06 October 2009

Islam Information

Asalaamu alaikum...I did a research paper in my English 102 class last semester on Islam. I wrote it because of some q's from some of my classmates that let it be known that there was a great deal of misunderstanding re: Islam.

I have decided to share it here for anyone interested in learning more about Islam. I will include my Works Cited page as well.
*Warning, it is quite long*

Why Islam?
There are between 5 and 7 million Muslims in America (Garamone, Islam Growing in America, U.S. Military). An estimated twenty-five percent of American Muslims are reverts to Islam, meaning they followed a different religion (or no religion at all) before following Islam (Elliott). Approximately seven thousand of the reverts each year are women (Malhotra). Islam is the most racially diverse religion in America (Younis). With these numbers, one would think that Islam would be better understood by society as a whole. However, Islam is misunderstood in America due in part to the media, but the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), along with other Islamic organizations, is trying to change the negative perception of Islam.

One of the ways that ICNA is trying to change the views of Islam is by conducting a “Why Islam” bus and train ad campaign in numerous major cities in the United States. Large rectangular ads are being placed on the sides of busses and trains, each ad containing a few words, such as “You deserve to know” and “Islam: Submission to God.” The ads also contain a phone number for people to call and a website for people to visit, in order to gain more information on Islam (ICNA's Dawah Efforts, 2009). The purpose of the ad is to give those unfamiliar with Islam a chance to learn the truth about Islam instead of what the media wishes to depict. Another way that ICNA tries to teach non-Muslims about Islam is through the use of “Da’wah Booths.” Da’wah means to teach or invite someone to Islam by giving them knowledge about Islam. The Da’wah Booths are set up in various cities throughout the U.S. as well, and Muslims at the booths pass out pamphlets, Qur’ans, and share other general knowledge with people that ask. ICNA’s website also has a lot of useful information for non-Muslims, along with the opportunity to order free brochures. The website even has an area where a person can read and/or listen to the Qur’an.

When educating others about Islam, there are some questions that non-Muslims ask the most frequently. These questions include:

1. What is jihad?
2. Why do Muslim women wear the headscarf?
3. Why are Muslim women not allowed to work/go to school, etc?
4. What does one have to do to become Muslim?
5. What are the Five Pillars of Islam?

First, let’s look at what “Islam” means, and what Muslims, in general, believe. The word “Islam” comes from the root word “s-l-m” which means “peace” in Arabic. “Islam” actually means to obtain peace by submitting ones will to God (Smith 12). The word “Muslim” also comes from the root word “s-l-m” and refers to the person that submits his or her will to Allah (Islam Explained, 2009). Of course, “Allah” is the Arabic term for “God” and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims. Some people think that Muslims worship some sort of moon god, this is completely false. Islam is truly a monotheistic religion, meaning Muslims believe in, and worship only one god, that is Allah. Qur’an 112 states “He is Allah, the One and Only, Allah the Eternal, the Absolute. He begot none, nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him.” Muslims believe in all of the prophets, to include, but not limited to: Abraham, Noah, Moses, Lot, Isaac, and even Jesus. One of the main differences between Islam and Christianity is that Muslims consider Jesus a prophet of Allah, not the Son of God, as Christians do, hence strictly believing in and worshipping only Allah. Muslims believe that Allah will hold each person accountable on the Day of Judgment, and that Heaven and Hell exist (Articles of Faith, 2009).

As it may have been noticed, the word “revert” has been used in place of “convert” in this paper. The reason for the term “revert” is that Muslims believe that all people and things are created to submit to Allah’s will. Even if a person does not believe in any religion, the body is still submitting to Allah’s will by the very nature of how the body works- the heart pumps, the lungs expand, etc. Therefore, even if a person does not believe in Allah, a part of that person is still Muslim, hence, when a person does decide to follow Islam, they are then reverting back to what he or she originally is (Emerick, Can you Stand on One Leg? 26).

