Choosing to be Catholic, Part 8 (Final Installment)

Clearly, during my freshman year I had become quite Catholic again.  True it was a different kind of Catholicism than the uninformed one I had practiced in childhood, but it felt just as, if not more, meaningful.  I feel like I should have received the sacrament of Confirmation during my freshman year of college, rather then in my freshman year of high school, as I had.  I could truly say with conviction that I wanted to be Catholic.

Nick and I after serving at Mass.

You can see then why I was frustrated when I was asked multiple times during my second semester if I was converting to Islam.  A few questions were verbalized and others weren’t, but I knew people were wondering.  I had recently joined the board Georgetown’s Muslim Students Association, in order to increase my own knowledge of Islam and help others learn more about Islam through outreach.  I also decided to live in the Muslim Interest Living Community during my sophomore year, a community for Muslims and those interested in the faith and culture.  I felt it was important to learn about Islam not just from my classes and textbooks, but also from my interactions with those Muslims on campus who were and would become my friends.

Still, I knew kids wondered if I was a potential convert; no one knew my story about my recent rededication to Catholicism or why I was so interested in Islam.

I felt a bit misunderstood by the Muslim community at Georgetown, but I quickly realized that I should feel that way.  All of my Muslim friends are deeply misunderstood because of their faith or the way they look or dress; they often are the minorities among a Christian majority.  If I wanted to truly learn about the Muslim experience, I needed to face what it was like to be a minority and feel misunderstood about my religion.  I tried to embrace this situation, realizing that it would help me to better understand my Muslim friends.

I went on the Muslim Students Association retreat in the spring, still feeling a bit out of place.  Much of the time was spent praying, which is done very differently in Islam that in Christianity.  I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with Islamic prayer–I had attended Jumu’ah prayer (the weekly Muslim service on Friday afternoons) with my friend in the winter time–but the protocol was still new to me.  My friend helped me wrap up my hair in a scarf and I took off my shoes, walking onto the prayer rug.  As the minutes went on, I began feeling distracted as the prayer leader was saying the long ayat (verses) in Arabic–beautiful as they were–and I felt hurried when I had to stand, kneel, and bend continuously.  Parts of it were even painful to me, like when I had to sit back on my legs, with my bottom against my feet, or when my head was pressed to the floor.  My body wasn’t used to those movements. Funnily enough, when my Muslim friend came to Mass with me a few times, she mentioned how uncomfortable kneeling on the kneeler was to her.  While that still hurts my back a little, it’s not that painful for me anymore.  We both were not used to these new prayer positions.

Praying at the MSA retreat (I'm third from the right)

Throughout the standing portions of prayer, when Muslims place their hands against their stomachs, I kept having this desire to fold my hands.  I have only prayed before with folded hands, so doing anything else just didn’t seem right.  I didn’t want to break protocol and fold my hands, but after a while, I realized that I should fold my hands, even if the rest of the congregation wasn’t praying that way.  Prayer is a time to connect to God, and I realized that I should engage in whatever prayer practices helped me to do that, as long as they weren’t offending anyone or disturbing the prayer atmosphere.

I closed my eyes and thought “Yes, this is right for me.”  That moment gave me another reaffirmation that I was and wanted to be Catholic.  During the rest of the standing portions, I folded my hands and began to feel my mind focusing on God more easily.

I think a lot of the reason why I returned to Catholicism was because it was comfortable and familiar.  And I think that’s ok.  It’s ok because I took my time to explore new beliefs and practices; I didn’t just stay stuck in a passive rut and continue to be Catholic without trying new things.  If I had been complacent, my reasoning for remaining Catholic–that it was comfortable–wouldn’t have been ok.  Without learning new things and challenging oneself, faith becomes meaningless, even if it is comfortable.

The Muslim retreat was at a...Christian retreat center!

I didn’t return to Catholicism because I believed it held the monopoly on correct beliefs or had the most accurate view of God. I don’t think Catholicism is any better than any other religion.  All religions hold religious Truth–they just express it in different ways.  I see great beauty in Islam and Hinduism particularly, and it is in learning about those religions that I was able to finally appreciate the good things in Catholicism.  I have taken important things away from these faiths.  From Islam, the call to pray often and always have God on one’s mind, and from Hinduism, the view that all things are fragmented expressions of God’s grandeur.  Of course there are many other things I admire, too.

