SHAFAQNA- I always had a question in my mind that among various existing religions which one was right. So I started studying different religions and occult sciences (such as astrology and Tarot).
Please introduce yourself.
In the name of God the compassionate the merciful. My name is Dmitriy Kostov. I’m a 21 year old economics student. I’m from Russia and live in Saint Petersburg.
- How did you know Islam and what religion you used to follow before converting?
I was born in a Christian family and I was orthodox Christian like the other Russians. Whenever I did research on my religion, I discovered several paradoxes which made me be opposed to the essence of Christianity. I always had a question in my mind that among various existing religions which one was right. So I started studying different religions and occult sciences (such as astrology and Tarot).
The first time I became acquainted with Islam was at school when I started speaking to my Sunni Azeri friend about Islam and Christianity which attracted my attention to Islam. We went to a bookstore together to buy Islamic books and as soon as the bookseller understood that I was Christian, he started arguing with me in order to make me dispense with my idea of buying books. But when he understood he couldn’t change my mind gave me a book titled “God’s miracles” as a gift.
I read all the books I had bought at home. Some of them had explanations about the gins which were so interesting to me for I had read the Aladdin story when I was a kid. So when my friend said Muslims believe in the existence of creatures named “gin”, I became interested. I read all the books but I didn’t know that all of them were published by the Wahhabis. Some issues written in the books were completely lies or in contradiction with wisdom. For instance in the very book “God’s miracles” there were some pictures of the clouds in the sky which were in the shape of the name of God in Arabic. Well, it wasn’t a miracle in my opinion because it wasn’t an unusual event.
I also read some other articles which were about the converts such as Neil Armstrong the American astronaut. According to that paper, Neil Armstrong heard the call of prayer (Adhan) in a conference in Egypt and when they told him that the sound was Muslims’ call of prayer, he converted to Islam because he had already heard it in the space. Of course every human being is responsible for his own deeds and I don’t intend to say that the author of the article was lying but the story of Armstrong’s converting didn’t convince me scientifically for no sound can be heard in the space.
All these issues made me lose my interest in Islam but my next researches resulted in knowing that Quran is a wonderful book and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is a divine prophet. I also discovered that Zoroaster was a divine prophet living in ancient Persia.
Moreover, I divided the religions I knew into two groups. The first group was consisted of the religions which had only one God and the second group included the religions which had multiple gods. I gave much thought to know which of those religions were right and what finally came to my mind was the righteousness of the first group because the gods in multiple-God religions were dependent and ate food and fought each other. Therefore, they couldn’t be the creators of this world. Even we human beings face challenges and discords while working in a group. So do the gods in such religions. Whereas, God is not dependent on anything and doesn’t need anything. So I concluded that there’s only one God.
The reason I embraced Islam was that I saw such paradoxes and falsifications in other religions. Even some Prophets introduced in these religions had no faith in God. But there’s a story in Gospel of Matthew 21:34 which is a good reason for us about this issue (proving that prophets were sent to us by God).
Once Jesus Christ was talking with a group of knowledgeable men and telling them the story of the owner of a garden: “There was a big garden which its owner hired some employees to work there and share a definite portion of the fruits with him at the end. On the deadline, the owner sent his agent to receive the agreed portion but the workers disobeyed and expelled him from the garden”. Jesus Christ asked his companions: “what should the owner do in this situation?” They answered: “he must punish them, fire them and employ others instead of them.” Jesus also confirmed this solution. Therefore, we can conclude from this story that God has given us blessings and sent us his messengers. If we disobey the messengers it is as we have disobeyed God for they represent God and speak and act on behalf of him.
