Top 10 Misconceptions About Islam
If you are in the United States, you are likely aware that we are in the middle of a fierce election. One of the most common topics of this election, thanks to the likes of Donald Trump, is Islam, the religion of Muslims.
Thus far, most of the election talk about Islam has been negative, and for the most part, this talk has been untrue and full of misconceptions. The media, of course, does not help this misconception, nor do terrorist attacks, such as the ones that happened in Paris and Brussels. When people see the word ISIS, or see anything with the word “Islam,” they associate it with bad things. The truth is, however, is that Islam is a very peaceful religion; the people who claim to do these things in the name of Islam are extreme Muslims and for the most part, other Muslims hate that they are associated with these actions.
You can easily compare Christianity, a religion most in the US are more familiar with, to Islam. In fact, there are certainly many extreme Christians out there, those who take the Bible literally. Yet, to an outsider of the Christian religion, someone who believes in God and Jesus, yet never goes to church, is lumped together with those extreme Christians. In truth, these people are very different and would be unlikely to find a lot of middle ground in their beliefs, short of believing in the same deity.
The misconceptions about Muslims goes far beyond the violent nature of the extreme practitioners of Islam. Here are the top 10 misconceptions about Islam:
10All Muslims are Violent, Extreme and Terrorists
Might as well get this one out of the way. It is a very common misconception that all Muslims promote violence, all of them are extreme, and all will eventually become terrorists or promote terrorist actions. None of this is true.
Think about this for a second. When a terrorist attack occurs in the name of Islam, others are very quick to blame all Muslims. However, when a gunman shoots up a mosque in the name of Jesus, or a Jewish extremist bombs an urban area, are all Christians and all Jews blamed? Of course not! So why are all Muslims?
Here’s the truth: politics in many “Muslim countries” may not even have any Islamic basis. These countries are often led by politicians who are more dictators than anything else, and these leaders use Islam largely for their own purposes. However, the literal meaning of Islam is “submission to God,” and the root of the word means “peace.”
However, like Christianity, Islam allows for fighting in defense of the religion, in self-defense and in cases where a person is being forcibly taken from their home. There are also very strict guidelines in Islam that prohibit harming other civilians or destroying livestock or crops. There is not one place in the Quran that says it is OK to kill innocent people, and in fact, the Quran bans those actions.
As Westerners, we often look at Islam as an exotic or “weird” religion, as to Muslims, their religion is a way of life. At it’s root, however, the guidelines are much the same as those found in the Bible.
9All Muslims are Arabs and All Arabs are Muslim
If you listen to Donald Trump and his cronies, or even pay attention to the news, you may have noticed that he has said several times in the past that all Muslims would be banned from coming into the United States. Those who are opponents of this plan ask one simple question: How do you know a person is Muslim? Fans of this plan, though some are unwilling to let their racist flag fly, believe that any Arab person that attempts to come into the US is a Muslim. So with this in mind, any person with a certain look or certain skin color must be Muslim and should not be allowed in the country.
The man with a dark complexion wearing a turban is obviously a Muslim, right? Wrong. What’s to say he isn’t a Sikh? Sikhism is a totally different religion than both Islam and Christianity, and Sikhs are far from Muslim. Some Jewish and Greek men also wear turbans. Are they banned from entering the US too? The truth is, only a very small number of Muslims wear turbans, and Arabs make up less than 20 percent of the entire population of Muslims worldwide.
Where do most Muslims come from? East Asia. In fact, almost 70 percent of Muslims are East Asian and come from Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. There are more than 200 million Muslims in Indonesia, alone. Africa also has many Muslims, about 27 percent of all Muslims on Earth, which again, is a much higher number than the Muslims that come from the Middle East.
8There are Only Two Types of Islam
If you know anything about Islam, you know that there are Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims make up approximately 85 percent of Muslims, and those who fall into this sect see themselves as traditional Muslims who follow the traditions of Muhammad and who are descendants of the first two generations of followers of Muhammad. An additional 10 percent of Muslims are Shi’ite Muslims. The Shi’a are those who believe that Ali, who was the son-in-law of Muhammad, is the successor of his father-in-law, and that the modern Muslim community should be led by his descendant. There are several subgroups of Shi’ite Muslims.
There are other types of Muslims than simply Shi’a and Sunni, however. Sufis, for instance, are Islamic mystics. These followers go above and beyond the normal requirements of the Islamic religion, and they attempt to create a personal relationship with God through spiritual grown and meditation. Ahmadiyyas and Baha’is are two offshoots of the main types of Islam. Both sects are rather new religions, and they originated from the Shi’ite practices of Islam similarly to how Christianity can trace itself back to Judaism.
