An agnostic defense of religion

Many, perhaps because of my beard, would ask if I were Muslim. When I identified as either “raised as Christian” or “without belief”, I never received a discourteous response, and had only one individual attempt to convert me during a discussion in the back office of his market. After sitting down, he and a number of his associates asked me what I knew of Islam, and why I would not consider conversion. While a tad unsettling, it was an interesting exchange, and I appreciated their effort.

But while many of my interactions were relatively cursory engagements like this, I was also able to absorb the deeply positive meaning a number of people close to me drew from their faith. For example: the prayer of my host father and sister in northern Jordan at dinner and at the regular daily intervals; a Saudi friend teaching my class of foreign students the process of pre-prayer cleansing, called wudu, and then leading the steps of prayer (I, again, did not participate in the actual act); and another Saudi friend gifting me a tapestry inscribed with the 99 names of Allah – his one request being that I treat it properly and hang it in a place of respect. The sincerity and, frankly, the clarity with which these individuals expressed their beliefs and shared with me the power they draw from them drove home why I would not wish to see religion disappear from human life.