Years ago, when I was hanging out in a different town, thousands of miles away from where I am today, I fell in with a crowd of Muslims. For the racial purists, I should note that in this town, the local Islamic Center was 95% white folks, nearly all of them immigrants from the former countries of Yugoslavia and the USSR, along with a handful of local converts.
I should also be honest and cop to the fact that, at least at a subconscious level, I was expecting to find at least one chaste, marriagable girl who loved god and wanted to be a wife and mother. That illusion was dispelled rather quickly. If anything, the Muslim girls I met were even better at lying to their fathers about what they were up to on Friday evenings. I doubt any of the occasional visitors to chez Boxer will be surprised at this.
In any case, I found it all very interesting and philosophical. Muslims are much closer to Mormons, in that they don’t worry about stuff like the mystery of the trinity, though (also like Mormons) they hold that Jesus was a decent guy, who may or may not have existed, and we can learn from the literary character. There are no saints to venerate. Just pray to God and you’re good. Like Mormons, they frown on depictions of God. There is no iconography.
Qur’an, which is considerably harder to read than the New Testament, is supplemented by commentary, the details of which may or may not be taken seriously by one believer or the next, and is endlessly argued about on Friday evening by the old men.
My education was aided by the fact that everyone in the place was totally on board with me touristing through their community. I had done my undergraduate work at a Jesuit university, and had become used to being told that I couldn’t take communion, or dip my hand in the holy water, or any of the other stuff. That wasn’t the case here. “Yes, you can pray with us… what a dumb question… kneel by me and follow along…”
The preacher, a big blond Bosnian, who played basketball in the courts outside on the weekend, acted shocked when I casually mentioned I wasn’t a member. He had the idea that I had converted a long time before. “Have you ever thought about saying shahada? We’d love to have you officially.”
“I don’t believe in God,” I replied.
“So what?” This was his response, and just as quickly, “you can be a bad Muslim, like most of the rest of the people here.”
Today, I live in a Catholic town, so I’m back hanging out at vigil mass on Saturday evenings. Most of the people I chill with surely think I’m a Catholic; though, out of respect, I don’t go up and take the eucharist. I’ve got the moves down. I’ll never believe in God, but I enjoy the aesthetics of it all. Anyway, religion isn’t about believing in nonsense. It’s about doing things that make your life and your community better.