I saw an acquaintance of mine yesterday who I hadn't seen in awhile. Her appearance was strikingly different because her hair was completely covered with a scarf. Since I hadn't seen her in months, I figured that she had become a Muslim. I wasn't quite sure how to approach it, but I'm generally blunt, hopefully I'm gently blunt, so I noted that I'd never seen her before with a head covering. She was quite open in discussing her conversion. I was curious as to what she found in Islam that she found lacking otherwise. Its always interesting to truly listen to others, what they say and what they don't say.
One of the first things she noted was that she is a former Catholic and that she knows of many former Catholics who chose Islam. She talked a lot about the community she had found in Islam and her friends. I found it interesting that the first thing she spoke of in her draw to Islam was not anything religious but the community, but I can certainly understand why. It seems that the church fails, at times, in establishing community. I can't speak of all Catholic churches, but some of the Catholics I know have noted that their church experience is an on the clock, in and out experience where they don't know their fellow parishioners. It sounds a lot like punching the clock and I can honestly say that I don't get it. It addresses the 'love your God' part but seems a little lean on the 'love your neighbor as yourself.'
After speaking about the community ties she has in her community (sorry, I don't remember the term for community center/church, I know there is one, I just don't know what). She noted the absence of an authority structure within Islam, there is no priesthood, all seekers are on equal grounding. She spent a fair amount of time discussing the differences between the religion of Islam and the Arab culture and that its often hard to determine what practices stem from which.
She eventually talked about the religious beliefs. She likes that Islam does not lose Jesus, he is valued as a prophet and his teachings are respected. This was the reason she gave for not becoming Jewish, she was glad to keep Jesus. She said she was also more comfortable with the idea that salvation comes through faith and works and said that this was in keeping with Catholic teaching.
I found this encounter very interesting, partly because I was able to listen to her without judgment of any sort -- this is vastly different that I would have felt a year ago. I was genuinely interested to listen to her reasons without forming arguments in my mind. I no longer have any arguments to make. If she has found something in Islam that she could not find in Christianity, who could say she's wrong? Not me.
Strangely, I think that witnessing her bold choice of religion, one that requires that she learn much about a culture so unlike our own and that inspires her to learn a language that does not even have the same alphabet has affected me. Its a niggling feeling, but I'm not afraid.