We, Muslims, believe that Islam is a beautiful and peaceful religion. Those who are unfamiliar with the faith often have misunderstandings about its teachings and practices and therefore have many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, these misconceptions have spread widely through the media and the internet. Living in the United States brings us face to face with these misconceptions in our daily lives and how to address them can be challenging at times. We feel that it is our duty to help our fellow brothers and sisters and for this reason we have tried to bring out the most common misconceptions to briefly address them. As Muslims, it is our job to resist stereotypes and explain to the public the true teachings of Islam.

Misconception: All Muslims come from the Middle East.

Truth: Although Islam is often associated with the Arab world and the Middle East, fewer than 15% of Muslims are Arab. In fact, many Arab countries have large Christian and Jewish populations. By far, the largest populations of Muslims live in Southeast Asia in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Southeast Asian countries comprise more than 60% of Muslims, while the countries of the Middle East such as Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Syria and North African countries such as Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Ethiopia make up only 20% of the total. One-fifth of the world’s Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries with the largest of these populations in India, China, and Russia. Muslims are found all over the world, of every nation, color and race.

Misconception: Muslims don’t believe in Jesus.

Truth: Muslims highly respect Jesus as a prophet of God and value his teachings. Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God nor recognize his death on the cross for the sins of mankind as believed by Christianity. The Qur’an mentions Jesus 93 times while describing the miracles that he performed and recognizes that Jesus was born of a virgin. We also believe that he will return again as Messiah.

Misconception: Muslims worship a different God.

Truth: A lot of people think that 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. However, Muslims reject the idea of God having any partners or being part of a ‘Trinity’, and ascribe perfection only to The Almighty.

Misconception: Jihad is a holy war.

Truth: The meaning of the Arabic word jihad is struggle. It usually means a struggle of one’s soul against the self and sinful desires. Muslims refer to this inner struggle as the greater jihad. Military effort is included as an option, but as a last resort only to defend the religious community against oppression and persecution. The media has sensationalized the views of a small percentage of violent extremists as the legitimate understanding of Islam as a community seeking global domination by force.

Misconception: Islam permits terrorism.

Truth: Islam totally forbids and condemns the misguided acts of vigilantes that target innocent civilians. Terrorism cannot be justified under any valid interpretation of the Islamic faith. The entire Qur’an, taken as a complete text, gives a message of hope, faith, and peace to a faith community of 1.6 billion people. The Qur’an in chapter (5:32) says, “If anyone murders an (innocent) person, it will be as if he has murdered the whole of humanity. And if anyone saves a person it will be as if he has saved the whole of humanity.” Allah also says in the Qur’an: “Do not kill yourselves (nor kill one another). Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you.” (4:29)

Misconception: Muslims do not speak against terrorism.

Truth: Mainstream Muslims are speaking out, clearly and consistently condemning such acts as immoral and counter to the fundamental precepts of Islam. Muslim organizations issue statements of condemnation which no media publish. Because of this, Muslims are accused of not condemning terrorism, and in turn, Islamophobia increases, with Muslims, Masjids, Islamic organizations, and schools becoming targets of hate crimes.

Misconception: Women in Islam do not have any rights.

Truth: The Qur’an grants women total control of their wealth, the right to choose their spouse, seek divorce, keep their own surname when married, right to own and inherit property, conduct business, access to knowledge, equal pay for equal work and participate in all forms of worship that men participate in. Islam has guaranteed these rights, among many others, to women for over 1400 years – rights that women in the West are still lacking.

Misconception: Islam oppresses women.

Truth: Violence towards women and forcing them against their will is not permitted by Islam. Unfortunately, many women are oppressed; however, this is a global issue and not just Islamic oppression. To prove that we can always look 1400 years back in the history for the example of Khadijah: Khadijah was the wife of Prophet Muhammad and she was a successful and esteemed business woman. Khadija was born to a father who was a successful merchant in their Quraysh tribe of Mecca. She inherited her father’s skills in a time in history where society was male-dominated and dangerous. Upon her father’s death, she took over the business and traded goods through the primary commerce centers at that time, from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen, hiring the most trustworthy men of character to brave the dangerous trade routes. Her business was larger than all of the Quraysh trades combined and the most acclaimed with a reputation of fair-dealing and high-quality goods. She had a keen eye and was highly intuitive, earning the monikers, Ameerat-Quraysh (“Princess of Quraysh”) and al-Tahira (“The Pure One”) due to her stellar reputation. Khadija knew what she was doing business-wise, never compromising her modesty or integrity to succeed in the male-dominated trades- hiring only those that could meet these standards.

Misconception: Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab.

Truth: Islamic teachings do require women to wear the hijab attire. Any act of worship not purely for the sake of God but out of force, oppression, ostentation and hypocrisy is devoid of value, and not accepted by God. Sincerity bestows value and credit to acts of worship. However women who choose to practice the hijab often see wearing the hijab as empowering because they are not viewed as sexual objects, but judged by their character instead. There is nothing in wearing the hijab that restricts a Muslim woman’s freedom to express her views and opinions, to own property, or to have an education and a career. Also, there are similarities between the hijab and the attire of some women of other faiths including Catholic nuns, Amish women and Orthodox Jewish women.

Misconception: Muslim women are forced into arranged marriages.

Truth: According to Islam, a Muslim girl cannot be forced to marry against her will. Her parents may suggest a young man that they think may be suitable, but the decision is up to her. Divorce is not common, although it is acceptable as a last resort.

