Misconceptions about Islam and Muslims
It is no secret that even highly developed societies are full of stereotypes. Very often, such biases are not only fundamentally wrong, but also pose a significant threat to the community or the object, with Islam being a striking example of such situation. The representatives of the Western culture, whether these are Christians or not, have difficulties in understanding Islam. As soon as it has appeared on the world stage, it was continuously insulted and slandered by the Christians in order to find an excuse for all the wars against Muslims. Islam has been subjected to various misconceptions that have long stayed in the minds of the common people. Even today, for many of them, Muslims are intolerable fanatics, who practice polygamy and fatalism. Moreover, these are not the only misconceptions concerning Muslims and their religion. As a result, the relationship between Islamic and Western world is often tense, which hinders natural development of the current process of cultural globalization. Therefore, the following work is dedicated to describing and dispelling the most common misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
First of all, many people believe that all Muslims are Arabs. The stereotypical image of a Muslim is a dark-skinned Arab in a turban and with a beard. However, only a minority of Muslims can be defined by such looks. Arabs make up only 15% of the Muslim population in the world. In fact, Muslims of the Middle East are the smallest of the Islamic groups, while the Muslims of East Asia rank first (about 69%) and African Muslims (about 27%) occupy the second position. Moreover, it is a mistake to think that all Arabs are Muslims. Of course, a major part of Arabs are, indeed, Muslims (about 75%), but there are many other religions in the Arabic countries, including Christianity and Judaism (Ahmad 97).
“Death to infidels” is a phrase that is often associated with Islam and believed to represent its attitude to the other religions. However, this is also a misconception. Islam has always treated other religions with respect. The Quran says that Allah does not forbid one to treat the outsiders kindly and justly. There are plenty of historical examples of Muslim tolerance towards the other religions. One of such cases is the decision of Caliph Umar, the ruler of Jerusalem in the years 634-644 A.D. He encouraged and gave freedom to all religious communities and people of his city. He also created the courts, in which the decision was made not by the Muslim minority. Every time he visited the holy places he was accompanied by the Christian patriarch Sophronius (Lewis and Churchill 76).
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Another common stereotype is the statement that Muslims hate Jesus. However, there are many historical similarities between Christianity and Islam. Many people are shocked to learn that according to Islamic beliefs, Jesus is one of the great messengers of God. Moreover, the belief in the virgin birth and the miracles of the God is one of the cornerstones of this religion. Many verses of the Quran also mention Jesus, who is often used as an example of dignity and good nature. However, Muslims do not consider Jesus to be God, which is the primary difference between Christianity and Islam (Ahmad 99).
The misconception of forceful spreading of Islam is also quite common. However, the idea that the fanatical Muslims swept across the world, converting people to Islam by force is one of the most absurd in history. In historical sources, there is no mentioning of the fact that Islam was forced on the people. By paying attention to a small number of Muslims who try to spread Islam to the West, particularly in Spain, and the East, especially in India, one can understand that such a small group of people could not impose their beliefs upon the others. It should also be noted that when the Mongols have conquered some of the Islamic countries, they adopted Islam instead of forbidding it (Lewis and Churchill 65).
The images of Muslim women dressed in burkas from head to toe, or women, who are forbidden to drive a car, are very common when it comes to women in Islamic countries. Of course, there are Muslim countries where strict laws are applied against women, but one should not assume that it refers to Islam as a whole. In many of the Islamic countries there are cultural differences, which are contrary to Islamic teachings. It should be noted that during the pre-Islamic period, Arab women were used only for extramarital affairs and had no independence. The birth of a daughter was considered a disgrace for the family, and the practice of female infanticide was common enough. When Islam came to this district, the practice of female infanticide was condemned and began to be considered a crime (Engineer 24). Islam gave women many rights, and Muhammad claimed that a woman is the second half of a man. In particular, a Muslim woman may reject any proposal of marriage and request a divorce. In Islam, there is no word on whether a woman has no right to go where she wants or that she is not allowed to drive. Moreover, in regard to education, Islam requires a woman to study, and it is considered a sin if she refuses (Engineer 146).
By continuing the list of stereotypes regarding the family life in the Islamic countries, it needs to be mentioned the one concerning the rights of the children. It is often mentioned that the children of Muslims have to abide the law of Quran without having any rights of their own. On the contrary, according to Muslim law, children have many rights. In particular, the child has the right to be born, to be brought up and study in decent conditions. Islam encourages the proper upbringing of children, because it is the duty of an adult to make a child grow into a decent member of the society. Children also need to grow in the equation. If one gives money to children, all brothers and sisters should get the same amount. Preference should be given to no one of them. Children are even allowed to leave the family if they can live without depending on anyone, and if not, parents are required to support them until they become grown-ups. There is also an interesting fact about the relationships between Muslim children and parents: the parents are forbidden to beat a child with anything of a size larger than a pencil (Cornell 110).
This is by far the most well-known stereotype about Islam that is imposed by the media. Moreover, this misconception has become so common, that when a certain group of people attacks another one, it is called a “hate crime,” but when the same thing is done by a Muslim, it is often regarded as “terrorism.” Many political dictators and officials as well as extremist groups use Islam as a strategy to gather followers and attract attention while their practices are contrary to the tenets of this religion. The media also portrays Islam as destructive and malicious cult, by joining which people become terrorists (Allen 85). However, all the people upholding the true ideas of Islam have nothing to do with terrorists. Many verses of Quran go against the idea of terrorism. Many of them argue that the force can be used only for self-defense. Moreover, a universal aspiration for peace is stated in many verses of the Quran, but there is no indication of killing innocent people (Ahmad 108).
The concept of Muslim terrorism is closely intertwined with the term “Jihad.” This Arabic word is often interpreted as the war in the name of God. Indeed, Jihad means fight or struggle. However, in Islam, it often means one’s struggle on the way to God. In such meaning, Jihad has many forms, but the most important of them are Jihad Al-Nafs (a struggle of the man with himself and his soul), Jihad Al-Qualam (a struggle with the word), and Jihad Bis-Saif (a battle of the sword and force). Each type of Jihad is estimated differently. In particular, Quran claims that after returning from the battlefield, Muhammad said: “We came back from the smaller jihad (a struggle with the sword) to the greater one (a struggle of the soul).” Therefore, for Muslims, the spiritual struggle is more important than physical war (Ahmad 110). Another misconception about Jihad is that if a person dies during the war, he or she automatically becomes a martyr. In fact, in Islam, a martyr is considered anyone who died (or was killed) while doing something in the name of God. The man, who died during a pilgrimage to holy places, a woman who died during childbirth or even a person who died in a car accident when going to mosque are all viewed as martyrs (Lewis and Churchill 33).
Therefore, the current Western knowledge of Muslims is significantly affected by the historical tradition of negative perception of anything that refers to the Islamic culture. The consolidation of misconceptions and stereotypes is influenced by a wide range of reasons: religious, cultural and ethnic differences, ideological factors, political motivation and socio-economic situation. As a result, it may take a long time to dispel them, but in the context of globalization and merging of the different world cultures, this process will definitely continue to take place in the future.