DR. BILAL PHILIPS
Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips was born in Jamaica, but grew up in Canada, where he accepted Islam in 1972. He completed a diploma in Arabic and a B.A. from the College of Islamic Disciplines (Usool ad-Deen) at the Islamic University of Madeenah in 1979. At the University of Riyadh, College of Education, he completed a M.A. in Islamic Theology in 1985, and in the department of Islamic Studies at the University of Wales, he completed a Ph.D. in Islamic Theology in 1994.
Abu Ameenah taught Islamic Education and Arabic in private schools in Riyadh for over ten years and for three years he lectured M.Ed. students in the Islamic Studies department of Shariff Kabunsuan Islamic University in Cotobato City, Mindanao, Philippines. Since 1994 he has founded and directed the Islamic Information Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (which is now known as Discover Islam) and the Foreign Literature Department of Dar al Fatah Islamic Press in Sharjah, UAE. Presently, he is a lecturer of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University in Dubai and Ajman University in Ajman, UAE.
Bilal Philips, once a Christian, is now an Islamic scholar. He received his B.A. degree from the Islamic University of Madina and his M.A. in Aqeedah (Islamic Philosophy) from the King Saud University in Riyadh. His deep study and understanding of Islam has won him the respect of ordinary Muslims as well as many learned scholars of Islam.
“There is no time for holidays”, says Bilal Philips, “when you realise how little time there is, and how much work has to be done for Islam.”
Born in Jamaica in 1947, he comes from a family of educationists. Both his parents are teachers, and one of his grandfathers was a church minister and Bible scholar.
Bilal came from a broad-minded family, and though he went to church regularly every Sunday with his mother, he was never forced to go. He says: “Going to church was a social event, more than a religious one. What was being taught went right over my head.”
When Bilal was eleven, his family migrated to Canada and for the first time the sensitive boy began to feel that all was not right with the world.
“Most of the Canadians at that time were Euro-Canadians”, he says, “and the Europeans, of course, had an idea of their own superiority. They had gone around and smashed up everybody else’s society, so they had to justify the destruction of human civilisation by promoting their own superiority over others. Those feelings are expressed in much of their literature, in films, on television and so forth.”
Growing up in an environment where one is different from everyone else and trying to rationalise it was hard for a little boy. Little discrimination hurt more as he became a teenager. “Later on”, he says, “my parents told me about the struggle they had to go through; they had to face much more in society than I had to as a child at school.”
Bilal’s first contact with a Muslim society came when his parents moved to Malaysia in the capacity of teachers and advisors to the ministry of education under the Canadian Colombo Plan.
Though much happier there, Bilal hardly noticed that he was in a Muslim country. The British had been in Malaysia and had left their traces behind. His friends were either Euro-Asians or anglicised Muslim Malaysians. Bilal formed a rock group and began to play the guitar professionally. He had a motorbike and was quite popular and consequently his A-level studies suffered.
While in Malaysia Bilal’s parents adopted an Indonesian boy who happened to be a Muslim. Mrs. Philips was quite aware of Islam and made it easy for him to fast and pray. Bilal understood that this boy was different once when opening the door to his new brother’s room and he bumped his brother on the head as he prostrated himself in prayer. Not being interested in religion at that time, he did not pursue the issue.
Bilal’s parents felt there were too many distractions in Malaysia for him, so they decided to send him back to Canada to the Simon-Frazer University in Vancouver.
Back in Canada, Bilal stepped right into the volatile student movements of the late sixties and early seventies. The drug culture and hippy movement was being propagated by such prestigious persons as Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary.
In certain classes the lecturers would pass marijuana cigarettes to the students. They would smoke together and then start the classes.
At this time Bilal’s goal was to become a medical artist and thus combine his love for science and art. To this end, he had taken up biochemistry and had also received a scholarship from an art university.
Before he could fully pursue his goals, he found himself getting deeply entrenched in student politics. The seed sown during his childhood, the idea that something was amiss with Western society and things needed to be changed, bore fruit now. He began to get involved with student movements. There were sit-ins and strikes, sometimes there were more violent protests and the police would be called in.
Professors were introducing socialism into their classes. Impressed by this, Bilal began a detailed study of the work of Marx, and soon considered himself to be a Marxist-Leninist. “Socialism was presented as a programme for change of society”, he says “rectifying injustices and making sure there are equal rights for all. This change was to be brought about by revolution.”
His search for a political solution led him to California. Here he worked with black activist movements like the Black Panthers. “These movements were all black movements, the figures in the forefront were mostly blacks. Since the blacks were the most oppressed group at that time, naturally their voice was the loudest. However, they were widely supported by white college kids. Eventually everybody got on the bandwagon. There was a women’s liberation movement followed by the gay liberation when the homosexuals started coming out of the closets.”
Soon disillusion set in. “Many of these people were deep into drugs. They collected money for what they called defence committees and used much of the money to pay for their parties, their rents and their drugs. They were like leeches living off the people’s donations.”
During this period there also existed a “black movement known as the Nation of Islam” or, more popularly, the Black Muslims, founded by Elijah Muhammad, who concocted a religion called Islam but which was totally different from the real thing.
He taught that all black men were gods and all white men were devils. There was one major god who had come and taught Elijah, and Elijah was his prophet. At that time the autobiography of a former follower of Elijah, Malcolm X, was very popular. Malcolm X had left the Black Muslims after being its leading spokesman and had found real Islam. He was assassinated within six months of his conversion and had little time to use his rhetorical skills to promote the real Islam. Thus only a few who read his autobiography grasped the significance of his journey.
Bilal, who had read Malcolm X’s autobiography, visited one of the temples of the Black Muslims. Though impressed by their organization and the fact that their women dressed modestly, he found their ideology useless.