Mavis B. Jolly
I was born in a Christian environment, baptised in the Church of England, and attended a Church school where at a tender age I learned the story of Jesus as contained in the Gospels. It made a great emotional impression on me, as also did frequent visits to the church, the high altar with candles burning, the incense, the robed priests and the mysterious intoning of prayers... I suppose for those few years I was a fervent Christian. Then with the increase of schooling, and being in constant contact with the Bible and everything Christian I had the opportunity to think over what I had read and observed, practised and believed. Soon I began to be dissatisfied with many things.
By the time I left school I was a complete atheist. Then I began to study the other main religions in the world. I began with Buddhism. I studied with interest the eightfold path, and felt that it contained good aims but was lacking in direction and details.
In Hinduism I was faced not with three, but with hundreds of gods, the stories of which were too fantastic and revolting to me to be accepted.
I read a little of Judaism, but I had already seen enough of the Old Testament to realize that it did not stand my tests of what a religion must be. A friend of mine persuaded me to study spiritualism and to sit for the purpose of being controlled by the discarnate spirits. I did not continue this practice very long as I was quite convinced that, in my case anyway, it was purely a matter of self-hypnosis, and would be dangerous to experiment further.
The war ended. I took work in a London office, but my mind never strayed far from the religious quest. A letter appeared in the local paper to which I wrote a reply contradicting the divinity of Christ from the Biblical point of view. This brought me in contact with a number of people, one of whom was a Muslim. I started discussing Islam with this new acquaintance. On every point my desire to resist Islam fell down. Though I had thought it impossible, I had to acknowledge that perfect revelation had come through an ordinary human being, since the best of twentieth century governments could not improve upon that revelation, and were themselves continually borrowing from the Islamic system.
At this time I met a number of other Muslims and some of the English girl converts endeavored to help me, with no little success, since, coming from the same background, they understood better some of my difficulties. I read a number of books, including The religion of Islam, Muhammad and Christ and The source of Christianity, the latter showing the amazing similarities between Christianity and the old pagan myths, impressed me greatly. Above all I read the Holy Qur'an. At first it seemed mainly repetition. I was never quite sure if I was taking it in or not, but the Qur'an, I found, works silently on the spirit. Night after night I could not put it down. Yet I often wondered how perfect guidance for man could come through imperfect human channels at all. Muslims made no claim for Muhammad that he was superhuman. I learned that in Islam prophets are men who have remained sinless, and that revelation was no new thing. The Jewish prophets of old received it. Jesus, too, was a prophet. Still it puzzled me why it did not happen any more in the twentieth century. I was asked to look at what the Qur'an said: "Muhammad is the Messenger of God and the last of the Prophets." And of course it was perfectly reasonable, too. How could there be other prophets to come if the Holy Qur'an was the book ... explaining all things and verifying that which is with you and if it was to remain uncorrupted in the world, as is guaranteed in the Qur'an, and perfectly kept so far? "Surely We have revealed the Reminder (i.e. the Qur'an) and surely We are its Guardian." In that case there could be no need of further prophets or books. Still I pondered. I read that the Qur'an is a guide to those who ponder (XVI: 65) and that doubters were asked to try and produce a chapter like it (II: 23). Surely, I thought, it must be possible to produce a better living plan in 1954, than this which dates back to a man born in the year 570 C.E.? I set to work, but everywhere I failed.
No doubt, influenced by the usual condemnation of Islam from Christian pulpits on the subject, I picked on polygamy. At last I thought I had something; obviously Western monogamy was an improvement on this old system. I talked of it to my Muslim friend. He illustrated with the aid of newspaper articles how much true monogamy there was in England, and convinced me that a limited polygamy was the answer to the secret unions that are becoming so distressingly common in the West. My own common sense could see that, particularly after a war, when women of a certain age group far outnumber men, a percentage of them are destined to remain spinsters. Did God give them life for that? I recollect that on the radio programme known as `Dear Sir' an unmarried English girl had called for lawful polygamy, saying she would prefer a shared married life rather than the loneliness to which she seemed to be destined. In Islam no one is forced into a polygamous marriage, but in a perfect religion, the opportunity must be there to meet those cases where it is necessary.
Then about ritual prayers I thought I had a point. Surely prayers repeated five times a day must become just a meaningless habit? My friend had a quick and illuminating answer. `What about your music practice, he asked, where you do scales for half an hour every day whether you feel like it or not? Of course, it is not good if it becomes a dead habit --- to be thinking of what is being done will give greater benefit --- but even scales done without thinking will be better than not doing them at all, and so it is with prayers.' Any music student will see the point of this, particularly if he bears in mind that in Islam prayers are not said for the benefit of God, Who is above needing them, but for our own benefit as a spiritual exercise, besides other uses.
Thus gradually I became convinced of the truth in the teachings of Islam, and formally accepted the faith. I did this with great satisfaction, as I could fully realize that it was no emotional craze of the moment, but a long process of reasoning, lasting nearly two years, through which I went despite my emotions that pulled me so strongly the other way.
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