I returned to Catholicism because it was right for me. I feel that I can best reach a close relationship God by being Catholic.  Just because it’s right for me, doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.  After religious exploration, some people might feel the need to convert; they might have found a new tradition that suits them more than the one of their youth.  Fortunately for me, I felt a call to stay Catholic.  I’ve also realized that even though my Catholicism is different from many other Catholics’, it doesn’t make my “version” any less right or true.

Me in my First Communion dress.

Now, when I’m at the 9:30pm Mass at Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown, and when I see the incense–the way it curls out of the swinging, golden bulb and floats up into the dark wood rafters–I’ll think of a reflection written Bonnie Amesquita, a woman who fell away from the Church despite her deep appreciation for it.  Her experience with the Church greatly mirrors my own, but luckily, unlike her, I found a way to stay.

“My Catholicism is a part of who I am.  It is my childhood, my mother, my father, my way of seeing the world, my way of seeing myself, and my way of responding to those I love.  It’s even my secret belief that a rosary that’s been blessed feels different, that once blessed it allows me to hold it and the hand of God at the same time.  And [my Catholicism] is responsible for be believing that I am brother’s keeper.

“The Church has given me so much and it has disappointed me in equal measure…but I will always love what my mother told me the Church was about: justice and love and compassion and tolerance and ecumenism–and the courage of intelligence and conscience in the face of conventional wisdom. …And I will always wonder why I cried whenever the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, was recited.”

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. –T.S. Eliot

Special thanks must go to my mother, father, and brother; the Carmelite Sisters who formerly lived in Indianapolis; the Jesuits at Brebeuf and Georgetown; my high school religion teacher; my freshman dorm chaplain; and my current roommate.  Thank you for responding to my questions with more questions–it was only because of them that I was able to reach some answers.

Choosing to be Catholic, Part 7

It wasn’t until I went home for spring break that I was able to fully recognize the importance of these lessons and experiences.  Once again, it was my high school religion teacher who helped me realize the shift occurring in my faith.

I went to visit my high school hoping to have a conversation with my old religion teacher about how my faith had changed in the past year.  I felt I still needed some answer, some guidance, some seed of wisdom that would make all of these things fit together.  I wasn’t really able to articulate clearly the confusion I was feeling.  I was happy that I felt better about Catholicism, but I knew that my long standing issues with Jesus were a part of my uneasiness.  Since that car ride in sixth-grade, I had deep questions about His role in my religion, and I couldn’t get out of my habit of being uncomfortable with Him (despite the fact that I had basically resolved my issues.)

So I asked my teacher, “How were you able to reconcile the idea of Jesus as being the only Way?”  He didn’t give me his answer; he knew I already knew it–from hisexplanation and from my own recent experiences.  Jesus proved through His life and death that self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is the only way to experience and have a relationship with God.  Rather than rehashing his old answer, my teacher let me turn to my own study and experiences to reach the same conclusion that he had.  This time, because I had come to it through my conversations with my friend and my study of the Bible, I felt that sense of awe and emotion about it that I hadn’t felt when I’d just been told the answer.

My teacher did point out very clearly however, that I was now traveling on the second part of my religious journey.  According to Joseph Campbell’s theory, after a person has spent time away from her “home,” has had her old thinking challenged, and has been educated about new things, she will return back to her home to see it in a new way, to come back with a greater appreciation and a desire to improve that place.  The best illustration of this journey as a whole (and particularly the “return”) is in The Alchemist, a must read by Paulo Coehlo.  (If you don’t want to have the ending spoiled, skip to the next paragraph.)  The protagonist, a young man, goes on a journey to find riches, which he has been told are far, far away from his home.  After an arduous but enlightening journey, he returns home, only to find the treasure there, where he began.  Because of his experiences along the journey, he is able to recognize that the treasure was there all along.

Though I had realized that changes were occurring in my spiritual life, I hadn’t grasped their gravity until my conversation with my teacher: I was making my return journey to Catholicism.

The fact that I knew I was on the way back to Catholicism made it ok that I didn’t have all the answers about Jesus or any other part of Catholicism.  A sense of calm clarity that I have rarely felt in life stayed with me for several hours after that conversation, and the memory of it drives my now-conscious return to Catholicism.  I will always be grateful to my teacher, who not only helped initiate my outward journey, but who also helped me recognize my return.

Question for reflection: Who has been a spiritual mentor for you?  What have you learned from him or her?

Part 8, the final installment, will hopefully be posted tomorrow.

