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Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

As my understanding of life and religion in general and Islam in particular has grown over time, I
have increasingly felt that it is easier to find weaknesses in others faiths than being able to
conscientiously, coherently, and tenably explicate ones own choice.

There are several reasons for this difficulty. People unavoidably develop some innate
rationalization in favor of their inherited faith, where faith and culture become inseparable.
Furthermore, for some, religion is a matter of blind faith, not amenable to rational explanations.
Yet others hold that these are all based on mystic experiences and, therefore, beyond reason and

My personal choice of Islam is based on the totality of my experience: rational, spiritual, mystic,
natural and so on. No single aspect by itself fully satisfies me or adequately justifies my choice. I
am aware of the common human tendency to be inherently biased toward ones inherited
background. At one point, my attachment to Islam may have been nothing more than that.
However, I want to be able to explain my commitment in rational terms. Thus, while affirming my
faith in Islam and continuing to study it critically, I decided to educate myself about other faiths.

Many of the ideas contained in other faith traditions are well-meaning, elegant, sophisticated and
honest. Even atheism and agnosticism have powerful arguments. However, as I studied the
great religions of the world and pondered over them and I continue to do so increasingly I
found myself at peace with Islam. I should note that I am not talking about either the
traditional/legalistic or non-traditional/spiritualistic Islam, both of which are shrouded by historical
baggage. I am talking about Islam and its essential principles, based on the divine revelations
gathered in the Quran, and the non-contextual, universal aspects of the Prophetic legacy, as I
understand them, and not human constructs that try to expand or clarify the faith.

The first thing about Islam that appeals to me is its simple belief system that does not torture my
common sense. While Muslims have piled up a ton of dogma regarding virtually every aspect of
religion, basically Islam stands on a very simple, no-nonsense approach to essential beliefs.

There is a God, one and only God, who created us as part of the universe. Even though we share
this universe with our fellow creations, God has made us distinct as thinking and discerning
creatures that are able to reason and make choices. We are expected to acknowledge God in our
lives by searching for and affirming his guidance and upholding it to the best of our ability. There
is a life after death, which includes a Day of Judgment, when God will hold us accountable. Those
who would find favor with God in light of his guidance in this world would go to paradise and enjoy
eternal bliss. On the contrary those who would find disfavor with God would be doomed. This, to
me, is the essence of the Islamic faith, which I find compatible with common sense. Having said
this, the bottom line of Islamic message is that, despite many attributes of God, the defining
attribute is that He is ar-Rahman (Most Merciful) and ar-Rahim (Most Gracious), and that the
salvation ultimately rests on the grace/mercy (rahmat) of God, which is personally most important
to me.

Second, just as human beings as part of our natural disposition we search for explanations or our
life and existence, if there is a Creator or God, it makes sense that we should be receiving
communication from the Creator. Thus, I find the idea or role of divine revelation meaningful and

Currently the author is the Head of the Center for Islamic Finance at Bahrain Institute of Banking
and Finance. The article was originally prepared in 2007.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2128360
relevant, and as such the Quran particularly appeals me for two reasons. (a) It is direct
communication from God, not merely accounts written by inspired authors or by devoted disciples
and witnesses, and (b) whether one believes in the Quran or not, it is preserved in the original
language as was received by the Prophet Muhammad. This refers only to the Quran and not to
other sources of Islamic law and tradition.

Third, the concept of balance (wasat) is at the core of Islam. Much of our problems in human
society are related to imbalances that we are vulnerable to. There is a constant tension in human
life - between the individual and the collective, materialism and spiritualism, consumerism and
asceticism, ritualism and intellectualism, nationalism and universalism, and so on. Islam
encourages us to seek the balance and moderation in our lives and through its essential
principles and values, it guides us in our pursuit of that balance.

Fourth, Islam is a universal religion not tied to any specific race or geographic area. Islam is not
Muhammadanism, because it was not founded by Prophet Muhammad. Instead, Islam is the
same essential message that began with Adam/Eve and continued through all the divine
messengers (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and so on), culminating in the final revelation of the
Quran through the last Prophet sent by God. Islam is not a new faith; rather it is both the
confirmation of the same pristine faith and message that came through all the previous
messengers. For the same reason, Islam acknowledges one origin of the humanity and invites
the entire humanity as one toward the path of God, sharing the concerns about damnation and
the good news about the salvation in the life hereafter.

Fifth, Islam enlightens me to value family relationship, which extends to the humanity as a family
of Adam and Eve, of which we all are parts. It teaches me to think in terms of humanity and
devote myself to serve the humanity. Some Muslims may believe that only Muslims are to be safe
from the hands and tongues of Muslims, but the Prophet also taught that a believer is he from
whose hands and tongues the entire mankind is safe.

Sixth, Islam, in terms of its essential creed, values and principles, steadfastly proclaims the final
message and guidance of God, and as such invites the rest of the humanity to embrace it as a
continuation of the same essential message sent through earlier prophets. At the same time,
Islam also calls for cooperation with others in good deeds and non-cooperation in evil deeds.
Thus, as a Muslim I cannot harbor hostility towards others except those who practice
oppression/injustice and I am urged to build bridges for good common causes in this world.

Seventh, Islam calls for justice. It sets a much higher standard in regard to its followers
commitment to justice in a thoroughly non-partisan manner. A Muslim must stand for justice, even
if it means taking a stand against oneself. Thus, in taking stand on any issue, our conscience in
harmony with the divine guidance should be our guide.

Finally, Islam calls upon human beings to connect directly with God. A Muslims relationship is not
a mediated relationship. We are to think, reason, and reflect. We are to apply our reason, seek
knowledge, and make conscientious choices. This is consistent with the notion of human freedom
in Islam. The very account of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Quran is based on the notion
that we are endowed with faculties to discern and make choices. Islam is based on choice, not
coercion. Unfortunately, the coercive tradition prevails in some quarters, as is evidenced, for
example, in the case of punishing apostasy. However, any punishment for apostasy contradicts
Quranic and prophetic legacy.

Some of these aspects are not unique to Islam. Thats understandable, because Islam is not a
new and separate religion but a continuation and a completion of older traditions. There might be
certain things in other religions or philosophies that I very much like, but none of those
comprehensively satisfies me on the main points articulated in this essay. Thats the context in
which Islam becomes my choice. Yet, just as I value and uphold my choice, Islam also teaches
me to respect others freedom to choose.