As a Muslim woman I believe that it is really important to educate the general public about anything that may not seem clear about Islam. Education is the best tool that can be used to eliminate ignorance and hostility. So when I read this article on Teen Vogue’s website called, “10 Misconceptions About Islam that Muslim Americans are Tired of Hearing” I was so excited to share it with you guys. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
10 Misconceptions About Islam That Muslim Americans are Tired of Hearing
by Hishaam Siddiqi
“Can you grab that bottle of Sriracha on the top shelf?” my mother asked, as we made our way down the “ethnic” aisle at our local grocery store. It was around 5:30pm, my father was almost home from work, and my mother and I were out getting last minute ingredients for dinner. As we waited in the checkout line, waiting to pay for our goods, I hear a voice behind me, “You here to steal something?”
I turn around to find a tall man, broad shoulders, a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead, looking straight at my mother. I stand there bewildered, wondering if this was an acquaintance of hers trying to be funny or make some sort of weird joke.
“Are you here to blow something up? Why are you wearing that?” he barks again, referring to my mother’s hijab and abaya. At this point, everyone within earshot tenses up and I find myself flooding with both embarrassment and panic. What was this guy trying to get at? We were just at the grocery store trying to get home on time, and this man, who we had never seen before, was going out of his way to harass my mother.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. My mother, petite as she may be, has no problem holding her own and isn’t new to being singled out and hassled for her choice of Islamic clothing. She clearly and eloquently explained her religious garb to the man, told him to not yell at her, and swiftly sent him on his way.
Growing up, I’ve had plenty of these experiences. Whether it was strange looks at my mother or jokes about my Arabic name, life as a Muslim in post 9/11 America isn’t the cutest feeling. The constant villainization of Muslims in mainstream media makes it difficult to do even simple things such as buy groceries or get through airport security without crude jokes or dangerous assumptions, and with the murder of three innocent Muslim kids in Chapel Hill this past year, it’s clear that stereotyping can lead to even fatal consequences.
Fortunately we live in the age of technology and open information—we don’t always have to be victims of ignorance and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Misconceptions can be overcome with a simple but powerful thing, knowledge: here are ten common misconceptions about Islam and Muslims to help you break the cycle.
1. Muslim women have no rights
This is definitely a hot-topic and complicated issue but one of my favorite misconceptions to tackle. It’s important to realize the difference between cultural influences and religious policy. Many countries across the world, including Muslim countries, have patriarchal cultures (cultures in which men are automatically assumed to lead), which are often socially constructed and influenced by the traditions, gender roles, and practices of that culture. Islam as a religion, however, preaches equality of the sexes. There are many Muslim women who have made great accomplishments in the fields of science, entertainment, academia, art, and politics—just this year, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a professor of biology, became president of Muslim majority African country Mauritius!
2. Muslims worship a different God
A lot of people think Allah is a specific Islamic deity, but really it just means ‘god’ in Arabic. Christian Arabs even use the word Allah when referring or praying to God. And since Islam is an Abrahamic religion, Muslims believe Allah is the same God who Jesus, Moses, and other biblical prophets all prayed to.
3. Islam doesn’t mix with other religions Again, it’s important to make the distinction between the behavior of various cultures and politics of countries compared to actual religious theology. Islam is an Abrahamic religion, which is in the same family of religions as Judaism and Christianity. All three of the religions share many similarities, including important religious figures, historical events, and spiritual beliefs. In fact, Muslims are religiously required to believe in Jesus as a divine prophet. There have been numerous periods of history throughout the Middle East where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together for centuries.
4. Muslims must engage in Jihad, also known as holy-war
This misconception was a huge buzzword right after 9/11 and still does come up every now and then. A lot of people misconstrue Jihad to be a religious agenda to wage war, and is often cited as the reasoning for much of fringe Islamic extremism. However, Jihad doesn’t necessarily mean holy-war, it means to simply struggle for God—an overwhelming majority of Muslims are nonviolent and unfairly lumped with Islamic extremists. Jihad, as most Muslims see it, can include anything from wearing a head scarf to school even though you get teased for it to setting aside allowance money to donate. While fighting for your religious beliefs can be a form of jihad, the term itself refers to any sort of struggle to do good.
5. Sharia Law is taking over the United States
I always roll my eyes at this one. Sharia law is the theory of Islamic law, derived from centuries old religious and historical texts, which outlines things such as how to settle finances after divorce, the legality of adoption, social etiquette, economics, and other spiritual topics. Almost every time I’ve heard the word Sharia Law on the news, it’s been fear mongering that’s had little to nothing to do with the actual body of laws. There’s no broad Islamic drive to push religious laws onto other political systems.
6. All Muslims are Arabs
Couldn’t be further from the truth! Out of the 1.6 billion Muslims living worldwide, over 60% of them are from South and South East Asia, with Indonesia being the most populous Muslim country, followed by Pakistan. In the United States, the largest Muslim demographic is African-American followed by South Asian. Not all Arabs are Muslims either—many Arab countries have very large and historic Christian and Jewish populations.
7. Muslim women are forced to cover up
Although Islamic teachings do require women to dress modestly, how a woman chooses to cover herself and to what degree is under her autonomy. The different ways Muslim women cover varies both religiously (from simple headscarves to full robes) and also culturally, with each region having it’s on take on modest clothing. Unfortunately, many patriarchal societies exploit this and force women to cover in order to systematically subjugate them.
8. Muslims starve for an entire month every year
This one is more of a misunderstanding than a misconception but it always makes me laugh because I hear it every year. Ramadan is a month in which Muslims partake in various charitable and religious activities, most prominent of which is fasting from sunrise to sunset in order to learn humility and appreciate their blessings. But you won’t believe how many people I’ve met who actually think we don’t eat or drink the entire month—not true! Although we do fast for one month, abstaining from food and drink only takes place during daylight hours, which usually ends with a big feast at sunset and way too many people over eating and raiding the fridge at 3am.
9. Muslim Men are encouraged to practice polygamy
This misconception gets brought up a lot but a little historical context helps us better understand. Fourteen hundred years ago, during the rise of Islam, social structures did not provide women with the same assistance as they do today—women needed marriages not just romantically, but also as a means of protection, housing, employment, and tribalism. The law of allowing Muslim men to marry multiple wives was explicitly introduced so as to help widowed and divorced women retain social wellbeing. More importantly, Muslim men are discouraged from marrying more than one wife if they are unable to provide for them equally financially and emotionally. In many Muslim countries, and even Muslim communities here in the West, polygamy is looked down upon and considered an outdated tradition.
10. Muhammad was the founder of Islam
Historians might consider Muhammad the one who introduced Islam, but Muslims believe Islam to be the same message revealed by Jesus, Moses, and all the other Biblical prophets. Additionally, Muslims do not pray to or worship Muhammad, if anything it is emphasized that he was human just like everyone else.