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Alphonse Etienne Dinet- Nasereddine
It wouldn’t be surprising that Islam has touched the talented and erudite artist and writer of the caliber of Alphonse Etienne Dinet. His magnificent paintings have adorned the halls of European museums and galleries. They testify to his high and delicate taste. He has crowned his fame with embracing Islam and supporting it.
Alphonse Dinet has been born in Paris in1861; his parents were Catholics. They taught him the love of Christianity and the church. Later, he will go on to study in the College of fine arts in Paris. Soon, his talent emerged, and his artwork invaded the exhibition's walls. His tableaux have contended those of other gifted artists in Museums’ halls. Honors and awards started coming his way. The silver medal was given to him in the World's Fair in Paris in 1889.
The string of successes Dinet has witnessed hasn’t allayed a latent concern that has worried him every time he pondered his faith. This situation becomes worse when he leafs through his holy book. His natural instinct cannot afford to accept the idea of the canon forgiveness with the innocent blood of Christ. Furthermore, his broad mind also cannot accept the idea of the infallibility of the Pope. He is confounded by what he, and the Pope’s followers think about the person of Christ (PBUH) is he God? Is he the son of God? Or is he just a human being?
How many times has Dinet wondered: how could Christ be God, and the Gospel bears witness that he (PBUH) doesn’t know the resurrection day? “But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son; but the Father” (Mark 13/32).
Alphonse Dinet has returned to the Bible, and has been shocked by he has read in it about the Messiah (PBUH). The Gospels insult him frequently. Sometime they show him ingrate to his mother (John 2/4); another time, they show as a rude person who does not hesitate to curse the fig tree that didn’t have any fruit (see Matthew 21/19-20). However, the worst is yet to come. In the story of the Canaanite woman who has come to Christ, asking him to heal her daughter is the harshest racial insult leveled at this Messenger of Allah. According to the story, he told her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep to the house of Israel... It is not fitting to take away the children's bread and put it to the dogs” (Matthew 15 / 25-27).
Alphonse Etienne’s pain and misery increased when he read what Luke has attributed to Christ “if one comes to me, and does not hate his father and mother and sons and brothers, even himself also, he cannot be a disciple» (Luke 14 / 26-27).
Study and research have indeed led Dinet to conclude that: “Catholic religion does not tolerate dialogue and debate. Many of the evidence-whether moral, historical, scientific, linguistic, psychological [behavioral] or religious have demonstrated that Catholicism is filled with blatant mistakes."
Dinet tried to overcome his worries by using his mind during the search for truth. However, he hasn’t succeeded in accessing major facts without the guidance of prophethood and its sublimity. The human mind is imperfect. It is powerless to walk alone in the darkness of metaphysical matters that have overshot the minds wise men who have preceded him.
Dinet looked around and realized that many of his confused countrymen have found their way to Islam. They have embraced it willingly. This elite of men included Lord Headley, who says: “I think there are thousands of men and women who are Muslims at heart also. However, the fear of censure and the desire to avoid tribulations brought about by changes, conspired in preventing them from showing their beliefs.”
It happened that Dinet found a magazine called “Islamic magazine," a monthly magazine published by European Muslims. He leafed through its pages reading an article entitled “Why some British and other Europeans embraced Islam?”
The article’s writer answered: “because the Europeans seek an easy reasonable scientific creed in essence. We, English people among all earth's creatures brag a lot about our love of work. We look for a creed that would suit the conditions of all peoples their customs and actions. This religious doctrine must be infallible that will allow the creature to stand in front of the Creator without an intercessor.”
Alphonse Dinet wondered about the possibility that the truth was in Islam as alleged by the writer. Then, in 1884 he carried his bag and headed to Algeria and the Arab Maghreb. He moved between its cities, and talked and discussed relevant issues with people. He was watching their livelihood and their religion. He has discovered the invalidity of the claim Orientalists about Islam: “the “Muhammadan” creed doesn’t stand obstacle to thinking as many Orientalists proclaimed. It is possible to have one true Islam, and at the same time to be a free thinker.”
Dinet loved Algeria and its people, and was impressed by their religion. And since 1905, he settled in the city of Boussaâda. There he made up his mind to conduct some comparisons between Islam and Christianity. He was able to record the significant paradoxes, including:
- That Christianity doesn’t see any compunction about drawing the picture of God (Yahweh) on the walls of their churches. The Muslims, on the other hand, do not dare to carve or paint a picture of Allah. He is the God; no one is like Him, and He has no equal.
- Furthermore, Islam is a religion of science and civilization. Dinet liked what monsieur Casanova has said: “The Prophet of Islam is the one who said the merit of science is better preferred to the merit of worship. What a great religious leader or any one of the greatest priests has the audacity to say such a strong decisive solid word?!" And those prophetic words formed the springboard for Muslim's civilization. Dinet mentions few of its creativity in architecture, mathematics, astronomy, geography, medicine and surgery. It’s these sciences that modern Europe, since the dawn of its inception, has borrowed from. “All those wonders have astonished Europe’s minds even in the harshest days of hostility to Islam.”
What has surprised Dinet most in Muslim civilization, what he saw in their chivalrous values? When the West was praising St. Louis's chivalry, Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire was praising the Arabs. He said: “Arabs are credited with modifying the coarse habits of the Lords and knights of Europe and softening them in the middle Ages. They have taught them how to mitigate their passion. They have elevated them to the lofty levels of civility and nobility.”
