Journey to Islam

By: Camille Paldi

This article was first published by Literary Yard.

 

 

 

It just came out of my mouth.

 

لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله

There is no god but God.

lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh

 

مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله

muḥammadun rasūlu llāh

Muhammad is the messenger of God (Wikipedia).

 

Now, I was officially Muslim after reciting the shahada or declaration of faith in Islam. The shahada is the central statement of faith in Islam, recited ceremonially by new converts, and consisting of an affirmation of the uniqueness of God and of Muhammad as God’s prophet (The Free Dictionary). Muslims believe in all of God’s prophets with Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) as the seal of all Prophets. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and not son of God. I was in the midst of studying for an LL.M degree at University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law. I had recently returned to the United States after living for three years in the Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

 

In fact, three and a half years prior to this date, I had embarked on a solo journey to the Middle East from Hawaii, which would forever change my life. I flew to Dubai with a few suitcases, hopes and dreams, and the enthusiasm of a fresh graduate of law seeking out employment and a new adventurous life full of travel, learning, and the absorption of all the different cultures and nationalities, which would surround me for my entire stay in the Emirates. In fact, I was lucky enough to see the Islamic jewels of art, culture, and architecture in the UAE, Oman, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar. The mosques beautify the atmosphere with their stunning art, architecture, design, and display and of course, the remembrance of Allah.

 

I gained employment at a local law firm called Global Advocates and Legal Consultants in the Garhoud district of Dubai, directly across the street from a quaint mosque. The owner Ali, often gifted me informative books about Islam and Arabs, which I read fervently and with a thirst for knowledge about Islam. We even read the Qu’ran together line by line, word by word and discussed and pondered its’ deep meaning and content. Islam is such a beautiful and peaceful religion, focusing on preparing the individual for the Day of Judgement, on which day one’s good and bad deeds would be weighed and a decision would be made as to whether or not one would enter Heaven or Hell.

 

I can distinctly remember hearing the Muslims call to prayer or adhnan five times a day and remembering how beautiful and peaceful it sounded, especially at 5 AM in the morning when the atmosphere was still, silent, and dark. I once told Ali that it sounded like honey dripping into my ears. Prior to converting to Islam, every time I heard the adhnan, it would stop me in my tracks whatever I was doing and cause me to ponder my existence. Muslims are reminded five times a day to return and submit to Allah or God and to remember that their ultimate return is to Him. The mortal’s place on earth is temporary and we are only here to fulfill our assigned tasks – assigned at our conception.

 

You see our entire lives are already written including how much money we might make, our spouses and children, work, the places we might travel and the people we encounter…everything is part of a larger plan…Allah’s plan. Once one as an individual comes to accept the greater plan and submit to Allah’s will, one might feel more content and satisfied with everything one has been given in this life and strive for a greater eternal life in Jannah or Heaven. This can only be done by fulfilling Allah’s wishes such as caring for the needy and the poor, taking care of one’s family, fasting during Ramadan, giving in charity, and increasing oneself in knowledge towards Allah’s cause.

 

I was struck by how well women seemed to be treated in Islamic countries. It seemed girls and women were always protected either by their fathers and brothers or husbands and that they were well maintained physically, emotionally, spiritually, and monetarily. They dressed elegantly, covering all of their skin in black dresses and wore a scarf to cover their hair. Women were not seen in public without remaining fully covered. Human beings should cover all of their skin in public as we are distinct from other animals. It makes sense. Honor is key in the maintenance and protection of women. In Islam, there are no relations between males and females prior to marriage. It is a question of honor for the female and the family of the female in question.

 

Everything in Islam has a rhyme or reason. For instance, fasting for one month from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan helps one keep their weight and blood-sugar under control, prevents cancers, and boosts the immune system. Fasting causes a pause in the digestion system, which then allows the digestive system to clean itself out and re-boost. Islam operates on a lunar calendar and there is really something special about the month of Ramadan that permeates the air. This is the month that Allah sent the Qu’ran down to earth through his messenger Muhammad (pbuh). During this month, one should reflect upon the Qu’ran, help those in need including the hungry and homeless, and focus on one’s role in submission to Allah. If one cannot fast for health reasons, one can donate to charity in lieu of fasting.

 

Fasting has a lot of health benefits like prayer benefits the individual in many ways. The Islamic prayer allows oneself to stretch one’s body out, improve circulation, aid in digestion, stretch all of the internal organs, and acts as a spiritual bath, leaving one feeling refreshed and revitalized after prostrating and praying to Allah. The washing of oneself prior to prayer or wudhu allows oneself to purify oneself five times though out the day, even rinsing the nostrils. This makes sense as it cleans out germs and other impurities, which might cause disease. One rinses the feet, hands up to the elbows, face, nostrils, and hair. Usually, the Muslim is very clean, pure, with good posture and good physical and mental health.

 

Imagine if this was done in America? Can you imagine companies allowing their employees to either leave the office and go to a mosque or prayer room to pray five times a day? It would be unheard of. However, I did find my counterparts in the Islamic world much healthier physically, mentally, and spiritually then in the West. Of course, as one lives for Allah and submits to His will rather than living purely for the market. The sense of purpose of the Muslim is deep and extends to fulfilling Allah’s will. We are only here because Allah allows us to be and we should remember that constantly throughout the day. We are only trustees of the earth and all that we have belongs to Allah. Allah tests one with wealth and power, however, it is important to remember that these are only tests to see how one treats other people and fulfill’s the will of Allah. Life is a test to see which among us are worthy to enter Jannah or Heaven.

