Educating All Y'all: Islam


As you can tell from the title, I want to keep this post as light-hearted as possible. Religion is a touchy subject, which I’ll be discussing in my next blog post. So keep an eye out for that. Some of you, like me, will have a  simple rule when making conversation: No politics and no religion. That is my one rule in nearly all interactions. However, another portion of the population asks “what church do you go to?” or “what denomination are you?” as often and as easily as asking someone’s name. (My answer to that is usually awkward laughter.)


But, if we are going to talk about religion, let’s talk about Islam. Once again, the population is split. There are those that misunderstand Islam and those that know Islam is misunderstood. If you’re here to fight instead of learn, then go to a boxing ring instead of an educational blog.

Here are a few misconceptions about Islam:


Islam is misogynistic

People are misogynistic. Islam is not. The relatively new (as in the 20th century) fundamentalist movement twists the words of the Quran.  It mutates the life of the Prophet Muhammad to suit its own needs. You can make something say whatever you want. These fundamentalist “Muslims” create their own meaning and interpretations of the Quran. They put themselves in a place of power and manipulate women how they want them. “Scholars” of Islam often insert their own meaning and interpretations into the Quran. They will issue fatwas (or rulings) based on their own interpretations of the Quran. This leads to fatwas such as: 

  • women do not need to be educated past elementary school

  • women can marry as young as 11

  • women should not wear bras

  • women can only be truly connected with God if she serves her husband’s physical needs first.

It seems that these male “scholars” have written their own rules to give them power over women.

Why do I say they are writing their own rules? It comes from the Quran, doesn’t it? No. While women were not completely equal to men in the Quran, the book was feminist for its time. Women were entitled to property. Women kept their own last names. Women selected their own husbands and could initiate divorce. How do these Quranic verses compare with the fatwas issued above?

The Prophet Muhammad himself lived a life surrounded by strong women. His first wife was forty years old when she hired the twenty-five year old Muhammad. She was the leader of a trade caravan - a business owner. She was quite taken with Muhammad, so she proposed to him.

After Khadija’s death, we have Muhammad’s second wife, Aisha. She rode into battle on the back of a camel. Women at the time were freer in the Islamic world than in the Western world. They were generals and soldiers. They were entitled to divorce and kept their own name and inheritance. 


Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab (headscarf)

What does the Quran really say about a Muslim woman’s hijab?

The answer to this misconception is yes and no. Some Muslim women ARE forced to wear it. By laws. Or family. Or societal pressures. But other Muslim women wear it by choice. And their reasons are as varied as humanity is. Some read Quranic passages and hadiths as requiring the wearing of the headscarf. Others do so to rid themselves of oppressive beauty standards. For some women, the hijab is a symbol of their oppression. For others, it is a symbol of her freedom.

Hijab is a term meaning barrier. In the Muslim world, it refers to a code of dress for men and women. In the Western World, it means the headscarf. But once again, there are many interpretations on the few select passages in the Quran that speak about how women dress. Watch the above video for more detailed information.


Islam is incompatible with Western values

The Muslim on the Airplane 

Only in the way that Christianity or Judaism are. These three religions are more alike than they are different. They follow many of the same moral codes. When it comes down to it, Islam is held up by the Five Pillars of Islam:

  • The shahadah - or declaration of faith saying you believe in one God and that Muhammad is his messenger

  • salat - prayer

  • sawm - fasting during the holy month of Ramadan (if able)

  • hajj - the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca (if able)

  • zakat - charitable donation based on income.

Freedom of speech, prayer, fasting, travel, and charity hardly sound incompatible with Western values.

We’ve already tackled the myth of Islamic misogyny, so let’s tackle the other one: Islamic homophobia. Studies have shown that LGBT individuals believe Islam is more intolerant of homosexuality than any other religion. And they have a good reason. With so many Islamic countries punishing homosexuality with the death penalty, it doesn’t look good.

Once again, it comes down to scholars and interpretation.

There is no one Muslim perspective on anything.
— Kecia Ali with regards to homosexuality in Islam.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam has the story of Lot. And like Christianity and Judaism, there are many different interpretations among Muslims as to what exactly the passage is referring to. Is it condemning inhospitality? Homosexuality? Rape? The punishments cited by homophobes are not in the Quran. They are in unauthenticated hadiths (these are recorded sayings from the Prophet Muhammad.) However, some were written centuries after his death with no evidence  other than the word of one person. (Therefore called "unauthentic.”)

While most Muslims are homophobic (as are most evangelical Christians, for perspective), some Muslim scholars argue that homosexual feelings are not haram (meaning forbidden). Only the acts themselves are haram. For the majority of Islamic history, homosexuality operated under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In early Islamic history, there were Islamic scholars, poets, and artists who were openly homosexual. Arabia had no significant taboos against homosexuality. However, when the Persian Empire became the powerhouse in the Islamic world, we began to see a lot more discrimination against homosexuality.

If we are going to say that Islam conflicts with Western values (which are what? exactly?), Christianity would as well. Western society values personal freedom. It values women’s rights. It values diversity. In the Islamic holy book, women are given more personal freedoms than in Christianity. In Islam, converting must be a choice. Islam is more racially and ethnically diverse than Christianity. (I know what image you must have in your head, but only 15% of Muslims are Arab).


So what is Islam like?

There is no one answer. Islam is as diverse a set of beliefs as any other religion. Alcohol is considered “haram” by almost all Muslims, but I’ve known Muslims who drink. Muslims can be gay, feminist, fundamentalist, and everything in between. Some Muslims don’t even follow the Five Pillars of Islam and are often referred to as “non-practicing Muslims.” But Muslims nonetheless. One unique aspect of Islam is that you can’t excommunicate anyone (once again, there is debate as a small minority of Muslims believe you can.) And you only leave the Islamic faith by your own choice. You are the one who decides whether you are Muslim or not.

Islam in the United States is feeling like an outcast. Feeling unwanted. Fearing you will be forced to register yourself in a database. Fearing your family and friends will be exiled. Being forced to compensate with overt friendliness lest someone think you are evil. Removing your hijab so you don’t make other people feel uncomfortable. Not performing all five daily prayers in public because you don’t want to be caught. Trying to look less Muslim because you want to make it home tonight to your cat (who is eagerly awaiting her Fancy Feast).

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Education is the best weapon for battling hate. That’s why I’m educating all y’all.