Dinet gives another example of high morality. He tells the example the governor of Cordoba has set in (1139AD). During the siege of Toledo, the Queen Beranger sent a messenger telling him: “It is not the character of virility and chivalry of a noble knight to fight a woman. The Andalusian Prince returned to Cordoba and ended his campaign. Along with the followers of his civilization, they have become Europe’s teachers in noble manners. Such behavior required a call filled with pain, anguish and a sense of disappointment from Reverend Michon. He wrote the following in his book “Religious Tourism in the East”: “It is sad for the Christian nations that Muslims are the ones who taught them the principles of doctrinal tolerance, which is the greatest code of mercy and charity among nations.”
The journey to find the truth has reached its terminus. It was in 1913, that Alphonse Dinet announced his conversion to Islam in the city of Algiers. In a dazzling ceremony attended by the Mufti of Algeria, and took the name of Nasereddine. He said: “My conversion to Islam fortuitous, nay, it was the result of complete awareness and deep long historical study of all religions." He also said: “When I became acquainted with Islam, I felt attraction and inclination towards it. I have studied it in the Book of Allah, and I have found in it the guidance for all mankind. It further ensures the good to man spiritually and physically. Hence, I thought of it to be the most suitable of all religions to worship Allah. I embraced as a religion, and officially announced publicly.”
He named himself aptly Nasereddine. After his conversion to Islam, he wrote series of wonderful books that defended and supported Islam. At the top of the list was a book titled “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” He penned it two years two years after embracing the faith. He co-authored it with his Algerian friend Sulaiman bin Ibrahim Ba’Amer. In this tome, they have exposed the methods of Orientalists writings and the fallacy of their claim of objective neutrality. The “edifice built by the orientalists’ biography of the Prophet has been a house card built on the edge.” Therefore, Nasereddine turned his back on their writings, and didn’t include them is his reference. He said you, «the reader won’t find between the covers of this book anything of those Western doctrines that work on the demolition of the Sunnah. Contemporary orientalists have a passionate love for innovations or strange ideas. However, the innovations that have sneaked in through this way, has enabled us to disclose that have been sometimes the result of intense hatred of Islam. They were difficult to reconcile with knowledge; hence, not worthy of our times.”
Nasereddine has replaced them with Islamic authentic references. He opted especially for the biography of Ibn Hisham and Tabaqaat Ibn Saad. He also revealed the covert disease that has poisoned the orientalists’ pens and afflicted them with the insanity of the pen. The [Orientalist] will take the most original news and information and deliberately modifies them. The more the news is authentic and true, the stronger the urge and desire to fabricate them. Their actions are based on the principle that says: “(People tend to conceal their flaws and show the opposite)” Nasereddine gives examples to that. He stated that the Belgian Orientalist Henri Lammens wrote a book titled: “Was Muhammad Honest?” In it, he described the Prophet (PBUH) as gluttonous. As everybody knows, this is entirely contrary to the Sunna. He has been known to be ascetic, and for his lengthy hunger, prolonged fast, and the scarcity of food in his home!!
Lammens -in his warped mind- has seen no regret as well in describing the Prophet (PBUH) that he was a big sleeper. It seems he has misunderstood what Allah says in Sura Al-Muzzammil, verse 20: “(Thy Lord doth know that thou standest forth (to prayer) nigh two-thirds of the night, or half the night, or a third of the night)” Furthermore, he didn’t get the gist of the Prophet’s Sira where the swelling of his feet due to lengthy standing has been mentioned.
In contrast, fair-minded people among Orientalists have recorded different testimonies. De wit, the words of the famous historian Gustave Le Bon who said: “If the value of men will be estimated by the greatness of their work; it would be possible to say: that Muhammad was one of the greatest figures in history."
Dinet has also written books in intellect and religion: “The Radiant light of Islam." In it, he explained in more detail what he likes in Islam. He also authored the book “East as seen by the West” and «Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” Writing in response to Lammens, he penned a book titled: “You're in a valley and we are in a valley.”
Nasereddine has also in his credit few literary books. These are “Life of the Sahara," “the Mirage, and “Antar’s Poetry, “the Bane of Colors,” “game of Lights and the spring of the Hearts.”
However, the last book Dinet has penned has been “The Pilgrimage to the Sacred House of Allah.” He performed Hajj in 1929, and wrote the book few months prior to his death. Prince Shakib Arslan, the Lebanese writer described the book as “the best book ever written in this era.” In this book, Dinet presented a critique of the orientalists’ writings on the pilgrimage journey. Dinet included outpouring feelings that overwhelmed him within the time-honored house and in front of the tomb of the Prophet (PBUH).
Before the sun sets on the last week of 1929, Nasereddine died in the Marseille, France. In response to his will, his body has been transferred to Algeria to be buried in Boussaâda: “My funeral must be celebrated according to Islamic teachings. I converted to Islam wholeheartedly several years ago, and devoted all my accomplishments and efforts to glorify Islam. My body must be buried in the Muslim cemetery in Boussaâda where I have completed the bulk of my paintings.”
God blesses Dinet, who said: “Islam has proven from the first hour of its appearance a valid religion for every time and place. It is the religion of natural instinct. The latter doesn’t differ from one person to another. Hence, it is valid for each degree of civilization.”
Dr. Munqith Bin Mahmoud Al-Sakkar
Researcher at Muslim World League
Translated by Sadok Salehi
Translator at Muslim World League