28 August 2010

In Praise of Islam

It’s been a hard month for Muslims in the United States; and I’m tired of seeing Islam presented as the Other; whether that’s as the Other to be feared and condemned or the Other to be merely tolerated and respected. I’d like to see some full-throated admiration of the Faith. And at this point, I know that’s not going to come from the US media. So here are two things, among many, that I love about Islam. I invite readers to share in the comments section aspects of Islam that they admire.

First off, let’s consider the call to prayer. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the call to prayer is a series of statements chanted publicly five times daily, in modern times over loudspeakers, calling Muslims to perform the designated prayers for that period of the day. Where it is performed, the call to prayer configures public space around a common impulse toward worship. It weaves inspired testimony (statements such as “There is no God but God” and “Muhammad is his Messenger”) with musical intonation in a public performance conjoining spiritual and material excellence. On a personal note, I find this vastly preferable to the way consumer advertising floods public space with its ugly incitements to superficial pleasures.

Secondly, the act of prayer in Islam is not just something one says or reads. Prayer is tremendously physical as well. Whether standing, raising one’s hands, bowing, sitting, or prostrating oneself on the floor, the act of prayer is felt throughout the body. This characterizes not only Islamic prayer, but Bahá’í prayer as well. Bahá’u’lláh writes in one place: Thou seest, O my God, how my spirit hath been stirred up within my limbs and members in its longing to worship Thee and in its yearning to remember Thee and extol Thee. Soul and body are not alienated from each other. Rather they are stirred by a common experience of worship.

Obviously, there’s a lot of things not to like that occur in many Muslim communities. And none of us are blind to the fact that truly horrific crimes are often preached in the name of Islam. But as a society, the United States could really benefit by taking a broader perspective on the Faith. There’s a lot to like, even prefer, in Islam; and we would do well to try to learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters.

On an end note, here's a well titled recording of the call to prayer.

الله اكبر! يا أحباء البهاء


  1. Thanks for writing this. I was just in Morocco for two months and I really appreciated the regular call to prayer 5 times a day. I recall talking with a very nice person at a cafe, very open minded and curious, and at one point he pardoned himself to go pray at the nearest mosque. He was back in 10 minutes. It is nice how convenient it is to pray in Morocco, it is a normal part of the daily routine for a lot of people

  2. Muslims often call Islam 'the natural religion of mankind.' Just like we need to breathe regularly during the day, so should we pray regularly. I think the 5 different prayers at set times reflects this notion. Thank you for the excellent post, Mr. Cat.

  3. I very much admire Islam, for it teaches submission to God. "Islam" itself means submission! God is the omnipotent, omniscience, and a constant. Submission to the Source of Love can often cause someone to love those around him. It creates humility as well, which we could use a lot more of.

    I respect Islam a great deal. They have offered the world much, and it is a shame that extremists groups have put a stain upon Islam. It is a shame that when talking about Islam that the subject of extremism even comes up! Islam is such a beautiful religion that should be respected or at least investigated.


  4. One of the many things I love about Islam is Dhikr, especially in the Sufi context. Reciting the names of the One hundreds or even thousands of times, can really uplift the spirit to a point of ecstacy that most of other life's activities can not accomplish. I have experienced a joy I didn't know I could ever feel, by combining the 5 prayers with the Dhikr. Doing one without the other always felt like there was something missing.

  5. Islam can be credited with bringing a wide variety of cultures together, on a level perhaps unprecedented in previous religions. Malcolm X was so moved by the brotherhood he saw on pilgrimage in Mecca that he reevaluated his own views.

    Stanwood Cobb wrote a wonderful little book called "Islamic Contributions to Civilization" that's a good starting point for getting some historical perspective.