13 Things I Like About Islam

13 Things I Like About Islam September 10, 2010

Islam is going to be a tough one for this series. While I have spoken to Muslims through the wonder of the interwebs, I can’t really say I know any Muslims and couldn’t point you even roughly in the direction of the nearest mosque or halal deli.

A lot of the things I hear about Islam are negative, so finding 13 positive things will be both a challenge and adventure.

13. Algebra

So maybe I don’t like algebra but I definitely respect it. Muslim scholars made significant contributions to mathematics. Well done!

12. Cat Stevens

Now known as Yusuf Islam, this is an artist that has had a lot of influence in my life.

11. Idries Shah

This Sufi hung out with Gerald Gardner and Robert Graves. Makes him pretty awesome in my book.

10.Dave Chapelle

I’ve only ever seen clips of his television show but I enjoyed his work in movies. I really respected his decision to step back from his career and re-evaluate his life.


9. Greater Jihad

The word jihad makes us think of terrorists, but the most important jihad, called the Greater Jihad, is against the imperfections within yourself. That’s a powerful thing.

8. The Moors

Just the word conjures up exotic images of swashbuckling men and graceful women in colorful, rich clothing in sunny Andalusia. Anytime I hear the word Moor I feel something exciting and unusual is about to happen. In The Cowboys I always shiver as Jebediah spins the tale of his father, a brawny Moor, who took a castle all by himself.

7. The Satanic Verses

Can you blame me? I am a polytheist after all! I think the story of the Satanic Verses is an important look at how monotheism and polytheism interacted at first. While Judaism built up walls of proscriptions to keep polytheists out, Catholicism made small compromises to convert people away from their indigenous faith. It fascinates me to see a somewhat similar story in Islam.

6. Music

This reminds me of the high lonesome sound of bluegrass and old time music.

This just sounds fun!


5. Sufism

I love mysticism and Sufism is a beautiful mystic tradition, and like Kaballah, can be practiced by those outside it’s “parent faith”.

4.  The Alhambra

One of the most beautiful architectural creations on earth. Before I die I want to see the glowing halls of the Alhambra in Spain.

3. Modesty

Yes, I am a Pagan and I believe that there is nothing wrong with the nude human body, but I do recognize modesty as a sense of decorum, of pride and of having a sense of who you are. Modesty may be wearing nothing but sandals and a sarong around your hips at a Pagan festival or being covered head to toe in cloth. Really, modesty is in your actions and how you carry yourself. Clothing choice is simply a by-product of your actions. So I support women who freely choose to express their values and faith through their clothing.

One of my favorite films about this, and other aspects of conservative religious culture, is the movie Arranged, about a Muslim and Jewish teacher who become friends.

2. Prayer

I can sometimes find it hard to pray once a day, much less five times. Islam’s devotion to prayer is admirable.

1. Hafiz

How do I love Hafiz? I cannot even begin to count the ways. This joyful, ecstatic and mystic poet is said to have learned the Qur’an by heart by listening to his father’s recitations. Hafiz sings of his love of God and God’s love for him and of how he and God often scheme together like old friends. I love Hafiz with all of my heart and soul.

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  • mary

    Regarding the Arabic contribution to mathematics, that is a misnomer.

    “Arab traders brought to Europe (typified in the Arabic numeral system – itself a misnomer, since the Arabs did not invent it but merely acted as the purveyors of this knowledge) was not Islamic or Arabic. In fact much of this knowledge was originally derived from ancient Vedic literature from India and passed through Arab traders and conquests to Middle East and eventually reaching Europe. ”

    To quote from Carl B. Boyer in his “History of Mathematics”,

    “…Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, …, who died sometime before 850, wrote more than a half dozen astronomical and mathematical works, of which the earliest were probably based on the Sindhind derived from India. Besides … [he] wrote two books on arithmetic and algebra which played very important roles in the history of mathematics. … In this work, based presumably on an Arabic translation of Brahmagupta, al-Khwarizmi gave so full an account of the Hindu numerals that he probably is responsible for the widespread but false impression that our system of numeration is Arabic in origin. … [pages 227-228]…”.

  • I didn’t say Arabs invented mathematics, or algebra or even the numeral system. However, to deny they made significant contributions to the field is ridiculous. It’s like saying Romans had no influence on democratic and republican forms of government.

  • Mary, thank you for the comment on math. You said it better than I ever could.

    As for Modesty, I too suppose I can understand your admiration for it, Lady Star. However, I would like to point out that the reason for Islamic modest arises from the belief that women (starting with Eve) tempt men to sin and that by being Immodest, they would arouse the passions of men uncontrollably and thus lead them to more sin, including rape. Even a woman going around with her hair and sometimes her face uncovered is considered such a provocation and violent action.

    This not the noble modesty of a religion such as Judaism. This is the misogynistic modesty of a religion that teaches women are responsible for the sins a man commits against them.

    The only thing I have to say about the Greater Jihad is that while it does refer to the inner struggle, and violent struggle, it also refers to the “non-violent” struggle to make Islam the only religion practiced in the world.

  • I’m no lady.

