10 Reasons We Should All Be Fired Up About Islam (From An Atheist)

via Flickr - Saaleha Bamjee
via Flickr – Saaleha Bamjee

My soon to be sister-in-law is a Russian-Muslim …or is it supposed to be Muslim-Russian? Anyway, given the stereotypes, you’ll likely picture a character that’s anti-west, homophobic and super-aggressive, and probably toting a Kalashnikov or something. She falls far short of that, I’m afraid. In fact, she’s almost too nice and introverted. I’m not so ignorant about Russians. My partner happens to be one too. Muslims though, I was completely ignorant about. Then I read up on the 5 pillars of Islam; faith, prayer, giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These are 5 obligatory acts of Islam. I now think everyone should be Muslim. Here’s why…

If you’re Christian, you’re practically Muslim already. The first pillar is faith that “There is no god, but Allah.” It plagiarises the biblical commandments, “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods.” Yes, they’re the same one god. The Arabic word for god, whether you’re Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, is Allah. In fact, Muhammad got expelled from Mecca because he couldn’t shut up about there being only the one god. Later he came back and destroyed all the idols in the Ka’aba. That’s a big win for Christianity as it also prohibits the worshipping of idols and other gods. The characters in the Bible; Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jacob, Jonah, Mary, Jesus, and tens of others are also in the Qur’an. The real problem is we’re too similar so minor differences sets up competition. It’s like fighting between snowboarders and skiers. Do they care about ice-skaters and snow-sledders? No. They’re too different!

It could make you rich. No, you won’t be an Oil sheikh or anything. But Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world with over 1.5 billion followers. If not for religious reasons, get into Islam purely for economic gains. Many people take up learning languages of the top emerging countries like China, Russia, and Brazil. They hope to take advantage of the arising business opportunities. Better I say, to forget learning Mandarin or Russian, and go for the big fish; become Muslim. If it was a country, it’ll be the most populated and prosperous country in the world. If you’re a parent, give your kids the best leg up possible in life. Get them in a mosque.

You develop successful habits. One of the secret to success is having a strict daily routine. Islam, if nothing else, creates discipline and self-control. The second pillar is prayer. Five times a day! Gustave Flaubert, an influential French writer wrote, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Admittedly, a few Muslims take that violent bit too literally, but still. By default, Muslims are early-risers, waking up pre-dawn for first prayer. Rising early is a common trait among highly successful people. If success is measured by money, well, in the top 10 richest countries by GDP per capita, half are Muslim countries. I’m telling you, convert your kids to Islam today, and instill in them the character traits of success!

via Flickr  - menj
via Flickr – menj

You feel charitable while making more money. The third pillar is alms giving, in which non-poor Muslims give a percentage of their income to the poor. The Qur’an actually specifies a donation: one-fortieth of one’s accumulated wealth each year. Only 2.5%! Most people are generally happy to give to charity. What they despise is being robbed by the taxman to give to the poor. United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Brunei; all are Muslim countries. All have zero income tax. Heck! Not only do you get to feel good about giving, you get to keep almost all the money you make. In the UK and US, the income tax rate can be up to 50%. Who are the real terrorist here?!

It makes you healthy. The fourth pillar of Islam is a month long fast during Ramadan in which Muslim do not eat or drink during daylight hours. It’s a religious obligation, but the health benefits of fasting is well documented. It reduces blood sugar and cholesterol, promotes detoxification, boost immunity and lowers blood pressure. After basically a month of detox, you’re going to feel less guilty about your excesses the rest of the year. If you’re trying to quit an unhealthy habit then Islam is for you. Smoking is not permitted during fasting. Alcohol, drugs and gambling is not permitted at all. You owe it to yourself to become a Muslim. …but only if you want to be healthy.

Promotes real equality. The last pillar is Hajj; a pilgrimage in which Muslims must try to fulfil at least once in their lives. During Hajj, over 2 million simultaneously converge on Mecca to perform a series of acts like walking 7 times around a cube shaped building. So if for little else, become Muslim just to be a part of what is ultimately the biggest flash mob performance in the world. Here, Muslims shed all signs of wealth. Both men and women don simple white garments. It’s the epitome of true equality. A pauper is indistinguishable from a Sheikh. Even if only for a temporary moment in space and time, it’s an act that transcends culture, gender, age, language, social status, educational background, and colour. …how ‘bout that …how ‘bout that. …Oh! Just one caveat though. You have to be Muslim.

It makes you more empathetic and appreciative. Almost all the religious duties in Islam sets you up to being more grateful for each day. Through prayer, Muslims express thanks for the blessings received. The prayers are like writing in your gratitude journal 5 times a day. Regardless of who you are, true wealth is feeling abundance for what you have. Only gratitude gives you that. Through charity or alms giving, Muslims develop feelings of generosity and good-will towards others. And through fasting for a month, Muslims experience hunger and thirst, and sympathise with those in the world who have little to eat or drink every day. If you find you can’t develop an empathy for Muslims, try being one.

It’s all about personal development. Islamic extremists and the West have something in common; they both either ignorantly or intentionally misinterpret the word Jihad. The West translates it as “holy war.” What it really means is struggle or effort. It’s a major religious act that many consider to be the unofficial sixth pillar of Islam. Whether it’s a Jihad against poverty, or a Jihad for work balance and family life, it simply represents the struggle to be a better Muslim both spiritually and in practice. Think of it as joining a personal development course than a religion. Plus the word Jihad just sounds so much compelling than goal, or aim or effort. No wonder they seem a more passionate lot. Soo… Got Jihad?

via Flickr - Belal Khan
via Flickr – Belal Khan

You get to be the change you want to see in the world. Jihad translates more specifically as “struggle in the way of Allah.” Islamic extremist think that attacking the west is part of that struggle. But almost all Muslims don’t. Becoming Muslim allows to take back the true meaning of Jihad from them. It allows you to show the world what being a Muslim is really about. You can show that the radical militants who call themselves “Muslims,” are NOT Muslim. They’re nothing like you for starters. It’s opposite of the “if you can’t beat them, then join them” tactic. Instead, you’ll join them to beat them. C’mon, it’ll be fun, like you’re infiltrating the KGB or something.

72 virgins in heaven. Firstly, this is not a good reason to be Muslim. Secondly, it’s not a reason at all. The notion of 72 virgins is not in the Qur’an anywhere. It’s in a terribly sourced hadith that almost zero Muslims believe. Hadiths are basically written down gossip. The further the source from the prophet, Mohammed, the less reliable it is. It’s like the Islamic version of Chinese whispers. Sure, it would have been a captivating reason to become Muslim for a couple of guys. But seriously, the vast majority of us have trouble dealing with one woman, let alone six dozen!!

So, you might now ask, am I personally converting to Islam? The answer is no. I’m atheist. Like all religion though, Atheism is not one monolithic thing. I have more values and principles in common with liberal Christians or Muslims than fundamentalist atheists. Religion is a response to revelations, and different people respond to them differently. For example, the protesters of the ‘Arab Spring’ were inspired by Islam, those who fought the protesters were inspired by Islam, the corrupt governments were inspired by Islam, and this blog post was inspired by Islam. With every revelation, some respond by making the world better, and some, making it worse. That’s true of religious and secular revelations alike. The revelation isn’t the problem. We are. So if you do become Muslim, be the nice kind, …like my future sister-in-law. And remember, “When everyone’s Muslim, no one is!” It’s a line said by Gandhi …which is a fact I made up. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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