Jihad is probably the most misunderstood term by non-Muslims. Many people believe
“jihad” means “holy war,” however “jihad” actually means “struggle.” There are many different forms of “jihad” in Islam, but the most common form is “jihad al-nafs,” which means to struggle against oneself; against one’s desires or personal character defects, such as tardiness. Another form of jihad is economic jihad which is spending money to help the community or the poor, even if it would be a hardship on the person spending the money. There is physical jihad as well, however this sort of jihad is a last resort, and there are many strict rules that must apply when conducting physical jihad. The first rule being that physical jihad can only be declared when a people’s freedoms are being oppressed (Why Islam FAQ's). The Qur’an states “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors” (Qur'an 2:190). What this verse means is that if a person oppresses a Muslim, that Muslim has the right to fight the oppressors, however, the Muslim must follow the rules of Islam and not transgress the limits. What are some of the rules? Prophet Muhammad had commanded “Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman,” “Do not kill the monks in monasteries,” or “Do not kill the people who are sitting in places of worship” (Why Islam FAQ's). However, the Qur’an further tells Muslims “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that hears and knows (all things)” (Qur'an 8:61). Last but not least, there is a great list of comparisons between physical jihad and terrorism on the “Why Islam” website:

“1. Jihad can be launched only by an established authority as a policy in order to deter aggression. Terrorism, on the other hand, is committed by individuals or groups that have no legitimacy to speak for the majority. When terrorism is committed by states, it usually depends on misleading the masses.
2. Jihad is limited to combatants while terrorism involves indiscriminate killing of civilians.
3. Jihad, when the need arises, is declared openly, while terrorism is committed secretly.
4. Jihad is bound by strict rules of engagement while terrorism is not bound by any rules” (Why Islam FAQ's).

One more thing that should be added to the list: suicide in Islam is forbidden; yet many of the terrorist attacks are “suicide bombings.”

Obviously, the fact that the terrorists are often committing suicide in the process shows that the terrorists are acting completely against Islamic teachings (Emerick, The Rules of War 174-175).

Another common misperception that non-Muslims have of Islam is that women are oppressed. Perhaps this can be true in certain countries, however what non-Muslims fail to realize is that there is a difference between the religion of Islam and what some people practice culturally. Just because a Christian, or a group of Christians, do something awful, such as the Nazis in Germany did, does not mean all Christians believe or do the same thing. Same can be said for Muslims.

The first issue that comes up when discussing the oppression of Muslim females is the headscarf or “hijab” and the face veil, also known as the “niqab.” Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Allah (God), and the Qur’an states “O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when out of doors), that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Quran 33:59). There are different interpretations of this verse, however it is generally agreed that at the least, Muslim women need to be covered, except the face and hands, when in front of men that are not family. The first, and foremost reason most Muslim women wear hijab is because it is believed to have been commanded by Allah. In Islam, Muslims also follow “hadiths” which are sayings or actions of Prophet Muhammad, as he was the one to show how the Qur’an was to be implemented into the Muslim’s daily life (Islam Explained, 2009). In one hadith, Prophet Muhammad’s wife “Ayesha, reported that Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said: 'O Asma’! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands" (Haddad). There are some Muslim women that do not cover their hair, for different reasons. In America, the most common reason is due to discrimination. Many Muslim women in America get stares or rude comments made when they decide to wear the hijab in public. For some Muslim women, it is difficult to obtain work while wearing hijab. It is truly sad that in American society, women have gotten so accustomed to wearing less clothing, and that a Muslim woman should be made to feel uncomfortable for wearing more clothing. Truly, what most consider as oppressive, is really a form of liberation. In American society, women are sexualized so much. In Islam, the reason for covering is to protect the Muslim woman’s modesty and dignity. The Muslim woman is free to be known and accepted for their knowledge and personality first, instead of the woman’s physical appearance. Think about this, when a man sees a woman walking down the street in short shorts and a tank top, what is the first thought that will most likely enter the man’s mind? Will the initial thought be a positive one? Doubtful. The hijab can also be used as a form of da’wah. If a non-Muslim sees a Muslim woman with the hijab, it may prompt curiosity on the non-Muslim’s part, and the non-Muslim may either talk to the Muslim woman or do some research. One final thought on the hijab, Catholic nuns wear the habit, and are seen as being pious and devout in their religion and society does not question the nuns; so why is it any different when a Muslim woman wears the hijab?

