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 fromthe constant stereotyping and bashing the media gives Islam. When agunman attacks a mosque in the name of Judaism, a Catholic IRAguerrilla sets off a bomb in an urban area, or Serbian Orthodoxmilitiamen rape and kill innocent Muslim civilians, these acts are notused to stereotype an entire faith. Never are these acts attributedto the religion of the perpetrators. Yet how many times have we heardthe words 'Islamic, Muslim fundamentalist. etc.' linked with violence. Politics in so called "Muslim countries" may or may not have anyIslamic basis. Often dictators and politicians will use the name ofIslam for their own purposes. One should remember to go to the sourceof Islam and separate what the true religion of Islam says from whatis 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. Perhapsthis is because religion doesn't dominate everyday life in the West,whereas Islam is considered a 'way of life' for Muslims and they makeno division between secular and sacred in their lives. LikeChristianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense ofreligion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forciblyfrom their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat which includeprohibitions 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 nottransgress limits. God does not love transgressors." (Quran 2:190)"If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He isthe One that heareth and knoweth all things." (Quran 8:61) War,therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorousconditions laid down by the sacred law. The term 'jihad' literallymeans 'struggle'. Muslims believe that there are two kinds of jihad. The other 'jihad' is the inner struggle of the soul which everyonewages against egotistic desires for the sake of attaining innerpeace. MISCONCEPTION #2: Islam oppresses women. The image of the typical Muslim woman wearing the veil and forced tostay home and forbidden to drive is all too common in most peoplesthoughts. Although some Muslim countries may have laws that oppresswomen, this should not be seen as coming from Islam. Many of thesecountries do not rule by any kind of Shari'ah (Islamic law) andintroduce their own cultural standpoints on the issue of genderequity. Islam on the other hand gives men and women different roles and equitybetween the two is laid down in the Quran and the example of theProphet (peace be upon him). Islam sees a woman, whether single ormarried, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own anddispose of her property and earnings. A marriage gift is given bythe groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps herown family name rather than taking her husband's. Both men and womenare expected to dress in a way that is modest and dignified. TheMessenger of God (peace be upon him) said: "The most perfect in faithamongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to hiswife." Violence of any kind towards women and forcing them against theirwill for anything is not allowed. A Muslim marriage is a simple, legalagreement in which either partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country. Divorce isnot common, although it is acceptable as a last resort. According toIslam, a Muslim girl cannot be forced to marry against her will: herparents 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 thegreatest and most inclusive of the Names of God, it is an Arabic wordof rich meaning, denoting the one and only God and ascribing nopartners to Him. It is exactly the same word which the Jews, inHebrew, use for God (eloh), the word which Jesus Christ used inAramaic 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 tobe acknowledged in worship and in the pledge to obey His teaching andcommandments, conveyed through His messengers and prophets who weresent 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 Arabhorseman carrying a sword in one hand and the Quran in the otherconquering and forcibly converting. This, though, is not a correctportrayal of history. Islam has always given respect and freedom ofreligion to all faiths. The Quran says: "God forbids you not, withregards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you outof your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for Godloveth those who are just. 60:8) Freedom of religion is laid down in the Quran itself: "There is nocompulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The rightdirection is distinctly clear from error". (2:256) Christianmissionary, T.W. Arnold had this opinion on his study of the questionof the spread of Islam: ".. of any organized attempt to force theacceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of anysystematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion,we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course ofaction, they might have swept away Christianity as easily asFerdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestanism ..." It is a function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status ofminorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship haveflourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliphOmar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom ofworship to all religious communities in the city. Proclaiming to theinhabitants that their lives, and property were safe, and that theirplaces of worship would never be taken from them, he asked theChristian patriarch Sophronius to accompany him on a visit to all theholy places. Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set uptheir own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by theminorities themselves. The life and property of all citizens in anIslamic state are considered sacred whether the person is Muslim ornot. Racism is not a part of Islam, the Quran speaks only of human equalityand how all peoples are equal in the sight of God. "O mankind! Wecreated you from a single soul, male and female, and made you intonations 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 inpiety. 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 5people 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 Muslimcommunity 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 SovietUnion and China. Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan make up 10% of thenon-Arab Middle East. Although there are Muslim minorities in almostevery area, including Latin America and Australia, they are mostnumerous in Russia and its newly independent states, India andcentral Africa. There are about 6 million Muslims in the UnitedStates MISCONCEPTION #6: The Nation of Islam is a Muslim group. Islam and the so called "Nation of Islam'" are two differentreligions. NOI is more of a political organization since its membersare 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 theoriginal man and therefore superior, while in Islam there is noracism and everyone is considered equal in the sight of God, the onlydifference being in one's piety. There are many other theologicalexamples that show the 'Nation's teachings have little to do withtrue Islam. There are many groups in America who claim to representIslam and call their adherents Muslims. Any serious student of Islam has a duty to investigate and find thetrue Islam. The only two authentic sources which bind every Muslimare 1. the Quran and 2. authentic or sound Hadith. Any teachings underthe label of "Islam" which contradict or at variance with the direct understanding of fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam form theQuran and authentic Hadith should be rejected and such a religionshould be considered a Pseudo-Islamic Cult. In America there are manypseudo-Islamic cults, Farrakhanism being one of them. An honestattitude on the part of such cults should be not to call themselvesMuslims and their religion Islam. such an example of honesty isBahaism which is an off-shoot of Islam but Bahais do not callthemselves Muslims nor their religion, Islam. In fact Bahaism is notIslam 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 andso accommodates widely differing social requirements. Circumstancesmay warrant the taking of another wife but the right is granted,according to the Quran, only on condition that the husband isscrupulously fair. No woman can be forced into this kind of marriageif they do not wish it, and they also have the right to exclude it intheir marriage contract. Polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted.Images of "sheikhs with harems" are not consistent with Islam, as aman is only allowed at most four wives only if he can fulfill thestringent conditions of treating each fairly and providing each withseparate housing etc. Permission to practice polygamy is notassociated with mere satisfaction of passion. It is ratherassociated with compassion toward widows and orphans. It was theQuran that limited and put conditions on the practice of polygamyamong the Arabs, who had as many as ten or more wives and consideredthem "property". It is both honest and accurate to say that it is Islam that regulatedthis practice, limited it, made it more humane, and instituted equalrights and status for all wives. What the Qur'anic decrees amount to,taken together is discouragement of polygamy unless necessity for itexists. It is also evident that the general rule in Islam is monogamyand not polygamy. It is a very tiny percentage of Muslims thatpractice it over the world. However, permission to practice limited polygamy is only consistent with Islam's realistic view of the natureof man and woman and of various social needs, problems and culturalvariations. The question is, however far more than the inherent flexibility ofIslam; it also is the frank and straightforward approach of Islam indealing with practical problems. Rather than requiring hypocriticaland superficial compliance, Islam delves deeper into the problems ofindividuals and societies, and provides for legitimate and cleansolutions which are far more beneficial than would be the case if theywere ignored. There is no doubt that the second wife legally marriedand treated kindly is better off than a mistress without any legalrights or expermanence. MISCONCEPTION #8: Muslims are a barbaric, backward people. Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was thesimplicity of its doctrine-Islam calls for faith in only one Godworthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to use hispowers of intelligence and observation. Within a few years, greatcivilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet (pbuh), 'seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslimman and woman'. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought withold, 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 alsothe concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics),were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticatedinstruments which were to make possible the European voyages ofdiscovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant andgood 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 fatherdied before his birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he wasraised by his uncle from the respected tribe of Quraysh. As he grewup, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, sothat 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 Hiranear Mecca. At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat,Muhammad(pbuh) received his first revelation from God through theAngel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for 23 years is known as the Quran. As soon as he began to recite the words he heardfrom 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 toemigrate. This event, the Hijra 'migration', in which they left Mecca for thecity of Medina, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Afterseveral years, the Prophet and his followers were able to return toMecca, where they forgave their enemies and established Islamdefinitively. Before the Prophet saw dies at the age of 63, thegreater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his deathIslam had spread to Spain in the West and as far East as China. Hedied with less than 5 possessions to his name. While Muhammad (pbuh) was chosen to deliver the message, he is notconsidered the "founder" of Islam, since Muslims consider Islam to bethe same divine guidance sent to all peoples before. Muslims believeall the prophets from Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus etc. were all sentwith divine guidance for their peoples. Every prophet was sent to hisown people, but Muhammad(pbuh) was sent to all of mankind. Muhammadis the last and final messenger sent to deliver the message of Islam.Muslims revere and honor him (pbuh) for all he went through and hisdedication, but they do not worship him. "O Prophet, verily We havesent you as a witness and a bearer of glad tidings and a warner andas one who invites unto God by His leave and as an illuminatinglamp."(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 hisSecond Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God'smessengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as'Jesus', but always adds the phrase 'upon him be peace' (abbreviatedas (u) here). The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of theQuran is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman inall creation. The Quran describes the Annunciation as follows: "Behold!" the Angel said, "God has chosen you, and purified you, andchosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God gives yougood news of a word from Him whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesusson 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 andin 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: "Evenso; 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 hadbrought Adam (u) into being without a father: "Truly, the likeness ofJesus 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 propheticmission Jesus (u) performed many miracles. The Quran tells us that hesaid: " I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for youout of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breath into itand it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the blind, and thelepers, 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 attestthe law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of whatwas forbidden you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, sofear 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 andmessenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanatingfrom Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received byGod into Heaven. "(Hadith related by Bukhari).