Before “reverting” to Islam, I’d been living in Theravada Buddhist temple and had been out of the temple for about 6 months.
Discovering Islam was a phased process for me.
Before I entered the Buddhist temple I had been operating a very successful psychiatry and psychotherapy practice. I was also in the midst of somewhat of a spiritual crisis myself when I had a patient who was a Muslim and doing his PhD. in Islamic Studies via Distance Education option. He had very severe OCD which had not responded to any previous treatment. The main reason his previous treatments had failed was that he could not focus himself on his therapy. Instead, he was hellbent on trying to convert any therapists who got close to him. He framed every problem in terms of religion and found a religious objection to pretty much everything in the therapy process. I had no interest at all in Islam, so I wasn’t inclined to listen to his preaching. However, I needed to to research Islam if I was every going to treat this guy.
So I set out to learn about Islam as a therapist intent on helping his patient. This mean’t that I needed to understand the theology of his religion as HE understood it. As such, I was able to divorce myself from the right-wing extremist writings of Christian fundamentalists, Islamic extremists, and atheist bigots; ideologies which my patient did not subscribe to and were thus not helpful in effecting his recovery. However, in learning about Islam from the perspective of Muslims themselves, I began to like what I was reading. Nothing in what I read at that time constituted any “proof” of Islam; but it certainly dispelled any preconceived ideas that I had about Islam and Muslims.
As I said, nothing that I read “proved” Islam; but as part of my own spiritual crisis I found myself believing in “a God” that was not in accordance with any organized religion which I was familiar with. So after my researching of Islam, I found myself having a great deal of affection for both Islam and Judaism. Both religions look almost identical on paper. Still, I knew only one Jewish person (and she wasn’t particularly religiously observant) and the only real Jewish community in Sydney was about 2 hours away. How would I observe kosher? And in a post 9/11 world one would have to be out of their mind to want to become a Muslim. So, both religions were out of the question at that time.
Entering the Buddhist temple was a way out. I didn’t have to resolve the dilemma about which religion. As a Buddhist, I could believe in God; but not observe a religion (if that makes sense).
While in the Buddhist temple I was confronted with a dilemma. Buddhism, I had been led to believe as a Western, was all about peace and spirituality. Now, there is indeed a peaceful spiritual side to Buddhism. But there’s another side which is not for public consumption. Before anyone gets offended by this, I would urge you to read it through before jumping to any conclusions.
While in the temple, we would have maybe 8 or 9 women each day coming to the temple for advice and counselling from the monks in relation to their cheating or abusive husbands. The advice that ALL of the monks would give was pretty much the same; “go home, get a new hair-style, loose some weight, buy a new pretty dress, and try to be a better wife to your husband”. In short, “if you weren’t a fat, ugly, nagging cow; your husband wouldn’t be slapping you and chasing younger more attractive women”. The Buddhist monks were basically blaming the women for whatever abuse they had received from their husbands.
Also, our temple was a major hub for Theravada monks as they were travelling. If you were a Theravada monk and you were having a lay-over in Sydney, you’d be accommodated at our temple. These foreign monks, often from Europe, the US, or Asia were disgusted that we allowed women to walk into the actual temple building with their heads uncovered.
Other things, it was pretty common for the younger monks to get into punch-ups over material issues like who had the best digital camera, fastest laptop, etc. According to some monks, a woman cannot attain enlightenment until she has been reincarnated as a man. Many of the monks had been forced to ordain as children at the ages of 6 or 7. They might or might not receive a formal education depending on their familial caste (something which Buddhism was supposed to have been free from).
So, does Buddhism actually teach these things? No. At least, I don’t believe that it does. While I learned to read Pali somewhat, I was mostly working with English translations of the Pali Canons. What I learned from my time in the temple was:
- Religious adherents frequently disagree about how to interpret a religious text. Therefore, there is no one correct way to understand a theological canon.
- People are bastards. There are religious bastards and there are non-religious bastard. Religious bastards would be non-religious bastards if you took away their religion. Religion doesn’t necessarily make someone a bastard.
- The I had a preconceived bias toward Buddhism which blinded me to the truth, that Buddhism (much like any other religion) is what you make it.
Armed with these realizations, I knew that Buddhism was no longer for me. But I still believed in the existence of “a God” which I believed to be the Abrahamic god. I went back to reading about Judaism and Islam; this time with a different perspective. This time, I knew that just as the right-wingers had their biases; internal bias within Islam was another issue which had to be overcome. Judaism was still “too hard” (i.e. kosher being almost impossible to keep and the Sabbath). I got to the point where I found the writings of Muslim liberal thinkers very appealing with their arguments that Islam is, like any other religion, what you make it.
I read the Qur’an, in English, with tafsir. There was a lot of violence in the Qur’an; but that violence was always conditional (i.e. there were lots of rules about when it was OK to be violent and when it wasn’t OK). I was surprised to learn that one of the things my atheist father had raised me to believe about Islam (i.e. that infidels should be killed) was false. While Islam is not at all a pacifistic religion, I found it to be on par with Buddhism (once someone has read the Pali Canons).