Interview with Shemseddin Ahmed on Murshid Samuel Lewis, Inayat Khan and Pakistan.
SAADI: When was it that you first met Murshid Samuel Lewis?
SHEMSEDDIN: I met Murshid Sam in 1962, I don't remember the month. I think it was January, February, cold months, and it was in Salarwala, which is now being called Daralasan, but at the time it was a built mosque, small courtyard. Now it is a grand place with very many buildings, large buildings, housing the Qur'an in one very great hall and other places. But when I met Murshid, it was a small place, and a small gathering was there. I used to go there on Fridays usually, and it was a Friday perhaps when I met Murshid. He was a very simple and straightforward man, he accosted me or I accosted him, I don't remember, but I remember that knowing that he was American and Muslim, naturally I fell back upon my meeting with Rabia Martin long long ago in 1926, and I inquired from him if he had heard of Rabia Martin. I didn't know what close connection he had with her, and I did not even know what part of the country Rabia Martin belonged to. I knew her as an American only, and similar was the case with my Murshid, that I didn't know what part he had been brought up, and so it was a surprise for Murshid, and he stood up and he said "How do you know Rabia Martin" and I explained that I had met her, and then he said that she was the person through whom he was introduced to Islam, and introduced to Hazrat Inayat Khan also. He met Hazrat Inayat Khan six times, as his six interviews have been produced, and he had been deep in the knowledge of Christianity and Judaism which was his own birth religion, and he knew of Islam from an angle which is not usual. He felt repulsed and he felt attracted, and that went on and on until his last days I should say. The teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan which encompassed all religions appealed to him, and he became one of his true and best disciples; he knew the spirit that was represented by the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, and then we talked about them. I happened to be in full agreement, whatever he had to say against practices by Muslims, I myself was of the opinion that we were not acting up to the precepts of Islam as preserved in the book, the Qur'an, and which can also be easily deduced if we study the life of the Prophet with a little deep care. What has been preserved is the questions asked by interested people. They wanted a certain kind of … those were primitive days, 1400 years ago, and the questions asked about the life of the Prophet were not what are to be considered essential today after the passage of 1400 years. Now we know that it was not important how we dressed, how we ate, how we slept. More important is the message and the way of behavior that he taught, and upon which he enacted. That has been ignored to a great extent. Only rituals practiced by him prevail. So much so, that people have tried to make Islam into ritual only. For instance a question put to him was "What is Islam?" and he said (Arabic) "Islam is based on five tarakat, five pillars." In truth, if we go to the Qur'an, we find that it is not those five which are named as prayer, as fasting, as charity, as pilgrimage, there are many many others which are as important, more important. I'll relate only one of them. (Arabic) In very similar words, just one rucoo? before this come the words (Arabic) "In the former, fasting is pardoned and there are exceptions, you may observe fast, you may not observe fast, you may postpone it, you may do away with it altogether.
Those exceptions exist in the case of fasting, and when we turn to … that is taking revenge, we find the words (Arabic) "Oh people of understanding, in taking of revenge is alive which is easily explained that a dead cannot take revenge, it is only a live person that can take revenge, and to prove that we are alive, we must be in that state. We must lie down, we must not turn the other cheek. It is not right about Christ saying, or he may have said it in a certain context perhaps, but his own conduct in life was not that of not taking revenge. He taught that the law of Moses ordained and to be carried on to the last day of the world was taking revenge, as it is mentioned in the Qur'an … "the smallest injury is to be taken revenge of and Christ acted up to that when people came to arrest him and some resistance was offered by his disciples, he said, "I am satisfied that some blood has been shed and the law has been fulfilled" so the same about taking of revenge." Then when we come to the objection that is usually raised that Islam teaching jihad and Islam teaching warring, again the words again I quote from the Qur'an are (Arabic) … so I was saying, "It is ordained that you should fight in the way of Allah, those only who fight with you, and don't exceed the limits, don't be injurious and harmful beyond what is needed in Allah, because Allah does not like transgressors." So here it can be visually laid down that only those wars are allowed which, in modern technology which is called, defensive wars. Not going to attack others, but only to defend ourselves. Then in another place it is said (Arabic) "Not only jihad but … killing is also ordained, and it seems not good to you." So even the people in the Prophet's time were not as we usually consider people who were asking of wanting to fight, no, they did not like it, and the words of Qur'an attest to it, "You do not like the order, but it is said to you go and fight in the way of Allah." And to instigate them it is said (Arabic) "You do not know what is good for you, maybe that fighting, or the mood for fighting is a great protection." "And you do not know what is good for you, and what is bad for you…. It is only Allah who knows the hidden things and the obvious things, and who knows what is good for you and what is bad for you, so his orders must be carried out." What was the subject, I have gone away from the subject perhaps.