There are also the Alevis, Druze and ‘Alawis sects. These sects, though they consider themselves to be Muslim, have unorthodox practices and beliefs, and they do not follow all of the teachings of Muhammad. Other Muslims do not consider them Muslims, and in some cases, see them as heretics.
7Muslim Women Have No Rights
One of the hot topics when people discuss Islam is the rights of women. It is a complicated issue as there is a very big difference between religion and culture in this case. When you look at Islam alone, there is absolutely nothing in the Quran that states women should not have the same rights as men. In fact, the Quran actually teaches that both genders should take on equal roles in society. There are numerous Muslim women who have made outstanding accomplishments in the fields of art, science, academia, science and politics, just in the past year, not to mention, through the past decades. In fact, if you still don’t believe that Islam teaches that women have rights, consider that Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who is a former professor of biology, was elected President of Mauritius, a country in Africa. Islam is the second most popular religion in the country. Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, another woman, serves as the Vice President of the country. Obviously, if Islam looked down on the rights of women, these two would not be in positions of power.
Though Islam does not teach that women should have little or no rights, some of the cultures that follow Islam DO believe this. Many of these countries have a patriarchal culture, which is separate from the religion of the country, and even if people in the country do not practice Islam, they still fall under the culture rules of patriarchy.
If there is a common world religion that teaches that women should have fewer rights than men, it’s Christianity. In the Bible, 1 Timothy 2: 11-13 says: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
6Muslims Hate Jesus
If you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus is the son of God, and that he is the one savior that God promised to his people. Many Christians also believe that Muslims, who follow the teachings of Muhammad, hate Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are actually a number of similarities between the history of Islam and Christianity, and many people are surprised to find that, according to Muslims, Jesus is seen as one of the most respected and revered messengers of God. In fact, a person cannot be a Muslim without believing that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, and that he performed a number of miracles.
Jesus is mentioned in several verses throughout the Quran, and was always seen as a man with a good character and one who was virtuous. However, the big difference between Islam and Christianity is that Christians believe that Jesus was God, and Muslims do not. It is really no different than the beliefs of the Jewish religion, who also believe that, though Jesus was a good, kind and knowledgeable teacher, he was not the messiah that God promised to his people.
5Muslims Do Not Worship the Same God as Other Major Religions
Muslims worship Allah, Christians worship God. Guess what? “Allah” is simply an Arabic word that is translated to “God.” To Muslims, Allah is the God of Abraham, Jesus and Moses, which is exactly the same God that Christians believe in. Arabs who are Christian actually also use the word “Allah” when referring to God.
If you know anything about the people of the Bible, you may recognize the names Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was a child born to Abraham and his wife Sarah, who was 90 years old when the baby was born. The couple became pregnant after God promised Abraham that he would father a great nation. Ultimately, Isaac married a woman named Rebekah, they had twin boys, Jacob and Esau, and Jacob went on to father 12 sons. These men became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. Both Judaism and Christianity can be traced back to these tribes, Jacob, Isaac and ultimately Abraham.
Ishmael was also the son of Abraham, but he was not the son of Sarah. Since Sarah was barren, up until the point she gave birth to Isaac, it was customary for her maidservant, who was named Hagar, to attempt to produce an heir with her husband, Abraham. The result of this union was a baby boy named Ishmael. Isaac came around a couple of years later. Ishmael grew up, married, and he, too, fathered 12 sons who led tribes. These tribes grew to populate much of the Middle East, and Muslims can trace themselves back to these tribes, just as Jews and Christians can trace themselves back to the tribes of Israel.
4Muslims Worship Muhammad
Many also incorrectly believe that Muslims worship Muhammad as their God, but this is not true, either. Another misconception about Muhammad is that he was the founder of Islam. This, too, is untrue. According to Islamic teaching, Adam, the one from the Garden of Eden, was actually the first Muslim.
What about Muhammad? Well, Muslims see Muhammad as a great prophet, and the last prophet from God. He is seen as the one who communicated the final revelation from God, too. Muslims look to Muhammad as the best example of how to be a true Muslim, and he is held in the greatest of esteem. He is not, however, worshiped by Muslims. Instead, any worship done by a Muslim is only for God, and as it is in Christianity, it is forbidden by the religion to worship any other thing or person.
