I remember in 8th grade, my school hosted an inspirational speaker, Calvin Terrell. His presentation had a lot to do with racism, discrimination and the grotesque realities of today regarding these things. There was one point in the presentation when he would flash words onto a screen and we students would have to say the first race that we associated with that word. The list went on, and the reactions of the students were highly stereotypical. Then came the last word, “terrorist.” I remember bracing myself for the worst; students around me stared yelling not only races, but religions, people and countries. After hearing them repeatedly saying Islam, Muslims, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so on, I became mortified. People need to know what Islam really is, not what the media and stereotypes spell it out to be. Islam is drowning in the misconceptions placed upon it, and it is being distrusted and hated for what it is not. There is no teaching in Islam that condones hate and violence against non-Muslims; in fact, all of the teachings prohibit aggression and injustice towards not only other human beings, but also every creation of God.
Islam is a religion of peace. The Arabic word Islam comes from the root word salaam, meaning peace. The word itself means “willing and loving submission to the Will of God thus gaining inner peace”. Consequently, a Muslim is one who willingly submits to the will of God thus gaining peace. As-Salaam is even one of the 99 names or attributes of God, meaning “The Source of Peace.” The universal greeting that Muslims greet each other with is As Salam Alaikum, which means “peace be with you.” There is so much emphasis on peace, kindness, compassion, and valuing human life in the teachings of Islam. Muslims are taught to respect human dignity and their freedom of belief, not to persecute or punish anyone for their faith. “ Nor take life, which God has made sacred, except for just cause…”(Qur’an 17:33). “Indeed We [God] have conferred dignity on the children of Adam…” (Qur’an 17:70). These quotes from the Qur’an prove that no human is entitled to take the life of another for the sole reason of having a different faith. Islam also teaches universal mercy, peaceful co-existence and peaceful dialog, especially with “people of the book”. All of these evidences are very contradictory to the stereotype of Islam being a religion of terror and violence.
One of the biggest and most negatively impacting misconceptions of Islam is the meaning of the word “jihad”. Its most well known translation is “holy war,” which is a mistranslation. The Arabic equivalent to “holy war” would be “Harb Muqaddasah” which is a term nowhere to be found in the Qur’an (Badawi). There is nothing holy about war and its collateral damage, so why would God glorify it? In the Qur’an war is never glorified or praised but is always looked at negatively, even if it is defensive. Jihad literally translates as “strive” or “to exert effort.” The situations it is used to describe in the Qur’an are internal struggles against personal evils; social struggles to preserve justice, truth, and graciousness in one’s relationship with others; and on the battlefield. The only way jihad is used combatively is for self-defense in the face of inexorable oppression (Badawi). It states in the Qur’an, “Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged, and verily, God has indeed the power to aid them. Those who have been driven from their homelands in defiance of right for no other reason than their saying, ‘Our Lord is Allah’.” (Qur’an22: 39-40).
Muslims love Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and whoever comes to know him loves him as well. The Qur’an states, “(O beloved prophet!) We sent you not but as a mercy and blessing for all the worlds.” (Qur’an 21:107). Muhammad (PBUH) was the most merciful, compassionate, virtuous, and forgiving person. His life is full of examples of his mercy and forgiveness, even to his enemies. For example, one small instance in his life shows this mercy. An old woman, who was his neighbor, would everyday dump garbage on him as he passed by. He would never say anything to her. One day she was not there as he passed by. He discovered that she was ill, and he took care of her without hesitation. This is the kind of example he set for us, the way he taught us to live. Muslims strive to follow his example by pursuing his way of life.
The misconceptions surrounding Islam blind people from digging down to the primary sources to look for answers. Instead, they believe what they see on the media and on Hollywood. They even believe those who say they have evidence from the Qur’an justifying the killing of non-Muslims; those people simply take lines out of context that change the meaning of the message. Islam is a religion of peace, it teaches forgiveness, compassion, and justice. The religion’s teachings cannot be defined by the acts of the few criminals and extremists who do not follow the dictates of it. To find out the truth, always go to the original text first. “…if anyone slays a human being, unless it be [punishment] for murder, or for spreading mischief on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all humankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all humankind” (Holy Quran 5:32).
Badawi, Jamal. “OnIslam.net.” Qur’anic Foundations of Muslim/Non-Muslim Relations. 11 Apr. 2005. Web. 11 Mar. 2012. <http://www.onislam.net/english/shariah/quran/quranic-studies/435730.html>.
The Holy Quran: English translation of the meanings and Commentary. Madinah: The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Complex For The Printing of The Holy Qur’an. Print.