SAADI: These are things you used to talk with Murshid Samuel Lewis about...
SAADI: In relation to his feelings about Islam.
SHEMSEDDIN: So I was saying that the Islam in practice and Islam in the book of Islamic practices, the authentic, the Qur'an, there are many differences in our practice and in our precepts. And these were things that I discussed with Murshid at great length, and I found that he was a person of understanding, and I could go on opening my mind to him, and he would understand.
SAADI: Did he stay with you in Lahore when you lived in Lahore?
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes. When we became so close, and Lahore was a central place. So he used to go to places, and come back to Lahore, and as I said it was a central place, and my residence was also in such a place that was easily accessible, so he used to drop in whenever he had time, and we used to stay together.
SAADI: And did you visit Mian Mir together?
SHEMSEDDIN: Mian Mir and we went to other places also in Lahore with him.
SAADI: He describes how, when he was in Pakistan, I'm not sure how many times he was in Pakistan, but he used to go visit all sorts of different Pirs, Pir Dewwal Sharif and a number of others.
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes, whenever he heard of a man of note, he will go to him however distant it may be. He visited small villages which myself, although living in Pakistan, I never knew, and then he will come and say that I met such and such a person, I met such and such a person, but he was I should say in a state where nobody could influence him, rather he met those people and influenced them. One of the great persons he met was in Beshara, a professor from University, Professor Durrani, by name. He was a learned person, and Murshid had great regard for him. Another person is Pir Dewwal Sharif, he met him, was waiting for a long time, stayed with him, and similarly he visited many others. Also tombs of the great ones, meditated in the tombs. In Lahore, besides Mian Mir, there are so many others, Gandash is the foremost and Moldayar is another. Similarly he used to go to places and try to learn and understand.
SAADI: He mentions Major Sadiq in terms of his time in Pakistan. Did you know Major Sadiq?
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes, I knew Major Sadiq very well, he was Captain when he was posted in [?] and it was there that he started his healing practice. People used to gather around his residence with water quarts, and he will put his finger in the water and that water acquired some quality of healing. These people believed that. And it is believed that yours, as Jesus sometimes said, that is the faith that you have in me that cures you. When he transferred to Lahore, while in service, he used to do the same in Lahore also, and there it was that Murshid met him and stayed with him also for some time. Then Murshid wanted him to come over to America to do this healing practice, but somehow or other that healing practice was no more, and Major Sadiq himself confessed that the efficacy in his treatment had vanished.
SAADI: So was this all around in 1962, or was this over a period of several years?
SHEMSEDDIN: He came to Pakistan in 1961, I don't remember the month and he left in 1963 after April, that I am definite. But where he spent the rest of the time, he used to come to Pakistan, I did not keep any diary or any notes, so I don't exactly remember. I can only say that he was there for about two years.
SAADI: And during this time he was mainly traveling around Pakistan, or did he stay in Lahore?
SHEMSEDDIN: Not only in Pakistan, but he went to India also, and just before his coming back to America he related to me, he said while he went to Ajmer, and he was meditating at the tomb of Khwaja Moineddin Chisti, he heard in English a message to him in the words "go back to America and do what I did here." He interpreted them correctly, that it was a message for preaching of Islam, but he said that his own experience of becoming a Muslim had been so bitter that he did not want anybody to undergo the same difficulties, but luckily times have changed. What it was in his childhood, or in his youth is no more there, and I can see it with my own eyes, that I am here now, that people have no longer that kind of prejudice. They are that open to Islam as they are to any other religion, and they are adapting to Hinduism, to Buddhism and the only drawback that I find about Islam is that people of Islamic tradition are not paying enough attention. Otherwise, it will be a landslide in favor of Islam, Inshallah.