(I should also note that last night I went to my first 9:30pm Mass of the year at Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown.  My parents were able to come with me and experience the Mass that has helped tremendously in my religious growth.  There was no music tonight, but the homily was great.)

Choosing to be Catholic, Part 6

During my second semester, I decided to fulfill a theology requirement with a course called “Introduction to Biblical Literature.”  I figured it would be useful for me to take a class that would force me to read the Bible–something Catholics hardly do.  And by now, I consciously wanted to get to know my faith and where it came from.

The reading assignments were tedious, and I sometimes hated them, but I ended up getting so much out of the class.  I not only learned about Christianity as an academic subject, but the things I learned informed my practice of Catholicism and impacted my spiritual life.  (That’s the beauty of a Jesuit education–what one learns inside the classroom is impactful outside it–and I’m so glad I decided to stick with the Jesuits.)

In class, we looked at the Bible as literature, which (I was thrilled to discover) is the way that the Biblical writers intended it to be read.  The Old Testament stories were just that–stories meant to impart some kind of message through symbolism, allusion, and other literary devices.  The Gospel writers too had messages they were trying to convey.  For example, the writers of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were trying to portray Jesus as the new Moses.  Jesus came “out of Egypt” during a time at which first-borns were ordered to be killed; He miraculously fed the people bread from Heaven (loaves and fishes); and He brought the new Law (Golden Rule, law of service of neighbor).  Whether or not these specific instances really occurred in Jesus’ life is fairly irrelevant.  What is important is that these writers had a goal in writing these allusion-heavy stories into the life of Jesus: they were trying to legitimize Him to the Jewish population, who at the time was skeptical of his importance.  By portraying Jesus as the new Moses they could show that Jesus was a part of the natural progression of the Jewish faith.  Clearly, having a knowledge of the historical and cultural context, as well a knowledge of the Old Testament, are crucial for a person to have to reach this understanding of the New Testament.

(Like I said in an earlier post, I am not sure if my analysis or history here is correct or if everyone will agree with it.  Please let me know what you think and correct me if I seem wrong.  I’d like to know, how do you look at the Bible?)

So the authors of the Bible didn’t intend for the book to be read literally.  Rather than containing a certain historical truth about Jesus or God, the stories pointed at a greater Truth about God and the way He works in the world.  This fact gave me a sense of relief, and I wondered, “Why don’t priests talk more about this in Church? They have studied these things (for far longer than a single semester!) so why aren’t they helping the congregation to better understand the readings we hear at Mass every Sunday?  Where’s the historical context that is so necessary to truly understanding the passage’s message?”  (A few weeks ago at Mass, I was thrilled when my priest brought up historical context and its importance when reading an allegory in the book of Revelation.  I was so excited.)

I read close to three-fourths of the Bible in class and soon began hearing some of those passages at Mass.  They now contained so much more meaning because I was able to recognize the historical context, authorial intent, and symbolism that were key to unearthing the real message.

Another aspect of class really helped me to have a greater appreciation of the most important part of Mass, the sacrificial offering, or the Eucharist.

My professor introduced us to a key cultural practice of pre-Israelite times in the Middle East.  It was customary for the community to take a lamb–a young and innocent animal without blemish–and symbolically put the sins of their community on that lamb.  The lamb would then be sent away from the village and into the wild, taking the sins of the people with it, and thus freeing the community from the things that prevented it from prospering and living in peace.

This ritual was incorporated into the growing Jewish tradition as seen in Biblical examples from Exodus and Isaiah.  In Exodus, the blood of the sacrificial lamb slaughtered by Moses and the Israelites in Egypt allowed for the Israelites to escape the sinful bondage in Egypt and live in freedom.  In Isaiah, the “suffering servant” figure is “like a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7) and he “gives his life as an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10).

This idea of the sacrificial lamb continued into Christianity as well.  Jesus is often referred to as the Lamb, the one who “takes away the sins of the world.”  It was only through His sacrifice–His death and resurrection–that sin could be done away with and that the peaceful and prosperous Kingdom of God could be realized on Earth.

Having not known before the history or significance behind the sacrificial Eucharist and the references to Jesus as Lamb, I began to have a whole new appreciation for a part of the Mass that had always seemed a little dry.  The Eucharistic prayer and consecration had previously been hard for me to pay attention to, and the Lamb of God, the song sung right before Communion, was never one of my favorites because I didn’t understand the true meaning.

