Former British Diplomat

I was born in Switzerland of British parents, a child of war. At the time of my birth, the final peace treaty
ending the first world war, the treaty with Turkey, was being signed close by in Lausanne. The greatest
tempest which had changed the face of the world had temporarily exhausted itself, but its effects were
everywhere apparent. Old certainties and the morality based upon them had been dealt a mortal blow. But
my family background was stained with the blood of conflict. My father already 67 when I was born, had
been born during the wars against Napoleon Bonaparte. Both had been soldiers ...
Even so, I might at least have had a homeland. I had none. Although born in Switzerland, I was not
Swiss. My mother had grown up in France and loved the French above all others, but I was not French.
Was I English? I never felt so. My mother never tired of reminding me that the English were cold, stupid,
and sexless without intellect and without culture. I did not want to be like them. So where-if anywhere-did I
belong? It seems to me in retrospect, that this strange childhood was a good preparation for adherence to

Wherever he may have been born and whatever his race, the Muslim’s homeland is the Dar-ul-Islam, the
House of Islam. His passport, here and in the Hereafter, is the simple confession of Faith, La ilaha
ill-Allah. He does not expect - or should not expect - security or stability in this world and must always
keep in mind the fact that death may take him tomorrow. He has no firm roots here in this fragile earth.
His roots are above in that which alone endures.

But what of Christianity? If my father had any religious convictions he never expressed them, although - on
his death bed, approaching 90 - he asked: ‘Is there a happy place?’ My upbringing was left entirely to my
mother. By temperament, she was not, I think, irreligious, but she had grown up within a religious
framework, and she was hostile to what is commonly called organized religion. Of one thing she was
certain; her son must be left free to think for himself and never be forced to accept second-hand opinions.
She was determined to protect me from having religion ‘crammed down my throat’.

She warned a succession of nursemaids who came and went in the house and accompanied us to France
during the holidays that, if they ever mentioned religion to me, they would at once be dismissed. When I
was five or six, however, her orders flouted by a young woman whose ambition it was to become a
missionary in Arabia, saving the souls of those benighted people who were - she told me - lost in a pagan
creed called ‘moslemism’. This was the first I had heard of Arabia, and she drew me a map of that
mysterious land.

One day she took me for a walk past Wandsworth Prison (we were living in Wandsworth Common at the
time). I must have misbehaved some way, for she gripped me roughly by the arm, pointed to the prison
gates and said:
‘There’s a red haired man in the sky who will shut you in there if you’re naughty!’ This was the first I had
heard of ‘God’, and I did not like what I heard. For some reason I was afraid of men with red hair (as she
must have known), and this particular one living above the clouds and dedicated to punishing naughty boys
sounded very frightening. I asked my mother about him as soon as we got home. I do not remember what
she said to comfort me, but the girl was promptly dismissed.

Eventually, much later than most children, I was sent to school or rather to a series of schools in England
and in Switzerland before arriving, aged 14, at Charterhouse. Surely, with services in the school chapel and
classes in ‘Scripture’, Christianity should have made some impact upon me? It made no impact at all,
either upon me or upon my school friends. This does not seem to me surprising. Religion cannot survive,
whole and effective when it is confined to one single compartment of life and education. Religion is either
all or it is nothing; either it dwarfs all profane studies or it is dwarfed by them.

Once or twice a week we were taught about the Bible just as we were instructed in other subjects in other
classes. Religion, it was assumed had nothing to do with the more important studies which formed the
backbone of our education. God did not interfere in historical events, He did not determine the phenomena
we studied in science classes, He played no part in current events, and the world, governed entirely by
chance, and by material forces, was to be understood without reference to anything that might -or might not
-exist beyond its horizons. God was surplus to requirements....

And yet I needed to know the meaning of my own existence. Only those who, at some time in their lives,
have been possessed by such a need can guess at its intensity, comparable to that of physical hunger or
sexual desire. I did not see how I could put one foot in front of the other unless I understood where I was
going and why. I could do nothing unless I understood what part my action played in the scheme of things.
All I knew I knew was that I knew nothing - nothing, that is to say, of the slightest importance - and I was
paralyzed by my ignorance as though immobilized in a dense fog.