SAADI: We found when we were going through some of his scrapbooks just recently, that Murshid Sam was practicing learning Arabic, and I'm not sure when this was. Do you know anything? Did he ever write to you afterwards about learning Arabic, or about that his attitudes towards Islam were changing?
SHEMSEDDIN: As I said, he was a man of all religions, and he was deeply attracted towards Islam, without doubt, but not Islam in practice, as I said, but Islam in the Book, and for realizing the book, translations are really not enough. The Arabic language is necessary to understand the Qur'an, so my Murshid, of course, had the stamina, and he could some way or another take time out of his busy life to study the scriptures and to study the Qur'an, and I am not aware how much progress he had made in learning Arabic, but I know that he knew the depths of the meaning of the Qur'an. Usually, in his letter he would mention, and I in my letters also, mentioned things that were not generally known, but about which the Qur'an clearly prescribes.
SAADI: You mentioned in the beginning that you had originally met him in Salarwala. Was this when he first met Pir Barkat Ali, or do you know exactly when he met Pir Barkat Ali and what sort of correspondence they had?
SHEMSEDDIN: He was taken to Salarwala by Major Sadiq. Major Sadiq used to work with Barkat Ali even before, and perhaps that was the first time that Murshid had gone there when I met him. I'm not sure about that. But subsequently he visited Salarwala two or three times, I was with him perhaps, not all the times that he visited, but in some of his visits.
SAADI: When he visited you after say going out to visit all the different Pirs and people that he visited, how did he consider himself? Did he consider that he was always a Mureed in Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan, was this sort of the standpoint from which he embarked on all these different visits when he went to Japan or India and he met all these different people, or was that not foremost in mind. Was he mainly a seeker after truth and he found this truth wherever he was able to find it?
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes, as you say, he was a student of religion, comparative religions, and he found truth in every religion, even if it is deeply buried, people don't practice don't, people don't understand it. And I can quote one example, and that is about Krishna's life. Krishna, as understood by Hindus, is not what my Murshid considered him to be, and the book that he has produced on the life of Krishna, The Rejected Avatar, is enough to bear out what I am saying, that his understanding of Krishna was quite different from what the Hindus understand. Hindus paint him not as a good man. Similarly is their treatment about Rama.
According to the stories, as produced by Hindus themselves, Rama does not seem to be an outstanding man, leave aside a superman. His brothers perhaps acted better than he did. I am not discussing this just now, otherwise there is enough material to prove that Rama, according to Hindu mythology, was not a man leave aside a superman. How he comes to be regarded as a god, and perhaps that again I would say the followers want a sanction for their own practices, and that is why they paint the great men not as they were but in their own lives. Similarly is the case of Krishna, sanction for doing wrong things is easily deduced by the life of Krishna as produced by the Hindus. But as it is understood by my Murshid it is quite different; he seems to be a virtuous man, not running after people, no running after girls, not stealing.
SAADI: So this was sort of the perspective from which he viewed different religions and different people when he met them in his travels, from what you both talked about.
SHEMSEDDIN: As I said, his understanding of religion was different from the people who professed those religions. He had the spirit, and he knew how to approach the spirit of the religions, and that it what has influenced people who are his followers, which I can see with my own eyes. The practices may not be as they are in Muslim lands, but as far as the spirit goes, they have deep understanding of Islam, and they have deep regard for its principles and for the book which I can bear out by the interest that is being shown in learning of Arabic and by learning of the Qur'an by his followers.
SAADI: You mentioned that in 1926 you met Rabia Martin? Did you also meet Hazrat Inayat Khan at the same time? Or at different times?
