Dr. Abu Ameena Bilal Phillips
So much was heard about 3,000 American troops embracing Islam in the deserts of Saudi Arabia during the Gulfwar. But few reports have spoken about the people who were instrumental in bringing about these changes. Normally, in dawah circles, none claims the credit. And it is here that is attributed to Allah Himself. It is perhaps this factor that has kept those silent workers obscure from the limelight.
Tough, tall and well-tanned, Dr. Abu Ameena Bilal Phillips is one of those few who worked tirelessly among the troops. Even as the troops were engaged in rolling back Saddamís aggression, Phillips was targeting the hearts of the troops in their tents. No wonder then why Phillips is so enamoured of the West and its patronising attitude towards the Gulf nations.
The Jamaica-born, Inaky, Abu Ameena Bilal Phillips currently teaches at the Dubaiís American University. Recently, he was in Bangalore to lecture on various aspects of Islam. He spokes to a correspondent of Islamic Voice on his conversion to Islam. Excerpts:
On his early Life
Though born in Jamaica, I had my education in Canada. I was a Christian and was doing graduation with biochemistry major. During these days I got fascinated with Communism and visited China. Some aspects of China did impress me. They were also the days when the American campuses were exploding with agitation and violence. There was injustice and racial discrimination on against the blacks in the Americas. I embraced communism out of a desire for fair economic distribution.
On return to Canada, I joined the communist party. But then I saw the communists from inside. There were big negatives. There was indiscipline in their leadersí lives. The common excuse sought was that after revolution, the things would change. There was a lot of fiscal embezzlement. I wanted to go to China to get trained for guerilla warfare. But the Chinese deputed to recruit such persons in the Chinese mission was himself a chain smoker. This shocked me beyond belief. Disenchantment against communism set in from there.
On Encounter with Islam
Among our group of students in Canada, there was a sister who had embraced Islam. Her brother too had joined Islam. I read some of the literature by Elijah Muhammad which did not impress me because of its racial hatred against whites. I was not ready to see whites as devils. It was not proper Islam.
The book that really had the impact on me was Islam: the misunderstood religion by Mohammad Qutb. I came to know that Islam was complete. That convinced me intellectually. Towards understanding Islam by Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi also provided a comprehensive vision of Islam.
I also studied the role of Islam in the liberation of African nations from European colonialism such as Morocco, Libya and Italy. I came to know that Islam does not teach you to turn the other cheek. Later Islamic struggles in these countries got coopted by socialist groups.
I started defending Islam. Eventually some introspection and reflection led me to embrace Islam in 1972.
On Initiation into Muslim Society
I joined the University of Madinah and took a degree in Usoolud Deen (Islamic discipline) in 1979. Later took MA in Islamic theology from the University of Riyadh in 1985 and completed Ph.D., in Islamic Theology in 1994. I taught Islamic education and Arabic in private schools in Riyadh for over ten years and for the past three years I am lecturing M.Ed. students in the Islamic Studies Department of Shariff Kanunsuan Islamic University in Cotabato city of Philippines while teaching at American University in UAE.
On Dawah work among US Troops during Gulf War.
During the Gulf War I worked among the US forces in the deserts of Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the Religious Affairs Department of the Air Force. The US troops had typical misgivings about Islam. In the US they had been told not to go even within 10 feet of the Mosques. We took them inside the Mosques. They were impressed by the simplicity of the ambience of the Mosques interiors.
When they landed in Saudi Arabia, It appeared to them a strange place with women cloaked in black hijab. They had named it the UBO or Unidentified Black Objects. But the living experience in Saudi Arabia was an eye opener for the US troops. They saw openness and warm hospitality in tents of bedouins in the deserts who served them with fresh dates and milk. They had not seen this hospitality in Korea or Japan where they had camped for decades.
Later, I went back to the US and set up Islamic chapters in the US Defence Department. Other Islamic organisations in the US are also in touch with these troops. Nearly 3,000 US troops embraced Islam while staying in Saudi Arabia. Believe me, Saudi Arabia was the only place on the earth, where US forces did not leave war babies and where the liquor was rationed. In the tents, the troops openly discussed the Islamic tenets and practices. These Muslim troops are now the messengers of Islam in the US forces.
But then people have accused Saudi Arabia for having invited polytheists to fight against a Muslim neighbour.
I do not want to go into politics. Saudi Arabia has been able to make a big and positive Islamic impact on the West. The stay of US troops was utilised by Saudis to convey Islamic message. Political name-calling of Saudi Arabia could be easy. Iran makes a negative impact on the West. Saudi Arabia takes better care of its citizens, far in excess of what the Western nations do with their own countries. Two million US citizens live and sleep on the streets. None in Saudi Arabia.
I first visited India in 1991. While doing research. I found the Muslims particularly in a pathetic state in North India. Muslims were steeped in superstitions. Next trip was in 1997 and I visited Kerala. I saw some signs of hope. Organisations like Jamaat -e- Islami Hind, Tablighi Jamaat and Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai are carrying out excellent work. The Jamaat-e-Islami work is focused more on universities, and intellectuals while Talbigh works on commoners. There is need for cooperation among these organisations.