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Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, boasting just under two billion adherents. It also holds the distinction of being the fastest growing religion in the world. Studies suggest it will have surpassed Christianity as the leading faith by 2070. But despite the ever-increasing number of Muslims, Islam remains arguably the most misunderstood of all religions. This is particularly true in the West, where Islam has been wrongly associated with terrorism and other heinous crimes. Even in Middle Eastern countries, where Islam is more often than not the national religion, the laws and teachings of the Quran are sometimes misunderstood. They are misinterpreted, if not intentionally maligned, to justify the questionable antics of the country's leaders. In this article, we're going to be looking at common mistakes made by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Here are ten misconceptions about Islam.
Most non-Muslims assume that Islam follows a similar patter to Christianity, with Jesus swapped out for Muhammad. While it is true that Islam and Christianity share a number of beliefs, Muslims do not worship anybody other than Allah. This includes Muhammad. Islamic doctrine teaches that Muhammad was a prophet of Allah, just as Moses, Noah, Abraham, and many other Biblical figures were prophets of Allah. Muhammad was greatly favored by Allah, which is why he was chosen to bring forth the Quran over all other men of his time. As great as he was, however, Muhammad was a mere mortal. He was not the Son of God or the earthly embodiment of God and, as such, should not be worshipped. As the Quran tells us time and time again, Allah is the sole being worthy of praise and should not be overlooked in favor of His prophets.
As mentioned in the previous section, many non-Muslims assume that Islam simply replaces Jesus with Muhammad and kicks the former to the curb. This could not be further from the truth. All Muslims accept Jesus as a messenger of God. However, they don't share all of the beliefs of their Christian brothers. While Christianity teaches that Jesus was the Son of God, as well as being God Himself, Islamic tradition states that Jesus was another in a long line of prophets. Indeed, He was born of a virgin, but He was not the Son of God. Rather, He was sent here by Allah, as all prophets were, to spread the message of monotheism and help guide souls towards eternal salvation. Muslims accept most reports of Jesus' ministry as outlined in the New Testament. They do not, however, believe that Jesus was crucified and later rose from the dead. Instead, Muslims believe that a lookalike was crucified in Jesus' place while the prophet ascended into Heaven unharmed.
One of the heaviest accusations thrown against Islam that it is sexist. Anti-Islam propaganda claims that the Quran describes women as second-class citizens who have no purpose beyond catering to every man's every whim. As anybody who is familiar with Islamic doctrine will tell you, this is incorrect. In Surah 3, 195, Allah clearly states "Be you male or female, you are equal to one another". Later in the Quran, we are told that believing men and women will enter Paradise "without the slightest injustice". Many supposedly Islamic countries also believe the Quran to hold men in higher regard than women. These are the countries which force female Muslims to entirely cover their body, including their face, using a burqa. Despite the burqa's close ties to Islam, most Islamic scholars agree that it is not mandatory wear for women. In reality, the Quran encourages women to wear a simple headscarf - known colloquially as a "hijab" - in order to conform with its teachings on modesty. At no point in the Quran or the Hadith are women commanded to cover their face. It is important to remember, however, that while Islam recognizes men and women as being equal, it also assigns each specific roles. Men and women have different tasks to fill in order to ensure Allah's divine plan comes to fruition.
