Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Power of Shahadah

I was reading Jeffrey Lang's Even Angels Ask. Then I came to this one short account, which really moved me to tears. I really want to share this with everybody. Following is a faithful reproduction of the story. To the copyright owners, if you feel that this is a breach of your rights, do send me a note (, and I shall respectfully remove it.

Mosques and Islamic centers in Europs and America bring together a vast array of peoples from all over the Muslim world. Very often a masjid will contain many small cultural clusters with no one of them in the majority. This is especially true of the masjids run by Muslim student groups at western universities. Such a diverse assemblage of cultures will produce many differences of opinions, which can evolve quite easily into bitter arguments and community rifts.

Such a quarrel arose one night in the mosque at the University of San Francisco. I do not remember the precise cause of the fray; it had something to do with a pile of anti-Shiite tracts that someone left in the mosque. This happened at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, and a great deal of politico-religious propaganda was being disseminated by both sides of the conflict and by their allies. I recall vividly how explosive the scene became.

The Saudis raged against the Kuwaitis and Iranians, the Pakistani students allied themselves with the Saudis, the white Americans defended the Iranians, the African Americans were against the white Americans, the North African and Palestinian students seemed to be fighting each other and everyone else, the Malaysian students looked terrified. All sorts of bitter, malicious, racial and personal attacks flew back and forth.

"You Shiah are Kaffirs!"
"You Saudis worship your king!"
"What do Americans know about Islam?!"
"Pakistanis are nothing but the lackeys of the Saudis!"
"Our people were Muslims long before you white boys ever were!"
"You're proud of following Elijah Muhammad?![*]"
"Palestinians got what they deserved!"

Faces were red with rage. Shouts become threatening roars. The American students were clenching their fists and tensing their arms, readying themselves for a fight. This was definitely going to be the end of our community.

From over in the corner of the room a desperate cry rang out:
"La ilaha illa Allah! Muhamadan rasulu Allah!"
It was Ilyas, the always quiet, skinny, short student from Indonesia. He hardly ever spoke a word. The room quieted.
"What did he say?" Several persons asked each other.
Ilyas shouted again at the top of his lungs:
"La ilaha illa Allah! Muhamadan rasulu Allah!"
"Say it!" Ilyas yelled, "Say it!"
Most of us murmured confusedly: "La ilaha illa Allah - Muhamadan rasulu Allah?"
"What does he want?" someone whispered.
"Say it like you mean it!" Ilyas screamed.

Maybe it was because he said it with so much authority or with so much passion, but for some reason we now felt the need to obey this normally meek and inconspicuous member of our mosque. Our voices rose in unison with Ilyas leading us:
"La ilaha illa Allah! Muhamadan rasulu Allah!"

You could feel the hate and anger dissipating. All eyes were fixed on Ilyas. The faces of the brothers looked mesmerized. Some of them showed sadness, some remorse, and others excitement. The whole company now needed Ilyas to lead them again.
"Again!" Ilyas bellowed. "Again!"
This time we all rang out in one passionate, thundering cry:
"La ilaha illa Allah! Muhamadan rasulu Allah!"
Then again we cried out, following Ilyas's lead:
"La ilaha illa Allah! Muhamadan rasulu Allah!"

Ilyas stopped, froze there for a moment with tears in his eyes. He looked at us in the way a child looks at his parents when he wants them to stop fighting.
"That's what it is all about, brothers!" Ilyas pleaded, his voice cracking. "That's what binds us!"
"Just look at us!" He shouted, stretching out his arms.

At that, the brothers began to slowly approach one another with looks of great embarrassment on their faces. What easily could have exploded into a spectacle of complete pandemonium, was now a scene of handshakes, brotherly hugs, and sincere apologies. The next day, the mosque was back to normal, and I never heard anyone discuss the argument again.

Taken from Even Angels Ask, by Jeffrey Lang, p157-158

[*] Elijah Muhammad was the leader of Nation of Islam, considered by mainstream Muslim community as a heretical cult. For more info, visit


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