Islam and its Misconceptions

Islam and its Misconceptions

On September 11 2001, I remember staring at TV screen in my high school weight room as part of a morning gym class. I was in study hall when the second tower was hit. We were dismissed an hour later. My mom stayed glued to the TV along with my brother and I. My uncle, a long time New Yorker, called to say he was okay, but that he’d be volunteering his medical care as soon as it was safe enough do so.

In March 2003, we watched the start of the Shock and Awe campaign in my senior year Civics class. CNN supplied the news as we saw explosion after explosion rock Baghdad. Short weeks later, a statue of Saddam was toppled with ropes by jubilant Iraqis. George W Bush landed his helicopter off the coast of San Diego, walking out to a “Mission Accomplished” banner, later becoming the defining symbol of American hubris.

I knew Muslims growing up. There were girls who ran track in their Burqas. I knew a kid named Habib, who had a Hookah we’d smoke in his van. And our school did cover Islamic history and the religion in bits and pieces. Moreover, while we were at war in Muslim countries fighting those who attacked us according to their version of Islam, our President was adamant that we were not at war with Islam or with Muslims.

Still, I went off the college pretty ignorant about Islam as a faith, or what Muslims believed. There was a good chance that I knew many more Muslims back home than I had believed, because not every guy was named Mohammed and not every woman wore Hijab. Thankfully, I became friends with a group of Muslim students early on and decided I would learn what I could about Islam. From these friends, I learned about the centrality of family, the warmth and acceptance towards strangers, and the incredible normalcy of 99.9% of American Muslims. Aside from being part of a minority faith, and (in some cases) speaking a foreign language at home, there wasn’t much of a cultural divide.

From them, and my own learnings, here are some of the most common misconceptions of Islam:

  • Islam requires women to wear Hijab. Interestingly, nothing in either the Quran nor Hadith (the sayings of Mohammed) says anything about this. Instead, this was cultural practice – a way of displaying modesty in the Arabian peninsula later adopted throughout much of the Islamic world.
  • Islam is not a monolith. Even as the Dar al Islam (House of Islam) stretches from Morocco to Indonesia, there are many Islams. The Sunni – Shia divide is well publicized, but within Sunni Islam there are four major schools of jurisprudence. There is Sufism (or Islamic mysticism). There are Alawites, Alevis, Druze – all of whom consider themselves Muslim, with significant differences in belief and practice. And just as importantly,
  • Islam is not a monolithic culture. Even in overwhelmingly conservative nations such as Saudi Arabia, there is considerable debate as to the place and purpose of Islam in society. Many Muslims are very secular. Other Muslims are more observant. Moreover, Islam looks very different in Indonesia as it does in Bahrain as it does in South Africa. Islam has helped shape culture and customs, but every society reflects this diversity and is a product of its own unique history.
  • Islam was born in the Middle East, but is not confined to it. Nearly two thirds of Muslims don’t live in the Middle East. The vast majority of Muslims are not Arab. In fact, the most populous Muslim nations: Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are not in the Middle East, nor Arab. Head to any Islamic Center in the West, and you’ll see that diversity first hand.
  • The United States has never had a female head of state. Mexico has never had a female head of state. Canada has never had a female head of state. Pakistan has. Bangladesh has. Indonesia has. Kosovo has. In fact, (as of 2015) 31% of Tunisia’s Parliament is women. By comparison, it’s 19% in the US.
  • Islam doesn’t reject Moses, or Jesus. Both are major prophets. Islam believes in their role as spiritual leaders who helped bring the word of God into the world. Revelation however, did not stop with them. It continued to the personhood of Mohammed, whose sole miracle was receiving the Quran.

In a climate of fear, there is so much misinformation. If what Guliani said is true, then Trump is hoping to cloak a ban on Muslim immigration through the blanket of terrorism. We now have a President who is at odds with the facts. We know his claim of Muslims cheering on 9/11 in New Jersey was an outright lie. We know he has publicly attacked a Gold Star military family, questioning their loyalty to the United States, when it was Trump who weaseled his way out of the draft on at least four occasions. We know Steve Bannon is in Trump’s ear, and has a profoundly disturbing view of Islam. We know many in his inner circle subscribe to Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” model. This constant stream of fear mongering seeks to disorient and overwhelm us. We must fight fiction with fact.

For those who view Islam as a unique threat to America, I would encourage self-reflection. Why do I believe this about an entire faith and it’s 1.7B adherents? What is informing my opinion – is it from the media or is personal experience driving this outlook? How can I become more knowledgeable about Islam and the American Muslim community from unbiased sources? Quoting Haroon Saddiqui, “Islam-bashing bears all the symptoms of racism. It holds up the most marginal, and fanatical Muslims as representatives of 1.3 billion Muslims. It expects every Muslim to explain or apologize for the actions of the few: ‘What do you have to say about 9/11?’ or about some other terrorist horror, as of he or she is personally responsible for it.” How can we so easily disassociate the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church, Timothy McVeigh, or Dylan Roof away from their firmly held Christianity? Their actions are every bit as driven by their deeply flawed take on religion, but their pathology is assigned to something other than their faith.

