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5 of the Most Common Misconceptions About Islam: A Guide To Better Understanding a Foreign Religion

With the growing number of people around the world who support one anti-immigration policy or another citing fear of so-called “Islamic” terrorism and national security as main reasons for their choices, and with the growing threat of terrorism from groups that use Islam as a cover, I believe there is also a parallel growing need for clearance of misconceptions about Islam, because if it wasn’t enough that Muslims are the most affected group by so-called “Islamic” terrorism, they certainly don’t need people blaming them for it.

So, I’ve compiled this short list of common misconceptions that most people who have not come into contact with Islam save through the media might have, for the purpose of clearing the air, and to give Muslims the portrayal that they deserve.

Misconception #1: In relation to the theme of terrorism, a word that is thrown around quite a lot is “Jihad” or in description of terrorists that use Islam as a cover, “Jihadists”. The misconception is that it means “Holy War”.

Holy and War are both English words with Latin origins, and they exist as separate words in the Arabic language, “Al-Harb” (War) and “Al Moqadasa” (Holy).

The Arabic word “Jihad” has nothing in its essence that relates to war or violence. The word simply means “to struggle”. In the religious sense, the word means “To struggle in the way of Allah”. This includes fasting, patience, warfare and all other hardships that one must endure for the sake of God.

Respecting the law of the land is Jihad. Lowering your gaze is Jihad. Restraining your anger is Jihad. Not replying to a hateful or discriminatory comments is Jihad. Catching that dawn prayer before the sun rises is Jihad. Even striving to gain knowledge by studying, doing your homework and research in order to benefit others is Jihad.

Militant groups that misinterpret Islam think attacking and killing people who disagree with them is part of that struggle, but the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t.

According to the Huffington Post, “there have been 140,000 terror attacks committed worldwide since 1970. Even if Muslims carried out all of these attacks (which is an absurd assumption given the fact that non-Muslims make up the majority of terrorists in the U.S and Europe), those terrorists would represent less than 0.00009 percent of all Muslims.” This leads us right to…

Misconception #2: That all Muslims are terrorists/violent or Islam preaches violence.

Thankfully, this one, despite being one of the biggest wrong impressions people had about Islam, is now in decline thanks to more honest portrayals in some media outlets. The statistical example given at the end of the first misconception stands as proof that Muslims are not (by far) all terrorists.

Terrorism goes against every principle of Islam, just like all other religions, and if a Muslim decides to commit an unjustified act of violence such as terrorism, he/she is most certainly not following Islam in doing it. Do not blame the fact that the person is a Muslim for it because it has nothing to do with that.

Violence is very rarely justified in Islam and it is always against an oppression, wrongdoing, threat or in retaliation, and never against innocent civilians or non militants of any type. There is no exception to this rule in the Quran or the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

Islam Prohibits Muslims from attacking or killing any innocent person. Verse 5:32 of the Holy Quran explains how whoever kills a single soul, it is as if he has killed all of mankind in the sight of Allah, and the compilation of teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), The Hadith, have many examples and mentions of the same concept.

An interesting postulation is to assume that Islam does preach violence and that Muslims were all terrorist or so inclined:

There are currently more than 1.6 Billion Muslims in the world today. If Islam truly promoted terrorism, you’d all be dead by now.

Here’s some more interesting food for thought:

Islam and the Holy Quran have been around for more than 1400 years now, but “Islamic” terrorism has only come up in the last 50 – 60 years or less. Can we really believe that Muslims have been misinterpreting the Quran for over a thousand years and only realized it preaches violence half a century ago? Or are there other concealed political and socioeconomic factors at play?

Misconception #3: Islam was forced upon people, or spread by the sword.

Although there are recorded instances of people being forced to convert to Islam, the practice is prohibited by Islam and said instances should not be attributed to Islam as a whole or Islamic legislature or doctrine but blamed solely on the individuals who were responsible for them.

Muslim rulers who adhered to the teachings of Islam did not force people to convert, and the majority of those who accepted the religion did so out of their own free will, through contact with Muslims through trade or being ruled by them. Simple proof of this is that Muslims ruled Arabia for over 1400 years and yet today, there are millions of Arab Christians. Had forced conversion been legal and the Muslims willing to do it, that would not be the case.

India was also ruled by Muslims at many points in its history, culminating in the Mughal Empire which ruled most of India during the mid 16th to mid 19th centuries, yet a 2011 census revealed that only 13.4% of Indians identify as Muslims.

Muslims had the power and influence to forcefully convert or kill whom ever they wished, but they didn’t because that is not who they are.

It is also interesting to note that when the mongols invaded and conquered large portions of the Muslim world, they themselves converted to Islam and ruled as Muslims their Khanates, namely the Ilkhanate in Persia and the Khanate of the Golden Horde in Russia. How can it be said that Islam was primarily spread by the sword when the invader/conqueror is the one who converts?

Misconception #4: Muslims believe in a separate deity.

This probably stems from the fact that Muslims, regardless of their first language, refer to God using the Arabic word “Allah”. Actually, a lot of Muslim rituals including the five daily prayers are performed in Arabic.

The Arabic word “Ilah” means “God” in English. Muslims are strict monotheists and thus refer to their worshiped deity as “The God”. Adding the definite article “The”, in Arabic: “Al”, turns the word “Ilah” (God) to “Al-Ilah” (The God). However, this is still a bit vague to a Muslim since Al-Ilah can refer to any single worshiped deity, of which there are many in our diverse world, due to the existence of many faiths. The word “Allah” is a unique word akin to the aforementioned Al-Ilah, which refers to the same God of the Abrahamic Faiths, the Creator of Adam and Eve, The same God of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (Peace Be Upon Them All), and the “Father” part of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

The reason Muslims use this unique Arabic word is because unlike the normal word for God: “Ilah”, “Allah” has no plural form or gender, and it cannot be given to anything but The God that Muslims believe in, making it the perfect word for their monotheistic faith and principles of belief.

Since this word is not the same as “Al-Ilah” meaning “The God”, it cannot be translated into another language, lest it loses it’s unique essence and qualities, and that is why Muslims use it regardless of their mother tongue.

Misconception #5: Muslims don’t believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him).

This is a huge misconception. In actuality, one cannot call him/herself Muslim if he/she does not believe in all the Prophets of God, chief among which are those that are sometimes known as the Arch-Prophets: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Them All).

Belief in Jesus and the Virgin birth are mandatory and without them, a Muslim’s faith is incomplete. The only difference in the belief in Jesus Christ (Peace Be Upon Him) between Muslims and Christians is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God (Allah), and therefore don’t worship him as a deity, but hold him as a great prophet of God.

As is the case with everything that relates to other people, we should never form opinions and judgments before being properly educated. Failing to do that creates enmity and misunderstanding, whose rippling effects are war and destruction of none but ourselves, in the bigger picture. If this is the mentality we uphold, maybe it will be this generation that puts an end discrimination and harmful misunderstanding between humans all over the world. After all, we are the most connected generation of humans, ever.

 

Writer’s Note:

I hope with all sincerity that this small collection proved to educate you. This is not, by far, the end of misconceptions about Islam since like all that is foreign, there is much one might not know. I want to continue clearing doubts like these, and might write another article if I can compile more misconceptions. So, if there is anything you feel like you don’t know well enough about Islam and the world/daily life of Muslims and would like for it to be clarified, send it to me and I’ll add it to the next article. My contact information is under my profile.

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Ammar Hassan
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Ammar is a student of whatever he finds interesting, which is probably something new everyday.

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