My Gut Response

Guest article by Ashmath, a jewish convert to Islam, now blogger and social commentator. His opinions are not necessarily representative of MDI’s views, but have been reposted here for the purposes of debate and raising the topic.

Here’s an interesting video I found while looking up info on Jewish converts to Islam. Lori Almost Live is a regular video feature at Aish.com, a trustworthy source for information about religious Judaism. And there was a time that I agreed with Lori’s sentiments and I tried to find what I needed in Judaism. But I couldn’t. I thought I’d share some of the reasons here.

  • Nationalism is not a part of Islam. I am free to be a Muslim without needing to support Iran or Syria, etc. Zionism (which is Jewish nationalism), however, is a part of Judaism. To those who might disagree, I’d point to Neturei Karta, the Orthodox Jewish organization that is opposed to Zionism, and how they are vilified by other Jews. Good, “orthodox” Muslims are not required to support Muslim dictators and radicals based purely on their shared faith or ethnicity. But for a Jew to complain about Israeli policies as they relate to the treatment of indigenous Palestinians, or to complain about the tactics used against the land’s prior inhabitants during the founding of the state of Israel, or to complain about Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip, in Lebanon, or the constant drumbeats for war against Iran, is to be called a self-hating Jew. Believing in God and seeking to follow His Will should not force me to accept a particular nation and all of its policies in some kind of package deal.
  • I am not willing to accept the racial superiority of Jews over Gentiles. As I was seeking to expand my knowledge of legitimate Jewish spirituality, I was dismayed to find that Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his book Derech Hashem, compares the souls of Gentiles to those of animals. But even before I bought this book, I remember my family would say that anyone who was stupid had a “Goyische kup” – a Gentile head. We Jews, I was told, are so much smarter and better than the Goyim.
  • I was disgusted when I saw a discussion of otherwise rational Jews talking about being willing to kill an Amalekite toddler child because it would be God’s will. Admittedly, not all of the Jews involved were willing to do it, but enough were. Now, there are certainly Muslims willing to kill Jewish children (and indeed those who have done so), so this is not to say that Islam is superior in this regard. It is, however, to say that Judaism is not superior in this regard. I had been taught that the Jews were the “good guys” fighting barbaric Muslim hordes. The discussion I mention here was not on some radical Jewish board, or a JDL board or anything of the kind. I was disgusted. Especially if you consider that some Jews see the Palestinians as Amalekites, and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netyanyahu has said that Iran is Amalek.
  • I can’t join a Reform or a Conservative Jewish congregation because their overwhelming support for every liberal political cause under the sun made community life impossible for me. Also, their frequent vocal distaste for political conservatives made it clear that I was unwelcome. And I can’t join an Orthodox congregation because I do not accept the Talmud or the rabbinically-imposed “fence around the Torah,” which in many cases seems absolutely absurd to me. I realized this most fully when I found out that the prohibition of “work” on the Sabbath included the tearing of toilet paper.
  • Jesus. I find nothing problematic about Jesus (pbuh) as he is portrayed within the Christian scriptures. To the contrary, I find him inspiring. My Jewish family, however, called him a “whoremonger.” Muslims don’t believe that he is God, but they call him an honored prophet.
  •  I am ashamed of the Jews I see in the culture which surrounds me. While Jews and Muslims are pretty equally matched in the violence and terrorism department, in the profanation of popular culture department, the Jews have no equal. Whenever my wife and I hear of someone insulting Christianity or petitioning for the removal of religion from public life in America, or making a new “comedy” that pushes the limits of taste, or calling for infanticide, I cringe and say to her, “Please tell me they’re not Jewish.” Alas, she is usually unable to help me. Whether it’s Sarah Silverman’s skits in which she has sex with God, or Judd Apatow’s self-proclaimed mission to get more bare [private parts] into every one of his films, Jewish bioethicist Peter Singer’s defense of bestiality and infanticide, etc. This list is far from exhaustive. Despite being such a tiny percentage of the American population, Jews are in prominent positions on every front of the wrong side of the culture war, and have been since we got here. Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Ayn Rand, Emma Goldman, Andrea Dworkin, Al Goldstein, Anton Lavey, Annie Sprinkle, Philip Roth, Erica Jong, Roman Polanski, Bernie Madoff, Saul Alinsky, Henry Kissinger, Rosa Luxemburg, Anthony Wiener, Eliot Spitzer, Seymore Butts, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ron Jeremy, Jack Ruby, Bugsy Siegel, Paul Wolfowitz, Allen Ginsburg, Irving Kristol, Gloria Allred, Leslie Feinberg, Abe Foxman, Meir Kahane, Bernardine Dohrn, Nina Hartley, Norman Mailer, Gertrude Stein, etc.
  • Cost of admission. When I phoned a local Rabbi to request his help, I was told that he didn’t have time to meet with people who weren’t members of his synagogue (membership costing hundreds of dollars). In order to attend High Holy Day services at another synagogue, I had to pay for tickets. I did have the alternative of applying for their charity (an embarassing prospect), but why should anyone have to default to paying money to worship God on the holiest days of the year? I can walk into my local masjid and worship. I donate willingly, a few bucks here and there whenever I can, but I won’t be turned away for not having a ticket to services. I paid over two hundred dollars (that doesn’t include what I paid for the required books) for a beginner’s Judaism class at a local Conservative synagogue. I’ve attended free classes at several churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Why does money seem so central to Jewish worship? And don’t throw cheesy Christian televangelists in my face – I’m talking about mainstream congregational worship.
  • Personal connection to God. I met with a Chabad Rabbi many times over the course of a couple of years. He was honestly baffled when I tried to talk to him about talking with God and feeling that God was talking back. He wasn’t joking with me. He honestly could not understand it, and kept trying to understand it in terms of auditory hallucinations. As a Catholic, I felt God in my life, and I felt His presence when I would ask him for guidance. Is this feeling infallible? Of course not. Could it be wishful thinking? Of course. But there are times when it is hard to deny that it is real. And it changes lives. It changed mine. It’s like making a phone call and knowing that someone has picked up the phone; you’re not just calling out into an empty darkness. Why would God speak to the people in the Tanakh but not to us today?