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes, I met Rabia Martin in, as far as I remember, March or April of 1926, and Hazrat Inayat Khan came to Delhi in October or November, and I met him, as far as I remember, in November 1926. For me, the interest on Hazrat Inayat Khan is only that much that he was the cause of gaining conversion of Rabia Martin and other Americans and Europeans. And I inquired from him that he was a musician. How was it that he became a teacher of religion? And especially of Islam and Sufism? And he said that there was nobody to teach Islam, and it was surprising for him that Islam, which is easily explained, and there are so many learned people living in India and in other Muslim countries, and they don't pay any attention to the Europeans, to the Americans, and to other nations to make them understand what Islam truly is, with the result that there is so much misunderstanding about Islam. But nobody paid any heed to his calls, he, according to his own statement, wrote about 100 letters and not many, and not any, excepting one, all of them produced no result, not even acknowledgment. Only one was acknowledged, and in that acknowledgment again, it was not that somebody will say that you call us and I am here and I offer my services, and I'll come over and do what I can. No, instead of that, the message in the letter that as it has come to you, as you think something should be done, it is now your own duty to do it. And Hazrat Inayat Khan took it seriously. Leaving music aside he began teaching, and preaching, and it is a wonder how he was helped by Allah in his self-assigned task, so much so that when he came to America, according to his own autobiography, he did not know much English, perhaps his vocabulary was limited to only 10 or 20 words, and when he began preaching, he had acquired such knowledge that now that his books are produced, we can see his books and see ourselves what fine English composition he has done. Similar are his prayers, especially his invocation, which although 60 years have passed since, and many many learned people from India and other places, Japan and China, and very learned people in the English language are here and trying to do similar service to their own religions, but as far as I am aware, none of the invocations set forth by these other people matches what his composition is.
SAADI: In 1926, in November this was shortly before he died, probably within several months.
SHEMSEDDIN: When I met him he was very healthy. And it is a wonder that within three months of my meeting he died in February 1927. It was an ordinary cold which developed into pneumonia and proved fatal. He was robust, sturdy, no signs of any illness when I met him, and it was perhaps God's will that he should expire in his young age, because he had done, like Jesus, whatever was to be done in a few years time. And the influences are still there.
SAADI: Did he speak at all about, he had been in the West about what, 16 years, about how successful he felt he had been in the message of Islam that he was trying to bring to people.
SHEMSEDDIN: At that time I was in my 20's, and a student in the college, so I did not have that much understanding to learn anything from him. What I inquired was the surface question that I said, and besides that I don't remember of asking any deep questions. It was only after I came in touch with my Murshid in 1962 that he copied some passages from Sufi Message and typed them and sent them to me and they struck as something great, and then I studied some of the Sufi Message volumes and I have great regard for Hazrat Inayat Khan for what he had done 60 years ago, which were difficult times without doubt.
SAADI: Did you have any other meetings with Rabia Martin outside the one that you mentioned, or any correspondence with her?
SHEMSEDDIN: She stayed with a relation of mine, Ahsan ul Haq, by name and it was only once that I met her. And Ahsan ul Haq was declared of Khalifa of the Orient, and Rabia Martin was declared Khalifa of the West. This I learned from Hazrat Inayat Khan, and I have no recollection of meeting him again, although he remained in Delhi for the rest of the months before his demise.
SAADI: To go back a little bit to 1962 again, when Murshid Samuel Lewis was in Lahore, and you were visiting together, were you running that bookstore that you were running when we visited you? Was that what you mainly did?
SHEMSEDDIN: I'm not running the bookstore, it is a cooperative venture, and it was in being when he was in Lahore, and it is still in being. The history of it is that a judge of the high court of Lahore, or rather Chief Justice, wanted to publish some of his books, and he went to publishers, and found their terms and conditions not to his liking. And he inquired from others, and like minded people joined and they made it a cooperative venture, so it is a cooperative store, a cooperative bookshop, being run by members of the high court and others. It has been the good fortune of this store that the Chief Justice of Pakistan has always been chairman for the past so many years, and even now the present Chief Justice, Almar? Hakk is the chairman of the store.
SAADI: So between let's say when Murshid Samuel Lewis left in 1963 and when we visited you in 1978, you corresponded quite a lot with him before his passing, and you met a number of other of his disciples who came over either after that or before.
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes. After the demise of my Murshid in 1971 the first person who visited Pakistan was Jabbar Williams, by name, and after that came Jamshed Tillinghast, and Salik Shalom, and others, and then in January 1979 your party of 13 came to Pakistan and they were there on the anniversary day of my Murshid 15th and 16th of January; after that they left for India and came back in March, and stayed with me for a few days, which was the happiest occasion for me.
