R. L. Mellema (Holland)
Anthropologist, writer and scholar.
About the Author:
Dr. R. L. Mellema is the Head of the Islamic Section of the Tropical
Museum, Amsterdam, and is the author of Wayang Puppets, Grondwet van
Pakistan, Een Interprtatie van de Islam, etc.
What is for me the Beauty of Islam? What hs Attracted me to this
I began with my study of eastern languages at the University of Leiden in
1919 and attended the lectures of Prof. C. Snouck Hurgronje, the well-known
Arabist. I learned Arabic, read and translated al-Baidawi's commentary on
the Qur'an and al-Ghazali's reflexions on the Law. I studied the history and
institutions of Islam from European handbooks as was usual in that time. In
1921 I stayed in Cairo for one month and visited the Al-Azhar. Besides
Arabic I studied other languages such as Sanskrit, Malay and Javanese. In
1927 I left for the then Netherlands Indies to teach Javanese language and
Indian cultural history at a special secondary school for advanced studies
in Jogyakarta. For 15 years I specialised myself in Javanese language and
culture (modern and old) and had little contact with Islam and no contact at
all with Arabic. After a difficult period which I spent as a japanese
prisoner of war, I went back to the Netherlands in 1946 and found a new task
at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. Here I had the opportunity to
take up again my study of Islam, being instructed to write a short guide on
Islam in Java.
I started to study the new Islamic State of Pakistan which was culminated
in a journey to Pakistan in the winter of 1954/55. Having come to know Islam
till now from European writers only, in Lahore I was confronted with quite
another aspect of Islam. I asked my Muslim friends to be allowed to take
part with them in the Friday prayers in the mosques and from now on I began
to discover the great values of Islam.
I have felt myself a Muslim from the moment that I had to address the
people in one of the Lahore mosques and had to shake hands with the
innumerable new friends and brothers. I wrote about this event in an
article, published in Pakistan Quarterly, Vol. V. no. 4, 1955, the following
We were now to visit a much smaller mosque, where the sermon was
delivered by a scholar who spoke English fluently and had a position of
eminence at the University of the Punjab. He informed the congregation that
he had deliberately interspersed more English words than usual in his
sermon, as he thought that their brother who had come from a far country,
the Netherlands, would then understand the Urdu discourse more easily. The
sermon was followed by the usual recitation of two rak'ahs under the
leadership of the Imam. This done a few more rak'ahs were performed in
silence by those who felt the need to do so.
I was about to leave when Allamah Sahib, turning to me, observed that the
assembly expected me to say a few words. He himself would translate them
into Urdu. I went and stood before the microphone and quietly started to
speak. I said how I had come from a far away country where only a few
Muslims live, whose greetings I conveyed to the brothers present in the
Mosque, who for the last seven years were so fortunate as to have their own
Muslim State. In these few years the new State had succeeded in
consolidating its position. After a difficult beginning they could
undoubtedly look forward to a prosperous future. I promised them that, back
in my country, I should bear witness to the great kindness and hospitality
it had been my privilege to receive from all sections of the Muslim
population in Pakistan. These words having been translated into Urdu had a
wonderful effect, for, to my intense surprise, without even realizing at
first what was happening, I saw hundreds of worshippers hasten forward to
press my hands and to congratulate me. Old hands and young clasped mine with
the most affectionate cordiality. But what struck and touched me most was
the great warmth all these eyes radiated. At that moment I felt myself taken
up in the great Brotherhood of Islam which extends throughout the world, and
I was indescribably happy.
So the people of Pakistan made me understand that Islam was more than
just acquaintance with many details of the Law, that belief in the moral
values of Islam had to come first and that knowledge should be conditional
to reaching faith.
What is now for me the beauty of Islam and what in particular has
attracted me to this faith!
I will try to give a short answer to these questions in 6 points.
- The acknowledgement of One Supreme Being, uncomplicated and easy to
accept by every reasonable thinking creature: Allah, He on Whom all
depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten and none is like Him. He
represents the highest wisdom, the highest strength and the highest
beauty. His Charity and Mercy are boundless.
- The relation between the Creator of the Universe and His creatures,
of whom man has been entrusted with the supreme direction, is a
direct one. The believer does not need any mediation; Islam
does not need priesthood. In Islam contact with God depends on man
himself. Man has to prepare himself in this life for the next. He is
responsible for his deeds, which cannot be compensated by a substituting
sacrifice of an innocent person. No soul shall be burdened beyond its
- The doctrine of tolerance of Islam, so clearly manifested in the
well-known words: There is no compulsion in religion. A
Muslim is recommended to search for the truth where he may find it; also
he is enjoined to estimate the good properties of other religions.
- The doctrine of brotherhood of Islam, which extends to all human
beings, no matter what colour, race or creed. Islam is the only religion
which has been able to realise this doctrine in practice. Muslims
wherever on the world they are, will recognise each other as brothers.
The equality of the whole mankind before God is symbolised significantly
in the Ihram dress during the Hajj.
- The fact that Islam accepts matter and mind both as existing values.
The mental growth of man is connected inseparable with the needs of the
body, whereas man has to behave in such a way that mind prevails over
matter and matter is controlled by mind.
- The prohibition of alcoholic drinks and narcotic drugs. This is in
particular a point in respect of which it may be said that Islam is far
ahead of its time.