It seems like, these days, you hear way more about Muslim people and ideals from non-Muslim sources, and that has created a lot of cloudy misconceptions about Islam and Muslim people, which, as you probably noticed, has stirred up a whole lot of Islamophobia lately. Here, we hear some of the greatest misconceptions about Islam, from Muslims.
1. Muslims are more than just their religion
I am may be a Muslim but that's not my identity. I am a Pakistani, I like reading, I like movies, I am very introverted, I have depression and anxiety, I struggle with words while speaking, I am a cat owner...just kidding they own me, I am a business student, I can't cook to save my life, I am a procrastinator, and I also happen to be a Muslim.
When people are criticizing Muslims, I just want them to know that a Muslim is not all I am. I live my life just like you do, we have the same worries, same likes and dislikes. I have a family just like you do. I worry about what will happen once I graduate university, I worry about my cat with chronic constipation, I worry about my mom and her frail health, I too have daddy issues like some of you. I am not so different from most of you. So when people think of me as some great threat, I wonder why can't they see me not just as a Muslim but as a person in my own right, with everything that makes me who I am.
Islam is a small part of my life. I pray occasionally, I fast in the month of Ramadan and yes, while my religion contributes to some part of me, it is not everything about me.
2. Muslim people are the biggest victims of extremist terrorism.
If you look at the countries that have the most terrorist attacks, they are all countries that the West has been heavily involved in. Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have all had extensive foreign involvement and in the case of the former three, have been absolutely torn apart through direct Western actions (for Syria it is mostly escalating the situation). The same happened in Afghanistan. What do you expect would happen when you leave a country without a capable government AND arm groups there? Don't tell me they fear extremist Muslims more. They wouldn't be there at all had it not been for Western meddling. The same people who fear for their lives today might have lived out a completely normal life had it not been for the West.
3. That there isn't this one single community called "Muslims"
...and there is so much diversity within communities that consider themselves Muslim.
There are gay Muslims, Muslims who are gay but find it difficult to handle, Muslims who know nothing about their faith, Muslims who don't care about their faith much, Pakistanis who were born into a faith but they don't really care about it, people who converted to Islam and became quite conservative then slowly became more relaxed over time, Muslims who are extremely committed to the faith in a peaceful way, Muslims who are extremely committed to the faith in a dodgy way, etcetera.
If I walk down the street in the UK people may think I'm Muslim as I'm brown and can look Muslim-ish, but I'm an Ex Muslim atheist. But that doesn't mean I've disowned my background or family, it just means I have to deal with both the discrimination faced by Muslim and the discrimination you face leaving religion (which affects people from lots of faith backgrounds), it's a "double-bind".
4. Islam means submission, but it's not what you think...
Islam means Submission. However, many people connote "submission" to this idea of strict and unquestionable obedience. The submission in Islam is not an illogical and irrational meekness, on the contrary, it is to (Continued)
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submit to the events of your life and the world through deep mental (rational and logical), spiritual, and emotional comprehension, WHILE moving forward. In the prophetic tradition (Hadith), it is said, "Strap your camel, AND put faith in God;" which means, you must submit your faith in God WHILE taking natural occurring reasons into account. You do not park your car with the door open and say that God will protect it - that's illogical.
5. Forcing a woman to wear a Hijab is a family practice, not a religious one
Are there women who are forced to wear the scarf? Yes. But that is not the correct practice. In Islam, the deciding factor is Intention. There are many women who wear the Hijab but their mothers, sisters, or daughters do not. It's a choice, like everything else in life.
The issue is that some choices are either forced or limited. In the same way that some Christian women are forced to cover their bodies or wear hats in church, and some Jewish women have to cover their heads at all time with hats or wigs, forcing members of your family to do something is based more on familial practice than a religious one.
6. Islam is a religion of diversity
There many more things I would like to talk about but the last item that I would like to share is on DIVERSITY. From the very beginning, Islam was a religion of Diversity and still is to this day. Walk into any mosque in America, and you will see rich, poor, black, white, brown, Asian, European, African, and Americans humbly sitting side by side -ironically, this cohesion work best in the USA, and it really frames the beauty of the Religion due to the cultural context of America.