Misconception: Muslim men marry four wives.

Truth: The Qur’an permits limited polygamy. Islam gives a man permission to marry up to four women on the condition that he deals with them justly. The Qur’an also says ‘It is very difficult to be just and fair between women.’ [Al-Qur’an (4:129)] For this reason, Muslim men are discouraged from marrying more than one wife if they are unable to provide for them equally both financially and emotionally. No woman can be forced into this kind of marriage if they do not wish it, and they also have the right to exclude it in their marriage contract and also have the right to seek divorce.

In conclusion, polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted. Permission to practice polygamy is not associated with mere satisfaction of passion. It is rather associated with compassion toward widows and orphans. The general rule in Islam is monogamy and not polygamy.

Misconception: Muslims don’t value education.

Truth: Muslims place a high value on education. Until the industrial age, Islamic universities were the world leaders in math, medicine, science, law, architecture, and many other fields of study. While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, Muslim societies were making advancements in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, and literature. In fact, the renaissance happened as a result of the ancient and new knowledge reacquired from Muslims universities. Yet today most Muslims are poor and lack educational opportunities.

Misconception: Muhammad was the founder of Islam and Muslims worship him.

Truth: Muslims believe that Muhammad was God’s last prophet and communicated God’s final revelation, i.e. the Qur’an. Muslims consider Adam the first Muslim. However, Muhammad is seen as the best example of how to be a good Muslim. He is held in great esteem, but he is not to be worshiped. Worship is reserved for God alone, and it is strictly forbidden to worship anyone or anything else.

Misconception: There are no similarities between Islam and other religions.

Truth: Islam is an Abrahamic religion, which is in the same family of religions as Judaism and Christianity. The lineage for Jews and Christians comes under Isaac and for Muslims under Ismael. Both are the sons of Abraham. 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 such as during the reign of the Ottomans, an empire that lasted for hundreds of years.

Misconception: Islam is intolerant to other faiths.

Truth: Throughout the Qur’an, Muslims are reminded that they are not the only ones who worship God. Jews and Christians are called “People of the Book,” meaning people who have received previous revelations from the One Almighty God that we all worship. In the Qur’an chapter (49:13) says, “O Mankind. We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” Islam mandates the collaboration with persons of different faiths, cultures and races. Islam has always given respect and freedom of religion to all faiths. There are many historical examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths.

Misconception: Sharia Law is archaic and cruel.

Truth: Sharia Law or Islamic Law is about protecting the innocent and upholding Islamic values. Sharia Law is not about extreme punishments for minor offenses. In fact, Islamic scholars in the US agree that Sharia Law is not in disagreement with the US Constitution and The Bill of Rights because there is no conflict between the laws of the land and the practices Muslims follow. Professor of Law Marshall Breger at a Catholic University suggests that the Jewish law Halacha is also very similar to Islamic Sharia law. Interestingly as well, a study was done at George Washington University to see which countries closely uphold Islamic values. Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and New Zealand were the top 4. The first country with a Muslim majority, Malaysia, is at number 33, and Kuwait is at 48.

Misconception: Prophet Muhammad married a child aged girl.

Truth: While we have other sources that say Aisha was around 15 years old at the time of her marriage to the beloved prophet, historically, the age at which a girl was considered ready to be married has been puberty. This was the case in Biblical times for people of all faiths. This was part of the norm and is not something that Islam invented. It is upon reaching the age of puberty that a person, man or woman, becomes legally responsible for their actions under Islamic Law. At this point, they are allowed to make their own decisions and are held accountable for their actions. It should also be mentioned that in Islam, it is unlawful to force someone to marry someone else that they do not want to marry. There is no indication that the society at that time criticized this marriage due to the girl’s young age. On the contrary, the marriage was encouraged by the girl’s family and was welcomed by the community at large.

Misconception: Muslims are barbaric during war.

Truth: Quite the contrary, when it comes to the conduct of war there are main 11 rules that every Muslim army must obey:

  1. Do not commit treachery
  2. Do not deviate from the right path
  3. Do not mutilate dead bodies
  4. Do not kill children
  5. Do not kill women
  6. Do not kill aged men
  7. Do not harm or burn trees
  8. Do not destroy buildings
  9. Do not attack wounded soldiers unless the wounded person is still fighting
  10. Do not destroy an enemy’s flock, unless you use it for your food
  11. When you pass people who have devoted their lives to monastic services leave them alone

Misconception: Islam was spread by the sword.

Truth: There is no record in history that shows people being forced at sword point to convert to Islam. When Islam spread through countries of the Middle East, they would set up private churches and synagogues for the non-Muslims they were governing and because of the good treatment they had received, many non-Muslims themselves would convert. It is also interesting to note that when the Mongols invaded and conquered large portions of the Islamic empire, instead of destroying the religion, they adopted it!

Misconception: Anyone who claims to be a Muslim and dies killing in the name of God will be a martyr.

Truth: In Islam, all acts of worship need to be done according to Allah’s guidance. Islam sets down clear guidelines as to when war is ethically right, and clear guidelines as to how such a war should be conducted.
On the other hand it is believed that anyone doing anything for the sake of God and is killed becomes a martyr. A person who dies while performing pilgrimage in Mecca, a woman who dies while giving birth, or even someone who dies in a car crash while he was on his way to the mosque are all considered martyrs.

We understand that each misconception can be a topic of its own. Here, we only have tried to give an idea about the most common misconceptions to shed a light which can be further explored inshaAllah.

Filiz Arslan


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