I spent three formative years living in Senegal, a stable democratic country that is more than 90% Muslim. I emerged with a deep appreciation of Islam, and I believe my experiences as an interfaith child helped me to be open to forming these positive impressions. My friend Surabhi commented on my blog post “Ten Things I Love About Christianity” that there are probably ten things we love about each religion we come to know. So I was inspired to write a personal and somewhat random list for the third of the three Abrahamic faiths.
- Ethnic Inclusivity. Muslims don’t think of themselves as a tribe. Indonesia, Mali, Jordan—three Muslim countries, three different races. I am inspired by Malcolm X’s 1964 “Letter from Mecca,” in which he begins to overcome his own antipathy to white people when he sees Muslims of all colors praying together
- Humility in Worship. When we lived in Dakar, our apartment balcony looked out on a street that was filled each Friday with the faithful bowed down in prayer. Businessmen in European suits and embroidered African robes, and the lowliest street sweepers in rags, all would roll out their mats side by side in the street and kneel down together.
- The Sound of the Muezzin. President Obama remarked on the evocative sound of the call to prayer. We used to spend weekends on the Senegalese island of Goree, where our friend Harriet had a house with a rooftop terrace covered with Mauritanian leather pillows. We would lounge up there, drinking tea right under the megaphone on the mosque next door. Each time the call went out across the island, it moved and thrilled me.
- Islamic Design. In Islam, the prohibition against making figurative art evolved into gorgeous calligraphy, and murals and tiles in intricate patterns tied to the rich history of Arab geometry, algebra and astronomy.
- Islamic Architecture. I remember the silhouette of a splendid minaret against a huge orange moon rising from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Dakar. And the ancient mud mosques of Djenne, in Mali, are worth the endless bus ride from Bamako. Magnificent, like dip-drop castles by way of Gaudi, each spire topped by an ostrich egg.
- Sufi Dancing. I’m a sucker for a circle dance. For all my half-Jewish ambivalence about Israel, I adore Israeli dancing, and Greek dancing too. The Sufi zikr, ecstatic chanting and dancing, has developed a tremendous following in the United States and Europe. Some Westerners seek to divorce Sufism from Islam, and to avoid the Muslim label. I like to credit Islam with giving birth to a practice that has such universal appeal.
- Senegalese Music. The Islamic brotherhoods of Senegal have inspired music appreciated around the world. I groove to the Muslim references in songs by Toure Kunda, Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, and anything by the deeply spiritual Cheikh Lo.
- Rumi. The ever-popular thirteenth-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, widely appreciated for his ecumenical philosophy, was nonetheless a devout Muslim.
- Hagar. Mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and thus the matriarch of Islam, Hagar was exiled in the desert, but survived and prevailed. Israeli peace activists who advocate for a two-state solution in the Middle East now cite her as inspiration. Charlotte Gordon’s fascinating new book revolves around Hagar’s central role in the founding of the three Abrahamic faiths.
- Jesus the Prophet. I’m not the first to realize that the Muslim view of Jesus–that he was one in a line of prophets descended from Abraham–could actually fit into my Jewish (or at least Jewish/Christian) world view. As an interfaith child, I look for these opportunities for a personal “meeting of the three faiths.”
Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.
10 Replies to “Ten Things I Love About Islam”
I have lived in two muslim countries, both had muslims and christians living relatively harmoniously. I don’t identify my love for the Middle East as being based on religion because since coming here to Takoma Park and meeting more Jewish people I see a lot of similarities. But let me list things I loved about living in an Arab country. 1. Ramadan because while you fast during the day, the joy of the season and Iftar is like our Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled in to one. 2. I too love the prayer call especially the first one of the evening with the sun going down…3. I love the Abbeya and the varying types of gallibeyyas that each country wears. 4. Calligraphy and how beautiful the word Allah looks. 5. I agree with the diversity in Islam and its many shades and hues. Can’t think of more at the moment but I know many interfaith families being both Christian and Muslim and how beautiful that blend can be too. Interfaith just like interculture and interracial is a beautiful thing……..
I am so glad to have Sue have the courage to take the RADICAL stance of appreciating other religions. Not only that, by doing so, she helps all of us to engage in a “meeting of the faiths.” Keep up the good work Sue because if this isn’t God’s work, I don’t know what is.
Fabulous Sue. I would also add to the list–the 99 names of Allah. I especially like the shaper, the knower of subtleties, the sublime, the gatherer, the watchful one…on and on. There is no box for this God to fit into.
Thanks for writing this, Sue. I’m not particularly religious, but if there is “God’s work” you’re doing it here. It’s important — even critical — to find the good in other cultures, nations, and religions, especially since it’s all too common to do the opposite.
Salaam! I really enjoyed reading your post. I like looking at similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths too (especially as I converted from Christianity to Islam) – I think it helps us to unite and create positive dialogue rather than fighting about differences. Thanks for sharing! saritaagerman.blogspot.it
Sarita, welcome. I’m so glad you found this blog.The differences are important, but so is the common emphasis on compassion. I look forward to your contributions. Those in interfaith families would love to hear more of your story.
Hello. Beautiful reading makes me wanna share a bit of what i feel about the ffaith:)
I think it’s beautiful how devout Muslims miss the Prophet PBUH although they never really saw him. How they wish they’d meet him. I mean how could you miss someone you’ve never met, someone you only heard in stories. Beautiful love.
And the Prophet Muhammad PBUH felt the same too. Maybe even more. Surely even more that even at his last breath, he spoke of his followers. Beautiful human being that even the worst thing (some considers) I heard of him is how many women he married. And nothing else.
And I think it is beautiful how the Qur’an stays the same all these times. The hafidzhs memorized the Qur’an (I’ve even met those who does not speak that much Arabic) but still remember the Qur’an as it is. Its beautiful, how it stays the same, all these times.
And how the religion balances hope and fear of Allah as a mercy for those who belive.