Seven admirable things about Islam

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I have lived for some time among Muslims in the Middle East during the 1980s and 1990s–and taught many of them here in the USA since the late 1990s. This contact has begotten enormous admiration for them. My colleague, Mike Parker, suggested that I post some reasons why I admire them. I thought that this was a grand idea. The only problem I have is choosing only seven reasons (Mike suggested five.). I won’t have space for many more. This list is in no particular order:

1. Islam asks for alms of 2.5% of Muslims’ income to care for the needy. As you know, we Latter-day Saints fast for two meals per month, then give a fast offering, for the same purpose. As our Prophets and Apostles and other authorities ask for a generous fast offering, I think the Muslim 2.5% level is a good benchmark in determining generosity of offerings.

2. Muslims care for personal morality. When I was a grad assistant several years ago, some of my Muslim students approached me asking about a Evangelical-led protest of the university’s “Gay Pride Week.” They wanted to join the Evangelicals’ protest against moral degeneration. I’ll tell you how it went another day.

3. The Quran often fills in historical gaps left by the Bible. For example, rape was a capital crime in ancient Egypt (actually in most societies–until recently), yet, the Patriarch Joseph was imprisoned, rather than executed [Genesis 39:7-20]. Why was that? The Sura, “Yusuf” (“Joseph”), clarifies: Potiphar’s (The Quran calls him by his title, Aziz) wife was a known liar, but to prevent Potiphar from losing face, Joseph had to suffer some punishment–an unfortunately too-common occurance throughout history! [See Quran 12:27-33].

4. Muslim culture seems to put a high premium on hospitality. In my experience, typical Muslims seem quite eager to give the shirts off their backs–if that is what it takes–to show their guests a good time. It is so important to them, they will feel insulted if they are not permitted to show hospitality.

5. Remember all those Greek and Roman plays and other writings? While some of them were preserved by medieval Christian monks, it is quite possible that much of the literature, history, and other accomplishments of ancient Greece and Rome would have been lost forever without the Muslims copying them down. As things stand, it took more than a millennium to regain the flush toilet; imagine how long it would take if we would have had to “reinvent the wheel.”

6. The Muslims didn’t just preserve knowledge; they extended it. For example, the bane of high school freshmen everywhere, algebra, was a Muslim invention, from 1,000 years ago.

7. Moreover, the Muslims have enriched our lives with fine literature like the stories of Sinbad, the sailor (not the comedian!), “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and Aladdin and his genie.

There are many more things for which I admire them that I haven’t listed.  Maybe some other day.

Another reason I thought that this list was a good idea was that many people think of Islam as a barbaric religion. These people tend to confuse Islamofascism with Islam. I will distinguish the two some other time.

25 thoughts on “Seven admirable things about Islam

  1. austin

    Wonderful list. I took an Islam and the Gospel class at BYU and it really is amazing how many parallels there are in Islam with the restored gospel. Definitely a beautiful religion, and very sad that it is seen only as a terroristic organization in the eyes of so many when there are plenty of “Christian” terrorists too.

  2. AEP

    Perhaps in a future post you could focus on why a Latter-day Saint in particular can admire Islam, or about spiritual qualities of Islam rather than culture and outward markers. I’m struggling to admire Islam — I’m willing, but struggling — since a young relative converted a year or so ago. All I can see is how the conversion has narrowed her view of who she is and who she can become in the eternities, and how the outward markers have narrowed her life. I very much need to understand what, if anything, there is to Islam that a Latter-day Saint would recognize as spiritual, or as answering life’s great questions, or leading her to God — anything beyond the 1,001 seemingly random rules that constrict her day-to-day life now.

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  4. Mike Parker

    Steven,

    You are an honorable man. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your thoughtful and charitable post.

    I have not been to the Middle East, but I have had the opportunity to work with and around followers of Islam, and in every case I have found them to be considerate, pious individuals.

    At the time the Newport Beach Temple was being built, a Muslim coworker asked me if I would take him to the open house. I did, and it was a wonderful experience. We favorably compared the LDS temple experience with the Hajj, in that both are expected of observant followers, and both are life-changing initiatory experiences that bring us closer to God. That conversation is one of the sweetest experiences I have had.

  5. DavidH

    Regarding zakat, or the Muslim’s obligation to contribute for the needy. I am not Muslim, but as I understand it, the calculation of Zakat is tied to one’s assets, not just income. The determination is something like 2.5% of one’s assets from the prior year increased by one’s income for the current year. There is a minimum asset amount to be subject to zakat. Perhaps Dr. Peterson or another Islamic studies scholar can clarify or correct this understanding.

    http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/Zakat/ This site also includes a zakat calculator.

