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September 22, 2016

Setting the record straight on Islam

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Muslims? Perhaps more importantly what do you picture? Anyone picture someone from the desert wearing a turban, speaking Arabic and probably condemning the United States?

I recently went around to a number of college students on campus and did a non-scientific, realistic poll of what people thought of and what they pictured when they thought of the word Muslim.

Of the few people I asked, many gave me the response above, of an Arab who doesn’t speak English and who hates the United States. Others said they thought of terrorism and more specifically September 11. Of the people I asked, a majority said their knowledge of the basic tenants of Islam was based off television and the way in which the media has portrayed Muslims. When asked about their limited knowledge of Islam, some said that they thought that Allah was a man that Muslims worshiped.

To help clear some confusion and set the record straight, I wanted to change up how I offer editorials for the next few weeks and use my column as an educational piece, as well as to clear up common misconceptions.

Let’s begin by starting with the word Islam itself. The root letters of the word Islam are the Arabic letters seen, laam, meem – when they are put together it literally means peace. This peace can be defined in different ways, both inner and outer peace. There are five basic tenants or pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. We’ll get into the others later on, but, for the time being, let’s take a closer look at the testament of faith.

To make things clear, let’s set the record straight about Muslims being only Arabs, from the desert and condemning the United States. First of all, not all Muslims are Arab, and not all Arabs are Muslims. Of the top five most-populated countries, none are Arab countries (top five in order are Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Turkey). Even within Arab countries, there are a lot of countries that don’t have a desert in them.

Lastly, Islam and Muslims do not condemn the United States or the West. No matter how much someone would have you believe that we hate this country, that notion is simply false. I am a proud citizen of the United States and exercise my rights, just as others do. I am proud of the United States. Though I don’t always agree with its foreign policy, I in no way hate the United States.

Islam is the fastest growing religion and it continues to spread, peacefully. The Vatican released a story a few months ago which stated that Islam is now the largest religion in the world. People try to make the claim that Islam was spread via the sword, but example after example shows that it wasn’t. When Muslims conquered an area, the people of the area had the ability to keep their religion and their customs and everything they wanted. Those who have seen the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” saw a true depiction about the crusades, about how Salahuddin conquered Jerusalem and did not shed a drop of blood afterwards.

The Islamic testament of faith, which is usually taken in Arabic, translates in English as “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is his servant and messenger.” Similar to the other monotheistic religions, Muslims pray to one God, who is considered to be all-knowing and all wise. The word Allah is defined as “the God” and essentially is just the Arabic word for God.

Similar to how the Christians have the Bible and the Jews have the Torah, Muslims also have a holy book, the Quran. There is only one version of the Quran. The Quran in its original form is in Arabic. There are translations available but they don’t do justice to the real text.

Education is not only what you learn in a classroom. Through our interactions with others, we have the ability to learn a lot about ourselves. I urge you all to go and do just a little bit of research about Islam before you make a judgment by watching a news piece. Be informed of reality and truth, rather than the sensationalism that we see on TV. There are several means for you to gain knowledge.

You can Wikipedia or Google your questions; you can go and talk to someone in the office of the Muslim Students Association (located in room 321 of the Student Union, next to the bike co-op). In this ever growing and more globalized world, you stand to gain by learning about others. Who knows, you might just learn something about yourself.

Subhan Tariq is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at stariq@student.umass.edu.

Comments
8 Responses to “Setting the record straight on Islam”
  1. Dave Robertson says:

    Go Subhan!

  2. Hamza says:

    Great article, masha’Allah. I just hope people actually pay attention to more pieces like this rather than taking the easy way out and continuing to listen only to Fox News and such.

  3. Very pleased to see this. I am not Muslim, myself, but this sort of ignorance needs to be cleared up at every turn. I’m rather surprised, though, given that the Valley has a Muslim population, that so many people are still under the impression that all Muslims are Osama Bin Laden.

  4. Also, speaking as someone of German heritage, any Christian who condemns Muslims for spreading their religion by the sword (whether such a clam is true or not) simply makes me laugh. Christian “saints” murdered my own forefathers, desecrated the places of the gods and forced the people to give up their native religions in exchange for Jesus.

    Christians complaining about “spreading religion by the sword” is hilarious.

  5. Zack says:

    @Hamza

    Although I agree that often times mainstream Americans do not understand, nor do they care to understand what Islam actually is, I think it is unfair to target a news agency such as Fox News. Being a news and politics junkie I am very in tune to most of the major media outlets and although most have some agenda or political ideology no channel or mainstream media source spews hate or misinformation, not Fox News, not MSNBC. It seems like Fox is an easy target for those who disagree with its ideology, but Fox is just a media outlet reporting what its viewers tuned in to hear and see. I have never personally seen or heard of any Anti-Muslim propaganda on Fox News or any major media outlet.

  6. Ben Rudnick says:

    Subhan,

    I agree with you that is it terribly sad that such a small fringe group of the Islamic faith, the radical fundamentalists, has come to represent all Muslims in the eyes of so many. You are entirely correct that education is the best way to counteract this view and foster a better understanding of Islam in America, as well as other non-Muslim countries.

    However, as you rightly point out, the foundational element of this process is the truth. You are correct that when many Muslim rulers “conquered an area, the people of the area had the ability to keep their religion and their customs and everything they wanted.” However, it is equally true that other Muslim rulers were not quite as tolerant of the dhimmis, the non-Muslims who were under the protection of Sharia Law. Isn’t it true, for example that the Almohad rulers of the Iberian Peninsula expelled Jews and Christians from Morocco and the Islamic territories of Spain? The point is not that Islam is or is not tolerant of other faiths, it is that there have been times when it was, and times when it wasn’t. What can we learn from those examples that will foster tolerance among the World’s religions today?

    In addition, to Michael Foley, are you saying that two wrongs somehow make a right? You say you laugh when you hear people condemn “Muslims for spreading their religion by the sword,” but that seems to be an unproductive response to me. Perhaps instead of laughing at those people, you should do exactly what Subhan has suggested, and educate them. Remind them that, while some Islamic leaders of the past have spread the faith through military action, Christian Saints and Kingdoms have also committed atrocities in order to impose their faiths on those who resisted conversion. It seems to me that the only way for religion to become a less divisive element of human society is for all faiths to recognize the truth of their sometimes-violent pasts. Only then can we effectively oppose the violent tendencies of the fringe elements of these faiths.

    In any event, I am glad that this call for understanding and education has gone out, I just hope that spirit will not be drowned out by those who would seek to use it to make political hay.

    Ben R.
    Fellow Collegian Columnist

  7. Raiyan says:

    “Those who have seen the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” saw a true depiction about the crusades, about how Salahuddin conquered Jerusalem and did not shed a drop of blood afterwards.”

    I find this bit disingenuous, although your overall point is well taken and refers generally to the concept of normative Islam as removed from the descriptive religion practiced by human beings which does not say anything necessarily about the actual essence of a religion.
    Kingdom of Heaven was nice cinema, and Salahuddin was probably a just ruler in the context of his time, just as some of the Crusading leaders may have been just as men of their times as well. However the film was riddled with historical inaccuracies (which could have been forgiven as it was historical fiction) but more importantly the downplay of historical occurrences and the rather brutal shedding of blood undertaken as result of Salah-el-Din’s orders.

  8. muad'dib says:

    Speaking of the Crusades, they started because the Christian rulers needed a rallying point to raise enough forces to repel the invading Muslim armies that aimed to spread Islam into Europe by the sword.

    On the other hand, I really can’t believe people had such fundamental ignorance of Islam. Don’t they teach world religions in high school anymore?

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