Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

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Colonel Donald Rockwell

Born in Illinois, U.S.A., completed his studies at the Universities of Washington and Columbia, where he won many scholastic honours. Poet, literary critic, author, and editor-in-chief of Radio Personalities. Wrote Beyond the Brim and Bazar of Dreams.

— From the Islamic Review, April 1935.

The above issue of the Islamic Review also contains an article by Colonel Rockwell about his acceptance of Islam. It is reproduced below.


The simplicity of Islam, the powerful appeal and compelling atmosphere of its mosques, the earnestness of its faithful adherents, the confidence inspiring realization of the millions throughout the world who answer the five daily calls to prayer — these factors attracted me from the first. But after I had determined to become a follower of Islam, I found many deeper reasons for confirming my decision. The mellow concept of life — fruit of the Prophet’s combined course of action and contemplation, — the wise counsel, the admonitions to charity and mercy, the broad humanitarianism, the pioneer declaration of women’s property rights — these and other features of the teachings of the Man of Mecca were to me among the most obvious evidence of a practical religion so tersely and aptly epitomized in the cryptic words of Muhammad: “Trust in Allah and tie your camel.” He gave us a religious system of normal action, not blind faith in the protection of an unseen force in spite of our own neglect, but confidence that if we do all things rightly and to the best of our ability, we may trust in what comes as the Will of Allah.

The broad-minded tolerance of Islam for other religions recommends it to all lovers of liberty. Muhammad admonished his followers to treat well the believers in the Old and New Testaments; and Abraham, Moses, Jesus are acknowledged as co-Prophets of the One God. Surely this is generous and far in advance of the attitudes of other religions.

The total freedom from idolatry, even in the modified form of image-worship and adoration of the myriad figures and faces of saints in church windows, statute niches and shrines, is a sign of the salubrious strength and purity of the Muslim faith. There literally is but One God in mosque, home, mind and heart — Allah, undiluted by adulation of gilded pictures and tinted plaster models of many saints, unconfused by likenesses of the Prophet himself, forbidden by the wisdom of the inspired mind which gave to a pagan people the monotheistic Quran. The concept of the Unity of God is not dimmed by the separate worship of a prophet as the son of God, by prayers to the mother of the prophet, nor by belief in the division of the godhead into a trinity, with divine inclusion of a saviour in the spiritual person of the deity, as in the Christian faith. Muhammad, revered as a human revealer of Divine wisdom, has not been elevated to divine status by overzealous disciples and the reflected glory of the roseate glow which martyrdom always casts over its victims.

The original teachings of the Prophet of Allah have not been engulfed in the maze of changes and additions of doctrinarians. The Quran remains as it came to the corrupt polytheistic people of Muhammad’s time, changeless as the holy heart of Islam itself.

Moderation and temperance in all things, keynote of Islam, won my unqualified approbation. The health of his people was cherished by the Prophet, who enjoined them to observe strict cleanliness and specified fasts and to subordinate carnal appetites.

This summer I visited all of Spain’s great cathedrals, many originally built as mosques, and immediately afterward I knelt with thousands of Moors in the mosques at Fez, Marakesh, Rabat, Meknes, Tetuan and other Moroccan cities.

As the noble strains of organ music and sonorous chanting reverberated through the vaulted arches of the dim cathedrals, and the pleasant odour of incense was wafted between the lofty columns of the colossal Spanish churches, I had to admit that these are valuable aids to the staging of a good show. But religion should not lean on the props of a stage spectacle — rather austere purity of prayer without embellishment. Music and incense produce emotional reactions, the products of ecstasy instead of spiritual fervour. They have their place as stimulants for the religious sluggards; they are the wine and coffee of Christendom.

But when I stood in the inspiring mosques of Istambul, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Algiers, Tangier, Fez and other cities, I was conscious of a more powerful reaction — the potent uplift of Islam’s simple appeal to the sense of higher things, unaided by elaborate trappings, ornamentation, figures, pictures, music and ceremonial ritual. The mosque is a place of quiet contemplation and self-effacement in the greater reality of the One God, Allah. It does not need to employ a three-ring circus of sight, sound and smell to attract and hold its faithful congregation.

The democracy of Islam has always appealed to me. Potentate and pauper have the same rights on the floor of the mosque, on their knees in humble worship. There are no rented pews nor special reserved seats.

With full respect for the traditions of another great religion, monasticism does not seem to me a necessary or healthful adjunct of spiritual guidance. Men of normal family lives can appreciate the problems and understand the frailties of their fellow men better than a priest leading an ascetic life, and of course the spectacle of a renegade priesthood, betraying the code of their cloth for the temptations of the flesh, is a deplorable one. Naturally Islam has never developed a priesthood nor bureaucratic church government.

The Muslim accepts no man as a mediator between himself and his God. He goes direct to the invisible Source of creation and life, Allah, without reliance on a saving formula of repentance of sins and belief in the power of a teacher to afford him salvation.

The universal brotherhood of Islam, regardless of race politics, colour or country, has been brought home to me most keenly many times in my travels, and this is another feature which drew me toward the Faith. I have been hospitably received by Muslim brothers from London, Paris, New York, Morocco, India, Persia, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Poland; and my heart has warmed to them all as earnest workers in this great cause.

The copies of the Islamic Review which reached my hands in America were a source of further encouragement to cling to my adopted Faith, and it is a pleasure to pause in my editorial duties to express my appreciation and admiration of the noble work being done at Woking, and to assure my friends throughout the Muslim world of my zealous purpose to aid in the Islamic Renaissance and to establish the Crescent more firmly in the Western world.

— The Islamic Review, April 1935, pages 121–124.

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the successor of the Woking Muslim Mission.