TOP TEN MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ISLAM

By Huma Ahmad


MISCONCEPTION #1: 
Muslims are violent, terrorists and/or extremists.

	
This is the biggest misconception in Islam, no doubt resulting from
the constant stereotyping and bashing the media gives Islam.  When a
gunman attacks a mosque in the name of Judaism, a Catholic IRA
guerrilla sets off a bomb in an urban area, or Serbian Orthodox
militiamen rape and kill innocent Muslim civilians, these acts are not
used to stereotype an entire faith. Never are these acts attributed
to the religion of the perpetrators. Yet how many times have we heard
the words 'Islamic, Muslim fundamentalist. etc.' linked with violence.  

Politics in so called  "Muslim countries" may or may not have any
Islamic basis.  Often dictators and politicians will use the name of
Islam for their own purposes. One should remember to go to the source
of Islam and separate what the true religion of Islam says from what
is portrayed in the media. Islam literally means 'submission to God'
and is derived from a root word meaning 'peace'.   

Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps
this is because religion doesn't dominate everyday life in the West,
whereas Islam is considered a 'way of life' for Muslims and they make
no division between secular and sacred in their lives.   Like
Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of
religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly
from their homes.  It lays down strict rules of combat which include
prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops,
trees and  livestock. 

NOWHERE DOES ISLAM ENJOIN THE KILLING OF INNOCENTS.. The Quran says: 
"Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not
transgress limits.  God  does not love transgressors." (Quran 2:190)
"If they seek peace, then seek you peace.  And trust in God for He is
the One that heareth  and knoweth all things." (Quran 8:61) War,
therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous
conditions laid down by the  sacred law.  The term 'jihad' literally
means 'struggle'.  Muslims believe that there are two kinds of  jihad. 
The other 'jihad' is the inner struggle of the soul which everyone
wages against egotistic  desires for the sake of attaining inner
peace.
          


MISCONCEPTION #2:
Islam oppresses women.

The image of the typical Muslim woman wearing the veil and forced to
stay home and forbidden to drive is all too common  in most peoples
thoughts. Although some Muslim countries may  have laws that oppress
women, this should not be seen as coming  from Islam.  Many of these
countries do not rule by  any kind of Shari'ah (Islamic law) and
introduce their own cultural standpoints on the issue of  gender
equity. 	

Islam on the other hand gives men and women different roles and equity
between the two  is laid down in the Quran and the example of the
Prophet (peace be upon him). Islam sees a woman, whether   single or
married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and
dispose of her property  and earnings.  A marriage gift is given by
the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and  she keeps her
own family name rather than taking her husband's. Both men and women
are expected to dress in a way that is modest and dignified. The
Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said: "The most perfect in faith
amongst  believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his
wife."  

Violence of any kind towards  women and forcing them against their
will for anything is not allowed. A Muslim marriage is a simple, legal
agreement in which either partner is free to include  conditions. 
Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country.  Divorce is
not common,  although it is acceptable as a last resort.  According to
Islam, a Muslim girl cannot be forced to  marry against her will: her
parents simply suggest young men they think may be suitable.



MISCONCEPTION #3:  
Muslims worship a different God.

Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. Allah for Muslims is  the
greatest and most inclusive of the Names of God, it is an Arabic word
of rich meaning, denoting the one and only God and ascribing no
partners to Him. It is exactly the same word which the Jews, in
Hebrew, use for God (eloh), the word which Jesus Christ used in
Aramaic when he prayed to God. God has an identical name in Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam; Allah is the same God worshiped by Muslims,
Christians and Jews.  Muslims believe that Allah's sovereignty is to
be acknowledged in worship and in the pledge to obey His teaching and
commandments, conveyed through His messengers and prophets who were
sent at various times and in many places throughout history.
However, it should be noted that God in Islam is One and Only. He, 
the Exalted, does not get tired, does not have a son ie Jesus or 
have associates, nor does He have human-like attributions as found in 
other faiths.


MISCONCEPTION #4: 
Islam was spread by the sword and intolerant of other faiths. 


Many social studies textbooks for students show the image of an Arab
horseman carrying  a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other
conquering and forcibly converting. This, though, is not a correct
portrayal of history.  Islam has always given respect and  freedom of
religion to all faiths. The Quran says: "God forbids you not, with
regards to those who fight you not for [your]  faith nor drive you out
of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God
loveth those  who are just. 60:8) 
	
Freedom of religion is laid down in the Quran itself: "There is no
compulsion (or coercion)  in the religion (Islam).  The right
direction is distinctly clear from error". (2:256) Christian
missionary, T.W. Arnold had this opinion on his study of the question
of the  spread of Islam: ".. of any organized attempt to force the
acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim  population, or of any
systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion,
we hear  nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of
action, they might have swept away  Christianity as easily as
Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made 
Protestanism ..." 
	