A good way to understand how Muslims feel about Muhammad is to look at how they celebrate him. In the US, we celebrate the birthdays of our great leaders, for example, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and we set aside a day to honor him. In fact, when Muhammad died, he specifically told his followers that they should never worship him. He was buried in his apartment, which was part of a mosque. Today, his body remains there. Muslims go to the mosque to pray, but they only visit his grave and send good tidings, they do not pray to him in any way.
3“Jihad” Means Holy War, and Muslims Have Declared War on Non-Muslims
Many non-Muslims believe that Jihad means “holy war,” and that Muslims have declared war on those of other faith systems. Jihad does not mean “holy war.” Instead, it means “to apply oneself, to strive, to persevere, to struggle.” Jihad may be a personal thing to a Muslim, or it may be used in terms of a community of people who are struggling against some type of oppression.
In essence, Jihad means to get closer to God in community and lifestyle, and Jihad means to struggle to create an equitable and peaceful community. In Islam, aggression and violence is prohibited in most situations. The Arabic word of war is “harb” and the word for fighting is “qital.” In the Quran, the word Jihad is only mentioned 28 times, but qital/hard is mentioned 94 times. If you combine all of the instances of struggle, war and fighting, you will find 164 instances in the Quran, but not all of these are in reference to jihad.
As with some Christians and the Bible, both islamophobes and Islamic extremists, though each on the opposite side of the spectrum, have taken the Quran and edited, changed and misinterpreted it to suit their own needs and personal beliefs.
2Islam Was Spread by the Sword
You may have heard that Islam was spread by the sword. In other words, during the spread of Islam, the common belief is that Muslims forced people to follow their religion by violent means. You follow Islam or you die. This, of course, is also a misconception about Islam.
The truth is that the Quran is very clear about spreading the teachings of Islam, and it is certainly not through violence. Using force to spread Islam is forbidden, and Islam only wants believers that are sincere. If people convert to the religion through violence, they are seen as hypocrites, which goes against the teachings of Islam.
Yes, there were wars in the early 7th century where the Islamic people focused on defeating both the Sassanid Empire and Byzantium. However, these conflicts were not seen as a way to spread the Islamic religion, but instead to protect it, as Muslims saw that these people were a threat to their religion.
The Sassanid Empire was a prosperous and wealthy kingdom that controlled Iraq and Persia, which is modern-day Iran. The people were warriors, master craftsmen, artists, and they followed the Zoroastrian religion. The Islamic people also focused on fighting the people of the Byzantium empire, which was based in Constantinople. They were equally as prosperous and wealthy as the Sassanids, but these people were Christian.
As the leaders of the Islamic people saw both empires as a threat to their religion, there was a religious ware declared, as the key to survival would be to eliminate the threat. Keep in mind, that Christians did the same thing just a few hundred years later during the Crusades.
1Muslims are Intolerant of Other Religions
“Kill the infidel!” This is a phrase that many associate with Muslims and is a belief that many feel that Muslims have towards non-Muslims. This, however, is one more misconception about Islam.
Islam has always been respectful to other religions and all other faiths. In the Quran, it says that God does not forbid the existence of other religions, and says that a Muslim should treat these people with kindness, as God loves those who show kindness.
There are a number of examples throughout history that show the tolerance of Muslims towards other religions and faiths. For instance, from 634 to 644 AD, the caliph Umar ruled Jerusalem. He, of course, was a Muslim, and he gave freedom to all of the religious communities in the city. He promised that all of their places of worship would remain standing, and he set up private course that were specifically for non-Muslims. Additionally, as a good will gesture, when he would visit holy places, he would ask that Sophronius, who was the Christian patriarch at the time, to visit with him.
Even today, many mosques in the United States do community outreach projects, serve in careers that help others of different religions, such as medicine, and teach the “infidels” in educational environments.
Far too many people believe that they are “in the know” when it comes to Islam, but they are only regurgitating the false information that they hear from others, the media and people who really have no idea about what they are talking about. Until the media and other religions begin explaining that Islam is not a religion of violence, extremism and terrorism, things are unlikely to change anytime soon.
For the most part, Islam is not very different than other world religions, such as Christianity and Judaism. All followers of these religions worship the same God and subscribe to common tenets of these religions including kindness, acceptance and care for others. Though there are certainly differences between these religions, the similarities should surely be embraced.
Just as there are extreme Muslims who teach terror and torture, there are also extreme Christians who similarly promote violence against others who do not follow the same rules and believe the same beliefs.
By learning more about the misconceptions about Islam, and learning the truth about this major world religion, the possibility is out there that perhaps we can all learn to live in peace. After all, we are a lot more similar than many would like to believe, and as a civilized people, this is something that we can choose to build upon for peace.