Letters on Islam:

 Written by a Father on Death Row to his Son

 [Editor’s Notes: Mohammad Fadhel Jamali was born in the town of Kadhimain (near Baghdad) in 1903.  After graduating at Beirut and Columbia, he taught for some time before entering public life.  In 1943 he became Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   He was a member of both houses of the Iraqi Parliament, and he was eight times Foreign Minister and twice Prime Minister.

In 1945 Dr. Jamali signed the Charter of the United Nations on behalf of Iraq, and subsequently led his country’s delegations at most of its sessions until 1958.  He was also the leader of the Iraqi delegation to the Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung in 1955.  After the overthrow of the Hashemite Monarchy in 1958, the Revolutionary Military Tribunal sentenced him to death, but this was later commuted to ten years’ imprisonment; he was released in 1961 after serving three years of this sentence.  In 1962 he was appointed Professor of Philosophy of Education at the University of Tunis.  He is the author of numerous monographs, articles and books in English and Arabic.

Presented herein are two letters, (selected from 24), written by Dr. Jamali to his son, while on death row in 1961.  He died in May 1997.]

“… There is no doubt that the awe of death dominates every living man when he is exposed to peril, for man, like any living organism, strives by nature to survive.  But, in my case, besides the feeling of awe for death, I had another feeling, that of comfort and inner peace resulting from: a deep faith in Allah the Sublime; peace of conscience; and sympathy, kindness and loyalty of friends . . . .” [Introduction to:  Letters on Islam, by Mohammad F. Jamali]

Baghdad, March 3, 1961

Dear Abbas,

After presenting you my good greetings, I pray for your safety, success and guidance ….  Your letter of February 11 raised some points, which I will continue to answer in several letters, Allah willing.  Here are some of my observations now:

What is a Religious Experience?

A religious experience is a human feeling of awe and holiness and attachment to what is worshipped.  There goes with this feeling a collection of beliefs and acts, individual and social.  This religious experience dominates the self, internally and externally.  That is why inner peace of the soul for many human beings demands that they should be religious.

 A Religious Tendency is Inborn:

Several studies in psychology show that readiness to be religious in found innately in individuals and that the need for religion is a natural requirement for guaranteeing happiness, stability and direction in life.  No doubt the degree of readiness for religion differs from one individual to another, for one individual has more readiness than another.

The Evolution of Religions: Nearly every individual worships.  Human beings used to worship natural phenomena like the sun, moon, stars, animals, trees, rivers, stones, idols, then gods who had unusual shapes and qualities as recorded in the myths.  Then they worshipped individuals, or power, and some worshipped the state, the party, or technology, etc.  Man continued to change his worship until he rose above the worship of anything sensuous or limited.  He freed himself from all bondages, intellectual or material, in his worship, and started to worship Allah, Who existence is a necessity, and Who is infinite, and “nothing is like Him”; “vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends all vision;”  (see letter of April 14, 1961).  He is Allah of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. (Peace be on them all.)

The concept of evolution in religion is actually well recognized.  The worship of Allah, the One and Sole One, means the liberation of humanity from any bondage, material or individual; for man will not worship any of the creatures created by Allah, nor will he worship a human being, nor what human being has produced, but he will worship Allah alone.  This, in my view, is the highest stage in the evolution of worship.

The Acquisition of Faith:

Man acquires his faith either through social heritage by learning the religion prevailing in the environment, or through the path of observation, contemplation and thinking.  You may know from your reading of the Qur’an that Abraham (Peace be on him), when he looked at the stars, then at the moon, then at the sun, used mind and rejected the worship of them just as he rejected the worship of idols which do not speak, and he reached faith in Allah the High.  Or, man acquires his faith through the path of sentiment: fear, and love, and hope; or by the way of intuition and revelation; or by a combination of more than one of these ways.

I do not agree with those who say that faith is contrary to reason.  This is nonsense; for faith involves the whole of self, completely with all the thought, sentiment, and will that it contains.  

Religious Beliefs and Acts:

He who lives in a society is supposed to move with the group, and he who deviates may become ostracized, and here arises the problem of blind imitation and evil fanaticism. This usually exists in less developed societies—societies where freethinking and good education do not prevail.  As for societies, which bring up their children properly, they act in accordance with Allah’s saying:

“There is no compulsion in religion, truth; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error.” (The Cow, 2:256)

These are some of my observations on some of the points you raised in your letter.  They are observations derived from my personal experiences and reading, and they are liable to be corrected or modified, for I am still a seeker for truth, and a student of learning.

I transcribe for you the holy verse 108 from the Chapter of Jonah:

“’Say: O people! Indeed there has come to you the truth from your Lord, therefore whoever goes aright, he goes aright only for the good of his own soul, and whoever goes astray, he goes astray only to the detriment of it, and I am not a custodian over you.” (Jonah, 10:108)

Salaams to whoever asks about me from among the friends and professors.

Keep safe for your father.



Baghdad, 23rd Holy Ramadhan, 1380, March 10, 1961

Dear Abbas,

After presenting you my good greetings, I pray for your safety, success and guidance.

