Ask a Muslim: What Is Misunderstood about Your Faith?
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Commentary by Maimoona Harrington
What is most often misunderstood about your faith? Do you think people of different faith should marry? How has your faith changed over the years? How do you feel when people try to convert you away from your faith or when others criticize or attack your faith? What do you love most about your faith?
1 – What is most often misunderstood about your faith?
Due to misinformation and stereotypes the list of misunderstood things is long. Here are some of the major misconceptions about Islam.
Islam oppresses women
Due to Muslim wearing hijab (veil), Islam is often considered subjugated towards women. Hijab is not only a piece of cloth on head and body, but it includes one’s behavior, moral conduct, attitude and intention for both men and women.
Hijab is worn as a concern of modesty. This concern of modesty does not only apply to Muslim women, but it is equally applicable for Muslim men as well.
Quran reference: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” [24:30]
Not all Muslim women abide by the hijab requirement. For example, hijab is not imposed in countries like Egypt, Lebanon or Pakistan.
Polygamy in Islam
Islam allows polygamy but it’s not compulsory. It’s not a rule but an exception and only preferred if one is able to deal with it justly.
Quran reference: “Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one.” [4:3]
However, as many Muslim countries are secular and have civil laws in practice, they ban multiple marriages like in Tunisia and Turkey. In Pakistan, polygamy is not widespread. And to get married a second time or more, the husband needs permission from first wife in writing.
Jihad in Islam
Jihad is often considered holy war for Muslims; however, the word jihad in Arabic language simply means, “to struggle,” or “to strive.” The word for war in Arab language is “Al-Harb.” So, this word is completely taken out of context in present times, and the verses of the Quran regarding jihad are also misinterpreted and partially quoted to create misunderstanding.
Jesus in Islam
It’s often believed that Muslims do not believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him). Muslims believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him), and he is known as Isa ibn Maryam (Isa son of Maryam) and a Prophet. Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) is a highly regarded prophet in Islam. An entire (chapter) of the Quran is titled “Mary.”
Quran reference: “She said: ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so; God creates what He wills. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.’” [3:47]
Muslims also believes in Jesus’ (Peace Be Upon Him) miracles.
Quran reference: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, a figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God’s leave.” [3:49]
All Arabs are Muslims
Being Arab is not a race or lineage but a cultural trait. The Middle East is a land of world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are all inextricably linked. Many sects born out of these three religions and are spread all over the world. There are Arab Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
All Muslims are Terrorists
All Muslims are not terrorists. Unfortunately, few people from Islamic faith have chosen terrorism as a tool to impose their hardline ideologies and beliefs. In return, it brings devastation and increased hate and intolerable attitude toward followers of their religion.
2 – Do you think people of different faith should marry?
Islam is divided into many sects, and the religious authorities of these sects interpret the Quranic text for interfaith marriages as per their understanding and interpretations.
Based on these interpretations, the majority of sects agree that Muslim men can marry Jews, Christians and Sabians, also known and referred as “People of the Book.”
However, Muslim women cannot marry the People of the Book nor any non-Muslim. But, as I stated, this is based on various interpretations of Quranic text by various Islamic religious authorities of different sects.
Having said this, many Muslim women are marrying men from different faiths after their conversion into Islam and some without having them convert. But, this is again a personal interpretation of faith, choice and preference.
3 – How has your faith changed over the years?
Islam as a faith is a divine religion, so there is no change in terms of its divinity. Its core remains same. If we look at the Islamic culture and civilization, then it flourished and developed. These developments impacted political structures of Islam, the interpretation of the religion and political decentralization and fragmentation into smaller societies. Still, Islam as a faith and at its core remain the same.
4- How do you feel when people try to convert you away from your faith or when others criticize or attack your faith?
Everyone’s reaction to criticism, attack and conversion would be different. I am not offended by any of it as living in a Western country diversity is the key. If the earlier people of Islam would have been offended and hurt due to attack on their faith then Islam would have stayed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Its expansion shows that Muslims, wherever they went, were open to criticism and understanding of other faiths. They were also respectful toward other faiths. That’s why the Islam we see today carries various cultures and traditions from all over the world.
If anyone wants to share their beliefs and faith and question mine, then I am all ears. A two-way conversation is always a door to open communication and understanding. We can live in harmony if we show compassion toward everyone without discrimination of gender, color, race or religion.
5- What do you love most about your faith?
What I love most about Islam is its simplicity. It’s often misunderstood as being burdensome and hard to follow even by its followers. Islam is not only a faith, but it’s a way of life. My words, my actions, my behavior depicts what my religion is all about. The practices are left to you as to how best you do in them.
Quran reference: “Strive in the cause of Allah in a manner worthy of that striving. He has chosen you (for His task), and He has not laid upon you any hardship in religion.” [3:49]
The Islam I am born and brought up into is nothing like the one many think it is. I am a Muslim woman, and I am not oppressed and neither are my mother, my sister and cousins!
Most Muslim societies are patriarchal societies, but it does not mean that Islam has something to do with male behaviors and actions always. It has a lot to do with the cultural and traditional ethics of the society these men and women live.
For example, female and Confucian influenced premodern Japan, Korea and Vietnam, although a change is in process in these societies, but at a slow pace.
Family life in South American countries is based on patriarchal societies. Thus, to think or say that it’s only Muslim men that are violent, patriarchal or oppressive is wrong. Besides faith, cultural and traditional values also play a major role in diverse societies.
Disclaimer: I am not a religious scholar. I try to answer the questions with the best of my knowledge and understanding of Islam as a Muslim.
Maimoona Harrington was born and raised in Pakistan and moved to the United States with her family in 2008. She is married and a mother of two sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies and sociology from Pakistan and a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from United States. Along with her career as an interpreter, translator and monitor, she is also an Islamic and Pakistani Culture Adviser. As a practicing Muslim with extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this, she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!
As a practicing Muslim with the extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!