In a recent blog post, we looked at debunking myths about Jews, revealing five things that the Jewish community would like you to know.
It was an interesting piece of research and it enabled members of the Jewish community to share their feelings, thoughts and frustrations about their (mis)respresentation and what people outside the community know/think they know about them.
The feedback was really positive and one of the respondents said she’d be interested in a Muslim version. Sounded like a good idea…
So, here we are!
We reached out to Muslims and asked them: “What would you like non-Muslims to know about Muslims?”.
Here’s what we found (with a little input from myself as a Muslim!).
1. We want peace
There’s no doubt about it: Islamism is a problem. It’s a violent problem, a worrying issue and sadly something which has been affecting our communities.
From Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS, who spread physical, psychological and sexual violence, to non-violent extremism that doesn’t engage in bloody warfare itself but condones it…
We’ve got armed groups and we’ve got non-violent strains of Islam too which sadly promote hatred, division and intolerance. Yet, for the vast majority of us: Islamism, jihadist terror and Wahhabism are not what we’re about!
Violent and intolerant interpretations of Islam are exactly that: an interpretation. And not simply that: a skewed and false one at. They’re an ideology steemed in barbarity, history and stigmatisation of “others”, unable to understand the concepts of context, nuance and reform.
In fact, not only are Islamist beliefs vile to anyone of sound, loving mind, they are actually incompatible with the basic tenants of Islam and its teachings: moderation, kindness, mercy, love and peace.
If we look at the some of the 99 Names of Allah from the Qur’an for example – names which we’re taught to take inspiration from – we see just this: Al Raheem (The Merciful), Al Salam (Peace and Blessings), Al Ghaffar (The Ever-Forgiving), Al Lateef (The Kind), Al Wadood (The Loving) and many more.
So remember: even though ISIS believed they were “doing God’s work”, nothing could be further from the truth. We must and will continue to promote peace, love and equality and recognise the need for context, adaption and reform in today’s modern world.
2. Islam is not an Arab religion
Islam. What does it mean? What’s it about? Where does it come from?
Well, al-’Islām (اَلْإِسْلَامُ) is an Arab term relating to the concept of submission (to The One God). But, that doesn’t mean we’re an “Arab religion”.
Nope, we’re a global one! Yes, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came from the Middle East. Yes, he spoke Arabic. But he was just one of the many Prophets in Islam.
In fact, we draw a lot on the Abrahamic tradition, which is also historically linked to the Middle East. But we’re not about the Middle East. We’re a faith for people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. It’s just that our holy book is in Arabic!
There are around 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Yet less than 15% are Arab.
Here in the UK for example, roughly 75% of the British Muslim community is of Asian origin, predominantly south-Asian (Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian). This relates to the colonial history of Britain and of course, local Muslim populations and migration patterns vary across the globe.
There’s so much cultural diversity in the Muslim community, and that’s before we consider the convert population. From Indonesian and Malaysian, to Latin American, Iranian and Turkish – we’re a varied group!
3. We do like a laugh!
One of the comments from a hijabi sister during this research was that Muslim women in headscarves can still laugh, enjoy themselves and have a sense of humour – just like everyone else.
And as a former hijabi, I for one completely understand where she’s coming from. There are so many stereotypes out there about Muslim women.
But here’s the thing, stereotypes are quick, lazy and often false ways to homogenise a whole group of people.
In Islam, wearing a headscarf is a spiritual practice that is dear to many Muslim women. It’s a marker of faith – not a person’s personality. Of course, faith is a big part of a hijabi woman’s life but what faith means to us and how we live as individuals with our own personalities, likes and dislikes is unique to us, plus our circumstances are varied.
Hijabi women may cover their bodies and hair, but they’re just like each and every one of us! We all laugh, smile and like do have fun, don’t we? (Well most of us anyway!)
Plus, have you checked out the fab range of Muslim comediennes out there? A while back I saw the Hijabi Monologues here in London and had a great night. And yes, these women aren’t the only Muslim comedians to hit the scene. There’s more out there smashing stereotypes and breaking into male-dominated spaces. You go ladies!
4. Not all practices are “Islamic”
Just because a practice happens in a community, it doesn’t mean it is/or should be religiously sanctioned.
Some injust practices which occur are fully denounced as haram (forbidden) across the board, yet still happen according to social/cultural tradition, out of economic desperation, abuse and exploitation or incorrect understandings to Islam.
Others are sadly touted as “acceptable” and “justified” by some scholars/preachers of certain persuasions…
Violence against women and girls is an example of such injustice. It’s a violation of the human rights of countless women and girls and is something that we’re passionate about raising awareness of here at Voice of Salam.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early/forced marriage are just two manifestations of the abuse that millions of women and girls face, including members of the Muslim community.
FGM is a pre-Islamic cultural tradition that has sadly become adopted by some Muslims. And it must be stopped.
Likewise, early/forced marriage must also end. Child marriage and forced marriage entrap women and girls into a life of emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual, social and economic slavery.
Even in the most conservative circles, the consent of spouses is recognised as a condition of marriage. However, it’s not just about consent. It’s about age and the rights of children.
Marriage is for two equally consenting adults only (those aged 18 and over) – two individuals who are willingly ready for the commitment ahead of them and are emotionally and physically mature. It is not for children.
