Several readers of last week’s column asked why I called Islam “incredibly beautiful.” Based on decades of study, world travel and long friendships with Muslims, I answer with three hints.
Our indebtedness to Muslim culture is extraordinary. Try doing your finances using Roman instead of Arabic numerals, and you’ll get the idea.
Have you had your coffee? The attempt 400 years ago to prohibit Christians from drinking coffee because it was a Muslim drink obviously has failed.
Thomas Aquinas, for centuries the pre-eminent Christian theologian, was influenced by Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Renaissance art, music and poetry, out of which today’s world developed, were stimulated by encounters with Muslim thinkers.
Who can see the Alhambra or the Taj Mahal or the great mosques throughout the world without awe? One image often used to identify Kansas City is Giralda Tower on the Country Club Plaza, a smaller version of what was once the minaret of a mosque in Seville.
The five “pillars” of Islam present a spiritual path rousing admiration, if not imitation.
The first pillar is the profession of faith, that there is but one God, and Muhammad is his messenger. This simple statement serves to center and unify every aspect of how one lives one’s life.
Second, prayer five times daily is a renewal of one’s commitment to submit to God’s will.
Third, giving to the needy is a religious obligation.
Fourth, in the words of Bill Graves, then Kansas governor, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan “to remind themselves that others hunger and to relieve the hunger of others, to practice discipline through self-denial, to nurture family relationships and to strengthen commitment to God” and to recall the first revelations of the Qur’an.
I have repeatedly observed these four pillars, and from them I have taken inspiration.
The fifth pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. While this is not possible for me since I am not a Muslim, I have witnessed how this ritual has deepened the faith of Muslim friends.
Speaking of Kansas City Muslim friends — they may be business people, doctors, professors, chaplains, public officials, scientists or soldiers. They may fight fires, teach martial arts, report the news or manage a library.
They are honest and generous, working to make America and the world better. They never seek to convert me. Their faith is beautiful.