As Americans, our enemy is not Islam or Muslims. Our enemy are those who pursue a radical, nihilistic ideology using indiscriminate violence to achieve their ends. We feel acutely vulnerable when Europeans or Americans are killed, and rightfully so. Worth considering however, are the thousands Muslims killed each year by terrorism in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya. Clearly, war perpetrated by terrorists targets more than just the West. We would do well to remember that our commonalities outweigh our differences.


Filed under: Uncategorized


Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    Good grief, my profit!

    There is no spirituality in Islam. How did you ever make it through grad school? To whom are you preaching, to those who are even more ignorant than you?

  • In reply to Don Pelayo:

    It's prophet, not profit. If you're going to troll someone's educational attainment, at least come correct.

    And I'm curious. What are your qualifications? What do you know about Islam that I'm getting wrong? What about the post is ignorant, specifically? Do you know any Muslims? Have you been to a Mosque? Have you read any of the texts or commentaries? Or do you just enjoy being a troll?

  • fb_avatar

    Dear People of the word…..
    Do you know the truth about..... Islam?
    Or do you think it's about
    Bombing planes and killing innocent people.....?
    Forget about the lies.....
    I' am here to tell you how it really is.....
    You deserve to know the truth
    About this beautiful way of life.....
    People of the world
    Islam is all about peace
    Terrorism it doesn't teach
    Its all about love and family and charity
    And praying to one God
    This is Islam
    It's something you should know.....
    I know it's really helped me grow
    It does away with greed, filth, arrogance
    And teaches us morality
    A perfect way to live.....
    So don't believe all you see and hear
    Too many people wear a title of a Muslim.....
    But they don't practice Islam.....
    People of the world
    Islam is all about peace
    Terrorism it doesn't teach
    Its all about love and family and charity
    And praying to one God
    This is Islam
    And it teaches us the creator's made this life for us a test.....
    And if we follow truth and do good deeds, He'll reward us in the Next.....
    If we remember God & teach each other the truth and patience in His way
    Together we can peace.....
    This is Islam
    Lyrics by Yusuf Islam
    Please Google peace tv and visit the FAQ section for answers to the questions you may have about Islam.
    I am sure that you will find that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, justice, kindness, charity, love and worshiping one God.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Harry Dawn:

    Yusuf Islam was formerly known as Cat Stevens. I enjoyed his music.

    After his conversion to "peaceful" Islam, Yusuf Islam supported a death fatwa against Salman Rushdie, a novelist.

    Rushdie was accused of writing a novel that was blasphemous to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. When asked about Rushdie, Yusuf Islam said:

    "He must be killed. The Qur'an makes it clear – if someone defames the prophet, then he must die."

    Rather than being a peaceful witness for Islam, Yusuf Islam is a perfect example of the results of a formerly thoughful and talented artist accepting Islamic doctrine.

  • fb_avatar

    I am so sorry you are so mislead on the actual teaching of islam. Islam = Nazism. Are for genital mutilation, women only counting for half the opinion of men, killing of gays? The teaching of islam are over 60% dealing with non-believers. They can lie to achieved their aims. They are the only religion that does not believe in the golden rule. Do your research or be killed or your children. Only Israel understands the threat of islam. The Pope is a false pope, he kissed a Koran. I am no longer catholic.

  • fb_avatar

    "Our enemy are those who pursue a radical, nihilistic ideology..."

    Islam is a radical, nihilistic ideology. Within 100 years of Islam's founding, it had wiped out the Jewish and Christian cultures of Arabia. It had devastated the two most advanced cultures in the region, Byzantium and Persia. In later years, Muslims mounted a conquest of India that killed tens of millions of Hindus and enslaved untold numbers of others. Hindu women committed group suicide to avoid rape and sexual enslavement by Islamic armies.

    Islam is unrelentingly misogynistic and prejudiced against non-Muslims.

    The only thing this article states correctly is that we should all do a LOT more reading about Islam and its history.

  • I am sincerely disappointed that my blog, which is intended to be a bridge between faiths - is being co-opted by bigots. I am starting to believe there is a cadre of anti-Muslim trolls who go from site to site to post alarmist screeds. There is no actual debate on the points, which, are factual and should not be controversial. At no point am I advocating people convert to Islam, but rather look at the faith and its followers without hysterical emotional responses (which is EXACTLY what people did on the comment board). Just like every religion (or really, any group) with hundreds of millions of adherents around the world, there is considerable diversity of opinion.

Leave a comment