Are there extremists? Yes. Are there literalists? Yes. Are there people who want to incite violence? Yes. Is there intolerance? Yes. Is there oppression of Women? Yes. Are there people who do not know how to mediate their identity? Yes. All religions (not just Islam) has been used as an excuse for violence for thousands of years. It does not mean that religion is inherently dangerous, it is the scapegoat.
7. People don't understand our standing on multiple wives
Many people criticize the Prophet's social standards of multiple wives or harsh rulings; yet many people do not take historical and social context into account. Many people do not realize that (Continued)
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his first Wife, Khadija, was older than him by 20+ years, she was a professional independent woman, and SHE proposed to him. She not only supported him emotionally, but also financially and was the bread winner in the family. When she passed away, he was not intending to marry again, but married because of revelation or due to political alliances. One of his wives was Jewish (Saffiyah) and she spent time with her family on Saturdays to support them in the sabbath.
8. Let's tackle the elephant in the room: ISIS
Imagine that you see on TV thousands of your people killed by foreigners. Innocent people just going about their lives, killed. This makes you angry. You join a group that promised you revenge. You travel to the country of the people that attacked you and take violence to their door in retaliation.
Does that seem plausible? Does that seem like something unique to any one culture or group? I wasn't writing that while thinking about a Muslim joining a radical group in retaliation to prejudice. I was writing that from the perspective of an American that participated in the invasion of Afghanistan. We aren't so different, you and I and everyone else.
I want to say, that in my experience, it is actually all the Islam hating that is causing more and more muslims to go to ISIS.
Many of these people are in a weak state after the US invasions, seeing the hate towards muslims just makes them give up on trying to argue and head to ISIS. Being bombed day in day out isn't healthy for anyone.
That being said, the vast majority of Muslims do not agree with extremist actions. Saying that all Muslims agree with ISIS is like saying all Christians agree with Westboro Baptist Church.
9. We believe in Jesus and the virgin Mary
I'm surprised now one said this yet. We believe in Jesus and virgin Mary. We believe in prophets Noah, Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joshua ...etcetera. We believe in ALL of them. I'm always surprised by Christians who think we don't believe in Jesus or that he will return at the end of times. Though, similarly to the Jewish faith, we do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. However, unlike the Jewish faith we do believe he was a prophet.
It's all in the Quran, plain and simple.
10. In fact, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are sister religions
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are what are known as Abrahamic religions which means that there is a lot of overlap between our religions. We all believe that the Hebrew patriarch, Abraham and his descendants, hold an important role in human spiritual development. All religions recognize Abraham as the first prophet. In many ways, our religions are all more similar than they are different. You can have good Christians and bad ones, you can have good Jews and bad ones, you can have good Muslims and bad ones. You see all the time that there are (Continued)
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that there are controversial passages from the Quran, the Torah, and the bible passages that are often taken out of context to justify hateful actions. The list goes on! I have made efforts to study all religious texts, so that I don't make assumptions about other religions based on biased media portrayals or "hear say". It's important to me to learn about everyone's perspective, because at the end of the day we're all just trying to live our lives according to what we think is best.
11. Just because a Muslim does something...
Just because a Muslim does something, does not mean the action is Islamic.
12. Iran is actually pretty non-religious
At least in Iran, everyone is forced to appear Muslim in public, but most people are atheist or at most spiritual. We are victims of an oppressive regime. Just because the women wear headscarves, doesn't mean they are at all religious or in any way support the regime. Many don't.
Funny story, during Ramadan, all stores are supposed to be closed, and everyone is supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. Many restaurants will stay open, but just put a curtain up over the entrance, so people can duck behind the curtain, eat a kabob sandwich, and be on their way.
13. Not every Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you meet is Christian...
In the same way, just because someone's name is Mohammed or Ahmed doesn't mean that they are Muslim. Parents pick names, but people are free to believe what they want.
14. Allah is not some special God only worshiped by Muslims
"Allah" is the translation of "God" in Arabic just like "Dieu" is the word for it in French. Seems like a lot of people say stupid stuff like "Those Allah worshiping Muslims..." Not realizing that (Continued)
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Christians in Arabic speaking countries say "Allah" too during worship. You don't expect the French to say "Oh mon God..." It's usually "Oh mon Dieu..."
