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Misunderstandings About Islam


Posted: Apr 14th 2009 12:01AM

Filed under: Religion, Featured Stories, UMass

For nearly a decade, Islam has been involved in heated debates throughout the United State. Many of the defining issues of our time have involved religious differences, and yet the Muslim world continues to be largely misrepresented by the media. Some of the most basic rules and beliefs within the faith remain unexplored or unknown.

Here is a look at some common questions and misunderstandings.

Hijab, Muslim women's headscarf, is the most visible indicator of Islam today. Hijab literally translates to modesty and morality. Whether to veil or not depends on the interpretation of modesty among Muslim women. Some argue that Hijab oppresses women and limits their ability to interact in the social realm. Headscarf debates have developed of late in Europe, where many Muslim women claim that Hijab should be an independent and optional choice.

Hate crimes and backlash against Middle Easterners and Muslims after the tragic 9/11 attack and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq have increased both in the US and in Europe. Still, for many the term Muslim means terrorist. The majority of these hate crimes are regularly committed against average Muslim citizens. It is often overlooked that terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda who are interpreting Islam to the most extreme ends are a small minority among Muslim sects and make up a minute population of Muslims around the world.

• So, how many wives is it? It is crucial to state that monogamy among Muslims is the norm. But it is true that Islam does not provide restrictions against polygamy. When looking at the Quran -- the holy book of Muslims -- polygamy is encouraged at times of war, when many women are widowed and the support of orphans could strengthen the sense of society and community. At the same time, Islam only allows polygamy if the man is capable of providing equal opportunity and support for his wives. It is important to note that many Muslim scholars today are arguing for a more modern reinterpretation of Islamic laws.

• Are all Muslim Arabs? No. The largest Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia while Saudi Arabia is the largest Muslim Nation among Arab countries. Also, Christians, Jews, and other religious groups live in the Middle East along with Muslims.

Allah, an Arabic word which means "one God" refers to the god of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is often misunderstood that Allah of Islam is different from the God of Christianity. In the simplest words, Islam is an Ibrahamic religion which does not deny or disapprove of the other two Ibrahamic religions.

• Who is Prophet Mohammad ? Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammad is the messenger of God. He is the last Prophet after Moses and Jesus. It is often thought that Muslims worship Prophet Mohammad as the God. Some controversies after the depictions of the Prophet in the Danish newspaper supported this belief that since Muslims worship the Prophet, they were enraged. Simply, Islam does not allow any depiction of the Prophet or other religious figures.

72 virgins promised? The idea that Islam promises 72 virgins to Muslim suicide bombers was spread for the first time by the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006. Many offended Muslims from around the world criticized the images. The debate over what rewards and punishments Islam promises to Muslims demands deep and detailed interpretations. However, Islam strictly condemns any type of suicide and there is no verse in the Quran that urges Muslims to sacrifice themselves for the sake of 72 virgin wives.

Jihad is one of the most debatable topics of Islam today. It carries various connotations. While it literally means to struggle, the interpretation of "holy war" has seemed to stick. What fascinates me the most about this topic is that only a small group of fundamental and militant Muslims interpret Jihad as what Daniel Pipes and others call "legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims."

It is unfortunate how the majority of Islam world is accused of radical thinking on social, political and women's issues. If these simple questions and answers addressed here will soon be known fact, there is hope for a peaceful dialogue to further question assumptions and misunderstanding about Islam, the Middle East and Muslim women.

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