May 18, 2018

SHAFAQNA – In the Name of the Most-High. Respected Professor and Doctor John Andrew Morrow. May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be upon you. We would like to extend our sincere thanks and gratitude for accepting to be interviewed by the Dalil Foundation Magazine which is published by the Holy Sanctuary of Imam Husayn. We wish to point out that you are free to share any additional information that you deem appropriate to this dialogue.


May the peace and blessings of Almighty Allah be with you. I am at your humble service. I am willing, by the grace of God, to respond to all your questions.


Respected doctor and professor, can you kindly share with us details of your personal life, your conversion from Roman Catholic Christianity to the true religion of Islam?


Like everyone, I was a believer [mu’min] when I came into this world. As the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every child that is born is naturally predisposed to be a believer.” [ كُلِّ مَوْلُودٍ يُولَدُ عَلَى الْفِطْرَةِ ]. Consequently, we are all believers [mu’minin] by nature. It is our families and our societies that turn us into Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, polytheists, heretics, and atheists.

I always felt the love of God. I always felt the presence of God. I prayed only to the One God. I did not believe that Jesus was God. I could accept him as “Son of God” in the spiritual sense. However, I never conceived of him as being eternal. I worshipped the Creator of the Universe and not His Creation. I viewed Jesus as a source of intercession. I certainly did not believe that God consisted of Three Persons. For me, God was, is, and will always be, One. It was only when I was a teenager, when I understood Christian theology better, that I realized that I was not a Christian. I was simply seeking a path to God. I studied all religions in depth and found that Islam, submission and surrender to the One, was my home. It was a journey to the center of my own soul.

I respect the Roman Catholic Church enormously. I learned to love and worship God. I learned about the prophets and messengers of God, peace be upon them all. I learned the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses, peace be upon him. I learned morals and ethics. I learned Natural Law and Canon Law. I am not one of the ungrateful. Christianity is a path to God. Both Allah, glorified and exalted be He, and His Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, said that it was so. We may have differences but they are differences in degree. We must recognize and respect elements of truth wherever they are found. This is why the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his purified progeny, granted covenants of the protection to the People of the Book.


What motivated you to select the School of Ahl al-Bayt over other Islamic schools of thought?


I respect all schools of thought in Islam. The school of Ahl al-Bayt has a special status since it was transmitted by the Imams of the Progeny of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them all. It has a long, rich, and living tradition of ijtihad.


Could you please provide a brief statement of the necessity of faith in general and its importance in human life?


Faith is like air, water, and sunlight. It is essential for life. Without it, one dies a spiritual death. May God make us thirsty. And may God quench our thirst with the water from the Fountain of Kawthar.


Professor, as you know, the Islamic world is subjected to fierce ideological attacks by groups outside the Islamic system. What do you think the most important reasons for this? What are the remedies?


Islam is under attack. Morality is under attack. Justice is under siege. Muslims must struggle. We must fight words with words and ideas with ideas. We must fight culture with culture and science with science. We need to inspire an Islamic renaissance. There are no simple solutions. We need to implement a comprehensive strategy for the revival of Islamic civilization and culture plan


 How can we confront, from an intellectual and doctrinal point of view, the perverse understanding of the teachings of Islam that are spread by misguided and ignorant people who operate from within the Islamic system?

Islam is an open system. We should allow freedom of thought within the broadest possible parameters. Otherwise, all progress is stifled. So long as one agrees on basic principles, Islam provides a great deal of latitude and flexibility. Islam is eminently malleable and adaptable to changing times and circumstances. Islam truly belongs to the age. We cannot impose beliefs and practices on people. Human beings were created free. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Difference of opinion in my Community is a mercy” [ الخلاف في أمتي رحمة ]. We need to educate people. We need to foster critical thought. We need to present Islam as a viable socio-political and economic model. We need to stress that Islam is committed to justice. Religious institutions play a crucial role in the revival of Islam. They are the vanguard. They need to have achievable and measurable goals. They need to work in cooperation rather than competition. They must use all means to get the message to the masses.  


Based on the previous question, what role can the scientific institutions of religious belief, as well as intellectual elites in this regard?


