If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to Islam and Muslims, is you find many people you can’t count on. Seriously, there is some heavy misinformation out there, even among the learned. So, in order of ridiculousness and eye-roll worthiness, common misconceptions of Islam.
1) Muslims Worship a Different God and/or Worship Muhammad
The Arabic word for God, Allah, means just that, God. Muslims believe that God has come to the Earth three times now, once with the Torah and Moses, then Jesus and the Bible, and then Muhammad and the Qu’ran. So, Muslims see it as linear and see Muhammad as the “Seal” or end of the Prophets. In short, from the perspective of Muslims, they worship the same God as Christians or Jews. Muslims also maintain strict standards concerning the Tawheed, or singularity of God. This is why pictures of Muhammad are usually faceless and it is considered a grave insult to depict him, because for Muslims this creates a idol to be worshiped. This is also why some Muslims consider Christians to be polytheists, because they worship Jesus AND God AND the Holy Spirit. So, no, a Muslim would not be committed to Tawheed and worship Muhammad. That said, Muhammad is seen as a perfect person, someone to emulate, but never to revere (yes, there is a difference).
2) Muslims Do Not Consider Jesus a Prophet
As mentioned above, Muslims do recognize Jesus, they just do not see him as the son of God or extraordinary in any way besides being a prophet of God, which is pretty rad in and of itself. Also, it is worth mentioning that the Virgin Mary is mentioned MORE times in the Qu’ran than the Bible.
3) Most Muslims are Arabs
While Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, Arabs only make up roughly 15% of the estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. The vast number of Muslims are Asian with Indonesia leading with roughly 200 million Muslims. Check it:
4) Islam Oppresses Women
This is a broad topic. The gist of it is this: just like in many religions, Islam is used as an excuse to oppress. The western world tends to look at women in hijab and its like and see a woman oppressed. It is important to note that in many cases, these women see these items as being part of Islam, and a way to identify themselves as Muslims. The best quote I have heard on this was, “I wear hijab not because of what it hides, but because of what it shows.” This being said, are women forced to wear hijab? In some cases yes, they are. This is unfortunate and damaging to the wider Muslim community but for a wide swath of the Muslim women of the world, hijab is a choice, not a burden. For many Muslim women, hijab is a sign that they are ready to undertake and live Islam to its fullest. This decision can be made at adolescence, or well into adulthood.
There are verses in the Qu’ran that on the surface advocate beating of wives. An important thing to remember when reviewing the Qur’an is that the Qu’ran addresses the concerns of the Muslim community at the time they were written. At the time the beating verses were written the Muslim community was undergoing extreme turmoil and in the midst of a lot of domestic decay due to many men falling in battle. That being said, many modern day Muslim governments have zero tolerance for domestic violence and enforce it. There are many interpretations of the beating verses and they continue to be a controversial topic.
Another stereotype about Muslims is that they all are married to four wives. It is worth noting in many modern Islamic countries, polygamy is not only discouraged but illegal. If a man were to take a second or third wife in Islam, there are strict guidelines for how these women are to be treated. For instance, one could not give one wife favor in terms of more money or gifts than another wife. To do so would constitute favor and would be grounds to terminate the marriage. The Prophet Muhammad married several women throughout his life. It is important to note that in Pre-Islamic to Early Islamic Meccanese society, clan ties were immensely strong and anyone without a clan or familial roots would likely die in due time. Many of Muhammad’s wives were women that society had cast aside and forgotten, so he in essence, had given these women a new lease on life.
5) All Muslims Practice Jihad
Absolutely correct. All Muslims do/ should practice Jihad….you may have noticed in your lifetime you have not heard an Allahu Akbar! followed by a fiery explosion, why is this? This is because while Muslims practice Jihad, many have a much different view of what Jihad constitutes and more importantly, focus on the Jihad within themselves more than projecting Jihad without. The literal translation of Jihad means, “struggle,” while in the west we tend to label it to mean “holy war” which is a term many Islamic scholars fight vehemently against. This is because there are two types of Jihad. The first, and labeled, “Greater Jihad,” is the Jihad in oneself, the struggle to maintain a proper Muslim lifestyle through prayer, actions and words. This is not much different of a concept preached in Churches worldwide. The, “Lesser Jihad,” is the struggle against outside forces. This can be in the form of actively promoting Islam to your neighbors and friends, all the way to the extreme of taking up arms against those who threaten Islam. Such Muslims are typically call Mujahid, or, “struggler,” plural of this is Mujahideen or, “strugglers,” a term you may remember from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Reagan’s high-five for them.
Islam lays down very strict guidelines for how one must conduct oneself in battle, including the Qu’ranic verse “If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things ” (8:61). This verse is taken by many Islamic scholars to mean that one cannot injure innocents. There are groups in existence such as al Tablighi Jamaat which advocates the spread of Islam through non-violence.
6) Muslims are Intolerant of Other Faiths
I feel this section, like women in Islam, deserves another whole post on it. Basically, Muslims have had a rich history of working with other faiths. When the Prophet Muhammad fled Mecca to Medina (formerly named Yathrib) the fledgling Muslim community lived side-by-side with Jews. The Ottoman empire, one of the most famous and longest lasting Muslim empires, utilized non-Muslims in its early years be granting them timars, or land grants to those participating in raids and armies. for the first two hundred years of the Ottoman empire’s existence, the majority of their fighting forces were Orthodox Christian. In many Muslim societies there exists a pluralistic society that would overwhelm the most diverse-minded person. Until extremists overran sections of Muslim countries, Muslims and non-Muslims lived side-by-side. For example, Chaldean Christians have existed in Iraq and the surrounding region for millennia. Evidence? Their language is one of the more similar to that of Jesus’. If intolerance were so rampant, they would not exist today.
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