Monday, March 23, 2009

What I find attractive about Islam

Most of my friends, when I have told them that I’m considering converting to Islam, have been very surprised and curious. They have wondered, “Why? What would a highly educated queer feminist Jew find appealing in Islam? Isn’t Islam against everything she stands for???”

Well, here is a brief list of the major factors that draw me to Islam:

1.) The basic monotheism, the Oneness of Allah. “There is no god but God."

2.) The abstract unseen power that is Allah. A phrase repeated frequently in the Muslim ritual prayer is “Allahu akhbar” = God is greater. So, what is God? That which is greater! Anything we can sense or imagine as divine can only approximate the greatness of Allah, who is always beyond and exceeding human capacities and worldiness. Allah is the Lord of the Worlds – plural – meaning there are other worlds in which Allah not only exists but also creates and rules. According to the tradition of al-Farabi’s theorizing on negative theology, Allah has no affirmative characteristics. The Quran includes 99 most beautiful names of Allah, and no other qualities can be attributed to Allah. Even the most beautiful names in the Quran are metaphorical/inadequate to describe the greatness of Allah to the extent that these words are in a human language and intended for human comprehension. That is, the Quran says that Allah is All-Seeing, but that does not mean that Allah has eyes or vision like that of humans or other animals. Allah is unlike Allah’s creation. Similarly, the use of “he” as a pronoun referring to Allah does not indicate that Allah is a man or a male creature. Again, Allah is unlike Allah’s creation. Rather the “he” pronoun could be considered a kind of compromise, as there was no adequate pronoun for Allah in Arabic, and the Quran is to be message intelligible to humanity.

3.) Prayer. The somatic component of worship—the Muslim way of praying requires both words and bodily movements; one worships Allah not just with the tongue but with the whole body. The physical act of bowing and prostrating to God. The regularity of prayer (praying according to the prescribed prayer times). The connection of prayer times to the rotation and revolution of the Earth. The elegant simplicity (and complexity in that simplicity) of the words of prayer.

That list is not comprehensive, but it includes the primary elements that draw me to Islam.

There is much about Islam that gives me pause and that seems possibly irreconcilable with ideas and causes that I hold dear to me. However, these three factors sustain my interest in Islam and my project of learning and thinking through how to incorporate Islamic values into my life more thoroughly.


  1. “Why? What would a highly educated queer feminist Jew find appealing in Islam? Isn’t Islam against everything she stands for???”

    Ugh, I remember getting things similar to this when telling people I'm a feminist. They'd be extremely surprised, as if it were impossible for a list of characteristics that includes feminism and intelligence to describe one person to also include Islam. I think that when most people think of Islam--non-Muslims, and sadly, some Muslims alike--they only think of the rigorous set of rules that make up our religious lifestyle, instead of also thinking of the soft, deep-rooted beliefs and that calming effect you get after you practice these rituals--like the world is serene and you have so much love it pulses from you and through you so easily and quickly. That is spirituality, and it is the most important element. With a clean lifestyle you need a spiritually understood self.

  2. Keep going sister, I wish your success in your search for the truth of a purposeful living.