COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ISLAM
In our modern times, the term ‘jihad’ has come to imply violence, holy wars, and terrorism, particularly in the western world. However, its original, intended meaning – and usage to a great extent in the Muslim world – continues to hark to a larger, more encompassing root word ‘j-h-d’ which means ‘to strive.’
In fact, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, differentiates between the ‘greater jihad’ and the ‘lesser jihad.’ Contrary to popular understanding, the greater jihad in Islam is the inner struggle, both spiritual and mundane, Muslims engage in daily in order to lead a righteous life, one which does not only include being mindful of one’s prayers, fasts, and charity, but also kind and just behaviour with others, fulfilling duties towards kith, kin, and neighbours, and earning and eating of lawful means, among many other elements.
The lesser jihad, on the other hand, refers to armed struggle to protect the faith, its adherents, and its land/property. During the lifetime of the Prophet, peace be upon him, many such wars were fought, and the righteous caliphs and others continued this tradition. However, these wars were fought defensively, not aggressively. In addition, the rules of engagement strictly lay down certain restrictions, binding the Muslims foremost to negotiate peace, reducing fighting as the last resort.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about Islam today is that it is an inherently violent religion whose followers condone acts of terrorism. In reality, terrorism and indiscriminate violence completely contradict the teachings of Islam. Islam is a religion of mercy and ethics. It encourages people to beautify their relationship with God and with those around them through good character and deeds.
The Quran, the divinely revealed scripture of Islam, displays an extraordinary respect for human life:
“…if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land – it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (5:32). At another point, the Quran states, “…do not take the life God has made sacred, except by right. This is what He commands you to do: Perhaps you will use your reason” (6:151).
Muhammad, who Muslims revere as God’s final messenger to humanity, listed murder as one of the major sins. He warned his followers, “The first cases to be settled between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.” Muslims are even prohibited from indiscriminately harming animals, and have been taught by Prophet Muhammad that “there is reward in kindness to every living thing – animal or human.”
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That’s 23 percent of the world’s population. And somewhere close to 1.6 billion of these Muslims have not committed an act of terror, nor have they directly facilitated any terrorist act. So it’s absolutely true to say that (in the context of terrorism) not only are most Muslims peaceful, but almost every Muslim alive bears no direct culpability for terrorist acts.
Islam does not preach violence, it does not preach vicious holy war; it certainly does not condone terror, suicide bombing or anything of that sort. Like all of the great world religions, it preaches compassion and justice, and that is why it has been a success.
WOMEN IN ISLAM
In the west, the common picture of a Muslim woman is the stereotype of a woman hidden behind a veil, a voiceless, silent figure, bereft of rights. It is a picture familiar to all of us, in large part because this is invariably how the western media portrays women in Islam. Islam covers many lands with many diverse cultures. From the borders of Arabia to the coasts of Africa, from Bosnia to Indonesia, large groups of people practice Islam. Islam is growing in European and American countries. Each one of these Islamic nations has its own distinct culture; there is a great diversity of cultures within Islam.
Islam was born in the Arabia Peninsula, now Saudi Arabia, in the seventh century AD. The pre-Islamic era dates back to more than 1400 years ago. Many cultures, nations and countries, other than Arabia, existed during that time. In that era, in the tribal culture of Arabs, women were not equal to men with respect to many social and personal conditions and systems, such as marriage, inheritance or education, among other areas. Women did not have businesses, own property, or have independent legal rights. In Arabia, female infants were often abandoned or buried alive; and the practice of polygamy was common. The position of women, in countries other than Arabia, in the 7th century, was not much different. In Europe, it was not until the turn of the century (13 centuries later) that French women became legally able to sell property without the permission of their husbands. In many nations, sons would inherit the name, wealth and position of the family and daughters were hoped to marry rich. In many western or eastern countries, women could not chose their husbands, and, widows were expected to mourn for their husbands until the end of their lives (still practiced in some countries).
One cannot emphasise enough the influence of the teachings of the Prophet and the verses of the Qur’an upon the advancement of civilisation. In the history of humankind, none worked so much to protect human rights, especially women’s, with such integrity, strength, strategic genius, beauty and divinity, or to honour humanity, by freeing it from the chains of prejudice, manipulations, personal and social injustice. His teachings regarding education, social and political rights, property rights, and ultimately human rights, are among the most valuable chapter in the book of civilisation. “Paradise lies under the feet of mothers”, announced the Prophet. With this instruction, a Divine law, it became a religious responsibility, a praiseworthy act, to respect and honour women. “Men are support for women,” “Among the praiseworthy acts to Allah is to treat your mother with honour and respect,” “Be just among your children, daughters and sons, provide them good education and proper upbringing.” Narrated from the Prophet. With these Divine laws, it became religious duty for every Muslim, male or female, to honour women, treat sons and daughters justly, and for male to provide support, not obstacles, for women and their achievements.
It is not Muslim women as such, but women everywhere who have been imprisoned by prejudice and cruelty. This form of prejudice that goes beyond simple racial or national boundaries, is sexual in nature. Whether women are constantly being held to an impossible standard, or subject to discrimination solely based on the fact that they are not equal to men, they are, by far, the group most affected by this form of prejudice.