SAADI: And for us too. So what moved you to come to the West then after that, after we had left, after say all these years?
SHEMSEDDIN: When I met people, one or two, it was not any attraction, but when I met a whole bunch of people, and I learned that there were so many others who were following the teachings of my Murshid, naturally I felt attracted. And it was pointed out to me that sitting in Pakistan I cannot meet all of them, so the only solution was to come over to America and meet the others. Luckily, although it took me a long time to come over, I am here, and I think that it was a very good decision on my part, and it has helped my understanding of the work of my Murshid in its depth, how he has influenced people. It is ten years since his passing, and he is well remembered, and people are still working in his name, and gaining ground, slowly but steady.
SAADI: So when you first came you thought that perhaps you would stay six weeks, maybe two months, something like that, and then you went to Lama to visit Murshid's gravesite and could you describe what happened there?
SHEMSEDDIN: My going to his gravesite was, of course, necessary and the first thing I should have done and I did, and the chief idea in going there was that I was not sure whether what I had to say about the Qur'an, which is not the usual thing to be taught by Muslims in general, was it the right thing to do or was it a wrong thing to do? So I wanted to prove it to myself by meditating at the tomb of my Murshid whether it was permissible, whether it was feasible, whether it was the right thing to do, or not. Whether it will produce only conflicts or whether it was necessary. And to me, the answer that I received was that I should go on with the work with what I had to say in contradiction to usual practices. For instance, it is supposed that music and dancing and mixing of both sexes is forbidden in Islam, and I find not a single word against it in the Qur'an. Then again, there are ordinances which are common, general for all people, and which have been restricted. For instance, to quote from the Qur'an (Arabic) "And it is for Allah, for the sake of Allah, that people in general, not only Muslims, but all people the world over are invited to visit the house constructed by Abraham in the name of Allah. Whosoever can afford to come to the place…." It was a general invitation, not only for Muslims, but for all the people, and we have been acting against it for the past 1400 years, we take care that no non-Muslim comes to Mecca. Taking care of the house in such a way, and ignoring the Book, on the other hand, in the opposite way. That is to say that we did not ask or make it incumbent that only Muslims should be writing the book, should be producing the book, should be publishing and printing the book. Before printing press came into being, it was being written by Jews, by Hindus, by anybody, and nobody took that much care that if it written by a non-Muslim they should authenticate, the copies should be submitted to some association, some body of people who will see that they are correctly written, and then passed on. No, no care was taken of it. And then printing came into being, there was no royalty to be paid, no permission to be sought, anybody and everybody was free to print it with the result that one Hindu press has produced more copies than all Muslim copies put together. It was something that I was not sure whether I should be finding out or not. But as I said, after going to Lama, I decided that it was my duty to say whatever I had been thinking about in terms of contradictions in our practices.
SAADI: So while you've been here, you've also corresponded with a number of people, and met a number of people outside of the disciples of Murshid Samuel Lewis, people who have been Islamic scholars, or who have been involved with Islam in some other way. Could you describe some of those people that you've met and sort of the agreements that you've come to or what sort of relations you've had.