    The purpose of this post wasn’t to criticize Islam but to actively seek out things I admire in it and it’s culture. You shouldn’t mistake the positive tone for ignorance of the negative aspects of this, or any, religion.

    I abhor anyone who makes a woman cover herself out of fear and shame. Yet there are American Muslim women who do this out of free will, just as there are Jewish, Pentecostal, Mormon, Mennonite and Amish women who choose to dress modestly as a sign of the faith.

    If you associate the dress of conservative religious women with abuse you do them a disservice. The only style of dress I can think of that could legitimately be associated with abuse is the burqa.

  • Star, the Alhambra is magnificent (the building later added by, i believe Carlos V appalling and architecturally challenged. seriously, wtf?). Try to see it at night if you can. it’s just magical.

    I agree with you about modesty too. Here’s my two cents to Norse Alchemist: As far as the politics of wearing the veil, this is something that is currently getting fire from all directions. When I was finishing up my Religious Studies MA, it was one of the major issues being discussed when the topic of religion and gender came up, precisely because it’s not clear cut. There are women who clearly and consciously choose hijab and they ought to be permitted that choice. I look at it this way: if it’s forced on someone it’s wrong, BUT if it’s freely chosen, that’s another story and when you allow that women can choose their own way in life, when you allow that they are free and rational individuals, at some point you have to accept that they’re going to make a choice of which you disapprove. That’s the beauty of freedom.

    I’d add one more to your list, Star: Rumi. :)

  • Galina, I have never fallen in love with Rumi. I’ve tried.

    But be assured, if there is some sort of vast multi-faith afterlife, I’ll be giggling drunkenly with Hafiz, Li-Po, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde!

  • I meant the term Lady as a mater of respect. I am sorry if that offended.

    As for those women in America and elsewhere who wear the modest garments of Islam, I have read on the blog of an Asatru Gothi that he knows such a woman, and that she covers her hair of her own free will, not because someone makes her. But the reason for her will is the same reasons I said above, so that she would not tempt men to sin, because the mere sight of her hair would lead others to evil.

    I do not associate the modest dress of women as abuse to do them disservice. If you look at my comment, you will see I mentioned the Jews, which practice modesty without misogyny.

    Perhaps my comment was not in the spirit of your article. The others of this nature I have enjoyed. But the simple fact that when women dress modestly not because they want to of their free will, but rather out of fear that they will lead others to sin (and thus be punished in this world or the next) with the mere sight of their bodies because years of religious teachings tells them it will, I fail to see how such dress is to be admired.

  • No offense taken. I just prefer not to be called that.

    When I attended a Pentecostal church the idea behind modesty is that our bodies were precious and to be covered out of respect for that. The focus was to be on God and any attempt to look “fashionable” or “sexy” by men or women was frowned upon.

    I liked that the standards were held for both men and women. I never felt that my body was evil or sinful or that I was asked to conceal my body because of that.

    Wiccan robes are generally just as modest as anything Muslim women wear, minus the scarves.

  • My favorite Islamic mystic is actually Rabi’a, but Rumi is a very close second. :) I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a volume of Hafiz though.

  • Matt Gerlach

    One of my favorite things about Islam, which I heard from a Syrian classmate, was that apparently it is expected of Muslim men that they buy their wives a lot of jewelry. The idea, as he explained it, was that the wife would have her own measure of wealth in actual gold and silver that she can wear on her body and flee with if her husband is abusive or if she is separated from her husband for whatever reason.

    Everyone spends so much time talking about how much Islam oppresses women, but it seems to me that there are some interestingly appealing woman-affirming practices to be had in Islam.

  • This is a good list. I like Ramadan and the idea of the 5 pillars of Islam. I like the idea that you fast to remind you of what good things you have and how others suffer in the world. It is a very real way to build reverence and respect. I think putting yourself in the shoes of someone else is more effective than just talking about it, like Christian often do. They can observe advent and give up something . . . but they don’t take it to the same level.
    Thank you for doing this! I’m finding too many Wiccans/Pagans condemn other religions. I’m glad to revel in some of the great ideas that other faiths bring to the world :)

  • Muslim man

    OMG You people are scaring me to death. This is da time told in Quran when pagans would love Islam n Muslims would leave Islam.

    I just found out now dat Dave chapelle, Loon rnb artist, Michael jackson, KRS one, Jedi mind n many many more locals became muslim,…

    Its an old sayin dat says: u know u found what is right when every fool is against it.

    Look for your selfs my ppl. What is da number one thing discussed daily in da media.

  • Muslim man

    Ps: did u knew dat b4 Islam there were absolutely no boundries for how many women a man could marry.

    N with Islam god said u may marry maximum 4 n only when u can provide for them n treat them equally good.

  • Wonderful article! I am not familiar with everything you have mentioned but I find it very interesting. I admire your views on modesty (for both men AND women). Many people interpret the freedom of Wicca as ‘running around naked’. That is actually what one of my (Muslim) friends told me when I told him I follow a Wiccan path. I value the beauty of the human body, the creation of the opposite sexes but I also appreciate pride and holding something special for myself and my partner.