But after taking that religion class, the consecration and Lamb of God song became the most moving parts of the Mass for me. The fact that the sacrificial ritual of slaughtering the unblemished lamb is still practiced and continues to hold meaning after 5,000 years is almost too much for words.  A tradition with this much longevity, one we still renew every Sunday at Mass through the sacrifice of the Eucharistic meal of Jesus body and blood, clearly holds a tremendous amount of spiritual power.

That’s one thing I learned to love about the Catholic Church: the traditions last.  But I never would have reached this new awareness of my desire and appreciation for tradition within the Catholic Church if it weren’t for my Biblical literature class.

The Mass I attend at Georgetown is fairly traditional, and during Lent, the choir sings the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God in Latin.  The combination of the mystical, unintelligible words and my new understanding of the tradition behind it left me to find tears in the corners of my eyes once or twice.

Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart at Georgetown University

Questions for reflection:

What religious rituals are your favorites? Why? How have you come to better understand your faith’s rituals and where they come from?

How do you look at your religion’s Scripture and the Truth it conveys?

Part 7 will hopefully be posted tomorrow, but I’m driving to Georgetown tomorrow, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time.  I’ll post as soon as I can.

Choosing to be Catholic, Part 5

During my first semester of college, two of my good friends and I started meeting to discuss religion.  I was Catholic, another friend was Muslim, and another Protestant.  We wanted an informal place to get together to learn about our religions from each other, so we met up weekly over hot chocolate and chai tea (which I failed at making) and brought along our holy books.  My friends brought the Bible and the Qur’an, and I brought The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, the Bhagavad Gita, and a Jesuit prayer book called In All Things.  Each week had a new discussion topic that we planned for, but more often than not we ended up veering off topic, in a good way.  We talked about the nature of God, traditions, rituals and holidays, and similarities and differences between the Biblical and Qur’anic stories about Abraham and other major figures.  I remember the three of us getting giddy when the words to stories about Abraham in both the Bible and the Qur’an matched up almost perfectly.

Here it is important for me to give a little background on Islam.  Muslims believes in the same God as both Christians and Jews.  The name Allah is Arabic for “the God”; the “the” signifies God’s oneness and superiority over other gods that existed in the pagan Middle East.  Islam descends from Abraham and regards Jesus and Moses as holy messengers of God’s Word.  God’s final Word was delivered through the prophet Muhammad, who heard the new and final Word of God through the angel Gabriel (the messenger angel of Christianity too.) Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus nor of the prophet, Muhammad.  Out of reverence for Muhammad and the other prophets like Jesus, they are not depicted in art and the phrase “peace be upon him” is used after their names are said.

These discussions were greatly helpful to me, because I got to know Islam from a friend, not just from reading out of a textbook.  Even more so, my friend’s questions about Christianity helped me to reconsider aspects of my faith that I’d never thought deeply about.  I realized that Christianity had certain (and positive!) things that other faiths didn’t, and I wouldn’t have picked those things out without her outsider’s perspective of Christianity and Catholicism.

Jesus among his followers and children

One of the most significant conversations we had in our little triumvirate was about the nature of God and His relationship with mankind.  I remember trying to explain to my Muslim friend how Christians strive to be like Jesus; she was surprised.  “You try to be like God?” she asked.  I realized I’d been vague, and that she thought I’d been saying that we try to be God-like.  “No,” I said, “We don’t think that we as humans can be as great as God, but we try to act as God did on earth through Jesus, emulating his actions.  We try to live in simplicity and humility, and accept those traditionally marginalized by society.”

I knew why my friend was initially confused and probably a bit disturbed by the concept of Jesus and the idea that we as Christians try to act as He did.  For Muslims, the thought that God would take on human form is outrageous.  In Islam, God is an all perfect and all powerful being, and manifesting Himself in human form would be demeaning.  The Qur’an addresses this directly: “God is indeed just One God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth. God is sufficient for a guardian.” (Qur’an 4:171)

Additionally, Islam is all about complete submission to the power and perfection of God.  So the thought of Christians trying to emulate and take on that perfection seemed wrong to my friend.  And she’s right; if Christians were trying to be God-like–claiming power and judgement over the whole universe–that would be blasphemous.  Rather, as I obviously didn’t express well initially, we try to emulate the way in which God worked in the world through the person of Jesus.  Muslims too try to emulate the good qualities of God, listed as the 99 names of God (the Merciful, the Protector, the Forgiver, etc.)  However the emphasis of the two religions is different.  For Muslims, its about submission to God’s will, whereas for Christians its about participating to help enact God’s will.