These practices go against Islamic values – and universal human rights – and must be eradicated worldwide, whatever our faith. It’s therefore critical that (more) Muslims and non-Muslims alike (continue to) speak out against these injustices and denounce them from our communities.
5. We’re queer too!
Orthodox interpretations of Islam denounce homosexual relations as a “sin”. However, we don’t all believe in this interpretation.
Despite the isolation, abuse and stigma, queer Muslims (yes of course they exist!) are coming out of the closet and showing pride in both their faith and their sexuality.
There are queer imams creating matrimonial queer and interfaith unions, Muslim scholars calling for greater inclusion, and other Muslim allies who are proud of their queer brothers and sisters.
There may not always be inclusive spaces for queer Muslims, but there are organisations out there such as Hidayah where queer Muslims can meet, share their experiences and enjoy a safe space to celebrate being both Muslim and queer.
I’ve been at the last two Pride events in London – including marching with the Muslim LGBTQI+ organisation Imaan in 2019. It was amazing!
I only hope that in time, queer-friendly interpretations of Islam become the norm and that spaces become more inclusive, open and tolerant towards queer Muslims. Insha’Allah!
6. We’re not a single theological tradition
Just as there’s a lot of cultural (ethnic/national) variety in the Muslim community, there’s also a lot of spiritual diversity.
While most people (usually Muslims!), tend to refer to Shia and Sunni Islam there’s actually a lot more diversity than that.
Firstly, Shia Islam has many branches, including Zaidisms, Isma’ilism and Imamiyyah (know as Twelver). In Sunni Islam, there are also a variety of traditional schools of Sunni thought,
Plus, there is also a range of other key groups, including Ahmadiyya, Sufism and Qur’anism. Sadly, not all of these groups are included/accepted by everyone though.
However, as with every faith group, we’re all individuals. Even if a person self-identifies with one sect, that doesn’t mean that everyone in that tradition has the same approach towards their faith.
Some people identify as progressive, conservative, orthodox, liberal (although this isn’t harmoniously accepted) and many prefer not to use a label.
Labels and names aside, Islamic history was rich in debate and in fact, our diversity is not just about intrafaith interpretations and practices, but also interfaith inclusion.
Yep, as an Abrahamic faith, Islam incorporates a lot of Jewish and Christian teachings (minus the Trinity). We believe in the Jewish prophets, we treasure the Torah as a blessing from God and we class Jesus (pbuh) as a Prophet of God!
7. Saudi Arabia does not represent Islam
Islam shares a lot of history with Saudi Arabia. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Mecca and later migrated to Medina where he established a Muslim community. In fact, it’s from this point, that the Islamic calendar starts.
Over 1,400 years later, and Muslims now travel to Mecca for Hajj and Umrah – the obligatory and lesser pilgrimages. So naturally, many Muslims have or want to travel to Saudi Arabia throughout their life.
However, whilst the nation hosts the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as a nation, it is not representative of Islam – neither officially or unofficially.
Firstly, there is no official “seat” of the Muslim community. We don’t have an equivalent of The Vatican for example. We have scholars, universities and groups but no one central representative person or point.
Secondly, and here’s where the crucial point lies: Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is famously abysmal. And that’s putting it lightly…
A highly conservative society, it long denied women the right to drive and enforced obligatory veiling upon women across the nation. From a religious standpoint, none of these restrictions can be religiously sanctioned. In terms of human rights, they constitute a massive violation of women’s freedoms.
Even with their religious responsibilities in overseeing Hajj, Umrah and the host of historically important sites in Islam, the government has also come under criticism. Regarding its handling of Hajj, there have been repeated concerns around sexual harassment, overcrowding and the Saudi government’s role in the conflict in Yemen.
So, whilst geographically and historically Saudi Arabia is linked with Islam, please don’t take it to be a living embodiment of Islam…
8. Muslim women have rights
There are a lot of misconceptions about Muslim women out there. So, so many. For example:
“Muslim women cover their hair for their husbands/families“
Sigh. Sadly, this does happen but it’s morally wrong and not representative of what hijab and Islam are about. Practising hijab (covering your body and hair) is a spiritual individual decision that Muslim women all over the world make for God. Forced veiling does not represent hijab.
The fact is that Muslim women in a very dark period of history were granted a range of economic, spiritual and sexual rights, including the right to inheritance, divorce, and financial independence (keeping their own earnings).
Yes, these rights may seem obvious but we’re talking about 1,400 years ago! Now, fast forward to today, these rights are still enshrined in our religion. Muslim women are living, working, socialising just like everyone else!
I do believe we need reform to re-contextualise many customs and beliefs in today’s modern world based on the continual moral concepts they upheld e.g. inheritance quotas that fall in line with joint earnings and the way that families are now structured.
Nonetheless, we’re here and we love our faith. I love my faith but I don’t love the theocratic regimes which abuse the rights of women in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. That is something that we need to keep battling against. Theocratic regimes do not represent our faith.
So, there’s a lot packed in there but I hope that gives a little overview of what Muslims are like, how we feel and how we don’t feel! We have a lot more in common with non-Muslims than many may think!
For more information, please do check out our latest video:
Salam, shalom, peace!
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