SHEMSEDDIN: The chief feeling of the Muslims, to my mind, is that we divided into sects and sub-sects. It was stressed, emphasized, by the Prophet, that we should always form one body, and should not divide. In the Qur'an it is said again and again, "don't get divided into sects." But this has been the bane of Muslims that from the very beginning they have been divided into sects and sub-sects. So what I am trying to do at heart is to bring the Sufis together, to bring the Muslims together, and for that I have been corresponding with people as to what it is that holds them back. Similarly, about Sufis I should say, that there are great Pirs, but they are separated from each other. Their followers even are taught not to go to the other Pir, to stay with one Pir for all their lifetime, yet it is a Persian saying, there is nothing in Arabic, Arabic Islam seems to me to be different from Persian Islam. And Persian Islam is mostly in practice today. Sufism came into being in Persia. So much so that Moulana Rumi who is the only exception, being born in Turkey, and writing in Turkey, but again his book in Persian. So it is Persian Islam that is being taught by both Sufis and non-Sufis, and it is not the message of the Prophet. Had we stuck to that there would have been no other sect. As he said, the difference of opinion is quite different from taking different sects. Again I will stress this point, that when Moses left his brother Aaron in charge of affairs, and went for 40 days to pray to Allah, to worship Allah, after coming back he found that people were worshipping the golden calf and he put the question to his brother that "I left you in charge of affairs, is that how you have taken care of my people that they are worshipping the calf?" And the answer of Aaron is very instructive if you pay attention to it. He said "I did not want the people to be divided, and that is why I did not intervene in what they were doing. And I left them to their own devices although I knew that it was not right, but I thought it better to await your return and not to interfere." So instead of producing any schism among his people, he thought it better, that even if it is calf worship going on, let it be, there should be no divisions. I don't mean to say that we should go to that extent, and luckily there is much understanding, the knowledge and understanding of humanity has developed to such an extent that now it is easily understood what unity of Allah, unity of God means. Previously there were ideas that there can be many gods, but now it has come to a stage that the present knowledge is leading us to evidence of the unity of Allah. Similar is the case of the book. It is being recognized that it exists as it existed 1400 years ago, no change has been made in a word or in a syllable, it is as authentic as it can be, and no other book can claim that. And who took care of this preservation. As I said there was no human agency looking after it. It is again in the Qur'an, "We have revealed the Qur'an, and we are going to take care of its protection" and it has been taken care of in such a good manner that no human agency could have done it. It's a real miracle, and a miracle which can be seen by anybody, even today.
SAADI: So having met people here who have been involved in different Muslim groups, what do you feel for the future is the way in which the work that you've started or continued, you could say, could continue more, of bringing these different people and groups together?
SHEMSEDDIN: My efforts in my own country, in Pakistan, and in India also I should say, were not successful, and I felt disappointed. But here the atmosphere is totally different. I'm really struck by the qualities of the Americans. There is a classless society in being, which is the first and foremost requirement of Islam, and unluckily no Muslim country can boast of it. Not only that we cannot boast of it, I can say that never has it been in practice in any of the Muslim countries. Besides that there is truthfulness, people don't hide things, they are open-hearted, open-minded, they are willing to learn, willing to adopt so much so that I have been to Hindu temples, Buddhist temples and others also, and I find that Hindu practices practiced in America are far better than they are in the country of its origin. And perhaps similarly the case of Buddhists also. People being more sincere, more open-hearted have adopted not only these teachings, but the practices, and they perform it in the spirit, true spirit, with sincerity. Similar is the case of Islam. Muslims belonging to different countries, with different attachments to sects here, they are coming together, and there is much hope of good reasons, if a little attention is paid of joining together of the Sufis, and again I will say of the Muslims. And if Muslims and Sufis come together, there is much hope, great hope for a world revolution to come into being, and it will not take long once it is reduced to practice the benefits of unity and will be adopted and will be copied, inshallah, in all the world. And I am much hopeful of achievement in this field in America, and my Murshid had said "The sun will rise in the West, and people seeing will believe." These are words of the traditions of Mohammed, but the interpretation and the use is my Murshid's and I agree in his spirit with his dictum.
SAADI: So do you feel that now, in returning to Pakistan, that you have accomplished as much as you wanted to accomplish here?
SHEMSEDDIN: No man can say that he has accomplished his goal and it is the same with me also, but I can say that I have met with people, and exchanged ideas with people, and in due course, inshallah, a state of affairs may come into being when they will be joining together. And as I said, if they join together in the States, the whole world is to be effected. There is chance of Black Muslims, and Shiites and Sunis coming together, much more-so here than in any other part of the world.
SAADI: You recently met with the head of the Black Muslims. Is that correct?
SHEMSEDDIN: Yes. I corresponded with him, and the reason for correspondence was that he invited me to go over to Chicago to meet him, which was not possible for me, for the present, and I said that as I'm staying in California, if he were to come to California and inform me, it would be easier for me. He sent a message to say that he will be performing in celebrations in Oakland, and people from Portland offered to bring me to Oakland. They came from Portland to Mendocino and took me with them to meet the Imam, and we met on Friday, the last day of Ramadan, fasting month, and he invited us to visit again the next day, that was a celebration, on Saturday, and we were with him, I was with him, and other people from Portland also were with me, so we stayed together until the night, and then again on Sunday, when he was going back to Chicago he invited us, and we met him on Saturday also, and he delivered an address. The three addresses that he delivered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday convinced me that he has good understanding of Islam and the bias that there was against White Americans, against Christians, against Christ is no good. He expressly mentioned as it is in the Qur'an, Christians remain Christians, they are our brothers, the Jews remain Jews, they are still our brothers, we belong to the same line of understanding of religion which comes down from Abraham. In essence neither the colors can separate us nor the countries can separate us. We may be living anywhere, but we are all the universe in one Allah.