Even if all that these points accomplished was merely leveling the field between Judaism and Islam, that’s enough for me. All else being equal, the only thing that Judaism has going for it is the fact that I am of Jewish descent. But that is far from enough when it comes to choosing to follow God. Abraham left his family and his family’s gods when the God of the Jews (and of the Christians and of the Muslims) called him.

I believe that there are probably many good and holy individual Jews. But I don’t believe that Judaism is the final or the most complete revelation of God to man.

This isn’t a very logical case I’m presenting. It’s not a well-developed argument. In fact, it’s not logical at all. Neither is it much of an argument. But I’m willing to bet that many Jews (and former Jews) will recognize themselves in it. Most of them will not turn to Islam. Many will turn to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, the New Age, Wicca, Socialism, and Atheism instead. But they are turning elsewhere.

Categories: Judaism, Zionism

6 replies »


    “The Beauty of Islam”

    by Paul Goodman

    For anyone trying to follow the journey begun by Abraham, conversion to Islam should recommend itself with compulsive force. It’s the most plausible of the three religions that look back to him.

    Near the root of Judaism is the conviction that a single people are chosen by God – a people, moreover, who are hard to join. At the core of Christianity is the belief that a man was God and rose from the dead. Both claims seem to spit in the face of reason. Isn’t it an offence against justice to assert that God specially favours one people in particular? Isn’t it an affront to common sense to hold that a baby was divine, and that a dead man walked from a cold tomb?

    Nonetheless, the suggestion that Islam might be preferable to either is objectionable to modern Western minds. It provokes visions of frenzy: failing states, suicide bombers, fanatical mullahs, shrouded women, burning books, oppressed minorities. But it should also conjure images of tranquillity: serene mosques, the circles of dhikr, a certain detachment from the claims of politics, distaste for the extremism within its own ranks of which Mohammed warned, and – until fairly recently – better treatment of religious minorities than Europe’s.