All of this led me to think about another way I had heard the difference between Christians’ and Muslims’ relationship with God explained.  I can’t remember who said this to me and if the person was Christian or Muslim.

He or she said that in Islam, one’s life is spent on the path toward God.  In Islam, “the straight path” is the one that a person must take throughout life to reach God.  On the other hand, in Christianity, one’s life is spent on the path with God.  This reminded me of  the songs I used to hear during school Masses at St. Matthew that spoke of Jesus guiding us on life’s path as a friend.  In Christianity more so than in Islam, God and man work together in a friendship and a kind of equality.

Me walking in Muir Woods in Northern California.

I had previously thought that because we (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) believed in the same God, we believed the same things about God and our relationship with Him.  I didn’t realize that my faith had a unique view of God that others didn’t.  I couldn’t let go of that image of God that I had always grown up with: a God who could be a friend, someone who would walk on the path with me.  I had a harder time connecting with the Islamic view of God, which to me seemed more impersonal.

Neither the Christian nor Muslim view of God is correct or incorrect.  God is God, He can encompass all of our beliefs about Him or none of them.  However, I realized that the Christian view of God connected with me more.  I felt I could have a deeper relationship with a friend-like God, one who manifested Himself in the world in order to walk with and guide His people.

(Please correct me if I am wrong in my interpretation of Islam or Christianity and the faiths’ perceptions of God.  What I have written here is only what I remember from conversations and I have not taken the time to verify it.  I also realize that the interpretations of individuals of the same faith can be vastly different, so I’d love your feedback in the comments section.)

Questions for reflection: How do you or your religion see your relationship with God?  How would you explain that relationship it to an outsider, someone not of your faith?

Sources about comparative religion:

-Comparison chart (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) at

-See sources from yesterday’s post (Choosing to be Catholic, Part 4)

Part 6 will be posted tomorrow.

Choosing to be Catholic, Part 4

During high school, I began to learn a lot about Islam.  I was initially interested in U.S. foreign affairs in the Middle East, and I wrote papers dealing with topics such as the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq and America’s attempts to democratize the region.  All that researching got me interested in Islam as a faith, and I found myself doing many of my school projects about Islam in some variation: social justice in Islam; the difference in views between Catholicism and Islam on the abortion issue; and the struggles of interfaith marriage.

Though I was learning more about Islam, most Americans weren’t, and I could see that ignorance manifest itself in racist and “religious-ist” comments made by people I knew well and politicians and talking heads on T.V.  Having known a few Muslims at my high school, I was angered that people I knew were putting my classmates in the same category as terrorists.  In post 9/11 America, I felt this uninformed prejudice was unacceptable, and was upset when I saw how it perpetuated a growing Islamophobia in our country.  This hostility has been present in America since 9/11, but until this summer has not received much media coverage.  The anger surrounding the Park 51 center (the so-called “mosque at Ground Zero”) and the plan to burn Qur’ans on 9/11 have gained lots of publicity–and sometimes support–in the media.  Over the past several years and especially this summer, my frustration and sadness has grown and been channeled into a passion to help rid our country of this misunderstanding of Islam; I hope to help combat this through journalism and by creating spaces for inter-religious dialogue.

But back to high school.  I began to do more reading and studying of Islam on my own to try to understand why so many Americans feared Islam.  I listened a lot to Speaking of Faith’s podcasts about Islam, and learned about the basic tenets of the faith and more specific things like the reasons for choosing to wear the hijab, or head scarf, reasons I now admire and fully support.  (Below I mention Ingrid Mattson, who has a nice reflection about why she wears hijab.  Check it out.)  I, like every other non-Muslim American, had (and still have) misconceptions about the faith, and each time I am proven wrong I am pleasantly surprised.  I wondered, maybe this religion would be right for me? The newness of it made it exciting, and I thought it might give me the depth of faith that I felt I was missing in Catholicism.

