Madonna made waves in the mid-1990s when she began studying the Kabbalah, a Jewish esoteric tradition that draws from the mystical and prophetic visions described throughout the Torah. Now she's causing uproar with the news that she's begun studying the Koran, the sacred text of Islam, joining celebs like Janet Jackson, Dave Chappelle, and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), who reportedly also practice Islam. Is this a Madonna-worthy publicity stunt or an earnest attempt to deepen her spirituality?
Madonna is no stranger to scandal, from her famous cone bra to the Britney Spears kiss to her highly sexualized music and performances. It's little wonder her religious beliefs would catch the public's attention too, but perhaps Madonna's fame isn't the only ingredient in this buzz. Sure, she's a mega celebrity and her every move will be of interest to the media. But religion is a divisive topic, and, unfortunately in a post-9/11 U.S., Islam is a particularly sensitive faith to discuss.
Observers might criticize Madonna for having a casual relationship to her faith or they might say her interest is inspired more by romance than by belief (her boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat, apparently practices Islam, as well). But viewed in a more forgiving light, Madonna's statement might be an important step toward religious literacy and tolerance.
In an article for Harper's Bazaar, Madonna writes:
I am building schools for girls in Islamic countries and studying the Qur'an. I think it is important to study all the holy books. As my friend Yaman always tells me, a good Muslim is a good Jew, and a good Jew is a good Christian, and so forth. I couldn't agree more. To some people this is a very daring thought.
She goes on to say the "idea of being daring has become the norm for me," which suggests that, a) Madonna believes Islam is inherently "daring" or b) she knows any major life change or conversion she undergoes will naturally seem daring to her audience. Either way, it's a bold statement that we hope Madonna carries through with the utmost tact and respect for the 1.5 billion practitioners of Islam worldwide.