  6. Seth R.

    I think another point of commonality is that, like LDS, Muslims seem more concerned with a correct life than correct abstract theology.

  7. Steven Danderson

    Hi Austin!

    The good news among Christians is that we pretty must marginalised the terrorists among us. We still have our share of jerks, but they are quite unlikely to use terror.

    The bad news is that Islam is now facing its moment of truth: Can it overcome its terroristic extreme fringe? I hope so, because if 900 million Muslims cannot assert true Islam to prevail against its lunatic fringe, what chance do the rest of us, especially a dispirited, soulless Christianity, have to live, let alone thrive? :(

  8. Steven Danderson

    Hi AEP, David, and Seth!

    AEP, I think Seth is quite right about Islam being a religion more of behaviour than theology. That said, there is also a Muslim mysticism movement.

    Like Catholicism and some Protestant denominations, Islam has set, ritualised prayers that must be uttered–in Arabic. I’m not sure what practical, day-to-day significance those prayers have for non-speakers of Arabic, but it is a musical, poetic language, and there may be some mystical or emotional impact in the phrasing that tone-deaf me cannot begin to appreciate. However, my Branch President from the first time I was in the Middle East, Terry Smith, is much more knowledgable about that subject than I!

    David, thank you SO much for the link! I am always glad to learn more. You may be right about the alms being 2.5% of assets rather than income, but Middle Eastern Muslims have all told me the latter. Of course, that may be similar to the LDS conundrum of tithing 10% of gross or net pay….

  9. Steven Danderson

    Hi Mike!

    Thank you so much for the good wishes! Most Muslims are indeed devout people trying to please God, as we Christians are.

    I know that we’ve had some differences in the past, and I hope you understand a little more why I think I do, and, when I differentiate Islam from its violent, pharisaical fringe, I hope you will understand more.

    God bless you all!

  10. Steven Danderson

    Hi AEP!

    One other thing: While I believe that the LDS position is usually better off than the Muslim position (though Muslims disagree! ;) ), we must also see where the person is coming from. If a person converts to Islam from atheism, that is a good thing. If a person converts from devout Christianity to Islam, then I’m not so sure.

    Now, if a person who was a devout Christian loses faith and is about to retrogress to atheism, then I would think that we owe Islam a debt of gratitude for salvaging that person’s faith in God.

    I recall President Hinckley, during the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, UT, telling Larry King that there were some Latter-day Saints who had lost their faith, and maybe the Baptists could salvage some of it.

    Perhaps we ought to have the same attitude….

  11. Ray Agostini

    Unlike the more experienced people here, I have never lived in a Muslim country, though the largest Muslim nation in the world is our neighbour (Indonesia). The industry I work in is dominated by about 80% Muslims (mostly Lebanese Muslim), and my boss is a devoted Muslim. What I have noticed is that there is a difference between practising and lapsed Muslims (I have worked for both types), the latter tend to be more honest and fair, and indeed, merciful. Yesterday I spoke to one of my workmates who recently returned from Mecca (last year). He told me that the experience was “indescribable”. “You feel so close to God”, he said. Yesterday I finally opened a Muslim/Heathen dialogue with him (excuse my thwarted humour), which I’ve wanted to do for months now, and it will be on-going, as we meet during working hours. I asked him to briefly clarify what Jihad meant (we didn’t have much time). He put it this way, and I’m paraphrasing: “If I see a beautiful girl walking in the street, with mini-skirt, my tendency is to look, but I avoid looking. That is Jihad.” I know Jihad has different leanings, and I’ll be exploring this concept with him more. “Do Muslims want all others to become Muslim?”, I asked. “No, we believe we are right, and have the truth, but we will not force anyone to accept Islam. You can worship as you please, but we will tell you we know we are right.”

    The paradox for me is, and I quote AEP above:

    I’m struggling to admire Islam — I’m willing, but struggling — since a young relative converted a year or so ago. All I can see is how the conversion has narrowed her view of who she is and who she can become in the eternities, and how the outward markers have narrowed her life.