When Muhammad first began sharing stories of his meetings with the angel Gabriel and the revelations which would eventually make up the Quran, people were quick to brand him as a lunatic. Even his family and his friends started to fear for his mental wellbeing. Indeed, it seems as though Muhammad himself doubted his senses at first. It is for this reason that the Quran contains several verses directly reassuring the Prophet that he was not being deceived. When Muhammad's message began picking up steam, the ruling parties of Mecca grew concerned. They came to view him as a political threat who had the potential to overthrow them with his teachings. In an attempt to stifle the growth of Islam, they began to circulate stories of Muhammad's mental instability. These stories ultimately proved ineffective, but their failure was not enough to prevent the Vatican from employing a similar tactic. As Islam spread across the Middle East, Christian forces attempted to discredit Muhammad by branding him as a fraud and a charlaton. Even Jewish writers took to referring to him as "ha-Meshuggah", meaning "The Madman". According to those who had direct contact with Muhammad, however, these tales of his mania are entirely unfounded. Even his family and friends, who had been concerned for his mental health at the beginning of his ministry, came to accept him as a messenger of Allah. The evidence, they said, was just too great to ignore. Additional proof of Muhammad's soundness of mind and body can be found in his successful commanding of Muslim troops in the Conquest of Mecca. How could an individual plagued by mental illness lead a relatively small army in battle against far more powerful figures and emerge victorious? It is inconceivable that a mentally unstable individual could achieve any of the great things achieved by Muhammad during his lifetime.
Sharia law is certainly one of the more controversial aspects of Islam. Formed over hundreds of years, it dictates everything from how often a Muslim should pray to how family disputes should be settled. In many areas, traditional Sharia law is quite diplomatic. In others, however, it is not. Certain punishments under Sharia law can be quite barbaric, especially in Islamic countries which have lost touch with the true meaning of the religion. It is these barbaric penalties that critics of Islam turn to when spreading their anti-Islamic propaganda. They tell anybody who will listen to them that Muslims living in the Western world want to bring Sharia law to America and the United Kingdom and anywhere else they can. In reality, of course, this is not the case. In 2016, ICM conducted extensive research into how British Muslims viewed Sharia law. Less than 25% expressed an interest in implementing any aspect of Sharia law into the United Kingdom's legal system. Fewer still voiced a desire to introduce the more violent practices of Sharia law to the UK. To the contrary, the vast majority of Muslims polled expressed a great love for the Western world's way of life. A staggering 78% even went so far as to declare their intention to fully integrate into British life!
In a way, this point goes back to our earlier discussion about the Quran's alleged sexist views. Critics of Islam often point to Muhammad's multiple wives as evidence Islam does not care for women. They generally go on to say that even a modern Muslim man is permitted to take as many wives as he likes under the laws of Islam. This is blatantly incorrect. While Islam does allow a man to take multiple wives, he is subjected to strict rules and regulations if he does not wish to fall out of favor with Allah. For starters, a Muslim man may not be married to more than four women at any one time. Furthermore, he may only marry multiple women if he is capable of providing all of them with an equally comfortable life. He is not permitted to display any favoritism towards a particular wife and thus must ensure all enjoy the same amount of food, gifts, and love. It is important to note that even though Islamic law technically permits plural marriage, most modern Muslims do not partake in it. Contemporary Muslim marriages the world over consist of one woman and one man. Polygamy - the official name for a man taking more than one wife - is considered rare and unorthodox. In fact, it has been straight-up outlawed by many majority Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia. Other Muslim countries, such as Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait do not flatly reject polygamy, but do allow a woman to include a clause in her marriage contract which prohibits her husband from taking any additional wives.
The events of September 11th, 2001 marked a major shift in the West's attitude towards Islam. The heinous terrorist attacks carried out on the World Trade Center left 2,977 innocent people dead. The perpetrators claimed to be acting in the name of Allah, fulfilling their Jihad duties as outlined in the Quran and the Hadith. This began something of a public relations nightmare for Islam. People across the Western world began to view Islam and terrorism as one and the same. Muslims were accused of supporting the terrorists' acts, while mosques were destroyed in misguided attempts at retaliation. This Islamophobia persists to this day. The most ardent critics of Islam justify their disdain for Muslims by pointing to passages in the Quran and Hadith that they claim inspired the September 11 attacks and attacks like them. However, Muslim and non-Muslim theologians agree that the belief that the Quran encourages violence is a case of much-ado about nothing. They remind us that the Quran was written at a time of war. Throughout much of Muhammad's prophethood, Muslims were subjected to extreme violence, being driven from their homes and even murdered for their beliefs. For a long time, they refused to retaliate, fearing any violence on their part would put them in violation of Allah's law. After all, nothing had been revealed to Muhammad which condoned violence, while multiple passages had been revealed to condemn it. Finally, word was sent down from the Heavens that Muslims may defend themselves against their persecutors. Led by Muhammad, they stormed Mecca and claimed it for themselves. Once the Muslims had claimed the Kaaba, Muhammad allowed any idol worshipper who did not accept the message of the Quran to leave Mecca unharmed. He warned them, however, that if they were to return seeking vengeance, his people would be forced to defend themselves. With this in mind, it can be said that the Quran does not encourage violence, but rather permits it. If a person instigates violence towards anybody - be they a Muslim or otherwise - the targeted individual is entitled to defend themselves.
