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John Coltrane and Bilal Philips: Two Converts’ Paths

A Love Supreme, a work of passion, intensity, fervor, grace, and nobility, is a map of the spiritual journey in four parts: “Acknowledgment,” the recognition of the need for a change in one’s life; “Resolution,” the decision to make that change; “Pursuance,” the effort to follow the new path; and “Psalm,” the attainment of peace and gratitude to God for it. It is a seminal work of modal jazz, a masterpiece of improvisation, and a searching, stirring, soaring, spiritual document. John Coltrane died at age forty, less than three years after completing it. To this day, although both before and after A Love Supreme he made a great deal more music that approached its quality, it has endured as his monumental achievement.

Bilal Philips still lives. He has gained controversy for advocating death for homosexuals. According to the National Post, he also “defends child marriages, wife beating, polygamy and killing apostates."

But as far as Bilal Philips is concerned, his heart is clean and pure, for death for homosexuals and apostates, the beating of disobedient women, child marriage, and polygamy are all in accord with Islamic law, and thus pleasing to Allah. He no longer sullies his soul with the seductive sounds of wind and string instruments.

Which conversion – that of John Coltrane or that of Bilal Philips – bore more fruit, for the convert himself, and for those around him, and for society as a whole?