15. There is no Islamic culture
We're extremely diverse. Even the Arab speaking ones. Just like there is a difference between northern Spain and souther Spain, or urban and rural France. There is a broad amount of interpretation and religious tradition from region to region. We're not homogenous and there is no Islamic culture.
16. The oppression of women is cultural, not religious
Oppression of women. Most of the oppression of women by Islam and Muslims that is highly publicized is usually due to local customs and traditions. Muslim women have been presidents and prime ministers, and the vast majority are not slaves to their husbands. Violence towards women and forcing them against their will is not permitted by Islam. Care for widows, orphans, and the poor is one of Islams strongest teachings. Unfortunately, many women are oppressed, however, this is a global issue and not just Islamic oppression.
17. As a man who grew up Catholic, Muslim people restored my faith in humanity.
I have a Muslim story.
We were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and we were doing a lot of "cultural awareness" training - learning about Islam, learning to speak a little Pashto, and so on.
I got tasked to arrange a visit to a local mosque. No contact had been made with them before; I wound up cold-calling them. "Hi, I'm in charge of a bunch of soldiers and we'd like to visit your mosque during a service". One of many things in my career I thought I'd never say.
They were absolutely welcoming and very eager to have us visit. We were, after all, their neighbors, and they were very keen to get to know us.
So we hung out at the back of a service, and then met with the Imam for a Q&A session afterwards.
Now I'm a little ashamed to say that a couple of my guys were spoiling for a fight (very rude to do that; we're guests here guys!) They started asking very pointed questions about Islam and its relation to the Taliban, to international terrorism, and so forth.
The Imam though, he was a crafty old soul (and I say that with nothing but love and respect). Each time he got hit with a question like that, he would (Continued)
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Each time he got hit with a question like that, he would pull out his English translation of the Quaran, flip to the appropriate passage, and then hand it to the questioner for him to read aloud - thus having the questioner answer his own question via a quote from the Quaran. An absolutely brilliant debating judo technique. Defused every fight before it could get started. Tied my guys in knots.
By the end of the session, I wanted to high-five the man.
I also have to say this - I'm an Atheist, but I was raised Catholic. I'm used to Catholic services where the church quietly fills up from the back, everybody looking like they'd rather be anywhere else but here, nobody making eye contact... to see the undeniable joy that the congregation in that mosque had in seeing each other, and to see the struggle to get into the front row (with guys pressed up against the wall on both flanks) was really a very alien experience.
Overall, that whole congregation just impressed the hell out of me and I left with a certain amount of faith in humanity restored.
Incidentally, standing in the middle of Kandahar City as the sun starts to pinken the horizon and hearing the "pop" of amplifiers being turned on and the "thump thump" of mikes being tested as dozens of mizzeins got ready for the morning call to prayer... followed by that call to prayer... that's an experience that will be with me for life.
18. Islam is actually very sex positive
Here's an interesting one that I learned recently from reading a few articles about sex and homosexuality in Islam: for the time in which it began, Islam was a very sex positive religion. Though the culture of many Muslim societies has shifted away from that, religious doctrine itself still has lots of sex-positive messages. Abortion is allowed, contraceptives are allowed, legally married couples should have sex not just to procreate, but also to develop a stronger emotional bond. A woman's pleasure matters and husbands should take care to pleasure their wives. Celibacy is not a virtue in Islam the way it is in Christianity; we don't have monks or nuns, who do not have earthly pleasure; Muslims are in fact encouraged to some degree by our religious texts to have sex. Also, people should not feel guilty about their lust because lust is instilled in them by God (though they should exercise self control and not ogle women, because women are to be respected).
Growing up in a Muslim home as the daughter of immigrants from Egypt, I never heard any of this, because of CULTURAL taboos against sex. But within the context of religious doctrine, sex is nothing to be ashamed about having or wanting (within established relationships; some VERY edgy contemporary scholars might even say that green lights sex whilst dating... which might be why Arab culture bans dating...)
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