Debunking Some Misconceptions About Islam

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For the fastest growing religion in the world, it's shocking how little the average American knows about the Muslim community. So we're heading back to World Religions class to help debunk some misconceptions about Islam with an incredibly brief introduction to the religion. Note that this article only scratches the surface of a major system of beliefs that is informed by major historical and political events dating back hundreds of years. Take that as you will.


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1. "Christianity Is NOTHING Like Islam."

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Ha! What a trip. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are actually very, very similar in their core beliefs. All three religions believe in a monotheistic God, or Allah, as set out in the Torah, the Old Testament and the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Similarly, all three religions believe that Abraham was the first prophet. And even though he is not seen as the son of Christ as in Christian teachings, you can even find Jesus, or Isa, in the Quran as a very important prophet, predicting the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.

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2. "Jesus, Abraham and Moses Are Not Prophets in Islam."

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Wrong again. Jesus, Abraham and Moses are all highly respected prophets in Islam, however, the religion was revealed to the final Prophet Muhammad. Born in 570, the Prophet Muhammad received his first Revelation at Mt. Ira in 610 from the angel Gabriel, thus beginning the full revelation of Islam to humanity. 

Living in a pagan society, Muhammad's teachings of a monotheistic belief system led to his being exiled from Mecca by fellow merchants. Muslims now pray in the direction of Kaaba in Mecca, a site originally built upon by Abraham and Ishmael. Yes, that refers to the same Abraham and Ishmael you may remember from Bible school.

Mecca, located in current day Saudi Arabia, is the most holy site for Muslims, and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.

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3. "All Muslims Have Fundamentalist Beliefs."

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To the contrary, the Five Pillars of Islam, or the core principles that a Muslim aims to live by, are incredibly peaceful and reflective, including:

  • The profession of faith, or Shahada, wherein a believer must simply accept that "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet"
  • Daily prayers, or salat, which involve praying five times a day toward the direction of Mecca
  • Alms-giving or Zakat, which involves charity towards those less fortunate
  • Fasting during Ramadan, or Saum, wherein Muslims in good health are expected to fast during the day, refraining from food or drink during the hours of sunlight
  • And finally, a pilgrimage, or Hajj, to the holy city of Mecca made at least once during a Muslim's lifetime if financially and physically possible. 
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4. "The Quran Is the Only Religious Text Muslims Follow."

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Not exactly true. While the Quran is the definitive holy book of Islam, Muslims also use several different collections of hadith to learn about religious morality. The Quran, or "recitation," is written in rhythmic Arabic poetry and is seen as the literal word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The hadith, on the other hand, is of secondary authority to the Quran and is a verified collection of statements about the Prophet as an example of the perfect believer, as told by his friends, family and followers. Considered in combination, the Quran and the hadith, or Traditions, make up the sharia, or rules of everyday life for a Muslim.

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5. "All Muslims Believe the Same Things."

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Actually, Islam is made up of two major sects, the Sunni and Shia, and a third smaller interpretation of Islam that consists of only 5 percent of the religion, the Sufi. Tensions between the Sunni and Shia date back to a fundamental split in their beliefs about who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad after his death in 632.

The 80 percent of Muslims who identify as Sunni chose Abu Bakr, a friend and the father of the Prophet Muhammad's wife, as their successor. However, Shia Muslims believe that the Prophet chose Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, to rule. This crucial difference prompted a schism in the united Islamic community, one that continues to manifest in religious and political differences worldwide today. 

In Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan, Shia Muslims are the majority. Worldwide, Sunnis identify as the orthodox and traditional sect.

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6. "All Muslim Women Wear the Burka."

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Again, wrong. Like many religions, Islam does observe modesty in dress and behavior between the sexes, which is often manifested in a woman covering everything but her hands and face in the presence of any man she may marry.This aspect of Islam has been widely interpreted and takes many different forms throughout the world, often having more to do with the local culture than Islam specifically. Head coverings include everything from theconservativeAfghanburkawhich covers the entire body, leaving a mesh screen for the eyes, toloose headscarves which only cover a woman's hair, to men and women who donot observe any specific modesty rulesat all. The choice is up to the individual and has many accepted variations.

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7. "Women Can't Enter the Mosque."

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Not true. As in every religion, there are varying interpretations of scripture and law, particularly in regards to different cultural stipulations and societal norms. While in recent years, there are a few countries where women are prohibited from praying at the mosque, this ruling is a not a reflection of Islamic beliefs, but rather of cultural and political preferences. In most mosques worldwide, both men and women are welcome but sit separately in equal facilities, in the spirit of modesty

When you enter a mosque, there will be a space to remove your shoes and participate in a ritual washing before entering the main hall. Attendees dress modestly. 


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8. "All Muslims Are Arabic."

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Also wrong. The termArab refers to someone who speaks Arabic as their primary language. While many Arabs are Muslim, not many Muslims are Arab, only 20 percent in fact.The largest concentration of Muslims around the world call Indonesia home, with 60 percent of the world's Muslims living in Asia.

As the second largest religion in the world, Islam is expected to outpace Christianity as the world's dominant religion by 2070.

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