And when the time of the fruit drew near … – The time of gathering the fruit. The vineyard was let out, probably, for a part of the fruit, and the owner sent to receive the part that was his. Sent his servants – These, doubtless, represent the prophets sent to the Jewish people. (Matthew 21:34)
Another issue is that the priests who intend to argue against Islam say “Jesus had several miracles while the prophet of Islam had none and didn’t foretell anything.” But it’s not right at all because there are many narrations proving Prophet Muhammad had several miracles and predictions. Besides some priests say: “all people witnessed the miracles of Jesus but Muhammad’s miracles were only seen by his companions.” A question can be posed here: who were the companions of Prophet Muhammad? People who lived in his time. So by this argument we can say that the miracles of Jesus were only seen by his companions and the information about them were written only in the Bible (Sacred text).whereas, the miracles of Muhammad were expressed in various books. I also personally believe that none of us have seen the miracles with our own eyes and just know through the books.
Generally I couldn’t find a special reason to change my religion and whenever I thought about doing so I felt scared. But during this hesitation period, I bought a Tajweed (elocution) book in order to learn the Arabic alphabet.
Once, I saw a video clip shared in an Islamic group on the net showing the Christians’ sacred text named 50 signs predicting the emergence of Islam. One of those signs was the revelation of a new song to Prophet David’s tongue. It was claimed in the clip that the song was Quran. I became so angry after watching the clip because it was not true at all. Immediately I asked the members of that group about their claims. I told them “what was revealed in David’s tongue was sent from God but Quran was narrated by Muhammad. Why do you proselytize Islam by false information?” One of members who was a girl from Morocco started talking to me. Although she didn’t answer my question, she explained several issues including a few verses of the sacred texts (Book of Isaiah, 29:11-12) which made me convert to Islam:
The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, “Please read this,” he will say, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, “Please read this.” And he will say, “I cannot read.”
When I read the verses, I remembered the story of Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy when Gabriel said recite and he said “I cannot read”. Those verses influenced me and decided to convert to Islam.
- How did you chose to become Shia
After I converted to Islam, I decided not to follow any sect unless I know which one is right. I studied about Sunnis, Wahhabism and Sufism but there was no information about Shias. I asked my Sunni friends about Shiism and they sent me a video clip showing a Wahhabi mufti explaining Shia thoughts. He said that Shias are followers of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Wahhabis love Ali too for he was the bravest, the most knowledgeable and a just person in the Islamic society. But a few minutes later he said “if anyone believes that Ali is the first successor after Prophet Muhammad (like what Shias do) he would be a disbeliever”. That clip seemed strange and unreasonable to me for the mufti introduced Ali as the wisest and the purest. So how was it possible that believing in Ali’s succession would be a kind of disbelieving? This issue made me curious to know more about Shiism. I asked one of my Shia friends to introduce me Shia sources and he named “Nahj al-Balagha” and “knowing Shiism” by Ayatollah Makarm. I read the books and searched on the net to learn Shia ideology more and more. When I checked the debates between Shia and Sunni, Sunni arguments didn’t persuade me. Even when I read some Hadiths (narratives) of Sahih al-Bukhari, I realized that some of them didn’t describe Prophet Muhammad rightly and so was Sahih Muslim. In general, I couldn’t accept that all the hadiths in a book are mentioned correctly for there are unauthenticated hadiths that we cannot trust them. Besides the criteria for authenticity of the hadith is Quran and according to Quran, Prophet Muhammad’s temper was the best. But in Bukhari it is not written like that.
While searching on Shiism, some questions came to me about a tradition called Tatbir (self-harm in mourning ceremonies done by some Shias). I asked my question from my Shia friend and he replied “prominent Shia scholars such as Ayatollah Khamenei and other grand scholars have declared it forbidden. Tatbir is a wrong tradition promoted by clerics like Yasser al-Habib and some TV channels supported by Britain.” After hearing his reply and based on my previous researches, I became a Shia Muslim.
- Who are your favorite characters in history of Islam?
I love Ahlulbayt very much. Some other wonderful characters have also impressed me such as Imam Sayyid Musa al-Sadr, Imam Khomeini, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Ibrahim Zakzaky.