    For most of its history Islam has been the most relaxed of the three faiths. It neither aches for the coming of a Messiah nor announces that outside the Church there is no salvation. It offers monotheism for all – a kind of Judaism for the masses. A more profound film about Islam than Geert Wilders’s could be titled not Fitna, but Fitra – namely, man’s primordial disposition, which is made for God. The path to paradise isn’t closed by original sin. Rather, it remains open, but man strays from it in heedlessness and forgetfulness. In doing so, he turns his face from tawhid – from the divine unity. So God sends prophets to nudge man back to the straight path. Mohammed was the last of them – not God, like the Jesus of Christianity, but the best of all creation. I write of conversion to Islam, but what takes place, rather, is reversion – a return to man’s natural religion.

    I converted from nominal Judaism to Catholicism in my mid-twenties. Changing one’s religion once is enough to be going on with. Perhaps this thought has inhibited me to date from doing so a second time, and accepting Jesus of Nazareth as a great prophet rather than as the saviour of the world. If I’m remembered for taking up any cause in the Commons, which I’m quitting at the next election, it may be for fencing at Islamism and its fellow-travellers in Britain . But Islamism is a polluted tributary of the great river of Islam , and my allergy to a politicised version of the religion hasn’t deterred me from sitting at the feet, from time to time, of its traditional, classical form.

    Being an MP representing the largest number of Muslims in any Conservative-held seat has made this easier. I’ve sat at celebrations in honour of Pir Shah Ghazi, a Sufi saint of the subcontinent; listened to the singing of the Saif-ul Malook – the great poem by Mian Muhammad Baksh, ‘the Kashmiri Rumi’; trudged in Walthamstow behind a running crowd keeping up with its adored Pir, Sayeed Abdul Quadir Jilani; struggled for answers while being courteously but searchingly probed by students at Cambridge Muslim College. And so on.

    Islam has three advantages over modern Christianity. First, it has better preserved its liturgy. A Muslim prays five times a day in much the same way as his ancestors did at the time of Mohammed, perhaps because there’s no single source of authority in Islam to drive through liturgical change. There are no guitars, inexact translations of Arabic into English, imams that face the people rather than Mecca , and go-ahead muftis of Bevendon to proclaim: ‘Jihad in a very real sense’. Pope Benedict, who understands the centrality of liturgy to religion, might see a connection between Islam’s soaring numbers and its immutable worship.

    Second, it has better preserved its spiritual inheritance, and kept polished the chains of spiritual transmission. This is no artificial figure of speech. The silsilah is a chain – the pupil receiving authority from a master who received it from his own master, and so on all the way back to Mohammed. Christianity has its apostolic succession. But this is the preserve of the bishops, not the laity, and in Islam everyone is a layman. This may help to prove that flat structures protect tradition more effectively than hierarchical ones. For better and worse, Islam has experienced no Reformation or Enlightenment – no questioning of the transmission of the Koran to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel himself. There is a gimmicklessness about the practice of its spirituality.

    Third, it has Sufism – the sum of that spiritual inheritance. I’m not dewy-eyed about Sufis, who are no more perfect than other believers. But the tradition they follow is one of the world’s great religious movements, balancing the Koran’s proclamation of the transcendence of God – ‘Who begetteth not, nor is begotten, and none is like Him’ – with its persistent whisperings of immanence, of a God who ‘is nearer to him than his jugular vein’. Many of the great Sufi texts aren’t available in English. I’ve been trying to read one that is. Jilani of Walthamstow is named after Jilani of Baghdad – a giant of medieval Sufism and founder of the Qadri order. I’ve ploughed my way through 61 of the 62 discourses in his Al-Fath Al-Rabbani – literally ‘the Revelations of the Lord’.