The “niqab” or face veil is considered by most Muslims as optional. There are many women that choose to wear the niqab. Some feel that the Qur’an’s interpretation means that niqab should be worn. In Islam, the Muslim woman is preserving her beauty for her husband and family only, instead of having to display it for the world to see. Some believe that the woman’s beauty includes their face, hence the reason for niqab. Other Muslim women wear it because they get tired of the lustful gaze of unknown men. One Muslim woman I know stated that even while wearing hijab, dressing modestly and wearing her wedding ring, men would still try to ask her out. By wearing niqab, men stopped approaching this Muslim woman.

There are other areas that people think Muslim women are oppressed. Just to clarify: Muslim women are encouraged to get an education. It is part of Islam that all Muslims seek education, not just the men. One hadith states that Prophet Muhammad said “Seeking ‘Ilm (knowledge) is incumbent on every Muslim” (Virtues of Knowledge). Some of the greatest Muslim scholars have been women (Why Islam FAQ's). Any Muslim person or country that forbids the Muslim women from getting an education is actually going against the teachings of Islam. Muslim women are allowed to drive. Some countries, perhaps, do not allow Muslim women to drive for various reasons (i.e. niqab being a barrier to peripheral vision), however, nowhere in the Qur’an or any Islamic teachings does it say that Muslim women cannot drive. Again, there is a difference between culture and religion. Muslim women are not to be forced into marriage. Does it happen? Yes, unfortunately, however this strictly goes against Islam. The Qur’an specifically states “O you who believe, you are forbidden to inherit women against their will” (Quran 4:19). Muslim women can work, however it is encouraged that the Muslim woman stay home. Some people may think that by encouraging the Muslim woman to stay home is oppressive, but it is seen as a mercy granted by Allah to Muslim women. Even in American society today, it is typically the woman that takes care of the children, cooks the meals, and cleans the house, and this is after working all day long. Technically, the woman has two jobs, one in the home and one outside the home. Islam recognizes the fact that taking care of children, cooking, and taking care of the home is a job in and of itself, and so it is seen as a mercy that women are not expected to take on a second job outside of the home, unless the woman chooses to. If the woman does choose to work, in Islam, whatever money the woman earns is hers to keep, to spend as the woman sees fit (Emerick, Looking at Women in Islam 251-253). The idea of a woman working only if she chooses to, and then being able to keep her own money to spend as she wants, hardly seems oppressive.

In actuality, Islam gives women more rights. Prior to Islam, women were seen as property of their husbands; women were not allowed to own property or to receive inheritance. Often, female babies would be murdered because males were preferred. Women were forced into marriages against their will. Islam granted women rights that they never had before. In Islam, women were given the right to own property and to gain inheritance. It was prohibited to kill female babies and to force women into marriage (Emerick, Looking at Women in Islam 251-253). It could be said that Prophet Muhammad was like the first feminist.