Imam Musa al-Sadr had a charismatic character and not only Lebanese Muslims but also Lebanese Christians adored him. He made special efforts for Lebanon’s progress and Shiism promotion in Lebanon and his attractive lectures and statements in support of Lebanese Christians were so impressive. He stated “any bullet fired on Deir El Ahmar, Al Qaa and Shelifa (Lebanon’s Christian areas), it is as it has been fired to my house, my children and my heart. Whoever makes effort to put an end to the war in Lebanon it is as he has quenched the fire from my house and my pulpit “.
I believe that Imam Musa al-Sadr was one of the best role models for Shias. He was a scholar with high manners and a brilliant politician who implemented not only religious solutions but also political ones to resolve Lebanon’s crisis.
I also love Imam Khomeini and am proud of him. As one of my friends says, Imam Khomeini reached a goal that even some prophets didn’t manage to reach. This sentence is not kufr (the denial of the truth). It is the truth. Imam Khomeini showed the power of Tavakkul (relying upon God) to the world.
Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was a grand scholar too. One of his books titled “our economy” is attractive to me. By reading this book I figured out that Shias ideology in economics is the best and the rightest. I really wish that someday we can implement the economic ideas explained in this book in real world. But unfortunately only the first volume of this book is translated into Russian. There is also another book titled “our philosophy” by Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr which proves the existence of God and I have heard that even Christians use the arguments advanced in this book to prove God’s existence. I hope I can learn Arabic to be able to read it.
Another impressive figure is Ibrahim Zakzaky who managed to invite 20 million Muslims to Shiism in Nigeria but unfortunately he and many persons similar to him are too oppressed in our world. One of my biggest wishes is visiting him even for once to know what he did to reach this achievement.
In history of Islam I like two figures: Mukhtar al-Thaqafi and Zayd ibn Ali who both fought the oppression and were martyred.
- What other Islamic books have you read?
The first one is Quran. I have also read ‘Nahj al-Balagha (a collection of Imam Ali’s lectures and quotes) ’, ‘knowing Shiism’ by Ayatollah Makarem, ‘Islamic morals’, ‘Al-Kāfī’, ‘ Tawhid’, ‘Ghaibah’, ‘Knowing Islamic sciences: philosophy – kalam’, ‘Irfaan’, ‘Stories of the Prophets’, ‘The ideologies: principles of Islam’ by Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi. ‘Our economy’ volume 1, ‘Money in Islamic economy’, ‘Islamic insurance’, ‘Prophet of Islam’s character’.
- What was your family and friends’ reaction after your conversion to Islam?
At first my family didn’t accept my decision and I talked with them over and over again. Gradually we started putting up with each other.
After my conversion, my friendship with some of my friends was over and now I’m in touch with a few others via internet. Some of my friends thought I had been brainwashed or deceived which was so strange to me for they knew how much I did researches on various religions and how much I studied. In university my classmates asked me why I embraced Islam and after I explained to them they didn’t ask anything else. The reason of their silence is that Russian youths are not that interested in religion.
- How the growth of Islam in Russia is and what opinion do Russians have towards Islam?
The spread of pure Shia Islam in Russia is too weak and Muslims living in Russia are mostly from Azerbaijan and The Republic of Dagestan who are limited in number.
There is an institution in Moscow named “Islamic culture research foundation” which translates the Islamic books from Farsi to Russian with the cooperation of Sadra publication. There is also the Agency of Al-Mustafa International University which I have no knowledge of its activities exactly.
In my city Saint Petersburg there used to be three Hussainiyas, but two of them were closed for various reasons and only one is remained. Even this remained Hussainiya works in Azeri language which is a serious problem for Russian youths who don’t understand Azeri. That’s why the population of Russian Shias is too low. For example in my city Saint Petersburg there are 10 Shias approximately or maybe more and of course some of them are Russian girls who married Azeri men.
The other problem is that Azerbaijan was a part of Soviet Union before and religion used to collapse there. Of course currently religion is growing more but people must do researches themselves and invitation to pure Islam is not satisfactory.
There are several groups working on the internet to preach Islam but some of them proselytize deviant thoughts such as secular Islam and other deviance. There are also some websites and good Iranian ones like Ayatollah Makarem’s website which is so useful and I appreciate him for that. But in general good websites are limited.