It is a function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of
minorities, and this is why  non-Muslim places of worship have
flourished all over the Islamic world.  History provides many 
examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph
Omar entered Jerusalem in the  year 634, Islam granted freedom of
worship to all religious communities in the city.   Proclaiming to the
inhabitants that their lives, and property were safe, and that their
places of  worship would never be taken from them, he asked the
Christian patriarch Sophronius to  accompany him on a visit to all the
holy places.  Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up
their own courts, which  implement family laws drawn up by the
minorities themselves. The life and property of all citizens in an
Islamic state are considered sacred whether the  person is Muslim or
not. 
	
Racism is not a part of Islam, the Quran speaks only of human equality
and how all  peoples are equal in the sight of God.   "O mankind! We
created you from a single soul, male and  female, and made you into
nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.  Truly, 
the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in
piety.  God is All-Knowing, All- Aware. (49:13)



MISCONCEPTION #5: 
All Muslims are Arabs


The Muslim population of the world is around 1.2 billion.  1 out of 5
people in the world is a  Muslim.  They are a vast range of races,
nationalities, and cultures from around the globe--from the 
Phillipines to Nigeria--they are united by their common Islamic faith. 
Only about 18% live  in the  Arab world and the largest Muslim
community is in Indonesia.  Most Muslims live east of Pakistan.   30%
of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, 20% in Sub-Saharan Africa,
17% in Southeast  Asia, 18% in the Arab world, and 10% in the Soviet
Union and China.  Turkey, Iran and  Afghanistan make up 10% of the
non-Arab Middle East.  Although there are Muslim minorities in  almost
every area, including Latin America and Australia, they are most
numerous in Russia and  its newly independent states, India and
central Africa.  There are about 6 million Muslims in the  United
States



MISCONCEPTION #6: 
The Nation of Islam is a Muslim group.


Islam and the so called  "Nation of Islam'" are two different
religions.  NOI is more of a political organization since its members
are not limited to a single faith. Muslims consider this group to be 
just one of many cults using the name of Islam for their own gain.  
The only thing  common between them is the jargon, the language used 
by both. "The Nation of Islam" is a misnomer; this religion should be 
called Farrakhanism, after the name of its propogator, Louis Farrakhan.  

Islam and Farakhanism differ in many fundamental ways. For example,
Farakhan followers  believe in racism and that the 'black man' was the
original man and therefore superior, while in  Islam there is no
racism and everyone is considered equal in the sight of God, the only
difference  being in one's piety. There are many other theological
examples that show the 'Nation's teachings  have little to do with
true Islam.    There are many groups in America who claim to represent
Islam and call their adherents  Muslims.   

Any serious student of Islam has a duty to investigate  and find the
true Islam. The only two authentic sources which bind every Muslim
are 1. the Quran and 2. authentic or sound Hadith. Any teachings under
the label of "Islam" which contradict or at variance with the direct 
understanding of fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam form the
Quran and authentic Hadith should be rejected and such a religion
should be considered a Pseudo-Islamic Cult. In America there are many
pseudo-Islamic cults, Farrakhanism being one of them. An honest
attitude on the  part of such cults should be not to call themselves
Muslims and their religion Islam. such an  example of honesty is
Bahaism which is an off-shoot of Islam but Bahais do not call
themselves  Muslims nor their religion, Islam. In fact Bahaism is not
Islam just as Farrakhanism is not Islam.



MISCONCEPTION #7: 
All Muslim men marry four wives.


The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all times and
so accommodates  widely differing social requirements.  Circumstances
may warrant the taking of another wife but the  right is granted,
according to the Quran, only on condition that the husband is
scrupulously fair. No woman can be forced into this kind of marriage
if they do not wish it, and they also have the  right to exclude it in
their marriage contract.  

Polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but  merely permitted.
Images of "sheikhs with harems" are not consistent with Islam, as a
man is  only allowed at most four wives only if he can fulfill the
stringent conditions of treating each fairly  and providing each with
separate housing etc.  Permission to practice polygamy is not
associated  with mere satisfaction of passion.  It is rather
associated with compassion toward widows and  orphans. It was the
Quran that limited and put conditions on the practice of polygamy
among the  Arabs, who had as many as ten or more wives and considered
them "property".  

It is both honest and accurate to say that it is Islam that regulated
this practice, limited  it, made it more humane, and instituted equal
rights and status for all wives. What the Qur'anic  decrees amount to,
taken together is discouragement of polygamy unless necessity for it
exists. It is also evident that the general rule in Islam is monogamy
and not polygamy. It is a very  tiny percentage of Muslims that
practice it over the world. However, permission to practice limited 
polygamy is only consistent with Islam's realistic view of the nature
of man and woman and of  various social needs, problems and cultural
variations. 

The question is, however far more than the inherent flexibility of
Islam; it also is the frank  and straightforward approach of Islam in
dealing with practical problems.  Rather than requiring  hypocritical
and superficial compliance, Islam delves deeper into the problems of
individuals and  societies, and provides for legitimate and clean
solutions which are far more beneficial than would  be the case if they
were ignored. There is no doubt that the second wife legally married
and treated  kindly is better off than a mistress without any legal
rights or expermanence.