I thank you for the book, The Purposes of the Philosophers, which reached me today.  I have had no letter from you this week. I am comfortable in my fasting, praise to Allah.  I have memorized well, the Chapter on Luqman.  Herewith I am continuing my comments on your letter dated February 11, and my comments will continue through a few more letters, insha’Allah.  

The Importance of Religion for the Individual:

The individual in this world, which is full of vicissitudes, difficulties and disasters, feels a psychic security, and feels that he has strong support and fortified refuge if he happens to be a believer with deep faith.  He will feel that the universe has an Almighty Who cares for him and includes him in His mercy and kindness, and Who overwhelms him with His blessings and gifts, and Who exhilarates him with greatness and beauty of His creation. The genuine believer realizes that the universe has an Almighty who is the source of goodness and blessings and Who is the highest authority on truth, and justice, and the highest source for beauty and light.  

The believer is not a stranger in this universe, but a member of the family, and he came into existence in order to take part in the fulfillment of the great will and wisdom of Allah.  The believer is happy, courageous, and forward-looking, irrespective of what is inflected on him in terms of disasters or difficulties; contrary to the atheist who is overwhelmed with despair and despondency and who declares spiritual bankruptcy vis-à-vis catastrophes, for he knows of no value for life and no meaning for it outside his animal existence.  That is why we observe these days a prevalence of nervous conditions among those whose religious spirit is weak, a condition, which may lead to crime and suicide.

The Importance of Religion for Society:

Religion is a social control.  On the positive side it leads the genuine faithful to doing good, love, mercy and human brotherhood.  On the negative side it prevents the individual from committing crimes and doing evil; for he who fears Allah or he who loves Allah and believes in the Day of Judgment will do no evil.  Social systems that do not rely on religion have to have many security men and intelligence agents, for secular education is not enough to protect man from evil.  However, neither the security police nor the teacher accompanies the individual both in open and in hidden places.  What accompanies man and dominates his self, outward and inward, is faith in Allah.  The believer is the police of himself and teacher of himself.

Religion as a Source of Virtue:

Religion is a source of virtue in its high sense.  That is, religion is a source of the motives for doing the good, and of love, and of mercy.  Here is no doubt that doing good existed before religions, but good was done by instinct, the instinct of self-preservation.  The animal mother is kind to her young, motivated by an instinct and not motivated by mercy and love as in the case of the religious man; and the true religious motive is a rich source of virtue and good deeds.

Religion in the Age of Science:

I assure you that civilized man today needs religion no less than ancient man in spite of the advance of physical sciences, inventions, and penetration of space.  Man today lives in a spiritual and social unrest, which may lead him to collective suicide unless he is imbued with faith and what accompanies faith in terms of love of good, right, and freedom.  That is why some great scholars and philosophers like the well-known English historian, Arnold Toynbee, and the eminent American philosopher, William Ernest Hocking, have begun to emphasize man’s need for religion today.  

Modernity and novelty do not require the abandonment of virtue, the abandonment of worship, or non-submission to the laws of the Almighty, which direct the destiny of man.  Those who left religion behind them began to idolize matter, and they depended on terror and yielded to the Party and its Leader as if they were idols.  Isn’t this a return of humanity to the days of the Pharaohs? Countries which are not religious or whose religion is materialistic do not recognize the human value of the individual, and they treat the non-conformist individual with utter harshness and barbarism.

Those Who fall Short in Religion:

. Sycophant hypocrites who show that they are religious in order to realize their own interests. “He prayed and fasted for an affair which he demanded; when that affair was fulfilled, he neither prayed nor fasted.” (From an Arabic poem.)

. Cowards who appear to be religious so that the community will not brand them as heretics and atheists.

. Opportunists who show themselves to be atheists in order to march with the temporal power of a non-believing group dominating the country for a span of time.

. Arrogant people who hardly learn the ABC of modern science before starting to be impertinent to religion, the prophets and loyal men of faith.

. I believe that the basis of religion is truth and sincerity.  He who is a sycophant or a coward is not religious.  Moreover, faith cannot be imposed on a person.  It is a gift and guidance from Allah.  There is nothing to he hoped from driving into religion the one who is not guided by the guidance of Allah.

I transcribe for you the holy verse 20, from Chapter of Luqman:

“Do you not see that Allah has made what is in the heavens and what is in the earth subservient to you, and He has generously bestowed on you His favors outwardly and inwardly? Yet there are among men those who dispute about Allah without knowledge and without guidance, and without a Book to enlighten them.” (Luqman, 31:20)

This letter may reach you with the occurrence of the Feast of Al-Fitr (Feast ending Ramadhan).  I wish you a happy Feast and ask Allah to give you many more with health, happiness and success.

Give my greetings to whoever asks about me.

Keep safe for your father.


[Source: Letters on Islam, written by a Father in Prison to his Son, World of Islam Festival Trust, London 1978]

[Published in the March 2005 Issue of the Voice of Islam, Islamic Society of the Washington Area, Silver Spring, Maryland]

Posted April 10, 2005