And as such we are as close, and should be as close together as anything. And that unity does not mean that other religions or people believing in other older religions, ancient religions, are separated from us because in the Qur'an it is mentioned, "there is no nation in the world to whom Allah has not sent a guide." So the guides are sent by Allah, they may have been misunderstood as it is evident from the case of Qur'an and the Muslim Omar, so their differences and their contradictions are easily understood if we look to the Muslims themselves. If we could deviate from the ways of the Prophet in spite of the fact that the whole story of his life is preserved, that the book in its authenticity is our hands, how can we blame others if they have deviated from the ways of the original teachings, and we should have a sympathetic mind and attitude with all other religions, with all other people, the world over. And this was the original teaching of the Qur'an, and original teaching of all true religions revealed by Allah, as much as I can understand. And I maintain that the world is being guided in such a way, by Allah, his own master plan is coming in to work, that finally it will have to be one world government and one world, united together, each helping the other instead of the present attitude of each harming the other. And that will result in the dream of humanity for many many thousands of years I should say. This has been there in the thoughts of people since very old, and it has not come into being, but really as it is in the Qur'an, this world was created as a paradise, and the actions of people in not understanding the laws of nature and not acting upon the laws of nature, have made it into a hell, but as soon as humanity understands the true message, the true way of living, inshallah, it will become a paradise, and everyone living in this world will feel happy and contented. That is my hope, and that, inshallah, will come to be, and not very far in the distant future, but perhaps in a few years.
SAADI: Do you feel there is work that we can help you on, in Pakistan, if say a group of us were to visit there again?
SHEMSEDDIN: Of course Pakistan has become a sort of leading Muslim power among the 44 Muslim states that are at present. And whatever happens in Pakistan is surely going to effect the others as well, so if we concentrated on bettering the conditions in Pakistan, the understanding of the Qur'an in its true perspective, and practice of Islam not only in its rituals, but in its spirit, in practice, in our behavior towards others, that is surely going to effect to produce good results. And we should concentrate on two places, America itself and Pakistan, both are necessary. In America also much work is to be done, without doubt. I have also been invited by some Shiite friends, and they want me to remain here, not to go back to Pakistan, but I explained that there were ties with relations that I must go to Pakistan. They even offered to pay for the passage of all of my family members to come over from Pakistan to come over to America and live here with them. This was very kind of them without doubt, but that is not possible. So I had to turn down their offer, reluctantly, although I like their attitude, and inshallah, as I said if that if Shiites, and if Black Bilalians, Muslims and all others, and especially Sufis come together, it is going to produce results that will be beyond our dreams, I hope so. Imam has also promised to keep in touch with me whether I am in America or whether I go back to Pakistan, and I hope that he has been changing his position and the position of his followers, and it is coming to better and better still. It will have very good results. When Cassius Clay became Mohammed Ali there was great enthusiasm in Pakistan, and when he won victory after victory in boxing, which has nothing to do with religion, even so, people were so pleased, and there was much enthusiasm for his coming to Pakistan, for his paying a short visit to Pakistan. People all over the country were eager to receive him. As it happened, he couldn't come to Pakistan, and I'm sure that Imam Wallace, if he decides to come to Pakistan for a short visit, he would be welcomed, and may produce results that he cannot even think of.
SAADI: What questions do you find that most of the people you've met while you've been here, what are some of the biggest questions they have about the Qur'an or about Islam, things that they've heard about?