 

Through Islam, I also learned not to eat pork, as the pig is a filthy, disease-carrying animal that eats dead flesh. Furthermore, halal meat, or specified meats slaughtered in the Islamically prescribed method, should be consumed to preserve ideal human health. In addition, one should pay attention to the specified halal foods as mentioned in the Qur’an and sunnah or the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Sunnah is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds, sayings, and silent permissions (or disapprovals) of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (Wikipedia).

 

One should also avoid alcohol, as it is a dangerous intoxicant that leads to the disruption of the fabric of society, the family, and the deterioration of the health and well-being of the individual. Gambling is also a dangerous activity which destroys society, as it is a zero-sum game in which one party wins at the other party’s expense.

 

The five pillars of Islam include (1) shahada or reciting the Muslim profession of faith; (2) salat or prayer; (3) zakat or paying alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor; (4) sawm or fasting; (5) hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.

 

My journey to Islam began with one brave soul stepping on a flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2008, and continues to this day as I study and contemplate Islam and the Qur’an.

 

How Does Islamic Home Financing Work?

Diminishing musharakah is a financing program based on declining partnership used for the purchase of homes, assets, or businesses. In diminishing musharakah home finance, the customer makes a down-payment and the bank finances the remaining amount through the sale of equity units to the customer. The customer purchases each equity unit over a scheduled period of payments and becomes the owner of the equity unit. The customer purchases each equity unit until all equity units have been purchased and the customer becomes the owner of the house in full and title is transferred from the bank to the customer. In this manner, the bank and customer are co-owners until the customer becomes the full owner of the property. At the same time, the customer moves into the house and in addition to purchasing equity units on an instalment basis, the customer also pays rent. The rental payments, however, decline according to the purchase of units in the equity unit purchase plan by the customer and the bank’s declining share of ownership in the house. As the customer purchases more equity units from the bank and becomes a larger owner in the house while the bank’s share in the house decreases, the customer subsequently pays a decreasing rental payment.

 

I illustrate this concept in a chart produced below based on a chart by Dr. Muhammad Hanif. Dr. Muhammad Hanif gives the example that a house valued at 1 Million USD Dollars is the subject-matter of a diminishing musharakah contract. Dr. Hanif explains that if the customer makes a down-payment of 20% or USD$200,000 dollars, the bank finances the remainder of the house at USD$800,000 dollars. The bank’s share in the house is divided into eight equity units to be sold over eight years at USD$100,000 each to the customer. The customer purchases each equity unit on an annual basis for eight years increasing his/her ownership of the house by a further 10% each year. Therefore, the customer pays USD$800,000 dollars to the bank in equity units for the eight equity units over eight years. In addition, as the customer has moved into the house upon joint-purchase, the customer pays rent to the bank for renting the bank’s share in the house. In year one, the customer pays 80,000 USD in rent or 10% of USD$800,000. In year two, the customer pays the bank $70,000 USD in rent according to the same formula, In year three, the customer pays the bank $60,000 USD in rent according to the same, In year four, the customer pays the bank $50,000 USD in rent according to the same formula, In year five, the customer pays the bank $40,000 USD in rent according to the same formula, In year six, the customer pays the bank $30,000 USD in rent according to the same formula, In year seven, the customer pays the bank $20,000 USD in rent according to the same formula, and in year eight, the customer pays the bank $10,000 USD in rent according to the same formula. The total that the customer pays to the bank in rent is $360,000 USD over eight years. In addition to paying the bank $800,000 USD for the eight equity units over eight years, the customer pays the bank $360,000 USD in rent over eight years. The rental payments decrease on an annual basis as the share of ownership in the house increases for the customer and decreases for the bank.

 

TABLE

 

According to Meezan Bank, this arrangement allows the bank to claim rent from the customer according to the bank’s proportionate share of ownership in the property and at the same time allows the bank periodical return of a part of the bank’s principal through purchase of the units of the bank’s share by the customer.

 An illustration of the main difference between diminishing musharakah in home finance and conventional mortgages is that if for some reason there is a default in Year 4 of the diminishing musharakah program, the bank will sell the house as co-owner with the customer, and if the house sells at the original estimated value, the customer shall get back $500,000 USD or the amount he/she paid in equity units and the bank shall take 500,000 USD or the value of the bank’s equity units in the house or in the same proportion. In a conventional mortgage, the bank would keep the entire sale price.

 

Steps in Detail (Meezan Bank) 

1.   Create a joint-ownership in the property (shirkat ul milk) between bank and customer;

2.   Bank leases bank’s share in the house to the customer and charges the customer rent.

3.   The client purchases units of the bank’s share in the house through an equity unit instalment purchase plan.

4.   There should be a one-sided promise from the client, firstly, to pay to the bank the agreed rent for the bank’s leased share in the house and secondly, to purchase the equity units of the bank according to the equity unit instalment purchase plan.

5.   The joint-purchase (sale and purchase) contract and the contract of lease may be joined in one document whereby the bank agrees to lease the bank’s share to the client after joint-purchase of the house. This is allowed because Ijarah can be affected for a future date. At the same time, the client may sign a one-sided promise to purchase the units of the share of the bank periodically and the bank may undertake that when the client purchases a unit of the bank’s share, the rent of the remaining units will be reduced accordingly.

6.   At the time of the purchase of each unit, sale must be affected by the exchange of offer and acceptance at that particular date.

7.   It will be preferable that the purchase of different units by the client is affected on the basis of the market value of the house as prevalent on the date of purchase of that unit, but it is also permissible that a particular price is agreed in the promise of purchase signed by the client. (In reality, the bank may have to book the purchase price at the outset of the contract)