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Religious misconceptions refer to perceived ideas about different religions that do not hold water. Almost every religion suffers from religious misconceptions. This paper will discuss the misconceptions about the Islamic religion. The paper will also discuss why religious misconceptions exist and how they can be minimized.
Misconceptions about Islamic Religion
Firstly, there is a misconception that Muslims are terrorists and very violent religious groups (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012). Most terrorists are Islamic and this has contributed to black painting of the religion by media and even other religions. Other religions such as Christianity have people who commit acts of violence but their acts are not used to condemn the whole religion.
Osama bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist who contributed largely to the black painting of the religion. However, Razia, S. (personal communication, March 2, 2012) confirmed that this is a big misconception since not all Muslims are terrorists and the number of violent Muslims is small. Most Muslims commit acts of violence in self-defense or while trying to protect those that have been forcefully expelled from their homes and this is by their teachings (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
However, their faith does not allow them to shed innocent blood or harm civilians without cause. Razia, S. (personal communication, March 2, 2012) explained that
Islamic teachings allow them to fight for their religion and she quoted the Quran: “Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.” The interview led to the realization that not all Muslims are terrorists and violent but others do such acts in self-defense and this is by their sacred law.
Secondly, there is a misconception that Islam oppresses women. Many people believe that Islamic women are required to wear a veil and stay at home at all times. It is also a common phenomenon that Islamic women are not allowed to own property or even drive cars and that they are forced to marry men by their parents (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
However, it is important to note that some countries do not follow the shariah law and instead have their cultural beliefs and values that make them treat women like that. Islamic law has laid down the roles of each gender and recognizes the two as two different individuals with the right to own property at will and even dispose the same at will. The misconception about women being forced to marry men chosen by their parents does not hold any water since the parents just suggest a man who they think and feel is fit for their daughter.
If the girl is not contented, she is at liberty to reject the man. Their law requires both genders to be modest in their conduct and dressing and this is supported by a quote from the Quran: “The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in the manner and kindest to his wife.” It is therefore clear that Islamic law does not advocate for any kind of oppression to women and instead treats them as individuals with their rights (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
The third misconception is that Muslims worship a different god by the name Allah. The term Allah is an Arabic word whose meaning is equally the same as that of the term Eloh as used by Jews meaning God. According to Muslims, the word means one and holy God who has neither a son nor other associates with human characteristics as proposed by other religions. Muslims believe that Allah used various prophets and messengers to bring his commandments and teachings to the world. As such, they believe in praising and worshipping as well as obeying his commandments and following his teachings (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
The fourth misconception is that all Muslims are Arabs. There are many Muslims in the world who come from different nations and races. There are both white and black races some from African countries, American countries as well as Arabs among other continents in the world. Statistical data shows that a large number of Muslims live in Indonesia; the Indian subcontinent accounts for about 30%, 18% live in Arab countries and about 20% live in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a clear indication that all Muslims are not Arabs but all Muslims are joined together by their religious faith (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
Fifth, the Islamic world was spread by coercion and the use of a sword. This idea stems from the fact that some of the social studies textbooks used in institutions have a picture of an Arab coercing people to convert while in possession of a sword and Quran. This is a historic perspective and people should first read the Quran before passing on a judgment (S. Razia, personal communication, March 2, 2012).
This is because some Arabs may have used force but this is against the Quran’s teachings. Razia, S. (personal communication, March 2, 2012) quoted a verse from the Quran 60:8 that says: “God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for your faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just.” Islamic teachings forbid compulsion in the religion and advocate for respect and freedom of worship. As such, it is clear that religion respects other religions that are not Islamic.
There are so many Non-Muslims religious places in the Muslim world that have been able to establish and flourish without interruptions from the Muslims. If Muslims did not believe in freedom of worship, then, such religious groups would not flourish as they would be coerced to convert to Islam. Another good example of how Muslims respect Non-Islamic religious movement is derived from Caliph Omar’s action in 634. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he granted freedom of worship to everybody and assured the inhabitants that they were safe and they were to retain their worship places (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
The sixth popular misconception is that all Muslim men marry many wives and in particular four wives. Islamic teachings are widely varied when it comes to social requirements. Islamic teachings allow a man to marry another wife but the right is not freely granted to the man (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012). If a man intends to marry another wife, he must be fair and have a reasonable cause for doing so. However, if the wife is unwilling to allow another wife in her marriage, she is at liberty to include that in their marriage contract.
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Islamic teachings do not advocate for polygamy but rather permit and should only happen if the man can comfortably provide all of his wives with basic needs. In Islam, polygamy has its roots as a sign of compassion to the widowed and orphaned children. Muslims adopt more practical ways when it comes to solving social problems as compared to other religions. Religions such as Christianity condemn polygamy and polygamous families are seen to defy the Christian teachings. Most men end up having mistresses who are not recognized as their wives by the law. On the contrary, Muslims believe that it is prudent to have an additional legal wife as opposed to having mistresses and concubines (Razia, S. personal communication, March 2, 2012).
Misconceptions about other People’s Religion
It would be unrealistic for anybody to affirm that there are no misconceptions about other people’s religion. These misconceptions indeed exist for almost every religious group. Some Christians believe that after receiving salvation and confessing that they believe in Jesus Christ, they will never suffer and life will be smooth without any troubles. These misconceptions can be attributed to a lack of knowledge about other religions.
More often than not, people are not willing to learn about other religions. They are just contented with knowing all about their religions. Some religions are associated with idolatry and cults and this makes people fear to associate with members of such religions. As a result, people end up believing what they hear from others as they grow up. Different religions have different practices and symbols. Non-members interpret the symbols and practices of other religions differently from members leading to misconceptions. Most schools and other learning institutions offer just one version of religious education. Students therefore never get to learn about other religious education and they continue holding onto the misconceptions they grew up with.
Religious misconceptions can be minimized if basic information about other religious groups would be availed in schools and other learning institutions. This would give an insight to the masses about what other religions believe in and also help some questions. For example, if people knew why Islam allows polygamy, they would understand and reduce the misconceptions. By the virtue of the fact that there is freedom of worship, all religious leaders should encourage their followers to respect other religions as nobody knows the right religion to be followed.
Many people believe in religious groups that they found their parents and immediate environment worshipping. Some change their religions as they grow up and get exposed to different social environments. It is therefore clear that very few people make personal decisions on where to fellowship. Religious misconceptions would also be minimized if religious groups published books and materials discussing the misconceptions and rationale for the misconceptions about their religion. Such religious materials and books should be availed freely or at a very affordable price.
The majority of religious groups suffer religious misconceptions and Islam is not an exception. There are misconceptions that all Muslims are Arabs who are terrorists, oppress women, allow men to marry four wives, spread the word through coercion, and worship a different god by the name Allah. These misconceptions are not true and even if there is some truth in some of them, there is a justification for each of them.
Razia, S. Personal Communication-Noorani Learning Centre. 2012.