‘Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion’ is often seen scrolling across headlines of Western media. Muslims make up a global population of 23.2%. And this population is growing by birth and conversion rates.
The conversion rate of Islam is something that perplexes the average Western consumer of media. As an outspoken convert to Islam, I find that people often want to know why I or anyone would convert to Islam and not another faith.
My aim is usually to discuss and promote things I love and believe in. But the questions keep coming: why not Judaism… why not Buddhism… why not a different sect of Christianity, etc.??? What I have found is that most converts will have similar answers to these questions.
As most converts to Islam are usually seekers, they search several faiths and find beauty in them. But they also find things that do not speak to or sit well with their innate belief (Please note that space prohibits discussing different schools of thought and sectarian beliefs of each faith. What is discussed here is the overarching features of world religions).
Christianity: A global population of 31.5%
The Beauty: Most of the world knows his name and respects his actions and what he has left the world with. And this respect and love for Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him – PBUH) is something many throughout the world consider a very beautiful part of Christianity. Jesus taught forgiveness and love in much the same way Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did.
“Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” (Ahmed) could very well be a statement of Jesus (PBUH), but it is a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Similarly, one cannot be a Muslim if he or she does not believe in Jesus as one of the most noble Prophets.
The belief in God almighty is another feature of Christianity that speaks to the nature of the human soul. The soul feels a need for a greater purpose and a path to a Greater being, this is found in both Christianity and Islam. Another inspiring feature of the faith is the fact that Christianity promotes a strong community and brotherhood, similarly found in Islam.
The Points of Contention: The concept of “original sin” is one that is hard to wrap one’s head around. The injustice in the belief that one soul can inherit a sin that he or she neither witnessed or had any say in is unjust. Our inner selves rage at the very thought of being charged for a crime someone long ago committed.
Islam teaches that each and every soul has only to answer for itself. The Quran states in several places:
And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another (35:18).
Islam also teaches that Adam and Eve (Peace Be Upon Them) were forgiven for their sin and that human beings were created in a good nature, not in sin.
Furthermore, the concept that we need someone to die for us to be absolved of “original sin” is another sticky point for many. Besides the fact of the injustice of the idea “original sin”, the idea that God needs an innocent person to be tortured and sacrificed for those who are guilty informs the follower of such a faith that God is unjust and merciless–utter impossibilities.
Similarly, the belief that faith alone i.e. accepting the innocent sacrifice to absolve your guilt, is enough to save one from God’s anger is another difficult idea to understand. If all it takes is to say something and possibly even to believe it and nothing else is required, then why is a moral code even needed? Why don’t we walk out and take and do whatever feels good without regard for others or even social justice if one “knows” he or she is forgiven?
In Islam, not only does no one bear the burden of another, the faith affirms human agency- without question we are each capable and accountable for working to save ourselves through belief and the fruit of belief-good deeds, moral conduct, seeking justice in this life.
And finally and perhaps most importantly the trinity as featured in modern Christianity is a logical impossibility. Christianity demands a blind and uninformed belief in the trinity. But human thought leads us to the conclusion that belief should be believable.
A believer should not be asked to shut down thought or have to do logical and mathematical acrobatics to understand what it is they believe. Worshiping a prophet, a holy spirit, and the Creator of all including that prophet and that holy spirit all as one god is something that many question.
Islam is clear in stating that God is utterly indivisible, and creation bears witness to His Oneness:
If there had been in them (the heavens and earth) any gods except God, they would both have certainly been in a state of disorder (Quran 21:22).
Judaism: A global population of 0.2%
The Beauty: Judaism is a truly Monotheistic faith. The Quran makes mention of Jewish peoples of old associating partners with God, but this is not a feature of the faith today. Its adherents worship God alone and follow God’s laws.
And in their following of their moral code God revealed through the older prophets, they love and revere these prophets of old. All of this is shared in common with Islamic belief. Abraham, Moses, and Isaac are all prophets greatly respected and revered in Islam.
In Judaism, The Torah brings the Jewish community together. Traditionally, a portion of the Torah is read every few days in the presence of a congregation. And it is this reading of the holy book that is one of the bases for community. This is a striking similarity to the reading of the Quran in congregational prayer that takes place five times a day. Islam encourages all those who can to gather to hear the revelation and share in communal life.
The Points of Contention: Put bluntly, Judaism is a difficult religion to join. Even if you study and do convert, Jews (except for Reform Judaism) do not recognize a convert to Judaism to be truly Jewish. This is largely because Judaism is not just an identifier of belief, it is also considered by many as a nationality or ethnicity and therefore only hereditary.
If this faith can only be inherited according to many Jewish schools of thought, then it would be considered something you are born with and not something you can earn. How can there be justice in a faith that claims salvation is only for those born as chosen, and no matter what righteous actions one takes, they will never achieve this status?
Islam teaches that God chose the Children of Israel as long as they chose to uphold the covenant with God. This is an action based theological point. Islam teaches that any person can control their actions, choose God, and therefore be chosen by God.
And finally, Judaism teaches a belief in a messianic figure. But they have rejected the last two prophets of God, Jesus (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH).
For those of us who revere and respect all the true prophets of God who came with the same message of monotheism and good morals, this is one major point of contention. For those of us coming from Christianity and having a deep love for Jesus, this is a point of departure.