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Dr. Umar Rolf
Baron Ehrenfels (Austria)
Professor of Anthropology
About the Author:
Born as the only son of the late Baron Christian Ehrenfels, the founder
of the modern structural (Gestalt) Psychology in Austria, Rolf Freiherr
von Ehrenfels felt already as a child a deep attraction towards the East
in general and towards the world of Islam in particular. His sister, the
Austrian poetess Imma von Bodmershof, described this phase in her
contribution to Islamic Literature, Lahore 1953. As a young man Ehrenfels
travelled in the Balkan countries and Turkey, where he used to join
prayers in mosques, (though a Christian) and was hospitably accepted by
Turkish Albanian, Greek and Yogoslav Muslims. His interest in Islam
increased by and by and Ehrenfels accepted Islam in 1927 and took on Umar
as his Muslim name. He visitied Indo-Pakistan sub-continent in 1932 and
took particular interest in the cultural-historical problems connected
with the status and position of women. After his return to Austria, Baron
Umar specialised in the study of anthropological problems of Matrilineal
Civilizations in India. The Oxford University Press published his first
anthropological book (Osmania University Series, Hyderabad, Deccan, 1941)
on this subject.
When Austria was overrun by the Nazis in 1938 Baron Umar again went to
India, worked in Hyderabad at the invitation of the late Sir Akbar Hydari
and carried on anthropological field-work in South India and with the
support of Wenner-Gern Foundation, New York, in Assam. Since 1949 he has
been Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Madras
and was awarded the S.C.Roy Golden Medal for original contributions to
social and cultural Anthropology by the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in
1949. His numerous scientific and Islamic publications also include an
illustrated two-volume work on Indian and General Anthropology, "Ilm-ul-Aqwam"
(Anjuman Taragqqi-i-Urdu, Delhi, 1941) and a tribal monograph on the "Kadar
of Cochin" (Madras 1952).
The essential features of Islam which impressed me most and attracted me
to this great religion are as follows :-
The Islamic teaching of successive revelation implies in my opinion
the following: The source from which all the great world religions sprang
is one. The founders of these great paths, prepared for peace-seeking
mankind, gave witness to one and the same basic divine teaching.
Acceptance of one of these paths means search for Truth in Love;
Islam, in essence, means peace in submission to the Eternal Law.
Islam is, historically speaking, the last founded among the great
world religions on this planet.
Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Islam and is thus the last in the
sequence of great religious world-prophets.
The acceptance of Islam and the path of the Muslims by a member of an
older religion thus means as little rejection of his former religion, as
for instance the acceptance of Buddha's teachings meant the rejection of
Hinduism to the Indian co-nationals of Buddha. It was only later that
schools of thought within Hinduism rejected the Buddhist way as heretical.
The differences of religions are man-made. The unity is divine. The
teachings of the Holy Qur'an stress this basic unity. To witness it, means
acceptance of a spiritual fact which is common to all men and women.
The spirit of human brotherhood under the all-encompassing divine
fatherhood is much stressed in Islam and not hampered by concepts of
racialism or sectarianism, be it of linguistic, historic-traditionalistic,
or even dogmatic nature.
This concept of divine fatherly love, however, includes also the
motherly aspect of Divine love, as the two principal epithets of God
indicate" Al-Rahman - Al-Rahim, both being derived from the
Arabic root rhm. The symbolic meaning of this root equals Goethe's Das
Ewing-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan, whilst its primary meaning is womb.
In this spirit the Church of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople has been made
the principal source from which the great Muslim architects in the Near East
took their inspiration when building mosques like that of Sultan Ahmad or
Muhammad Fatih at Istanbul.
In this spirit the prophet gave these unforgettable words to his
"Paradise lies at the feet of the Mother."
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