Converting to Islam

DUBAI, Sept. 2 (Reuters) Al Qaeda, in a video
posted Saturday on the Internet, called for President Bush and non-Muslims,
especially those in the United States, to convert to Islam and abandon
their "misguided" ways, or else suffer the consequences.

from the New York Times

Our first reaction, on reading the above story, was
"Where do we sign up!" After all, the benefits of the offer are immediately
obvious. In addition to avoiding annihilation by the Righteous Sword
of Islam, one could partake in the admittedly limited earthly ecstasies
allowed by the One True Religion while experiencing a lifetime of discrimination
and oppression or a quick and spectacular death leading to the frankly
exhausting servicing of some Wiltonian number of virgins in the afterlife
(the exact number of virgins, we understand, is currently the subject
of an ongoing polemic among the various sects, strains and branches
of the One True Religion).

As to converting, well, how hard could it be? A little
internet research on converting to Islam led us to ConvertingtoIslam
dot com
, where we discovered the phrase "La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasulullah".

Translated into English, this means There is no God
except Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. According to Converting
to Islam, recitation of this phrase is all that is required for converting
to Islam! We were saved!

But could we, with clear conscience, recite words
which seemed to negate and deny our racial heritage, religious upbringing
and personal beliefs? Why, sure. As a worker with words, we realize
both their power and their limitations. As a psycho-linguist we accept
words as relative, not absolute, and their meaning dependent on myriad
cultural, psychological and situational factors.

Furthermore, over our long and illustrious career
as an amateur and professional Anthropologist, we have at various times
sworn, sung, chanted, recited or intoned oaths of allegiance to the
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Cali Cartel, the International Brotherhood
of Workers Revolution, the National
Society of Hare Krishna, Tyxcotrapti, the purple mushroom god of
the Onawama Indians of southern Colombia, B’nai Brith, the White
Nation, the Movimento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru, the Disciples of Doom and the Magicians of the Golden Dawn.

And we believed with all our heart in all of these
world views at one time or another, at least for a few minutes. If
genius is truly the ability to simultaneously hold irrevocably contradictory
points of view, then the Dowbrigade is an Einstein of Ecumenicalism.

Of course, not everyone feel that way. Take
Jeff Jacoby, in an
OP-ED column
in today’s Boston Globe.

IF YOU WERE one of the journalists kidnapped in
Gaza last month and ordered at gunpoint to become a Muslim, what
would you have done?
Fox News reporter Steve Centanni and photographer Olaf Wiig announced
acceptance of Islam on a videotape released by their kidnappers
— “because they had the guns," Centanni later said, “and
we didn’t know what the hell was going on."

Whether their acquiescence was an act of cowardice or of prudence,
reasonable people can debate. Clearly it wasn’t their only choice.
If I were ever told,
with a gun to my head, to recite the Shahada or die, I hope I would have the
courage to take the bullet.

Whoa! Easy for HIM to say. Put us firmly in the Centanni-Wiig
camp. Following in the long tradition of Jews who wore crosses to escape
the Inquisition, or celebrated secret seders in occupied Europe to
avoid the Nazis, or closeted gays in the army or professional sports,
or terrified teens asked if  they’ve ever smoked pot during a
routine traffic stop, we would recite the words and hope to live to tell
the tale

For words can tell a twisted tale in many ways, and
their meaning is a constant negotiation between talker and listener,
God can hear a human heart, in a language where no parsing is possible.

As to our possible conversion to Islam, it is currently
on hold. Perhaps our position is best summed up by the message
we found on the web site The True Religion. The message read, "
is presently closed."


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