Yesterday, a young Muslim woman named Sumaya presented Islam to my World Religions class. She covered the basics of Islam, which I already knew. They worship the God of Abraham. They hold Abraham, Joseph, John the Baptist, Jesus, etc. to be prophets of God, with Muhammad being the final and greatest prophet. They claim that earlier Scriptures haven’t survived unaltered and without error (yup), but that the Arabic Qur’an has survived in original form (could be; it’s fairly recent). They practice the Five Pillars: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, pray 5 times daily, pay the poor tax, fast during Ramadan, and make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. God is compassionate and forgiving, but they hold to the teachings of God (and prophets like Jesus) more strictly than Protestant Christians do, and believe there are greater consequences for sin. “Allah” is the Arabic word for God, and is used by Arabic Christians to refer to God, too. (I noticed this months ago when “reading” an Arabic Christian Bible.)
I’m always disappointed by the misconceptions about what I consider “true” Christianity, misconceptions that Christians themselves (myself included) propogate. And I always look for opportunities to present the real Jesus. Sumaya presents Islam often and I imagine it is a thrill for her to clear up misconceptions, especially among Westerners.
Sumaya was humble, confident, loving, at peace, and true, so much so that she was sexy without me knowing a single feature of her body (she was dressed very modestly).
I did disagree with her about Islam and violence. The history books I’ve read claim that Muhammad led military conquests and established a political empire. Sumaya claimed that Muhammad only fought in self defense and that Islam was spread by trade. This is probably a disagreement between historical texts, just as there are disagreements among historical texts about Jesus.
I also disagreed with her about jihad. It does mean a struggle with one’s inner self, as Sumaya claimed, but many non-radical, practicing Muslims know it also means a military struggle for the cause of Islam, and consider that a valid method of spreading truth in certain circumstances. Update: Somebody (how they found my blog I’ve no idea) commented with a link to this article, which may be useful in explaining the concept of jihad to non-Muslims like myself.
Without further ado, here are three major things I love about Islam, in the way Sumaya presented it:
1. Islam is pure. Just as in all major religions, there are divisions in Islam (Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, etc.), and there are non-practicing Muslims and wrongly-practicing Muslims. But practicing Muslims seem to me more unified in belief and especially in deed compared to Christians, Jews, or Buddhists. This is probably due to the recentness of Islam’s origins, the Five Pillars which daily reinforce Muslim belief and practice, the dedication by many Muslims to read the Qur’an in the original Arabic rather than translations which cause endless confusion of language, and unifying cultures (Islam is popular in community-oriented cultures, Christianity is popular in independence-oriented cultures). It’d be hard to prove this, but I bet there are a greater percentage of Muslims who memorize parts of the Qur’an than Christians who memorize parts of the New Testament. And perhaps a greater percentage of Muslims who pay the poor tax than Christians who give tithe. And perhaps a greater percentage of Muslims that abstain from drunkeness or premarital sex or other harmful behavior than Christians.
2. Islam is practical. As Sumaya said, Muslims believe that “one thing leads to another.” If you don’t affirm your faith daily, your faith may suffer, so a Muslim prays 5 times daily. If you take on loans to start a business, you will accumulate debt you may not be able to escape from. So Islamic nations prefer or mandate business partnerships rather than business loans. If you start dating and spending lots of alone time with a romantic partner, sex may precede marriage. So Muslims don’t date: potential partners get to know each other with the stated purpose of interest for marriage, over the phone or together with another friend present.*
3. Islam is honorable. One thing that bothers me about Judaism and Christianity is the persistent personification of God. I’d much rather consider God holy and of a totally different nature than we can comprehend than something similar to a human father, human king, human servant. Perhaps God wants to relate to us in this way, but I often feel I am merely bending the unfathomable God into my little perceptions to make me feel comforted or special or something. Islam affirms that God is God and there is no other, and he is not personified. Islam does, um, earthify heaven, though, as a desert oasis (not surprising, since Islam was born in desert).
Many features of Islam are attractive to me. Of course, many features of humanism are also attractive to me, on a more superficial level. But I believe the truth is that Jesus is Lord.
* Some ask, “How could you really know if you want to marry someone without being alone with them?” I think you can know someone well enough to decide to marry them. What you’re actually missing is total intimacy, which is exactly what you should be missing until marriage. Don’t give your heart away until there is mutual commitment.