An Account of a French Scholar Who Accepted Islam - Vincent Montagne
Vincent Montagne is a French scholar and a tourist specialized in the study of Arab and Islamic issues. He spent many years in the eastern and the western Arab countries. He also went to Iran, Senegal and Indonesia, and visited Mali, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mauritania and Sierra Leone. He published about one hundred theses and articles; this in addition to twenty books on Islam, Islamic civilization, Muslims and Arabic language. Some of these books are the following: Islam in Indonesia, Islam in the USSR, World of Islam, Arabs...etc. Montagne also spent six years of his life translating Ibn Khaldun Introduction to French language. The end of this tour of thought and countries was culminated by his declaration of Islam in Mauritania. "France and The Arab World" journal published a detailed article about his conversion to Islam. The said article was republished in full by the Tunisian journal "La Presse" journal also published parts of the article. But no comment was given of any kind by both papers. Let us now hear what Mr. Montagne has to explain regarding why he embraced Islam.
Q: Would you kindly tell us how your interest in Islam began?
A: "When a person embraces Islam, he is actually choosing a religion, nay a way in which he stepped over his own self. In other words, he was chosen a new concept of the universe, a way of life and joined very clearly a new nation united by faith. For me this in fact meant that I should stand, despite my old age, in the line of the poor people, in the midst of tempests' area and to the side of the Palestinians. It also means that I should stand away from the big powers and put money aside without too much hermitage that I should be on the side of justice and right.
While we find the contemporary world makes technology an end that justifies the means, and this is really unfortunate, we find that abiding by Islam makes one reject this concept and believe in higher values. Still I remained a French national just like Charles De Gaulle and France remains my home land, but the Arab world is my spiritual country as Loy Masinion told me in May 1940. My belief in Islam represents the fulfillment of my inner cravings, and the ultimate goal of my existence. It does not tear me, as it is claimed, into two loyalties. It, on the contrary, gathers all the threads of feeling into one harmonious whole.
My conversion to Islam may be attributed to religious, ethical and social factors as well as to cultural motives and eternal support. As regards the religious factors the holy Prophet Muhammad reminds us in one of his sayings of a permanent truth. He says: Every child is born in nature (belief in Islam).His parents make him Jew, Christian or Magian.
I grew up in a Catholic family, and had forsaken all religious rites since my early days. Christian beliefs seemed to me mysterious, its rites looked useless. As regards the clergymen, although I appreciate solitary contemplation, yet I do not find myself in need of a mediator between the Creator and the created.
I felt afterwards the great obstacles between Islam and Christianity namely the deification of Jesus Christ which is completely rejected in Islam, and the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) which the Christians refuse. Thus all attempts of compromise seemed to me a source of trouble and disturbance. It was essential for me to make choice the one or the other i.e. Islam or Christianity.
Q: How did you discover the Holy Quran?
A: The first time I came across the Quran was through the French translation of its meanings in Andrea de Riyar edition published in 1647.(That was actually the first translation of the meanings of the Holy Quran in French; there are now more than 30 translations done mostly by French scholars not without misunderstanding either intentionally or otherwise). I discovered the said French translation in Saint Sir School, which is a military school near Paris whose graduates become officers in the army. I was one of its students between 1934-1936. Every week I used to copy a few chosen verses from the Quran.
Q: What is your response to the Christian's theory of Jesus Christ being the son of God?
A: I could have a son. The only attitude that seemed logical and acceptable to me was that of the Quran which says:
"Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: So believe in Allah and His Messenger. (Quran 4:171)
They disbelieve who say: "Allah is one of three (in a trinity:) for there is no god except One God." (Quran 5:73)
Again in Sura Ikhlas we read:
"Say: He is Allah, The One: Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him." (Quran 112:1-4)
The first Christians were not far from this belief; it was only in 320 A.D. that Jesus was officially declared as God and the Son of God. What is more strange, however, is that at the fourth Rome Convention in 1215 which was held to define the nature of God the said convention declared that God the One neither begetteth nor was He begotten, which is identical to the Islamic creed.
I could not accept three major beliefs on Christ especially trinity and crucifixion, on which the Holy Quran says:
"That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus' the Son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah;-" but they killed him not, nor crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not." (Quran 4:157)
Notice that Muslims believe in the Holy Quran as the word of God while the Bible is not so for Christians. Christ for them is the word of God. I don't have the slightest doubt that the message of Muhammad is true. I believe that Muhammad is the seal of all prophets and messengers of God and that he was sent to all humanity; his message was revealed to complete the revelation in the Old and the New Testament. My best proof for this is the Holy Quran: the Great miracle. I reject all Pascal's impressions on the apostle of Islam except one of them which reads: That the Quran is not authored by Muhammad and that the Bible was not written by Matthew.
Q: What was your attitude of your friends after you became Muslim?
A: I received lately a letter from Beirut sent by a Lebanese Christian friend of mine wherein he requests me to avoid all provoking and inimical expression which usually come forth from a new convert to Islam, he says, "I shall pay much attention to this claim for the following factors:
- Because Muslims regard Christians with respect and call them People of the Book.
- The Holy Quran calls for benevolence saying:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion." (Quran 2:256)
- The Holy Quran also describes the Christians in very friendly words saying:
"And nearest among them in love to the Believers wilt thou find those who say; "We are Christians"; because amongst these are men devoted to learning, and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant". (Quran 5:82)
Q: What were the factors that led you to Islam?