In Russia there has been the invitation to Islam for so long which was mostly done by Wahhabis who share their beliefs and books on the net. The other problem is that most Sunni clerics living in Russia have been educated in Saudi Arabia and have Wahhabi ideology. Shias are limited in number in Russia nevertheless Shia clerics make a special effort. In Russia there are Shia families whose children are so talented and interested but their parents are not that religious. They tell their children to go to the mosque and find the answer of their religious questions there. When the children attend the mosque they face various sects with different beliefs and become confused. Recently a new cult named Ibn Sa’aba has emerged whose followers insult prophet’s companions, commit self-harm in mourning ceremonies and worship Ali as their God. Sunnis see the wrong behaviors of this cult and consider it as Shia whereas they are not Shia. Once someone asked me on the net “who Shias are? I’m told not to talk to Shias for they are liars and may bewilder me.” There was also another guy misinformed about Shiism. He came to our mosque, did research himself and became Shia.
In general when someone attends our mosque and shows his incentive to learn about Islam and Shia, our cleric recommends him to study and find the truth himself.
The other distressing issue is introducing Islam by impolite and rude people who have forgotten the behavior of Prophet Muhammad and don’t pay attention to the moral aspects of Islam. When someone introduces himself as a Muslim, people focus on his wrong works and bad temper and attribute it to Islam. Isis members do the same and people don’t realize that real Islam is not like this.
The other problem is caused by the translation of the word “God”. I don’t know why some people are interested to use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ instead of the word ‘God’ which is used in all languages. This is a barrier against the understanding of non-Muslims. For example in ‘Shahada’ (an Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God (Tawhid) and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet) we say there is no god but God whereas it is translated there is no god but Allah. So a question may be posed here that what Allah means or which god is called Allah. Moreover, Christians may suspect that their own God is denied and another God is approved by Islam or they may conclude that God meant by Muslims is different from that of Christians. Therefore, while introducing Islam we must emphasize on the fact that there is only one God who created Noah, Moses and Jesus. There are also some priests who confirm the oneness of Muslims and Christians’ God.
- Have you done anything to invite to Islam so far? And if yes what experiences and recommendations you have?
Yes, I am a member in a group working to introduce and prove ‘Wilayat al-Faqih’ (The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, also called the Governance of the Jurist) and translating the hadiths (narrations) and video clips into Farsi and English.
I myself used to have debates with Christians, Wahhabis and Sunnis but gradually I understood that such debates were pointless for each party of the debate tries to persuade the other one and doesn’t pay attention to his arguments and reasons. For instance once I talked to a Wahhabi and before starting the debate I told him that I couldn’t speak Arabic. So he used my weak point as an excuse to reject my reasons and whenever I sent him the evidence, he said the translation was not correct. Even I took an example from his own website but he refused to accept it and just intended to deceive me. I also had a debate with a Sufi whom I told I couldn’t speak Arabic (of course I knew the Arabic alphabet). He insisted on saying that the word “Shia” was not expressed in Quran and since I knew the Arabic letters, I showed him the verse in which the word Shia was mentioned: (37:83) and (28:15). He didn’t accept it and left the chat room angrily.
In my opinion when somebody asks us about Islam and Shiism and really looks for the truth, he can finally achieve it but the one who only intends to win in a debate won’t reach the truth anymore.
I have learned from several hadiths that our own studying and making progress is more important than the pointless debates and I believe that good-tempered, politeness and political unity recommended by Prophet Muhammad and Ahlulbayt are so considerable. We must attend the congregational prayer and be kind to the people to let them be acquainted with our beliefs and attitudes. We must also study hard and do our best to learn our religious issues for we need to learn and increase our knowledge in every step in our life and do each work in the best manner we can. This is how people can realize that for example Muslims are the best in chemistry, politics and soccer and they are honest and good-tempered.
All Muslims should take action to make Islam associated with progress and development and I believe this is the best way to proselytize Islam.
Alhamdulillah. May God bless you and keep you strong and firm on this true path.
Thank you very much for your attention.