I was once asked “why do I stay Muslim”? That was the question prompt, and it begged an answer. A deep, well thought out, articulate, and concise answer. Shamefully, at that time in my life, I was stumped. I was speechless a long while, because I couldn’t think fast or clear enough to answer with sincerity. At that time, whatever I wanted to say, just sounded like the “schtick” — for example “oh, yes I stay Muslim because Islam stands for peace, and I’m a peaceful person so this is my biggest reason..(next day – terrorist attack by “Muslims” totally negating my “why”)… and other similarly situated examples as such. So, I knew my why had to be more layered, more significant and pragmatic, yet exciting.
It’s been a few years since, and I have thoughtfully mulled this question over and over in my head. From my social context, as devout as both sides of my family are to the faith, I personally, grew up as a “SoCal” girl. For me this means, I have many non-Muslim friends, and I have influences from all spectrums varying from interfaith efforts to intellectual atheists. Growing up and still today, I have conversations with women, especially, that go beyond following any type of faith tradition. Many of friends within my circles have used their faith as a roadmap to a “higher frequency”. Tuning into the world, into humanity, eliminating draconian mindsets, and living today trying to be in touch with all of it, rather than just a section of “it.”
I still have many religious friends from various faiths, who are devout and practicing, but yet, like me, we see all the paths, we talk about it, and we embrace each other. I had to think back to these special conversations with these women friends and colleagues in my life, to remember that this thing called “faith” is like a busy freeway connecting one city to the next, one state to the next, rather than just a single, isolated road labeled “private drive”. As for me, driving in my lane called Islam, I also signal and merge to the left and right lanes, and then merge back. This mental freeway movement for me is fluid, sometimes lots of traffic and accidents, but I get through it and keep going. So I call on those memorable conversations and moments of connectivity, to now be able to answer the question from a few years ago…
Reason #1: The only verse I have ever truly memorized and recall often in the Quran 49:13 which reads,
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
In my opinion, it doesn’t take a seasoned scholar to interpret that, hey, created ones! humanity is colorful. You all are complex creatures – you don’t look alike, think alike, behave or believe the same – accept it, and live. Live together in peace on this bountiful earth!
After years with this particular verse sitting in my subconscious, I have embraced it and am living it out to the fullest. This verse to me truly reflects the spirit of Islam. Because I am naturally an inclusive person, exclusionary groups don’t sit right with me. I find comfort in knowing that the faith chosen for me at birth and now continued to be chosen by me as an adult is an inclusive faith- and what that really means to me is that there is wiggle room- wiggle room to not all believe the same. So, my Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, even Atheist friends can all be their own tribes and yet live together in peace with a universal understanding that we are not meant to think alike. The human mind is wondrous, and had we all been wired the same, we would never achieve the heights we have reached as a human race. So our differences are our unifier, and I believe Islam allows for differences.
Reason #2: I believe Islam has vagueness in the Quran
I stay Muslim (this one may quizzically raise some eyebrows) because I believe Islam has vagueness in the Quran. Total and utter vagueness. You read a verse and think, what just happened here?! But years of scholarly study and interpretation still leaves some stones unturned. Oddly enough, I kind of like that! I like that there are some hidden and mysterious things that are not meant to be answered. This makes me believe that Islam has made room for some unknowns – unknowns such as, why so many faiths, belief systems, and paths to God? Why so many generations of people, who have strikingly different views on life and on how to live?
What do I mean by all this vagueness? Tune in tomorrow!
Valentina Khan, JD, MA is the Managing Director for Investors Philanthropic. She was born & raised in Orange County, California. She grew up in North Tustin, a supportive and kind town to which she attributes her love for diversity & doing community work. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California Bachelor of Arts, received her Juris Doctorate at Taft Law School, & continued her education with a Masters of Arts degree from Claremont School of Theology. She is the visionary and co-founder of I Am Jerusalem, & was a contributing member to the Interfaith Youth Council of Orange County, both of which are non-profit organizations that focus on building bridges of understanding, compassion, and friendship within the interfaith communities. Valentina is the creator & teacher of Dance Barre ® a fun ballet barre fitness method, a yoga enthusiast, and lover of fashion and travel. She speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Farsi, Urdu, and (semi-fluency) French.