The summer before my freshman year of college, I tried prostrating as one does in Muslim prayer.  Right before I went to sleep, I crouched down with my hands and my knees and my face against the soft bed, thinking and hoping that I would feel some kind of a connection to God.  But I couldn’t.  I just kept thinking how uncomfortable the position was, and the blood rushing to my head made my head feel heavy and full.   I was disappointed that I didn’t feel anything, but I was still intrigued and wanted to learn more. (I think back on that time now and laugh because I wasn’t even prostrating correctly–I was doing child’s pose from yoga…)

The summer ended and I transitioned into my new life at Georgetown, which I loved.  Just like at Brebeuf, I felt encouraged to explore religion and faith.  I was lucky enough to get into a class called “Islam and the West” taught by a well-known (Catholic) scholar of Islam, John Esposito.  I learned about the origins of Islam, how the religion grew up out of a corrupt, materialistic society in Arabia.  God’s message, delivered through Muhammad, was a call for social justice, piety, devotion to God, and love of neighbor.  Muslims felt that God’s earlier Word delivered to mankind (the Torah through Moses, and the Gospel through Jesus) had been ignored and corrupted by humans’ sins, and they needed a final reminder in order to follow the straight path.  The idea of separate secular and religious realms was done away with.  The secular society had been unjust and sinful.  Religious society needed to fill the void and bring back peace, justice, and love.  Islam’s laws were extremely progressive for the time–Muslim women could own land and had inheritance rights; at that time, Christian and Jewish women did not have those rights in their societies.

I learned about the hundreds of years in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in peace and harmony under the Islamic empire in places like Al-Andalus (Andalusia) in southern Spain.  (The Park 51 project was originally named Cordoba House after a place of major inter-religious cooperation and learning in Andalusia.)  I was drawn to the tradition of tolerance and social justice that Islam embodied and that I couldn’t really see in my own faith, whose history seemed darkened by the Crusades and persecution of Muslims and other religious people.

(If I am incorrect in any of my history about Islam, please correct me.)

I participated in the Muslim Students Association Fast-a-thon, a day-long event to help non-Muslims learn about the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from food, drink, and sinful thought or action from sunrise to sunset.  My dorm’s chaplain, a Muslim, held a discussion about the ideas and values that Ramadan and fasting promote: self-sacrifice, community, focusing on God instead of oneself, recognizing that so many less fortunate people go without food but not by choice.  Though I took the Catholic season of fasting, Lent, fairly seriously–I refrained from all sweets and junk food–many Catholics didn’t, and it made me feel that Catholicism’s practice of self-sacrifice was wimpy.  Muslims were all very committed to their fasting during Ramadan–I was amazed that they looked forward to a month of not eating!

As I studied Arabic, I also learned many Islamic phrases and prayers.  The way in which the prayers are recited–a kind of chanting–was beautiful; I loved the way the Arabic words sounded, deep and reverberating.

“La iilaha illullah.” There is no god but God.  (Listen to and read along with the call to prayer here.)

I increasingly saw the beauty in the Islamic faith.  Eventually that appreciation of Islam, along with several other factors, helped me to begin seeing the beauty in my own faith again.


Interested in learning about Islam?

-The book Who Speaks for Islam is a great introduction to the perspectives of Muslims’ around the world.  This is one of many books by John Esposito, a Catholic Georgetown professor of Islam.  (If you want to borrow this book from me, let me know.)

-Check out podcasts about Islam from the radio program, Speaking of Faith.  For those wanting to learn about…

…American Muslims’ experiences and perspectives since 9/11, check out: “Hearing Muslim voices since 9/11”
…what factors drive a person to extremism, check out: “Reflections from a former Islamist extremist”
…Muslim women and religious freedom, try “Muslim women and other misunderstandings”
…one Muslim’s mission to create inter-religious cooperation, listen to: “Religious passion, pluralism, and the young” (featuring Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core)
…the experiences of a female convert who now leads the Islamic Society of North America, check out: “A new voice for Islam” (featuring convert, scholar, and leader Ingrid Mattson.)
…the Muslim mystic whose poetry has been widely read in the West, listen to: “The ecstatic faith of Rumi”
…the challenges and benefits of being Muslim in America, try: “Living Islam”
…Muslims’ experiences during Islam’s holiest month, listen to: “Revealing Ramandan”
…the internal religious debate in Islam, check out: “The Sunni-Shia divide”

Search these titles in the search engine on Speaking of Faith, or download the podcast on iTunes.

Scholars whose books you should read: John Esposito, John Voll, Karen Armstrong, Robert Bulliet

Scholars whose books you should avoid: Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Christopher Hitchens, Samuel Huntington

World Religions by Huston Smith summarizes of all major world religions, including Islam, for an audience who knows little about the faith. (I have the book if you want to borrow it.)

-Check out these websites:,,, Oxford Islamic Studies Online