San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Back Page

Don’t buy a PC. I’ll help you when you have problems.” My friend Andy was talking me out of my purchase. A devoted Mac user most of my life, I was frustrated that every time I had a problem with my Mac, no one I knew could help me because they were all PC users. Andy’s bravado made me realize that I shouldn’t let others’ shortcomings dictate my choice. Plus, since he was offering his unconditional IT support, I figured I couldn’t lose. So I bought a new Mac to replace my old one.

I had just visited a Constitutional Law class at a school I was considering attending, New York University School of Law. The professor and his teaching assistants discussed an elaborate plan to distribute class materials on disk (the year was 1997, a time before downloading off the Internet became easy).

“Who here will need Mac?” the professor asked. About a quarter of the class raised their hands, almost in unison. Surprised, he chuckled audibly.

“Fight the power!” one young man said, raising a playful, defiant fist. Everyone laughed. In the real world, a similar Mac request would be mocked, even met with indignation or stunned anger. Macs are seen as toys, not serious computers for serious people.

The choice to use a Mac or to be Muslim in today’s world is not easily understood. In a world where the vast majority of computers are PC, where Islam is perceived as the enemy, why would someone choose to be a Mac user or a Muslim? Bias against both is rampant. Those who we rely on to educate us — the media — are themselves neither Muslim nor Mac users. Outright untruths are widely subscribed to. Muslims and Mac users are described as cult members, when, clearly, we are not. Both Islam and Macintosh are legitimate movements, with no spooky stuff in either of them. Obviously, the more than a billion people who follow Islam and the more than twenty-five million who use Macs cannot all be crazy.

At restaurants, when I place my order, I have to provide a blanket disclaimer: “Could you make sure my meal doesn’t have any pork products like bacon, sausage, bacon bits, lard, pepperoni, pancetta, or pork?”

“Oh, OK,” the waiter will say. Is he annoyed, I ask myself? Are they wondering if I am Muslim? Should I say I’m allergic to calm him? I go through the same dilemma when looking at computer products. Should I tell the salesperson I need a Mac-compatible mouse? Will he laugh at me?

Why do we do it? Why belong to a movement that is a source of comedy or scorn for many? Islam and Mac both started revolutions. Mac is a computer designed to be easy to use. Islam is a religion designed to be easy to use. Before Islam, the Arabs of Mecca prayed to one of more than 300 gods, whichever was assigned to their tribe. The gods of weak tribes were weak gods, while the gods of the strong tribes were seen as powerful and effective. Islam arrived with an innovation: we each pray directly to the same, single God, without the assistance of a saint, priest or other minister. The Koran says that God, being all powerful, hears the prayers of each of us equally.

The Mac operating system was created from scratch with the goal of being simple. When you turn a Mac on, the desktop is not an artificial environment created to navigate through DOS but is, in fact, the actual environment. Muslims are encouraged by the Koran to look at the world with curiosity and wonder, not to be afraid of scientific discovery. God’s creations are “signs” to us of his design, which God wants us to explore and theorize about. The Koran liberates us to ask, “Why?” This accessibility to God is a major attraction for many Muslim converts. Being Muslim, and also being a Mac user, is empowering because both put me in control.

As much as I enjoy being a Muslim, I certainly don’t expect everyone I know to become Muslim and start using a Mac. As every Mac user knows, suggesting a Mac product to a PC-using friend may end the friendship. I’d feel more comfortable encouraging a Christian friend to learn more about Islam. At least, out of sensitivity, my friend would not malign my religion. Paradoxically, it’s always open season on Macs. However, I accept that Macs, like Islam, are not for everybody. As much as I can’t imagine being something else, some people cannot imagine being what I am.

One day I did have a problem with my Mac. Two hundred pages of my writing — my first book — could be lost forever. I rapidly e-mailed the one person who had promised to help me. When Andy’s rescue e-mail finally came, my hopes were deflated. “I don’t know anything about that,” he wrote.

“What?” I said to myself. “But he promised!” I furiously wrote back an angry e-mail. I never sent it, though. I realized, regardless of what Andy had said, I now had this problem with my Mac. I could either fix it or not, but, ultimately, it was my computer, not Andy’s.

Faith is like computing. Whatever religion you are, you do it for yourself. I couldn’t count on Andy or anyone else to administer my faith or my computer. Repeated throughout the Koran is that God is the final judge of us all. My faith is a matter between God and me. This direct relationship with God is the revolution and, in a way, the burden of Islam: you and God are in it together. Maybe being Muslim has predisposed me to being a Mac user because I know that, when I write, it is between me and my Mac.

Asma Gull Hasan wrote her new book, “Why I Am A Muslim: An American Odyssey,” on a Mac. It is being published this month by Thorsons/Element, a division of HarperCollins.