Rather than view atheism as a negative, we can employ reverse psychology and treat it as a positive. To declare that “There is no god” is the first half of the shahadah. Atheists are half way there. We only need to insert “but Allah” and convince them that “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” It is the nature of people to believe. Either they believe in the right thing or they believe in the wrong thing. If people reject religion based on reason, at least they are thinking. Hence, there is hope. In some cases, they are not rejecting religion itself or God itself but the explanations that were given to them. As Imam ‘Ali, peace be upon him, explained, if given a choice between religion and reason, on should select reason for reason will always lead back to religion whereas religion will not lead back to reason. This is why Shiite books of traditions begin with the “Chapter of Reason” while Sunni books of traditions begin with the “Chapter of Faith.” We only have to look at the Salafis, Wahhabis, and Takfiris to see how dangerous it is to abandon the intellect, reasoning, and critical thinking.


Professor and Doctor… Of the intellectual and doctrinal dilemmas that have afflicted some human societies is the question of atheism and secularism. What are the main reasons for the spread of this phenomenon and the best ways to address this problem and reduce it?


There is a clear correlation between secularism and materialism. There is a clear connection between modernity and atheism. We need to fight atheism with faith. We repel evil with good. We need to encourage what is good and discourage what is bad in the best possible way. We need to show people a better way of life. A life without spirituality is like a rose without rain: it withers and dies. It is empty, meaningless, and hollow. It is a life that is a prelude to eternal death. Islam, tasawwuf, and ‘irfan are better than this fleeting world as they offer eternal life. Islam offers individuals the opportunity to lead productive and meaningful lives: to be in this material world but not of it.


How can we, who live in an age of technological and scientific development, root our Muslim youth in the theoretical foundations of our faith, and keep them from slipping and deviating from the intellectual and the doctrinal foundations of Islam?


Talk to people in a language people. Reach out to young people. Communicate with young people. Engage and empower young people. The youth are our future. The future of our faith, and the future of our planet, depends on them. Give them a voice and give them a choice.


One of the academic and ethical projects of the Dalil Foundation is to build an intellectual system on a sound basis. From your point of view, what are the best methods, strategies, and mechanisms to achieve this goal?


I encourage all institutes, scholars, scientists, intellectuals and ordinary people to identify themselves with the primordial principles, rights and freedoms found in the covenants of the Prophet with the Jews, Samaritans, Christians and Zoroastrians. There are pearls of wisdom within those shells. We need to share them with the world with pride for they can enrich us all. They provide a blue-print for the Ummah of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his Household. They pave the way for the return of the Messiah and the Hidden Imam, may Almighty Allah hasten their reappearance.    


What are the modern means of engagement that influence the Western mentality?


People are the product of their environment. To understand Western thought, you need to understand history in its broadest sense. If Westerners have reached a place ideologically, it is the result of a complex trajectory. Different paths lead to different destinations. Many Westerners turned away from religion because it defied reason and contradicted science. They were disillusioned by religion because it was racist, misogynistic, and oppressive. What is more, it was exploited by people in power. In short, they had every right to reject religion as an institution.

Muslim leaders need to learn from these lessons. Otherwise, they may inadvertently lead people away from Islam. Politics and policies have long-term and unintended consequences. Although many Westerners have become secular, many have reconnected with various spiritual traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, to lead more balanced lives. There are many problems in the West. However, there are just as many problems in the Muslim world. What we have in common is hope: hope for a better and more just future. Never quit and never abandon faith.


Is there today in the Western world a breakdown between the different interpretations of the Islamic religion, and a distinction between the strict understanding adopted by the Wahhabi Salafi thought of the teachings of Islam and the moderate approach to non-Muslims adopted by the Ahl al-Bayt?

For many Westerners, Takfirism is Islam and Islam is Takfirism. The media is responsible for this distortion since it serves the interests of their globalist masters. Many nominal Muslims also bear responsibility for promoting such misconceptions. Fortunately, there are many groups, like the Covenants Initiative, that are working hard to correct these misconceptions, to build bridges, and to promote tolerance and pluralism. We need to promote unity within diversity, set aside secondary issues, and focus on commonality and universality. We pray that Almighty God help us all through these difficult times.


Do you have any final words for the readers of Dalil Magazine?

As for any parting words for your readers, I simply urge them to read the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his purified progeny, as these primary foundational sources provide solutions to the problems that we face in the world today.

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Dr. John Andrew Morrow is a senior scholar specializing in Islamic, Indigenous, and Hispanic Studies.