‘Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion’ is often seen scrolling across headlines of Western media sources such as CNN, Huffington Post, and BBC to name a few. 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??? 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).
Hinduism: A global population of 15%
The Beauty: A feature of Hinduism that attracts many to study the faith is the concept and justice of karma. Whatever you put out you will get back makes sense to those of us who are trying out hardest to be good people in a world where being a good person sometimes seems to be detrimental.
In Islam the concept of justice exists in this world and the hereafter. Islam dictates that we should work our utmost for justice in the world. God instructs us in the Quran:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.[…] (Quran 4:135).
In Hinduism, there is a beautiful passage from the Gita:
“Worn out garments are shed by the body; worn out bodies are shed by the dweller.”
This idea that the soul is eternal is appealing. The human being, when they think about their own existence, has a sense that we are more than physical bodies and our purpose is not just to satisfy our physical needs. In Islam, there is a great emphasis on this eternal existence of the human soul. We die but our souls live on.
The Points of Contention: In Hinduism, the concept of karma holds that the good and bad will be rewarded in this world and then the soul will be reincarnated with another physical form once again in this world. However, we know that justice will not always be reached in this world.
We see in this world that some people who do grave injustices and evil live a life of luxury while they get away with their crimes. Islam offers solace in knowing that even if karma or comeuppance never catches up to some, in the hereafter, ultimate justice will be reached by The Ultimate Judge and Owner of the Day of Judgment.
In Hinduism, the Caste System is hard for the mind to deal with since it necessitates injustice for the lowest “untouchables” considered outside the caste and therefore outside of society itself. Yet Hindus hold that your social standing depends on a cycle of birth and rebirth in this world.
Whereas, Islam informs us that each individual should be judged only on their actions and intentions of those actions, not doomed by birth. In Islam, each person has one chance at life in this world, one soul, and one judgment. To think that you keep coming back to this world to live in different circumstances seems to many like a punishment in and of itself.
Finally and most importantly, the concept of God in Hinduism varies depending on what tradition and philosophy an individual follows, including monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism, etc. Having no singular conception of God let alone a belief in One God leaves one confused as to what the religion really teaches. A conception of God is a central and centralizing factor of belief.
Buddhism: A global population of 7.1%
The Beauty: Buddhism heavily emphasizes finding inner peace. It is believed that inner peace can lead to world peace. In Islam, this is also true. The root word “slm” of Islam means peace. This concept of peace in Islam is what a soul experiences when it has surrendered to its Creator and has given its due rights to everything created in this world.
Buddhism is also a faith that has a strong spiritual component. It directs its adherents to never be absent minded, always conscious of what one is doing.
The moral code of conduct in Buddhism is called the five precepts. And it states that lay adherents of the faith should: abstain from killing; abstain from stealing; abstain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct; abstain from lying; abstain from intoxicants. Each of these components of Buddhism is strikingly similar to Islamic thought.
The Points of Contention: Buddhists do not believe in God. This is a concept that many are not willing to accept. If we are spiritual beings, then where does that spirit come, where is the connection with the Greater come from? What is our source and how can we return to it? Islam answers these questions that Buddhism cannot.
As with Hinduism, Buddhists hold that the soul experiences many deaths and rebirths in this world and all the pain and suffering experienced comes from having human desires. This cycle of suffering, dying, and being reborn into a world of suffering only ends when a person attains nirvana or the “blowing out” of the desires even the desire to attain nirvana itself.
The idea is that true enlightenment and release from suffering in this world cannot be attained until everything in this world including the self is annihilated. The practical application of this is… hard to say the least.
Whereas, Islam teaches us to find a middle path between going to extremes in following our desires and complete self denial. Islam teaches us that feeling desire in itself is not bad nor does it lead to suffering. Our human impulses are inborn in us so that we may continue our existence and the path God has planned for us until death reaches us.
The desire to eat drives us to sustain life and strength but we should not overeat and become gluttonous. The desire to procreate assures that human life itself continues. But Islam moderates this, saying procreation should not be with just anyone as the mood strikes.
In Islam every desire felt by the human being has an appropriate time and place to be expressed, never denied completely, leading the individual to not feel so constrained as to break, but never so unencumbered that one acts only on impulse to satisfy desires as an animal would.
Islam also teaches that there are many, many wonderful things in this world meant for us to enjoy. We are travelers in this world, only here temporarily. While traveling can be difficult and suffering happens to teach us and polish us, it’s not all bad. As travelers, we should taste the food, see the sights, and thank God for all the wondrous things He has created for us.
Islam offers all the beauty found in these religions and none of the drawbacks. So, why Islam and not any other religion? Because Islam is a global religion that speaks the very soul of a unified God necessitating a unified creation. Islam is about justice, human agency, and forgiveness. It teaches us about the nature of the soul, good conduct, and community.
To those who truly learn about Islam, it is a beautiful faith.