Muhammad Knut Bernstrom was born in 1919 in Sweden and he died in 2009 in Morocco. Between Two Worlds tells the unusual story of how this Swedish diplomat, writer, scholar and Quranic translator found his way to Islam.
by Valerie Grove
Knut Bernstrom had served as a diplomat in Spain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela before becoming ambassador to Morocco in 1976. The impact of this posting was profound: he took voluntary retirement in 1983 and converted to Islam in 1986 taking the name Mohammad. He remained in Morocco to study and then began his huge task of translating and interpreting the Quran for a new generation of Swedish Muslims.
His interest in Morocco, however, had started before his diplomatic posting there. Captivated after a short visit, he began learning Arabic from a Saudi acquaintance in the diplomatic service. While still at his posting in Spain, he visited Morocco at weekends to further his studies.
A scholar and knowledge seeker from the outset, Bernstrom was driven by a deep need to understand the truth of each place he lived. He wanted to immerse himself in all facets of that country’s culture, language and history in order to understand it. Unlike most diplomats, he particularly wanted to meet and talk to ordinary people rather than sticking to prescribed, diplomatic spheres. This drive to understand combined with the fact that he was an incredibly gifted linguist, gave him fluency in numerous languages. It also made him in the words of one of the Moroccan contributors to this film: “Perhaps the most trustworthy ambassador on the face of the Earth”
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Less obviously to those around him, Bernstrom was also a spiritual seeker. He was born into the Swedish Lutheran church, but converted to Catholicism as a younger man. However, it was not until he encountered Islam in Morocco that he found the stability, cohesion and divine truth that he sought.
Between Two Worlds considers events in his life that shaped him and pieces his story together with scenes from his life in Morocco. There are many insightful observations and anecdotes from friends, scholars and colleagues with his humility, open mindedness and generosity noted by all. In conclusion, however, it is perhaps his own words that best encapsulate his journey in life and his eventual destination in Islam:
“During my time as a civil servant at the ministry of foreign affairs I visited many distant countries, and I experienced that the more I travelled the more I understood that the human race is one and that there are no differences. Even in a strange country with strange concepts everything makes sense.”