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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Islam: And Why I Could Never Convert

Why Think on it?

So, I know it has been briefly mentioned before, but I wish to bring it up again more specifically. Lately, I have been pondering the hypothetical religious conversion that I think that I will one day likely undergo. This is because I consider myself a theist with some caveats. I am highly sympathetic to religion and feel much greater solidarity with the religious than irreligious people. I am a theist insofar as I believe in the God of Abraham, the Christian ideas of original sin and redemption through Jesus Christ, the oneness of God, and more. However, I am relatively theologically uninformed and this largely comes from being born into an atheist/anti-theist (at times) household. This has made any contact with the religious world infrequent and often frightening or confusing, and later frustrating at many points between childhood and adulthood. Regardless, I still seek to one day experience or enter into a meaningful relationship with God.

My question today, is given that I am in love with a woman who grew up in a Muslim household, and though she does not practice at the moment in any meaningful sense she does wish to embrace her religion more fully (and this is a religion I have criticized on many occasions), it caused me to reflect. The normal procedure in Islamic marriage is that men may marry people of the book without concern, but for women, out of nominal concern that their children grow up Muslims, man only marry a Muslim man. Thus, for an interfaith marriage to occur between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man it is customary for him to convert. Given that I love my girlfriend more than I can articulate and do not see potential for giving her up anytime soon, or at all I hope, then if she were to become obstinate about her faith, or family were to ask, it would be wise to know why I would not embrace that faith with her.  

Now, I do not want to tie any of this to the violence of the Muslim world or disparage Muslims. God knows I have met plenty of great Muslim people in my life. Therefore, out of deliberate choice, I will avoid talking about the terrorism infecting Europe and to a lesser extent the whole world. I won’t talk about demographic concerns or the lack of tolerance many Muslims espouse; nor will I bring up the abhorrent treatment of women in many Islamic societies more broadly. I think I can articulate other reasons why I would not convert that are personal and personal to my relationship.  

Necessarily Political

The first reason I give for my unwillingness to embrace the Islamic faith would be concerns over its necessarily political nature. What I mean by this is since Mohammed travelled to Medina he governed, and Islam as consequent needed a scripture that addressed government. This is a large part of the origin of Sharia and Fiqh (which is the interpretation of Islamic law based upon the scripture). Now, this is problematic not only because Islam has always been concerned with how to rule, but it also governs in the same body of laws basic concepts like how to approach prayer, and how to conduct one’s daily routine that does not exist in the same systematic form in other religions.

The Christian tradition and the scriptures are famous for emphasizing obedience to the secular law. Notably in, Rom 13: 1-7, where it is noted the authorities ought to be obeyed because of their appointment by God, and to Christians, one is to obey the law of the land in all but the most extreme circumstances. This teaching is found also in Peter 2:13-17 Figures like Martin Luther took this further. Where someone like Thomas Aquinas allowed for the expulsion of rulers who transgressed against the common good as understood by natural law (Aquinas, Baumgarth, & Regan On Law, Morality, and Politics 2002 185, 206). To Martin Luther the fall was so catastrophic that humanity could not be sure that poor political rule was not placed over them by God, and thus providentially; nor could a Christian rightly judge the intent of the ruler well enough to know whether he was evil of heart (Luther & Porter Luther: Selected Political Writings "Temporal Authority" 2003 51). This is a consequence of what historian Susan Schreiner called the fall of the mind. 

This same trend is visible in one of the foundational texts of Christianity by one of the greatest saints. St. Augustine. The City of God where much of the text concerns itself with the relationship between the consubstantial relationship between the earthly world and citizens of the holy city or the Civitas Dei. The citizens of the holy city reside with God and belong to him, but on account of humanity and the punishment of sin first, exist in the earthly world. They are pilgrims travelling through the world, and need not govern it. In fact, to Augustine government turned us away from God more often than not and led to sin. Instead, like Augustine, many Christian political theorists made room for two ends for human king one secular and one temporal. This can be seen in works like De Monarchia by Dante Alighieri, Defender of the Peace, by Marsilius of Padua, and Temporal Authority by Martin Luther among countless other examples. Christians are in direct transgression of biblical teaching when they attempt to legal mandate precepts of the faith. As Christ informs “my kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).” Now, this interpretation may differ particularly regarding the pope, but the ideal is very different in either case. This is a result of Christ living and dying under the command of the Roman law. This gives a mandate to the law of the world because God himself lived and died under secular authority.


A second problem I have is that Islam is a one-way door. You do not generally get freedom of religion in Islam. This is because apostasy, and I understand interpretations differ, is generally considered a crime punishable by death. Even if it does not lead to death or criminal punishment it can far too often lead to shunning by communities and complete rejection by one’s society and family. This is something despicable and toxic in the religion and I cannot put a good spin or rationalization on it. Just to show that I am not making arbitrary or unfounded obligations it should be noted that 23 Muslim-majority countries maintain laws against apostasy in their criminal codes,  and many more unofficial killings particularly under the guise of honour killings occur routinely.

Finally, there is no concept of original sin in Islam in the way in which Christians think about it. Keep in mind I am not unaware that original sin is itself disputed in the Christian doctrine and not absolutely accepted, especially in the early church, and some associate it with the pernicious influence of St. Augustine of Hippo. My girlfriend and I have talked about as much. She notes that Adam repented and prayed hard and was forgiven and his original sin did not pass on through the generations. In Christianity, this scarring of our nature is permanent and constant. St. Augustine notes as much in Book I of his Confessions when he speaks of his infant greed and envy. Augustine taught that our will was broken and weak, but extant and could be strengthened by God; I would go further: I believe that the only capacity to truly be good comes from Gods irruption of grace and salvation through Christ there is in no way that Islam can rectify that, and in its own way it is rather pelagian thinking in that we can feel enough contrition to be absolved and forgiven on our own. This is a position that I reject entirely.


Well, I don’t really have that much more to say in brief blog post. But these are the essential reasons why I view conversion to Islam is impossible, and unwise. These are theological positions which, given my feeling of affinity toward Christian theology, cannot embrace. I hope even though I was rather obscure and superficial someone finds this post interesting and finds something to think about.