    Each discourse is supported by verses from the Koran. The first chapter quotes the following: ‘Surely, God is with those who are patient.’ It’s a theme of Jilani’s, and seems to be one of Islam’s as a whole. The religion appears to lack that Western word, angst. Consider the Biblical and Koranic accounts of Abraham’s sacrifice. The Koranic account is sucked dry of tension: Ishmael not only knows of his father’s plan, but approves it. The Biblical account is dramatic: Isaac is unaware that his father means to kill him.

    Perhaps the ox-like endurance of suffering is a feature of less developed societies. But for whatever reason, a sense of Jacob wrestling with the angel is never long absent from either Christianity or Judaism. Why suffering happens is one of the greatest human mysteries. In Christianity, God follows the logic of love, and vaults the barrier which separates Him from man. He plunges into the depths of suffering and transforms it through the Resurrection. The good old story may not make suffering bearable, but it may at least make it comprehensible. Once it’s accepted, the Trinity becomes a partner rather than a stranger to reason.

    The vision of Islam — of actualising the divine names as Mohammed did, thereby restoring man’s original nature — has, as all great religions do, its own romance. But some calls must be questioned, however imperiously they’re couched. There’s cause for the eye of faith to pass on from the black stone of the Kaaba, and rest upon the white cloths that lay folded, on that first Easter morning, inside an empty tomb.

    • A brilliant article, and one that puts to shame anything that I am able to write. Thank you for sharing this – it’s a wonderful read.

  2. This is wonderfully written and heartfelt. Ashmath has rapidly become a ‘must read’ on this site.

    I bet you he is gonna catch grief for being ‘unfair’ towards our Jewish brothers by people who haven’t read the article properly. However, he is merely offering a personal explanation for the observations that Lori herself makes

  3. Brilliant.

    The part about how he oscillated between the Liberal community (which militantly supported every and any ‘liberal’ cause) and the Orthodox (who had their own ‘militant’ ideas) was poignant for me.

    It also reminds me of how in the ‘Culture Wars’ there is this bizzare ‘package deal’ that comes on either side: if you read books by people like Michael Moore, or far more intellectual representatives such as Chomsky or Chris Hedges (who seems to be a friend of the Muslims), there is this kind of ‘understanding’ that if you are, say, against the war and for social welfare, you must ipso facto be for abortion and gay marriage. Same goes for the conservatives, if you support ‘social conservatism’ then OF COURSE you are all for American Imperialism and curbs on immigration.

    What the hell has abortion got to do with social welfare for the unemployed? What is the causal pathway that leads from belief in one to belief in the other? It merely resembles the creedal formulations some religions or pledging allegiance to the flag. Why can’t people be for social welfare and immigration but against abortion and gay marriage? Why this pidgeonholing and polarisation? It shows people are not thinking about issues and are in one ‘gang’ or the other in an emotional/group hysteria type affiliation.

    Andrea Dworkin? I thought she was against pornography? Even a lot of liberals are staring to rail against the ‘Pornification of America’: Hedges quotes Dworkins’ broadsides against the ‘left and it’s whores’ in his book ‘Empire of Illusion’, where he includes a chapter ‘against’ pornography, but you can see he is treading on eggshells to avoid being excommunicated from the left.

    Also, this has to be the only Muslim site where you will hear about Ron Jeremy (but it is totally relevant). It is confidence building to see a Muslim who is actually well informed about popular culture instead of criticising it from a position of ignorance. I am living in the U.K and a lot of practising Muslims in particular take great pride in not knowing about pop culture. ‘I have no idea who Kim Kardashian is’ they will say with pride. But their kids know very well who she is, and ignorance is not bliss.

    P.S. Allow me to be the first to (inappropriately) accuse you of anti – semitism.

    • Salaam Hikokimori21, and thank you for your thoughtful comments.
      I agree with you entirely on the “package deal” syndrome which seems to afflict so many ideologies these days, and it’s why I posit that the Left is going to have trouble dealing with Islam down the road.
      I include Andrea Dworkin because her (good) criticisms of pornography come from a radical feminist viewpoint in which all heterosexual intercourse subordinates women and verges on rape.

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