Why be a Muslim?
As a revert I am often asked why it is important to be a Muslim. A plethora of answers are available, but only one is intellectually honest. Some argue that Islam is a religion of ethics. Others say that it encourages freedom - both personal and collective. Others invoke the sunnah of The Prophet (saws), rich in tradition. To my way of thinking, these answers do not suffice.
Islam is ethical, that is true, but so are many other religions. Islam does encourage freedom, but so do many other academic, social and cultural movements. Islam is the rich in tradition, but what of other, more ancient religions? Besides, since when is age a criteria for religion?
Since Islam is not the only ethical, traditional or philosophical tradition, why should we be Muslims? What does Islam have that no other religion has?
The only honest answer can be summed up in one phrase, the shahadah: a ilaha illa-llah, wa muhammadan rasulu-llah. Allah's (swt) message has come to every single person, through The Prophet (saws) He gave us His Quran. (1) This is a religious answer that requires a leap of faith, that is true; but what else did you expect from a religious revert?
The moment you say the shahadah, you have distinguished yourself from every non-Believer on the planet. By what right do we distinguish ourselves? By what right do we establish a difference between ourselves and others? By virtue of the pact Allah (swt) struck with us through The Prophet (saws). Allah created the Ummah, and with that we stand apart from others.
An Accomplished Man
The Prophet (saws) was forty years old when he discovered his faith in Islamic monotheism. He examined every possibility and analyzed every faith system before reaching his conclusion. (2) As a young boy, he was renown for his strong character. As an adult, he gained fame for his morality, generosity and hospitality. (3)
He was beloved for his kindness and respected for his conviction. He was a trail blazer in the philosophy of religion; a scholar of original, even revolutionary, thought, who brought thousands to tawhid. He was persecuted for his faith but miraculously established our deen.
These tales were preserved in the annals of Islamic tradition and documented by the Sahaba, but the Quran itself is mute on this era our Nabi (saws) history. The Prophet (saws) introduced the Quran to the world, when Allah (swt) instructed him to do so.
The Founder Of the Ummah
The Quran gives the foundation by which Muhammad (saws) established the Ummah. There is scholarship in Islam, but Islam is not defined by scholarship. There is conviction in Islam, but neither is Islam defined by conviction. The same is true of kindness, morality and even persecution. They all exist in Islam, but they do not define Islam.
The Prophet (saws) was not unique among the people of his day by virtue of his many qualities. He was surely a man of note, but he was not a category unto himself. He was not the founder of the Ummah. Not until Jibrael (as) appeared to him and gave him Allah's (swt) first message 'Iqra' or read.
It was then that Muhammad (saws) began the Quranic journey that culminated in the 'Uranah valley of Mount Arafat'. (4) It was through these acts that the Islamic Ummah was born. The Prophet (saws) surely required all the qualities listed above for Islam encompasses all these qualities. Yet these qualities alone do not define Islam. Islam is defined by Allah (swt), the Prophet (saws) and His choice of a faithful Ummah.
This is the essence of Islam. Without it we have no reason to be Muslim. The noble qualities espoused by Islam are available, in one form or another, elsewhere. The only element unique to Islam is its divine mandate as set out in the shahadah. To reject it, is to reject Islam itself. To embrace it, is to set ourselves apart.
Muslimeen and Mushrikeen
Many are uncomfortable with the notion of a 'people of Allah' because it evokes shades of religious fundamentalism. Should we set ourselves apart? Isn't this a form of religious fundamentalism?
I make choices every day. I decide which coffee shops to enter and in which stores to make my purchases. Which books to read and which television show to watch. Each decision entails a form of choice -- my standards are that which is halaal and that which is haraam. I also choose between that which suits my tastes and that which does not.
I don't view those I choose against as evil. I pass them by only because they have yet to meet my standards and needs. The moment they alter their style or become halaal to fit my tastes I would select them too. Such decisions are just a form of choice.
Muslimeen are not better than mushrikeen; their religion is. Anyone can join this religion. A mushrik, who reverts to Islam is every bit as a member of the 'people of Allah' as those raised in by a Muslim family.
Nuh, you might say, the entire notion of a 'people of Allah' might be true if Allah (swt) did indeed give us the Quran and The Prophet (saws). But can you prove that he did? (5)
This is an article of faith -- the first pillar, yet I suggest that you give honest consideration to the following thought. Millions of people throughout the world heard about Islam from their parents. These parents heard it from their parents, who in turn heard about it from their own parents. This chain of tradition goes back hundreds of years, but it had to originate somewhere.
Is it reasonable to assume that at some point in history a group of zealots persuaded an entire generation to accept a hitherto unheard of tale of fantasy? Is it reasonable to assume that not a single voice of dissent was heard at that time? If there was dissent it would surely have been recorded.
By contrast, is it any less reasonable to assume that the Sahaba believed it because they experienced it themselves?
2) Muhammad: Who is Muhammad (IOL Shariah Researchers)
4) Delivered on the Ninth Day of Dhul Hijjah 10 A.H