From an anonymous contributor
It’s 2016, and in Australia you can’t go anywhere these days without hearing about Islam.
However, what we hear about is only the mainstream view of Islam. That is, the secular-humanist, atheist view of Islam.
In that view, religion is just a belief system that you adopt or follow according to your own wishes. If it’s your choice, and you think it makes your life better, or happier, or more complete, then no one should stop you from pursuing it.
What we almost never get to hear about, it seems, is what it actually feels like to be a Muslim.
If Islam really is based on the final and most perfect revelation of the one and only creator of the universe, then it should benefit all people. And that is what Islam thinks it is and will do; that much I know. But we almost never hear about that.
I would really like to know what is so great about being a Muslim. What does it actually do for you? What is it like, spiritually? Or physically, for that matter – does it make you feel stronger, or more certain about life? I would love to hear the answers to those questions, instead of all the usual PC droning about how Muslims have a right to their religion, most Muslims are peaceful, Islam is the religion of peace, you aren’t allowed to criticise it; on and on they talk that way.
How about this, instead: Why should I become a Muslim? Wouldn’t you love to hear Tony Jones or any other panellist ask that question to one of the Muslim guests on Q&A?
About 10-12 years ago, after 9/11 but well before Charlie Hebdo and all this recent craziness, I got curious about Islam. In those days, 49% of people did not want to halt Muslim immigration and we did not hear about it constantly in the media. Most people did not care, and Pauline was a ridiculed loser, and she wasn’t talking about Islam anyway. I was inspired by a line from Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon. I’m paraphrasing; this was years ago. But discussing Islam, Gibbon mentions that if St. Peter went to the Vatican today, he would find it unrecognisable to his own experience as a Christian, and would probably be appalled by the wealth and grandeur. On the contrary, if Mohammed were alive today, he would see Islam being practiced exactly as it was in his day. I agreed, and thought, you could still say that, 200-odd years after Gibbon wrote it.
Gibbon’s remark made Islam seem simpler, purer and more timeless than Christianity, with its huge number of sects. You do the ‘five pillars’, and that’s it. That’s life as a Muslim. So I hit the library, and started reading. First stop was the Koran. Elsewhere in Decline and Fall, I believe Gibbon criticises the Koran for being hard to understand; I felt that way too. It’s hard going. But I can tell you this: it didn’t do anything for me. There is a lot of wrath in there, and Allah seems far away. Next to Buddhism and Christianity, it is not that appealing to an ordinary person.
I then read that one cannot read a translation of the Koran, only an ‘interpretation’. One must read it in the original Arabic. Only that is the real Koran. I thought, am I expected to study classical Arabic for ten years just to understand this book that I don’t really want to read anymore due to its lack of appeal? Can I at least have a stirring in my spirit if I am going to give my life to this, as for example Mormons say will happen when you read a certain verse in the Book of Mormon?
I also thought that any religion really must be appealing quite quickly, because nobody has unlimited time to try out all of them. Buddhism has that appeal, and so does Christianity; so does Hinduism and even New-Age religion. But slogging through the Koran, I did not feel any appeal for Islam.
Then there is the problem of apostasy. Say I did become a Muslim, by declaring in front of two Muslim witnesses that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. And say I started going to a mosque, and living life as a Muslim. But what would happen if, after doing this, I realised that it was not right for me? People change their minds; you can be passionate about something one day then forget all about it years later. That’s life. But I read that the penalty for apostasy was death. I was pretty sure that would not actually happen in Australia, but still, it’s a severe penalty, and makes one wonder, why are they so afraid of apostasy? Christianity doesn’t do it that way. Of course they don’t like it when you commit apostasy, but they don’t kill you for it. They leave the punishment to God. “Don’t fear those who can harm only the flesh, but rather fear Him who can send the flesh and soul to Hell.” And the Buddhists are much the same. It seemed to me that any religion that needed to use the threat of physical death to keep me in, was fearful or doubtful about something. If Islam is based on the final revelation of the one and only creator of the universe, it seems that it shouldn’t need thugs threatening to kill people to keep the congregation together.
As all that was going on, there was more and more killing and threatening going on out there in the world of Islam. Muslims seemed to be so fearful and angry, and seeming to need special treatment more than most other groups. The message seemed to be, “Get out of our faces and leave us be, and you’d better watch out if you don’t!” not, “You don’t know what you’re missing out on! Come on, come and join us!”
Then there was the scandal of the Regensburg Address, when Pope Benedict XVI quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel, who in the 14th century said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Benedict got in hot water for that, and a lot of Muslims got angry, but I thought Manuel’s comment pretty reasonable. And if it wasn’t, why not simply say so, present evidence to support your case and let people decide?
Then I found out about ‘taqiyya’. This is the idea that a Muslim may be dishonest to non-Muslims, if it is in the service of Islam. At first, I thought it was bull—; that someone had surely made it up. But it’s real. Then I found out about the idea that Allah is referred to as ‘the best of deceivers’, and I thought that was about enough.
I ended up not going with Islam. What was I missing out on? What are others getting out of it that I could not see?
There has got to be a spiritual side to Islam. What is the spiritual life of a Muslim like? What does it feel like? Take prayer, for example. Do you pray like Christians do? Do you have an equivalent of what Christians or Mormons might describe as a ‘stirring in the Holy Spirit’? Do you meditate? Is there anything like ‘satori’ in Zen Buddhism? Do you experience doubts when Allah does not reply to you?
You never hear the Grand Mufti talking about it to us non-Muslims, or even Waleed Aly.
Don’t tell me I have to become a Muslim to find out what the spiritual side of Muslim life is like. Come on. To make anybody take such a big step that comes with the risk of being penalised for apostasy, there has got to be something pretty powerful to pull in an ordinary person. There’s got to be an ‘in’.
I understand that when Islam arrived in India, many Indians converted because life was more attractive as a Muslim than as a member of a low caste. That was their ‘in’. Likewise, further back in history, some Christians in Egypt liked the invading Muslims and converted to Islam because life as a Muslim would be better; that was another ‘in’. Both of those situations make sense to me. But I’m not low-caste Hindu, nor a medieval Egyptian Christian who’s tired of his lot in life under the Byzantines. What’s my ‘in’?
I’d love to read a genuine reply to this. Maybe there are plenty of Muslims who live peaceful, pious lives, trying to convert us non-Muslims when they can. Maybe there is a genuine, spiritual side that I don’t know about.
Photo by Muslimnity