Notes & Essays

What Being Muslim Has Taught Me

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Just as we are inexplicably drawn to certain people, whom we end up loving forever, I have been inexplicably drawn to Islam, a way of life to which I’ve surrendered now and will embrace forever. 

There’s so much about this lifeway that moves me, not the least being the Quran, the great book that enshrines this way of life in breathtaking prose.

The Quran is the ultimate miracle in Islamic history, produced in the 7th century by an Arab who didn’t even know how to read nor write, when he heard a voice that said: Iqraa! (recite!)

And he did. Just like that. Amounting to about 2000 pages of gorgeous prose.

Quranic knowledge contains information covering all aspects of human life. Some of its verses describe scientific knowledge that was discovered and documented much later in our history (fetus formation, nature of our oceans, seas and planets, just to name a few). No wonder we have amazing people called hafiz who devote their whole lives committing the Book to memory.

What I find absolutely stunning about this book is how about only about 1/3 of it is devoted to descriptions of our natural world and history; the rest is all mind-blowing, mystical riddles that I am only beginning to slowly make some sense of, when I read it from cover to cover (I am using A. Yusuf Ali’s translation, inherited from my father).

The Quran is the ultimate miracle in Islamic history, produced in the 7th century by an Arab who didn’t even know how to read nor write, when he heard a voice that said: Iqraa! (recite!)

IMAGE: Pixabay

So, if you’re a writer, poet, philosopher, humanist, musician, or anybody who is in love with the written word in general, its many sounds, nuances and reverberations, you might find something of note in the Quran. I cannot even begin to transcribe what they are, because they all differ depending on the reader and his ability to discern its mysteries, but let me at least make a first attempt now to share with you some concepts I try my best to live by.


Tauhid (Unity)

Tauhid is an Islamic concept that means the oneness and indivisibility of God. He is Unknowable, and we can only have but glimpses of His Face in everything and everyone all around us.

This is why you will not see any realistic depictions of God in Islam, nor are there any idols.

They are rejected, not only because they isolate God from our lives and put Him in some protected pedestal, but also because there is no additional insight gained from contemplating a very specific but ultimately simplistic representation of a highly complex entity. Idolatry may also foster hubris in the artisan, who thinks extreme detail alone is sufficient enough to explain God’s mysteries.

Instead, God is represented as an abstraction. If you’ve ever entered a mosque, you will immediately notice, aside from the beautiful empty space, mosaics on the wall, or complex calligraphic shapes inscribed everywhere. Much of Islamic art is puzzling, perplexing. It’s meant to be that way in order to expand the mind and allow us to grasp the Unknowable, if only for a while. 

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I once learned that Islamic architecture is often built not only to be admired by us on the ground, but also by God in the sky. When viewed aerially, these buildings (or at least this one village I saw in Dubai) formed beautiful calligraphic patterns, not unlike those crop circles found in England. This creative display of massive ambition, fueled by a greater sense of purpose, is something I find refreshing in Muslims seeking tauhid in everything.

But the use of your bodily senses is not enough to grasp God’s Face; you must actively and constantly humble yourself to Him by reciting Takbir (God is Great) and practicing Zikr (remembrance), uttering His Name in prayer, five times a day at the very least. In fact, Muslims would rather shout takbir at you to show their appreciation instead of giving you a round of applause, because it’s not only you but your Creator that must take credit for your contributions to this world.

You can also experience tauhid by studying your genealogy, where you’re from, who your ancestors are. Many Muslims take this seriously, but I’ve only just recently begun this little quest (our line can be traced all the way back to Yemen, from a merchant named Abubakar Badada, so I may have an untapped talent in entrepreneurship!) Nepotism is a strange concept to us, because continuing a livelihood or a calling according to a particular family’s tradition is considered good and noble. Lineage is very important.


My grandmother, a midwife who comes from a major traditional family in Sulu, helped birth thousands of babies during her lifetime—with a zero mortality rate. She used to have a sign posted inside her bathroom to help her remember the Quranic verses she needed to recite for every physical movement she made. With this practice, the simple act of washing oneself became a transcendental experience, a way of connecting to The One.