Non-Muslims often believe that Muslims view them as something of an enemy. However, this could not be further from the truth. Islam does not teach that those who do not accept the message of Islam are bound for Hellfire. While it does talk about "unbelievers" and the unpleasant fate that awaits them, most scholars agree that this is in reference to the idol worshippers of Muhammad's time who actively sought to discredit and destroy him. Not only did they not believe Muhammad's revelations, they also did not believe that Muslims should be granted any rights in their society, including the right to live. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Quran and Hadith condemn them so powerfully. When it comes to non-violent members of other religions, Islam has long been kind and courteous. Today, leading Islamic scholars seek to focus on the similarities between Islam and other religions rather than dwelling on the differences. For example, they highlight Abraham, the founding figure Islam shares with other monotheistic religions, such as Christianity and Judaism.
Certain parts of the Middle East are lacking in basic amenities, including clean drinking water and even bathrooms as we know them. This, however, is the result of failing governments, famine, and war. It has nothing to do with the fact Islam is the prevailing religion in many Middle Eastern countries. Nevertheless, this hasn't stopped Islamophobes from branding Muslims as unhygienic. Even Muslims living in the Western world have reported being questioned about their grooming habits by ignorant critics hoping to raise a reaction. The reality is that Islam is the only religion which actively promotes personal hygiene. Muslims are encouraged to bath regularly and are also expected to wash their hands and feet (including other areas of the body) before prayer. This is known in Islamic tradition as "wudu". Those who buy into the anti-Islamic propaganda regarding the cleanliness of Muslims will also be surprised to learn that Islam has made mammoth contributions to grooming in the west. In fact, it is Islam that we have to thank for the toothbrush. Early Muslims practiced oral hygiene at a time when most of the world gave little thought to it. This they did by cleaning their teeth with a twig from the Meswak tree, which had the ability to dislodge food from the gaps between teeth while simultaneously freshening the user's breath. This was a practice many believe to have been pioneered by Muhammad himself.
Most non-Muslims, even those who aren't critical of Islam, take the stance that one cannot accept any of the Quran's content without being a Muslim. Therefore, they believe that the Quran is nothing but fiction. However, even non-Islamic scholars who are familiar with the Quran concede that the book contains a high number of known truths. These include scientific facts which were not known to the Prophet Muhammad, or, indeed, anybody during his lifetime. For example, the Quran provides clear and concise information on human embryonic development, the composition of ocean water, and even the formation of clouds. Also present in the Quran are several accounts of historical events which have since been accepted by secular historians and archaeologists. As such, even those who are not prepared to accept the spiritual messages of the Quran have a great deal to gain from reading it.
Muslims have been forced to endure discrimination since the earliest days of Islam. Those who accepted Muhammad's message during his lifetime were subjected to hateful violence, with many paying for their beliefs with their life. Contemporary Muslims face a different kind of discrimination, battling cruel mockery and unfounded accusations from those who aren't willing to even try to understand what Islam is really about. It is a testament to Muslims now and throughout the ages that they have managed to remain unwavering in their faith even in the face of such relentless persecution.