-known personalities in the world who have embraced Islam but there are countless non-celebrities - so-called ‘ordinary people’ - who have also embraced it. Islam’s validity and strength are not dependent only on celebrities. In the early days of Islam, the noble Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, went to all the chiefs of the various tribes in Makkah. The majority, including two of his uncles Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab - did not pay heed. Many of the downtrodden - Bilal and others - embraced Islam. The tribal chiefs became implacable enemies of Islam but it still triumphed because Allah willed it so.
There are many downtrodden people in North America, Europe and other places who have entered the fold of Islam. Islam is enriched by the presence of the diverse groups of people who have entered its fold. All to often such people are looked down on by born Muslims, for racist, classist or nationalist reasons. This is entirely counter to Islam. It is the quality of these individuals, not their station in life, that matters.
If Muslims truly want to see the miracle of Islam and the Qur’an in contemporary history, then they should ponder over the transformation that people undergo when they become Muslims. This is especially true of those who had previously committed heinous crimes. Many inmates in US prisons who embrace Islam become the most decent, civilised and God-fearing individuals. Despite the brutal regime in many US institutions, prison wardens readily admit the great transformation of these individuals when they become Muslims. It is to this aspect that Muslims need to pay attention. Further, Muslims must themselves live according to the tenets of Islam. It is embarrassing to constantly hear that Islam is the best religion but Muslims the worst followers. The challenge facing Muslims today is to present a model of the decent individual who is caring and compassionate and who provides inspiration by his or her own example.
Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999