Kamil Mufti is resident scholar and imam at the Islamic Foundation of Peoria where he has served for the past six years. His interests (or passions) include expanding understanding of Islam and developing interfaith harmony.
The most common stereotype people have, especially since September 11, is that Muslims are extremists and prone to terrorism.
On the contrary, religious texts followed by mainstream Muslims stress moderation in all aspects of life. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, stressed moderation. ‘Always follow a middle course,’ he advised. He also said, ‘Ruined are those who insist on hardship in matters of faith.’ The very word “Islam” comes from salaam, an Arabic word that means “peace.” The universal Muslim greeting is as salaamu ‘alaikum – “peace be on you.” The significance of the Muslim greeting is that they begin their interaction with others in the spirit of peace.
With respect to terrorism, Muslims organizations, scholars, academics, and leaders have repeatedly stated that Islam unequivocally forbids it. Taking innocent life is regarded as one of the most serious sins. Furthermore, Islam forbids suicide since life is God’s gift, even one’s own. See the link below for an extensive database of Muslim voices against terrorism:
Perhaps the second most widespread stereotype is that Muslim women are oppressed.
Contrary to this misconception, the Quran (Muslim scripture) proclaimed 1,400 years ago that men and women are same in nature, duties, and hope for reward. While such attitudes are taken for granted in modern society, they were unimaginable in the ancient world of the seventh century.
In fact, many rights granted to women at the advent of Islam, the right to education, the right to earn, keep, and inherit their own money, the right to take part in politics and economic affairs, and the right to marry and divorce, were not acquired by most women until the 20th century.
Today, millions of Muslim women throughout the world are highly educated professionals; they are doctors, engineers, reporters, lawyers, and politicians. In fact, women have served as heads of state in four Muslim-populated countries. Admittedly, many Muslim women do experience situations that run contrary to the enlightened teachings of the faith. However, this is often a result of people trying to make the faith conform to cultural practices.
Many Muslim women wear the hijab or modest dress that includes the headscarf that is similar to the dress worn by Christian nuns and Orthodox Jewish women. They believe it is an expression of modesty and the purpose is to honor and dignify women so they are not valued based merely on their physical attributes.
The third misconception is that all or most Muslims are Arabs.
Roughly, every fifth human being on the planet is a Muslim. There are an estimated 5 to 10 million Muslims in the U.S. and more than 40 million in Europe. There are more Arab Christians in the U.S. than Arab Muslims. Less than 20 percent of Muslims live in the Arab world, which means that about 80 percent of Muslims do not write or speak Arabic, and do not live in Arab countries. The world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia. Significant Muslim minorities live in China, India, Russia, Europe, Canada, and South America. Muslims, like any other people, are shaped by many influences in their lives. Not all Jews and Christians practice their religion in the same way and Muslims are no exception. Country of origin, ethnic background, economic status, level of education, political, and social environment are some of the factors that shape Muslims. Moreover, as can be said of the behavior of the adherents of other religions, sometime Muslim behavior is at odds with their religious teachings. Unfortunately, the media often portrays Muslims as one-dimensional and tends to explain their behavior as solely motivated by Islam, rather than politics or culture, which are usually stronger influences than religion.