MISCONCEPTION #8: 
Muslims are a barbaric, backward people.


Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the
simplicity of its  doctrine-Islam calls for faith in only one God
worthy of worship.  It also repeatedly instructs man to  use his
powers of intelligence and observation. Within a few years, great
civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the 
Prophet (pbuh), 'seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim
man and woman'.  
	
The  synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with
old, brought about great  advances in medicine, mathematics, physics,
astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature,  and history. 
Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also
the concept of  the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics),
were transmitted to medieval Europe from  Islam.  Sophisticated
instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of
discovery  were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and
good navigational maps. 



MISCONCEPTION #9: 
Muhammad was the founder of Islam and Muslims worship him.


Muhammad(pbuh) was born in Mecca in the year 570.   Since his father
died before his  birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he was
raised by his uncle from the respected tribe of  Quraysh.  As he grew
up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so
that  he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. 
The historians describe him as calm and  meditative. Muhammad (pbuh)
was of a deeply religious nature, and had long detested the decadence 
of his society.  

It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira
near Mecca. At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat,
Muhammad(pbuh) received his first  revelation from God through the
Angel Gabriel.  This revelation, which continued for 23 years is 
known as the Quran. As soon as he began to recite the words he heard
from Gabriel, and to preach the truth  which God had revealed to him,
he and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, 
which grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the command to
emigrate.  

This event,  the Hijra 'migration', in which they left Mecca for the
city of Medina, marks the beginning of the  Muslim calendar.  After
several years, the Prophet and his followers were able to return to
Mecca, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam
definitively. Before the Prophet saw dies at the age of 63, the
greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death
Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as far East as China. He
died with less than 5 possessions to his name. 

While Muhammad (pbuh) was chosen to deliver the message, he is not
considered the  "founder" of Islam, since Muslims consider Islam to be
the same divine guidance sent to all peoples before.  Muslims believe
all the prophets from Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus etc. were all sent
with divine guidance for their peoples.  Every prophet was sent to his
own people, but Muhammad(pbuh) was sent to all of mankind.  Muhammad
is the last and final messenger sent to deliver the message of Islam.
Muslims revere and honor him (pbuh) for all he went through and his
dedication, but they do not worship him.  "O Prophet, verily We have
sent you as a witness and a bearer of glad tidings and a warner and
as one who invites unto God by His leave and as an illuminating
lamp."(33:45-6)



MISCONCEPTION #10: 
Muslims don't believe in Jesus or any other prophets.  


Muslims respect and revere Jesus, upon him be peace, and await his
Second Coming.   They consider him one of the greatest of God's
messengers to mankind.  A Muslim never refers to him simply as
'Jesus', but always adds the phrase 'upon him be peace' (abbreviated
as (u) here).   The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the
Quran is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman in
all creation.  The Quran describes the Annunciation as follows:

"Behold!" the Angel said, "God has chosen you, and purified you, and
chosen you above the women of all nations.  O Mary, God gives you
good news of a word from Him whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus
son of Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those 
brought near to God.  He shall speak to the people from his cradle and
in maturity, and shall be of the righteous." She said: "O my Lord!
How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?" He said:  "Even
so; God creates what He will.  When He decrees a thing, He says to it,
"Be!" and it is"  (Quran 3:42-47) 

Jesus (u) was born miraculously through the same power, which had
brought Adam (u) into being without a father: "Truly, the likeness of
Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam.  He created him of dust,
and then said to him, 'Be!' and he was." (3:59) During his prophetic
mission Jesus (u) performed many miracles. The Quran tells us that he
said: " I have come to you with a sign from your Lord:  I make for you
out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breath into it
and it becomes a bird by God's leave.  And I heal the blind, and the
lepers, and I raise the dead by God's leave." (3:49) Neither Muhammad
(pbuh) not Jesus (u) came to change the basic doctrine of the brief in 
One God brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it.  

In the Quran Jesus (u) is reported as saying that he came: "To attest
the law which was before me.  And to make lawful to you part of what
was forbidden you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so
fear God and obey Me. (3:50) The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: 
"Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without partner,
that Muhammad (pbuh) is His messenger, that Jesus is the servant and
messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanating
from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by
God into Heaven. "(Hadith related by Bukhari).

Some more Misconceptions on Islam - good info page

Sources: (Islam: A Brief Introduction, Islamic Circle of North America, Jamaica, New York) (Understanding Islam and the Muslims, The Islamic Affairs Department The Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington DC, 1989.) (Badawi, Jamal, Polygamy in Islamic Law, The Muslim Students' Association of the United States & Canada,) (Islam and Farrakhanism Compared, The Institute of Islamic Information and Education, Chicago, Illinois) (Jihad Explained, The Institute of Islamic Information & Education, Chicago, Illinois)

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