Islam consists of “Five Pillars” or acts of faith that all Muslims perform. The first is “shahadah” or proclamation of faith. This statement is how a person becomes Muslim in the first place, and all shahadah consists of is believing and stating the simple phrase “La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul-Alllah” meaning “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.” This phrase is repeated every day by Muslims, during every prayer, which happens to be the second pillar. Salah, or prayer, is obligatory for all Muslims, and takes place five times a day at specific times. Each salah includes a repetition of the first chapter of the Qur’an, along with the shahadah. Salah encompasses standing, bowing, and prostration to Allah. The purpose of praying five times a day is so that the Muslim can pause from all that is going on in the world around him or her, and take time to focus on what is truly important; Allah. The third pillar of Islam is zakat (means “purification” and “growth” in Arabic), or giving charity. It is proscribed that each Muslim gives 2.5% of one’s total annual capital (Five Pillars of Islam). Even when a Muslim has nothing to give, smiling at another Muslim is considered a form of charity. The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan, which in 2009, begins on August 22. Fasting, or sawm, lasts from dawn until sundown, and includes food, drink, smoking, and abstaining from sexual acts/thoughts, violence, backbiting, use of vulgar language, etc. By fasting, Muslims become more thankful to Allah for the things that they have (Five Pillars of Islam). The Qur’an says “O you who believe! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God” (Quran 2:183). Also, by fasting, the Muslim is more apt to help another person in need of food because the Muslim will remember what it was like to be hungry. Some people are exempted from the fast, such as the elderly or the ill. If the illness is not great, then the Muslim must make up the missed days at a later time when he or she is no longer ill. However, Muslims that cannot fast at all (due to terminal illness, or are too old) are to feed one hungry person per day of the fast that the Muslim was unable to complete. The last pillar is hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every adult Muslim is expected to make the trip to Mecca at least once during his or her lifetime. The exception is for the Muslims that are unable to financially afford such a trip, or that are ill. During hajj, all Muslims wear simple garments, so that there is no division between class and culture, because in Islam, all Muslims are equal before Allah (Five Pillars of Islam).

In 1893, one of the first American reverts to Islam, Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb, gave a speech at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Mr. Webb was the only Muslim speaker at the conference in Chicago. At the end of the speech, Mr. Webb told the audience, “In closing, I want to say this: that there is no system that has been so willfully and persistently misrepresented as Islam, both by writers of so-called history and by the newspaper press” (Webb 41). It is sad that, over a hundred years later, America is plagued with the same problem that Mr. Webb spoke of, the problem of the misrepresentation of Islam. Hopefully, with the help of organizations like ICNA, slowly Islam will become better understood by non-Muslim Americans.

Works Cited

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meanings of the Illustrious Qur'an. Brooklyn, NY: Al Arqam Dawa Center, 2004.

"Articles of Faith." 2009. Why Islam. 7 Aug 2009. Elliott, Andrea. "In a Suspicious U.S., Muslim
Converts Find Discrimination." 30 Apr 2005. New York Times. 6 Aug 2009

"Can you Stand on One Leg?" Emerick, Yahiya. The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam. Indianapoplis, IN: Alpha Books, 2002. 26.

"Looking at Women in Islam." Emerick, Yahiya. The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2002. 251-253.

"The Rules of War." Emerick, Yahiya. The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2002. 174-175.

"Five Pillars of Islam." 2009. Why Islam. 5 Aug 2009.

Garamone, Jim. "Islam Growing in America, U.S. Military." 4 Oct 2001. U.S. Department of Defense. 5 Aug 2009.

Haddad, G. F. "The Veil in Islam." 15 Mar 2003. Living Islam. 7 Aug 2009.

"ICNA's Dawah Efforts." 2009. Islamic Circle of North America. 6 Aug 2009

"Islam Explained." 2009. Why Islam. 6 Aug 2009.

Malhotra, Priya. "Islam's Female Converts." 16 Feb 2002. The True Religion. 6 Aug 2009.

Smith, Huston. "Islam." Inside Islam. New York: Marlowe & Company, 2002. 12.

"Virtues of Knowledge." 10 Jun 2009. University of Leicester Islamic Society. 6 Aug 2009

Webb, Muhammad Alexander Russell. "The Spirit of Islam." Islam in North America: A
Sourcebook. New York : Garland Publishing, 1992. 41.

"Why Islam FAQ's." 2009. Why Islam. 5 Aug 2009.

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