    I’m really not sure if this is a wise trade-off. You are a nice, benevolent person, charitable and kind, and you love God (Allah), but with all that charity, I see a narrowness that pits one religion against another, one claim against another (often encourages fanatics, and fanatical worldviews), and I really have to wonder if this healthy in the long term (insert Jesus’ saying about relatives turning against each other here). Do I, as practising Heathen, feel charity and compassion for others? Just as much as my Muslim friend, and I completely echo his sentiments in being fair, honest, and dealing justly with others, but I don’t believe “my God can beat up your God”. This is where, in my probably misguided opinion, religion fosters unhealthy exclusivity, bias and judgement which is not conducive to true tolerance and openmindedness. (Do we really have to paint all gay people with the same brush? Some of them really think “Gay-Pride” marches are ridiculous, too)

    Do charity and good works only follow strong religious/theological beliefs? If they do, then what happens when a person loses that exclusive belief? Does it necessarily become Dostovesky’s idea that without a belief in God there can be no morality or charity? I think not. I think this is an individual thing. But what say ye?

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  13. Seth R.

    Ray, I’ve always seen the refusal to take a religion seriously, for fear of closing yourself off to other religions to be one of the truly “narrow” mindsets in the USA.

  14. Paul

    Steven Danderson: I recall President Hinckley, during the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, UT, telling Larry King that there were some Latter-day Saints who had lost their faith, and maybe the Baptists could salvage some of it.

    Would you happen to have the exact quote or know where I can find it?

  15. UmmFarouq

    As an American Muslim who accepted Islam nearly 14 years ago, and who lives in the M. East, I very much appreciate this post and its tone. Also I think these comments are wonderful. Thank you for realizing that the majority of us are not living in, on, or around the lunatic fringe.

    Interfaith dialogue is so important. Keep up the good work.

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  17. Greg Smith

    …don’t mention jihad

    “Jihad” is a term that is, as I understand the matter, much debated among Muslims. Not all (and, I would venture to guess, MOST) do not see it as an invitation to armed conflict against others (e.g., “the west”)

    Many see it as the command to struggle against evil within themselves and the world. Christians have similar rhetoric (“put on the whole armor of God”) that could be likewise (mis)used to justify violence.

    Muslim readers can doubtless correct me if I’ve gotten that wrong.

    Greg

  18. Rudy

    Greg,

    That sentiment is wishful thinking at best. Or have you not noticed how everytime there is a terrorist attack, so-called moderates like CAIR, ISNA, et al say NOTHING denouncing the terrorists? Or have you not read in the quran the use of the word jihad, and how in over 90% of its uses it is used to denote violence against infidels?

    As for muslims caring about personal morality, they are even more hypocritical than Christians. Human trafficking, prostitution, and slavery all run rampant in the middle east. The number one searched topic on the internet in the middle east? Why that would be sex, followed closely behind by sodomy.

    And of the 2.5% alms, most of that goes to fund terrorists. Just look at Gaza, where Hamas cries that people are starving, running out of fuel, yet they seem to have plenty of money to buy rockets, launch them at Sderot, and shoot farmers across the border in Israel.

  19. Greg Smith

    so-called moderates like CAIR, ISNA, et al say NOTHING denouncing the terrorists? Or have you not read in the quran the use of the word jihad, and how in over 90% of its uses it is used to denote violence against infidels?

    I don’t presume that the “so-called moderates” speak for all Muslims. It doesn’t match the experience that I have had personally with them.

    The number one searched topic on the internet in the middle east? Why that would be sex, followed closely behind by sodomy.

    I expect that sex is probably the number one search for anywhere with the internet. That’s a human problem, not a Muslim one.

    I don’t for a minute thing all Muslims live their religion, or are admirable. But, this is a thread about what is admirable about Islam, and there is a great deal that is.

    And of the 2.5% alms, most of that goes to fund terrorists.

    Call for references. How on earth would you know what several hundred million Muslims do with their alms?

  20. Steven Danderson

    Hi Ray!

    Frankly, I must dissent from your apparent view that a lack of religious conviction means better people, and agree with Dennis Prager. Seeing a group of tough-looking kids approaching me on a ghetto street would make me nervous, but I would–justifiably–feel relieved if I saw them carrying Bibles.

    When I was in the Middle East, I also felt relief–again, justifiably–whenever I saw people carrying copies of the Holy Quran.

  21. Steven Danderson

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks for all the comments!

    I invite you to peruse my latest blog. I hope this provides more context.

  22. tk

    This post is apropos; I just finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel” today. It has left me with a lot of questions about Islam. In this book Ali shares her personal experiences growing up as a young Muslim girl.

    She has shared some startling statistics in the book. I would be very appreciative if there is a Muslim woman who can speak to her experiences compared to the author’s experiences.

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  24. apral

    you know i am a Muslim and hearing all of you talk like that about Islam i always know that god can do anything and i feel so much better that there is steel hope the world doesn’t led to a bad place and all we see and do is bad
    people always know the truth between the selves but they decide to do what they like

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