SHEMSEDDIN: The biggest objection that is being raised people I'm meeting is about the equality of sexes. It is supposed that Islam has done a disservice to the womenfolk, that they've been suppressed by Islam. But the truths belie all accusations. Without doubt the followers have done what they should not have done, and the people who try to understand Islam don't go to its precepts. They see the practices of Muslims in Muslim lands, and they say this is what they are doing, so this must be their teaching also. But when we go to the Qur'an, when we go to the Prophet's own life-time, we find that the Prophet did everything to upraise the womenfolk in such a way that never since, although we claim equality and everything. It has not been done in that way, even since Islam. He preached that paradise lies under the feet of the mother, and every woman is a mother, so every woman is feeling prestigious estate. As wife we treat them as equals, as mothers they are something supreme, we have to respect them, and that is the teaching of Islam, that all women are mothers, whether they are in their childhood, whether they are in their youth, whether they grow old, their motherhood cannot be taken away from them and they act like mothers all through their lives. It is the greatest boon produced by Allah and we should be really more careful about our treatment of women, whether in Islam or out of Islam also. It is not words that can satisfy, if you equality before then, if you say freedom these words are objective without doubt, but what is freedom of women, and what is equality of sexes. In practice you can see it here, it is going against that, it is not benefitting them, it is harming. I am teaching that instead of demanding equal pay, equal work, they should be demanding at least half work and double pay. And the words are very attractive. But really it is the meaning of demand, because the woman, even after working for 8 hours in an office, or in a workshop, or whatever it is, have to come home and to perform household duties, and that means that another 4 hours or 8 hours are consumed, so it is really cruel for them. If they were to work for 4 hours, work for 4 hours means preparation for work before, and after coming from work, 4 hours are wasted, so 8 hours are gone out of their household duties. And for household duties there should be some time be left to them. They cannot take care of their children, they cannot take care of the husband, and then the husband becomes angry because he thinks that the wife is there and she is not taking care of me. He does not think that after 8 hours work outside the house no energy is left. How can she do anything for the husband or for the children. So it is really cruel. They should be treated as if a rich class. Allah has made them different. They require one week of rest in every month in their menstruation time. And they have stamina to bear up without doubt, and they are doing it, but it is proving injurious not their own health, but to the health of the whole nation I should say. The whole nation is suffering. The love the children should receive from their parents, if they are deprived of that, they do not remain to be normal people, they become abnormal and they behave in abnormal ways. And that is the curse of America. And it is not understood in its perspective. Why there are crimes on the increase, why people take the crimes.
SAADI: There is a trend now. Sometimes in America where the husband will perform many of the household duties, and the wife will work either fulltime or part-time. How do you feel about that?
SHEMSEDDIN: If the husband helps the wife in her household duties, it surely lightens her work, and if her position is understood, it is better for both of them. And in such cases, I'm sure that differences do not arise. The separations and divorces that are going on are result of non-cooperation. If the husband and wife cooperate with one another then there is less chance of separation. But there is to my mind separation and divorces are so common that it seems that this position as you explained to me is not generally practiced, there are some people doing it, and those will be the people who can save their lives. It is best for a man and for a woman both if they live together all their lives, and if there is change, change, change, it not only gives birth to venereal diseases but to unrest, general unrest. They are never satisfied, they can never feel the strength that comes if they know that there is at least one person in the world who cares for them. They are separated from their families, parents don't count in their lives, they have to fall back upon husbands, and husbands don't prove to be the rock on which they can stand. They are always feeling as if there is no rock to stand upon, uneasy. It is the same for man and for woman both, I should say, if they feel that there is somebody in the world caring for them, they feel happy, even one person caring for another satisfies their need, basic need, and then there is the joy in family, which is much better of course. Small differences, frictions that do happen in joined families they are removed more easily than when the husband and wife are living separately.
SAADI: That's one thing that does happen a lot in America, in the US, which is that the family life is not as strong as it was say 50 or 100 years ago.
SHEMSEDDIN: And this 50 years ago, as you say, is the time since women have taken to outside work, before that womenfolk were not so commonly going out to work, they stayed in their houses, and it was the breadwinner of the family who had to go out and earn money for the household. So conditions are changing, and I don't mean to say that we should go back to the older times, no, we should take stock of things as they are, and to find solutions better and better as conditions change from one stage to another. This is a general rule of the world, the world is not static, it is changing and changing and we should be changing along with it. We should not want to be what we were in our childhood, or in our youth. The world is advancing and we should be advancing with it.