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Understanding of Islam and its People
There are many misconceptions about religion, especially when it comes to the Islamic faith. A couple of these misconceptions include: the belief that Muslims seek to worship a different God and the idea that all Muslim women do not have rights and are mistreated and abused. Unfortunately, all the negative media attention surrounding incidents lead by Muslim terrorist groups skews the worlds views of the Muslim people and their culture. This is due to humans naturally being easily influenced by what they see and hear and in turn, due to a lack of knowledge on the subject, have let these publicized extreme events mold their minds into believing there is a problem with Muslim people as a whole. This creates many misinterpretations and misunderstandings of Islam. What people do not realize is that the majority of the negative events portrayed in the media are events led by extremist groups. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Just because Columbine happened in the United States does not mean that all students are going to shoot their schools up. It is groups like these that ruin the reputations of the masses. One large problem with this misinformed thought process is that the Islamic faith is the second largest religion in the world and makes up roughly 1.8 billion followers. According to BBC, Islam will become the number one religion in the world within the next fifty years. (“Islam: The World’s Fastest Growing Religion”). This is a large group of people to be misinformed about and to hold prejudice against. It is because of this, that people should broaden their horizons and try to gain some perspective into the Islamic faith. If this happened, maybe a better understanding of its people would lead them to be more widely accepted. One thing most do not realize is that the Quran is interpreted differently by the different sects and people of the religion. This influences individual Islamic countries to have different views from one other, naturally separating its people into more liberal and conservative groups. This also causes women’s rights throughout the Islamic countries to be different as well. Some allowing more freedoms to women than others. By discussing the background of Islam, the Five Pillars of which Islamic law is based upon, Prophet Muhammad, and the rights of Islamic woman will help clear up some of the misconceptions regarding Muslim people.
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Islam is a monotheistic and universal religion teaching that Allah is the only one true God. In Arabic, the word Islam translates to “surrender,” as the believer surrenders oneself to Allah. (“ISLAM – The Meaning of Islam”). This is done through reading the words of the Quran or holy book. It is through this holy book that the message of God was passed on through his Prophet Muhammad. It is said that these holy words were revealed to Muhammad in a cave by the Angel Gabriel. The angel called to him three times saying to “recite in the name of thy God.” After some confusion, Muhammad recited the words so they could be recorded for future generations. This was considered to be a miracle, as Muhammad was illiterate and could not read the words for himself. In Islam, Muhammad is considered the last of a series of prophets and his message consummates and completes the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets. (Mahdi and Rahman, 2019). When Prophet Muhammad died he did not have any sons to follow after him. He did have a daughter named Fatima and a cousin Ali who was also his son and law. It was because of these two procreating that Prophet Muhammad’s bloodline was able to carry on. This is what caused the split of Islam into two groups of people, the Sunni and the Shia Muslims. The Shia were supporters of Ali, thus supporting the bloodline. (Rogerson). Even though there was a split, the Muslim people as a whole believe in one God, angels, revelations, prophets, resurrection, and judgement. They believe in predestination and that if something happens it is because God wanted it to happen. Islam controls every aspect of its people’s lives. There are two characteristics that Muslims live by – structure and discipline. These characteristics help the Muslim people follow the 5 pillars. They are as follows: Declaration of faith (testimony), prayer 5 times a day, facing the direction of Mecca so that they face the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the central shrine in Mecca’s Great Mosque, which is Islam’s holiest place. Ritual washing must take place before prayer by washing the hands, feet, and behind the ears. Another pillar is Almsgiving. This is in a way like Tithing. 2.5% of a Muslim’s wealth is given in order to support the Islamic community. The fourth pillar is fasting the Ramadan. Ramadan is a commemoration of Muhammad’s first revelations. (“Ramadan). This lasts a whole month and is said to have been when the word was established. During the month of Ramadan one must fast on everything, from sun up to sun down. This is done to purify themselves and become closer to Allah. There are a couple of exceptions however, one being if someone is sick or if they are travelling. Finally, the fifth pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mecca is the holy city, in now present day Saudi Arabia, where Muhammad’s journey with God began. Ramadan only needs to happen once in a lifetime during the month of celebration and is a huge honor. There are so many Muslims that go on their pilgrimage every year during this time that when given the opportunity the eldest family member should be sent before younger ones. (“Five Pillars of Islam”). The 5 pillars are essentially to Islam as the 10 Commandments are for Christianity. A main difference is just how strictly it is followed because Islamic people live by the words of the Quran and as previously stated the Quran is interpreted differently by Muslims. Another difference is how they trace their lineage. Muslims trace their lineage back to Father Abraham, his descendants, and to the Prophet Muhammed. Whereas Jewish and Christians trace it from Isaac to Father Abraham. The stories told are about the same people. One discrepancy when it comes to the people in these holy books is that Islam does not believe Jesus was the son of God and Christians do. As stated in class, even with these inconsistencies in the religions, the majority of Islamic people respect Christianity and Judaism. However, they do still believe that they have corrected the message of God in the Quran because their holy book is the complete holy book and other messages, such as the Bible, have been corrupted. (“Do We Worship the Same God”).