Where should I seek for knowledge? By the time I was 15, I had discovered that there was something
called ‘philosophy’ and that the word meant ‘love of wisdom’. Wisdom was what I sought, so the
satisfaction of my need must lie hidden in these heavy books written by wise men. With a feeling of
intense excitement, like an explorer already in sight of the undiscovered land, I ploughed through
Descartes, Kant, Hume, Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Bertrand Russell, or else read works which explained
their teachings. It was not long before I realized that something was wrong. I might as well have been
eating sand as seeking nourishment from this quarter. These men knew nothing. They were only
speculating, spinning ideas out of their own poor heads, and anyone can speculate (including a school

How could a 15 or 16-year-old have had the impudence to dismiss the whole of Western secular philosophy
as worthless? One does not have to be mature to distinguish between what the Quran calls dhann
(‘opinion’) and true Knowledge. At the same time my mother’s constant insistence that I should take no
notice of what others thought or said obliged me to trust my own judgment. Western culture treated these
‘philosophers’ as great men, and students in universities studied their works with respect. But what was
that to me?

Some time later, when I was in the sixth-form, a master who took a particular interest in me made a strange
remark which I did not at understand. ‘You are’, he said, ‘the only truly universal skeptic I have known’. He
was not referring specifically to religion. He meant that I seemed to doubt everything that was taken for
granted by everyone else. I wanted to know why it should be assumed that our rational powers, so well
adapted to finding food, shelter and a mate, had an application beyond the mundane realm.
I was puzzled by the notion that the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was supposed to be binding on
those who were neither Jews nor Christians, and I was no less baffled as to why in a world full of beautiful
women, the rule of monogamy should be thought to have a universal application. I even doubted my own
existence. Long afterwards I came across the story of the Chinese sage, Chuangtzu, who, having dreamed
one night that he was a butterfly, awoke to question whether he was in fact the man Chuangtzu, who had
dreamed that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that it was Chuangtzu. I understood his dilemma.
Yet, when my teacher made this remark, I had already discovered a key to what might be a more certain
knowledge. By chance - although there is no such thing as ‘chance’ – I had come across a book called
‘The Primordial Ocean’ by a certain Professor Perry, an Egyptologist. The professor had a fixed idea that
the ancient Egyptians had traveled to part of the world in their papyrus boats spreading their religion,
mythology, far and wide. To prove his case, he had spent many years researching ancient mythologies,
and also the myths and symbols of ‘primitive’ peoples in our own time. What he revealed was an
astonishing unanimity of belief, however different the images in which that belief was expressed.
He had not proved his theory about the papyrus boats; he had, I thought, proved something quite different.
It seemed that, behind the tapestry of forms and images, there were certain universal truths regarding the
nature of reality, the creation of the world and of mankind, and the meaning of the human experience; truths
which were as much a part as our blood and our bones.

One of the principal causes of unbelief in the modern world is the plurality of religions which appear
mutually contradictory. So long as the Europeans were convinced of their own racial superiority, they had
no reason to doubt that Christianity was the only true Faith. The notion that they were the crown of the
‘evolutionary process’ made it easy to assume that all other religions were no more than naive attempts to
answer perennial questions. It was when this racial self-confidence declined that doubts crept in. How was
it possible for a good God to allow the majority of human beings to live and die in the service of false

Was it any longer possible for the Christian to believe that he alone was saved? Others made the same
claim - Muslims, for example - so how could anyone be sure who was right and who was wrong? For many
people, including myself until I came to Perry’s book, the obvious conclusion was that, since everyone
could not be right, everyone must be wrong. Religion was an illusion, the product of wishful thinking.
Others might have found it possible to substitute ‘scientific truth’ for religious ‘myths’. I could not, since
science was founded upon assumptions regarding the infallibility of reason and the reality of sense
experience which could never be proved.

When I read Perry’s book I knew nothing of the Quran. That came much later, and what little I had heard of
Islam was distorted by prejudices accumulated during a thousand years of confrontation. And yet, had I
but known it, I had already taken a step in the direction of Christianity’s great rival. The Quran assures us
that no people on earth was ever left without divine guidance and a doctrine of truth, conveyed through a
messenger of God who always spoke to the people in their own ‘language’, therefore in terms of their