June 19, 2008
The Beauty of Islam
P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News
An Australian convert who embraced Islam in 1981 has been using his television channel — Voice of Islam (VOI) — not only to spread information about Islam but to also promote a better understanding of the faith and its adherents in New Zealand.
In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News, Muhammad Thompson, who recently visited the Kingdom with his family to perform Umrah, gave insights into the challenges facing Muslim minorities in the developed world and emphasized Muslims’ responsibility in presenting the faith in an upright fashion.
“It pains me a lot when I see our Muslim brethren neglect their compulsory prayers, do business without following Islamic teachings and engage in un-Islamic activities without fearing Allah,” said Thompson, who lives and broadcasts VOI in New Zealand.
“Hold fast the rope of Islam and don’t give it up. If you leave it, you are gone and will end up in hellfire. We have to hold on to it in order to enter Paradise,” he said, adding that Muslims are being persecuted for not practicing their religion. “If we practice, we will surely receive the support of Allah, the Almighty.”
Thompson said Muslims should be honest in their dealings. “We have to keep our promises. When we say that we’ll be there, we should be there on time without fail and even while driving on the road, we have to be the best examples.”
Asked why Westerners are reluctant to welcome Islam, he said, “People are frightened of what they don’t know. So, if Muslims become friendly and communicate with others, it would change the situation. We should also open our mosques to non-Muslims so that they can see what is going on there and that there is nothing to be afraid of.”
Thompson expressed his delight over the fast growth of Islam all over the world, especially in the West. However, he expressed his disappointment over the lukewarm approach of many Muslims toward their religion. “The majority of Muslims take their religion for granted. They don’t know the beauty and sweetness of the religion, and consider it as a part-time religion,” he added.
He said 9/11 had encouraged thousands of Americans and other Westerners to study about Islam by reading the translation of the Holy Qur’an and other related books. “This helped them understand that Islam does not preach terrorism and that Muslim women are not oppressed but rather enjoy equal rights. These studies have helped remove misconceptions and enhance knowledge about Islam.”
Speaking about VOI, the chairman said the program has had a huge impact on New Zealand. “Many people have been attracted to Islam through our programs.” VOI programs appear on Triangle TV in Auckland and Wellington, CTV in Christchurch and Channel 9 in Dunedin SKY TV CH 89 and Freeview CH 21.
The TV programs are produced and supplied by a nonprofit charitable trust, formed in April 2004. The trust has plans to expand VOI’s programs to Fiji. “We started the TV to propagate Islam in Auckland and today it covers four main cities in New Zealand. We are now working on a website to enable people all over the world to watch our programs on the Internet,” he said.
The one-hour program, which is aired on Saturdays and Sundays after purchasing airtime on commercial channels, includes recitation from the Qur’an with English translation, lectures on Islam, explanation of the basic pillars of Islam, and Harun Yahya’s Islamic documentaries on the creation of universe and animal life. He commended Yahya’s quality programs saying they are equal to those produced by the BBC.
The TV telecasts Islamic lectures of leading converts such as Yousuf Estes, Bilal Philips, Abdul Hakeem Quick and Abdul Raheem Green. “They present Islam in a convincing manner as they know both sides,” he said.
VOI keeps away from politics, focusing more on general topics such as Islam and terrorism, human rights in Islam, Islam and global warming, the rights of women in Islam and family issues. “I am optimistic about the future of Islam, especially when I see the tremendous response to our TV programs,” Thompson said.
He opposed the emotionally charged outrage that Muslims expressed against the Danish cartoons, which involved the destroying of flags and the attacking of embassies. “This is not the proper way. This is overreaction. We have to deal with such issues in a proactive manner. The boycott of products has been found effective. But this will not solve the problem. Holding dialogue with our opponents in an intelligent manner would be more effective and useful.”
Thompson commended Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s call for interfaith dialogue, saying it would give Muslims a chance to present their views. “We can also hear what others have to say. People of different faiths, including Judaism and Christianity, can find a lot of commonalities,” he pointed out.
There are more than 40,000 Muslims in New Zealand with 12 mosques and Islamic centers in Auckland City alone. “Muslims are not rich, as a large number of them are refugees from different countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Pakistan,” he said.
A born Australian, Thomson moved to New Zealand in 1996 for a change. He embraced Islam in 1981 and met his wife Wafa, a born-Muslim from Egypt, in Australia. They have two children: Aysha and Ahmed.
New Zealand is a very fertile land for Islamic propagation as its people are open to learning new things and eager to know the truth, Thompson said. “When we speak to them about Islam, they are very understanding. Prime Minister Helen Clark has visited our mosque many times,” he adds.
He also spoke about New Zealand’s principled stand on many world issues. It refused to join the US-led Western occupation forces in Iraq. “Even though it is a small country, it is not afraid of saying ‘No’ to America. We don’t support injustice,” he added.
A former Roman Catholic, Thompson explained the circumstances that led him to Islam. “I used to question many things in Catholicism. I could not agree with the idea of a person telling his sins to the priest in order to cleanse himself from sins. I wondered how a priest, who is a human being like us, can cleanse our sins, especially when we see him as a sinful person,” he pointed out.
He continued his search for truth by joining a group for positive thinking in Australia and began pondering about the creation of God. He later read a translation of the Qur’an and came to understand that Islam is a complete way of life while Christianity has many things missing.
“For me, it was easy to become a Muslim because we believe in the same prophets. I found Islam a continuation of what was taught by Jesus and Abraham,” he said, adding that he accepted Islam while in Australia during Ramadan.
Thompson said he had tried to convince his parents to become Muslims by sending books and Islamic TV programs to them. He hopes God will provide them with the ability to understand the truth. “Both of them are in Australia and we enjoy a very good relationship,” he said.