To embody tauhid, you need to be contributing to the ummah or Islamic community, because your individuality is not as important as the greater whole. The needs of the ummah often have to do with peace, harmony, promoting greater knowledge and understanding among peoples, and caring for the poor and the oppressed. Most of my Filipino Muslim friends are lawyers, doctors, nurses, academics or public servants, for this reason, and are very active in the political and social life of their respective towns and provinces.


"After having read the Quran, I can’t find any mention of throwing our gay friends out from the tops of buildings, nor are there 72 virgins waiting in Paradise as a reward for murderers."


Al-Mizan (Balance)

Popular questions posed by my non-Muslim friends about homosexuality and the 72-virgin reward in Paradise for those extremist suicide bombers will be answered by the concept called Al-Mizan.

Let me clarify at the outset that after having read the Quran, I can’t find any mention of throwing our gay friends out from the tops of buildings, nor are there 72 virgins waiting in Paradise as a reward for murderers.

Below is possibly the only anti-homosexual verse I’ve ever come across (and not even), when Lot, in trying to save the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah from utter ruin, says in verses 160-166 of Shu’araa (The Poets): 


I am to you an apostle worthy of trust. So fear God and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it, my reward is only from the Lord of the Worlds. Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, and leave those whom God has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing all limits.”


I’d like to direct your attention to the phrase “transgressing all limits,” because this really is the anti-thesis to the concept of Al-Mizan. When excess in every way—in your eating, drinking, smoking, sex, thinking, medicating, etc.—makes you unhinged, unbalanced, unhealthy, disconnected from tauhid, and therefore terribly unhappy, why would you even, friends?

Seventy-two virgins. Man, you can’t even handle one wife!


Niyyah (Intention)

Niyyah in Arabic means the pit of a date, or in other words, a kernel that eventually becomes a flower, plant or tree, an apt imagery for the concept of intent.

Every story can be invented, everyone can pretend to be something they’re not, but only God knows what’s in the human heart. So, if you care about tauhid, you will also care about all your intentions in this life. 

This concept answered all my questions pertaining to my appreciation of art and other breakthroughs produced by men who have hurt other people and feel no shame, guilt or remorse. Thanks to niyyah, I’ve helped myself accept that despite all my intelligence, I can never really know what’s in anybody else’s heart except my own. In the end, what a Muslim does is what matters, not what he believes.



Rahmah (Mercy and Motherly Love)

There are many facets of love in Islam, and rahmah is an important concept. This mercy, by the way, is not about doing something wrong, feeling remorse, and then being granted some kind of reprieve as a result. Rahmah is, simply put, a mother’s love for her child, using a male pronoun. If a child loses his way, the mother will look for him, no questions asked. 

Having rahmah in your life creates a sense of grace. You are no longer striving to search for yourself, because you’ve surrendered yourself to Him and are now prepared to listen to His voice inside you. Every night, He makes you sleep, but He grants you a new morning every day. What else can you ask for?

I used to consult my horoscope every day or answer a personality test for guidance, but now, I simply pray, because the answer is not outside me, but inside me. The act of bowing, prostrating, standing, sitting is a dance that I constantly do to get closer to my Beloved, my Mother with a Male Pronoun. Even if I haven’t done anything particularly wrong that day, I still ask for mercy. It balances and fulfills me, while at the same time helping me obtain that much needed rahmah from Him.

There’s a form of resistance that resonates more with me than the loud and bombastic armed struggle associated with jihad, but nonetheless powerful. It’s called quietism.

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Jihad (Revolution)

Even though extremism is negated and rejected by Al-Mizan, it saddens me that it’s constantly being associated with Muslims.

There’s a form of resistance that resonates more with me than the loud and bombastic armed struggle associated with jihad, but nonetheless powerful. It’s called quietism. One doctrine of quietism (mainly adopted by Shi’a Muslims) is taqiyya, which means prudence. If you’re in a hostile environment, you are granted the mercy to suppress your truth, in order to survive. Another application of taqiyya is the use of ambiguous language (kitman) to avoid hurting other people’s feelings.

Indeed, there are many other concepts that showcase just how sensible the Islamic lifeway is. But these are just a few that have moved me and shape my way of thinking and doing over the years. I hope that during today’s Eid, I’ve given you just a little glimpse of His Face. May God bestow you the rahmah you deserve.




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Isha Abubakar
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