A: There were many social and ethical factors that led me to the house of Islam. As regards the ethical factors I found out that Islam did not accept the principle of original sin. The Holy Quran says in this respect:
Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, and fell into error. But his Lord chose him (For His Grace): He turned to him, and gave him guidance. (Quran 20:121-122)
Thus we do not find in Islam any sin complex as it is known in the Anglo-Saxon precept. Chastity and hermit are not beyond the reach of human beings. Here are some verses from the Holy Quran to this effect:
"Thus have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced." (Quran 2:143)
"And has imposed no difficulties on you in religion." (Quran 22:78)
Q: What are some of the misconceptions against Islam?
A: I have found there to be five major misconceptions always raised against Islam, however, I do not see them logical at all. These misconceptions are predestination, prejudice, cruelty, serfdom and polygamy. Predestination for instance is nothing but depending upon God and complete submission to Him. Divine will is represented in orders which have nothing to do with predestination. Human freewill can best be illustrated in the Holy Quran in the following verses among many others:
"This is an admonition: whosoever will, let him take a (straight) Path to His Lord. But ye will not, except as God wills."
The second misconception is one of prejudice. They claim that Islam teaches prejudice. As a matter of fact Islam does not order its people to use force except in self-defense or in justified war "jihad".
The third accusation is that legal punishments in Islam are said to be cruel. Islam does not order the application of those punishments except in exceptional cases and according to certain conditions. Thus very few hands were cut during the first three decades of Islamic era, but the fruit was very great. People's properties were secure. There were also very few instances of stoning the adulteress, but the cost was chastity and legal children. Islam also regards the crime against a man's life to be a crime on life itself. Thus it takes the life of the criminal to secure life itself.
Regarding the fourth misconception, namely that of serfdom, as a matter of fact serfdom or slavery was an established law in the world when Islam was revealed. Islam in fact restricted it and put a gradual solution for serfdom. Thus the Holy Quran encourages the liberation of slaves, so much so that slave liberation is regarded in Islam as an act of worship. It is made the atonement for many major sins. Among the closest companions to the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him were former slaves like Bilal, Suhaib and Salman the Persian. Islam in point of truth came to liberate slaves and not otherwise.
The question of polygamy which is misunderstood by many non-Muslims. Polygamy is thought to be one of the weak points in Islam while in truth it is an advantage as well as an achievement. First of all Islam did not establish polygamy, it restricted it to a limited number instead of too many wives. Polygamy in Islam is actually the exception in a law that is meant to encompass all human cases. Is not polygamy better than the numerous prostitutes who are secretly resorted to beside the legal wives in the west? Justice is a very important condition to apply polygamy. Do not widows and unmarried old girls prefer to be second wives instead of their solitary lives of hardship? How just, then, is the religion of Islam!
I find great peace in Islam which I do not find anywhere else; this is due to the fact that Islam does not divide between body and soul. Islam appreciates the mind and the body. It respects the guest and keeping one's word, which are essential elements in a just war like the one going on in Palestine.
Moving then to the social factors that convinced me to embrace Islam is that my belief in Islam means that I have become member in a 600 million nation of Islam. This did not lead to cutting off my national origin. I have lived more than thirty years in North Africa, Iran, Lebanon, Senegal and Indonesia, and have wandered around the world like a new Ibn Battuta, the famous Arab tourist, everywhere I went I found the same way of life, the same faith and the same human sentiments. I found Islamic society to be one of courage, simplicity and hermitry. I liked to live merely on dates and milk and to have nothing to do with oil dollars which I am afraid would be a curse and not a blessing.
As regards the forbidden foods they do not disturb me because I have never had wine, and can go without pork and I do not smoke. The five pillars of faith represent personal steadfastness.
The cultural factors that convinced him of the truth of Islam. Europeans still speak proudly of what they have to given Arabs and to the world at large. They count the schools, means of transport, telephones... etc. They forget however what they owe to Arabs which is not a small thing. The Arabs have kept the Greek legacy. It was thanks to them that we now read for Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others. The greatest capitals of learning in the world were at one time Cairo, Baghdad, Tulaytula and Palermo to mention only a few.
Arabic language is first of all the Language of Divine revelation. One cannot have real access to Arabian culture unless he reads the Quran which is the source of inspiration for Arab writers both modern and old. Quranic verses are often quoted in grammatical illustrations. The Holy Quran is in fact the mainstay of Arabic thinking. Read the great genius Ibn Khaldoun, or the famous poet Al Mutanabbi, or the well- known philosopher Ibn Rushd, and all others, and you will see the influence of the Quran on them all.
The fifth factor that incited him to enter the fold of Islam. He says: By embracing Islam I find myself joining a new camp, a camp different from the two struggling camps namely that of neo-colonialism and the Zionist aggressive camp. I have joined a new world extending from Senegal to Indonesia, a world of real sentiment; I have not joined this world because of its richness; but because I liked the Palestinians who are victims of their own brethren as they are victims of their staunch enemy.
I have joined the world of emigrant workers who have taken the place of slaves in our age, and who are about two million people in France, thus representing the second largest community in my country bigger even than the Protestants and the Jews. I have received two congratulations for embracing Islam, one from a Muslim brother in Indonesia; and the other from an Arab priest. My first Friday prayer was in Noukshott in the Rimaal mosque. That great event took place on the 22nd of July 1977. From henceforward I was called Al Mansour Al Shafii. Al Mansour in Arabic is equivalent to my Christian name Vincent, though I believe that there is no supporter except God. I took Al Shafii School of Jurisprudence for the sake of my Muslim brothers in Indonesia, the biggest Islamic community the world over.