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Sophia Q


What are the most inspirational things you find about Islam?

Love this idea for a challenge! I saw a poll recently that asked Americans whether they had a positive, negative, or neutral view of a religion based on the word alone (i.e. no additional context was given), and Islam did not fare well. In some ways, I get it. Most Americans don't know any muslims, and the media isn't exactly friendly in its portrayal of the religion.

Like all ideologies/philosophies/religions adopted by large groups of people, Islam encompasses "good" and "bad" points and isn't a monolith. That said-- I'm happy to highlight some of its qualities I find most inspirational, as a non-religious individual who comes from both Islamic and Christian family traditions and who loves looking for the wisdom in religion.

NB. My takes are probably more theological than sociological. That is-- most of the points listed here refer to scripture and religious doctrine vs. how the religion is practiced today.

    1. The conceptualization of the divine as beyond our understanding

    I never really understood the Holy Trinity in Christianity (although, to be fair to me, the Holy Trinity is apparently one of the most difficult concepts to truly grasp). In Islam, the divine is not insinuated to be human and is declared to be beyond our understanding. In fact, muslims are encouraged not to spend too much time pondering the idea of god, because it's not productive.

    To me, this is the first step in the process of "faith". We acknowledge that there are forces we cannot understand. I think there's something beautiful in this fundamental pillar.

    2. The description of the divine as entirely multifaceted

    In Islam, there are 99 names for the divine. The Quran opens with two of them, "the beneficent" and "the merciful," and others appear throughout the scripture and in other religious sayings. Some of my favorites include "the most patient," "the guide," and "the capable" (incidentally, this last one is my last name).

    What's interesting to me is that not every name is inherently positive (e.g. "the distresser"). This suggests that the divine's methods may not always be pleasant. Nevertheless, we are taught that the divine works in ways we can't understand, but that there is meaning behind everything. So even when we experience distress, it is with a purpose. Again, here enters the idea of faith.

    3. The removal of caste and class and the idea that we are all equal

    This is a pretty fundamental tenant of many religions, but I find it especially powerful because of my Pakistani heritage. The idea of caste is pervasive across the Indian subcontinent, though certainly less than it used to be. Islam wipes out the divisions of caste by its very nature (at least in theory, although the realities of day-to-day life are more muddled).

    Plus-- conversion to Islam is simple and accessible to all. In this way, there are no barriers to entry. You just need a sincere heart.

    4. There are rich scholarly traditions surrounding the religion

    Since its beginnings, Islamic doctrine has been the subject of debate among scholars. Additionally, literacy, intellectual curiosity, and the furthering of the sciences were traditionally encouraged in Muslim society.

    5. Islam is a detail-oriented religion that does a good job of implementing the theory of being a good person by prescribing practices for everyday life

    What I mean by this is, contrary to Christianity, Islam actually dictates specific actions for believers to take. Certain actions, such as abstention from food & drink and other temptations during Ramadan, reinforce discipline and compassion. Others, such as prescriptions about hygiene, cleanliness, and the foods we can eat reduce sickness. Charity is mandated and is a pillar of the faith. Prayer five times daily is supposed to force reflection and prioritization of values in life. I almost see these ordinances as a way to make "doing the right thing" simple for everyone.

    6. There are no intermediaries between you and the divine

    The divine is always accessible. No need to communicate by way of a priest, and no need to go to a mosque to pray.

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