Women in Muslim countries courageously rise above and campaign for an improvement of their rights. Unfortunately, these women have continued to have their rights minimized by the sexist interpretations of the Quran. It is these sexist interpretations that give the grounds for the oppression of women in more conservative Islamic countries such as Pakistan. Many parts of the holy book will say that women and men are equal. Yet in other passages (2:228) it states, “and the men are a degree above them [women]”. (“Woman Worth Less Than a Man in Islam”). Islam is a patriarchal society, run by man. For them, marriage is a contract where as in the United States we have civil marriages. In the Muslim culture if a man wants a divorce is it very easy for him. All it takes is for the man to announce three times, in front of a witness, that him and his wife are divorced and they shall be divorced. When it comes to inheritance, the Quran (4:11) also says a man gets two shares of a woman. (“Woman Worth Less Than a Man in Islam”). These are just a few examples of why it may seem to the rest of the non-Muslim community that women of Islam are beneath the men. A very controversial question however is; can a Muslim man beat his wife? Again this depends on how the people interpret the words of the Quran. Chapter 4 verse 34 talks about men being the maintainers of women. “If a woman is not obedient to her husband that he may beat her, but if she returns to obedience men are to seek no means against them [women]”. (“Islam: Can a Man Beat His Wife?”). Where some Muslim men take this to mean they can be abusive others interpret it differently. Harris Zafar, a Pakistani American man and an advocate for universal human rights, explains that Chapter 4 verse 35 of the Quran is not saying to beat a woman. His interpretation is that, “the verse restricts, rather than sanctions, such behavior.” He expresses, “It is a process of curbing the urge to use physical force in the rare event of gross disobedience or rebellion.” In other words, the woman would need to commit an act such as adultery, not just by over a dispute between the pair. Zafar explains, “This verse presents a process of anger management, reformation, and reconciliation, with the intention to heal the relationship at every step. (Zafar). Even though some try to hold on the more negative interpretations of the Quran, women are slowly but surely making progress in regard to their rights. In fact, Muslim women have many of the same rights that we in America do. Education is encouraged, they can hold jobs, and they have control over the dowry that the man pays the woman before marrying them. In June 2018, women in Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative Muslim countries, were granted the right to drive vehicles. (Stancati and Said, 2017). This is just one example of how the views of the Muslim community are slowly but surely changing and are allowing women more freedoms than before.
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The large amount of misguided information we hear about leads to the misconceptions we have about Muslim people and their religion. By becoming more aware and understanding the background and history of the Islamic faith and its people and by understanding that the Islamic people live by their faith, we educate ourselves on this topic. Knowledge is power. From this, a realization would come about that not all Muslim people are going to be conservative extremists and beat their wives or crash planes into buildings. Just like in America, we have more conservative and liberal thinking people and that is okay. We do not all have to agree with the next person’s choices or beliefs. However, if we are more open minded to one another and our differences we can stop living in fear about things we do not completely understand and we can all live more cohesive, happier, and healthier lives together.
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