Collectivism, Community, and Identity: An Holistic Approach to Faith, Culture, Society, Life, and Religion
By Malak Alkanani
I am often asked, as a former Muslim:
Why do you think so many people convert to Islam? Why is it such a large religion?”
While this may not be true of every convert, I believe the main reason you see people becoming Muslims is because Islam offers something that Christianity, at least Christianity as is often practiced in the West, does not. The reason people convert to Islam and the reason it is so difficult to leave it are exactly the same, the religion becomes a part of who you are. Islam, properly and widely practiced, is not individualistic–it is part of your culture, society, and identity. There is a sense of community, of belonging to something bigger than yourself and serving a greater purpose. The heart of Ancient Christianity is the same, but when American Christianity divorces the individual from the collective Body (i.e. “this is between me and God”, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship”, “only God can judge me, so who are you to judge me?”, etc.) you find people leaving this to join a movement bigger than their local congregation.
This individualization happens on two levels: the congregational level and a personal level.
The average American Evangelical grows up in a nice Christian community where their congregation is, in a sense, what the entire Body of Christ should be to them. But there is a reason that when most of these children become adults and leave their congregation, they slowly end up leaving behind their faith as well. They may church-hop for a bit, trying to find the same kind of community they had growing up (a similar worship/preaching/life style), but it never really happens. Their previous individual church/congregation becomes the entire Body; there is a sense of discontinuity, separation, and individualism that is anti-human nature. This causes a person to seek out something “bigger”, more communal.
On a personal level this is much more common in American Christianity–where the believer is not only divorced from the entire Body, but even from their local congregation. When we have the idea that there is no authority but the Scriptures, why put ourselves under the authority of anyone else? This gives birth to the “Jesus is my homeboy/boyfriend/best friend” and “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” mentality, which leaves the believer isolated from the rest of the Body because they do not share a common life of worship or, ultimately, a common faith.
This has gotten long enough, but back to my original point: you find that most people who convert to Islam come from Evangelical Christian backgrounds. This is not a coincidence; people are seeking community and identity, something Islam can offer. This isn’t to say that Islam is better than American Evangelicalism, as someone who left Islam for the latter I am extremely grateful for the wonderful community of Christ-loving Christians that graciously took me in and still, to this day, love and support me. But the movement as a whole is lacking, its divorced Christianity from the culture/society (i.e. separation of Church and State) and individualized the faith as a whole. The West criticizes Islam for the way the religion is integrated into every aspect of the Muslim’s life (their government, culture, and community), but isn’t that what Ancient Christianity was? Isn’t that what Christianity today should be? People are becoming Muslims because Islam has preserved what the West has not: collectivism, community, and identity.
If the Church is the Body of Christ and we are called to find our identity *in Christ*, does that not mean we are to find our identity in the Church? I love when St. Paul calls the Church a “Body”, it is a beautiful picture of what we are called to be and what we find our identity in. A common bread, faith, and life of worship–things you find in Islam but would be hard-pressed to find in Evangelicalism today. This is why Islam is growing, and not only growing, but bringing in people who grew up loving Jesus as Lord. And this isn’t meant to tear down Evangelicalism, it is meant to point out a flaw in the structure that is causing people to abandon their faith in Christ.
Individualism has been proven to be poisonous to Christianity, and that is because it is anti-human nature. We believe God to be communal, and as image-bearers of the Divine, we reflect that in our nature by seeking to be communal.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. […] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 20-27).
Malak Alkanani is a 20 year old Lebanese/Iraqi Orthodox Christian who converted from Islam. She loves the Lord Jesus Christ, is passionately Pro-Palestine, extremely anti-Feminist, and is studying Religion and History at Calvin College. Check her out on Tumblr.