Revealing Westerners and non-Moslems Misconception about Islam
Submitted as a Final Project in Cross Cultural Understanding Subject
Nowadays, cultural study is viewed as one of major studies that must be comprehended by all language students since culture and languages are two inseparable things. One of common cultural studies learned by language students is cross cultural understanding. This study focuses on building students’ awareness of cultural diversity. Awareness of cultural diversity will lead students to activate their mutual understanding in the culture which can prevent them from having cultural problem and helps them to solve such problems as culture is a common source of conflict.
Cultural conflict which can be in the form stereotype, prejudice, even radicalism commonly happened in inter-religious community especially between Non-Muslim and Muslim. As one of the big religion in the world, Islam is often misunderstood by other communities whether religious communities or non-religious communities. Religious communities that commonly hold misconception toward Islam is Jews and Christianity. Both Jewish and Christian claim that Islam is a false religion derived from their religious tradition. The derivation can be seen from Islamic tradition of belief, scripture, etc. Non-religious community which often misperceives Islam is westerners. The lack knowledge of Islam and the spreading of anti-Islam books from orientalists have diverted the true meaning of Islam. Islam is considered is the continuity of ancient Arabian paganism spread by a false prophet and as a radical religious community which brings forth many terrorism attacks.
In this mini paper, the writer will try to give a brief explanation about those misconceptions. The writer will briefly explain about the truth of Islam how those misconceptions are actually viewed in Islam. In short, the writer tries to reveal those misconception by answering them in Islamic views.
A. Misconception in Religious Setting as a Cultural Conflict
Religious studies is one of the major concerns discussed in cross-cultural understanding as cross cultural understanding leads its learner to explore the different worldviews within the cross cultural communities. Helves (in Samovar et.al, 2007:75) stated that the worldviews discussed in cross cultural understanding fall in to three categories: scientific, metaphysical, and religious. Scientific worldview refers to rules of exact science people take to be the truth that the cultural communities hold. Metaphysical can be defined as what the cultural communities hold to be sound theoretical and abstract reasoning. The last worldview is religious worldview. This worldview is how the cultural members confront the universal issue, or how they perceive themselves in the macrocosmic setting.
How people relate themselves to the other existence beyond them which is reflected through religion is varied from culture to culture. Although cultural communities practice diverse religions, the religion, however, was resulted from the same view (Armstrong: 2002). In primitive cultural tradition, people usually feared of the dark power of the world, the entities that can bring them calamities and misfortunes. As the time went by, the nature of religion shifted from the fear of the dark entities to the consideration of human life in this universe. Some views of human suffering living in this world began spreading in most of cultural setting. Many perceived that living in the world as a kind of human sundering from God. The world which was priorly considered as a place of the dark entities was now viewed as a place of suffering where human need to release themselves from its bond. To achieve the releasing of this bond, people need to devote themselves to the certain practices, rituals, and creeds.
Despite of being rooted of the same view, diverse religion existing in this life can be the source of cultural conflict. To begin with, all religions have their own accepted dogma, belief, rituals that followers must accept without question (Brahm: 2005). This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance if they are faced to other different kind of dogma, belief, etc. Moreover, a set of dogma which has deeply been rooted in their heart will lead some cultural member as practicers of certain religion to hold prejudice against other cultural communities.
The religious prejudice often extends to the form of misconception due to several causes. Firstly, there is a tendency to measure other items within certain religion through one’s own religion. It commonly happens amongst interreligious communities to hold other religions as false ones because the practice of the different set of dogma, belief, rituals etc. than theirs. Even worse, most will not accept any explanation given by the mistaken religious communities. Secondly, the misconception about religious communities can be resulted from the intentional spreading of misconception by certain authorities or media. There are some authorities or media that intentionally spread the bad views about certain religion. The misconception which has already held by other religious communities can be worsened by this spreading.
In conclusion, in learning cross cultural understanding, ones will learn about the different worldviews amongst cultural communities which often lead to conflict. The conflict itself, especially about religion, is resulted from different religious practices which lead to the prejudice amongst interreligious communities. The spreading of the misconception through authorities and medias worsen this prejudice and cause a severe conflict.
B. Misconception toward Islamic Religious Community
Islamic community is the religious community which is often misconceived by other communities, whether religious or non-religious. Handono (2003) stated that the ideas of Islamic misconception arise in the different period of time. Islamic studies began spreading in Europe in the 10th and 11th century. Since most of European practiced the Christianity at that time, Islam was only viewed as a heretic sect of Christianity, and its founder was an apostate. Very soon, the expanding of Islamic dynasty in the same period which was threatening the dominion of Christianity made people presume Islam was established by Anti Christ who was destined to ruin and oppose the teaching of the Christ. The first Latin manuscript of Islamic teaching and the thoughts of Islamic experts in philosophy, astronomy, math, and medical were translated during these centuries.
The misconception toward Islam was significantly raised in the 16th century and after. Although some literature about Islam has been used as a reference for Islamic studies, some western outstanding Islamic scholars still brought with them the hatred toward Islam. Many distorted the teaching of Islam in their books and works. Several misconceptions about Islam except the religion of Anti Christ came up in this century. After the 16th centuries, some westerner Islamic scholar as some call orientalist showed their hostility and hatred toward Islam. Some scholars came with issue of the religious tendency and others with non-religious tendency. Those with religious tendency claimed that Islam is a religion which was worse than Christianity in all aspects. Most of those scholars were priests, popes, missionaries or zending. Those with non-religious tendency showed their hostility toward Islam through their works. In discussing Islam, they explained it through the wrong analogies and reasons, for example Moslem worship the god of moon as moon is the symbols of Islam. In the 19th century, dozens of orientalist works were acknowledged as the references for Islamic studies in most of world universities. They will inevitably learn Islam from the wrong explanation. Thus, the Islamic misconception keeps spreading up to now.
Apart from being rooted from the orientalists’ studies during the 10th -19th centuries, the misconceptions about Islam, according to Naik (2010:3) are also spread by media. The common misconceptions about Islam arise amongst non-Muslims majority, because they are intensively given by media about misinformation about Islam. International media is mainly controlled by the western world, whether it is international satellite channels, radio stations, newspapers, magazines or books. Recently, the Internet has become a powerful medium of information. Though it is not controlled by anybody, ones find a large amount of anti-Islamic propaganda about Islam on the Internet. Therefore, the Islamic misconceptions also arise within the people who have no access or experience to the works of orientalists.
The misconceptions about Islam found amongst non-Muslim communities lie in many aspects of Islamic life. Handono (2003) proposed that there are four misconceptions: Allah, Islamic Sharia, Scripture, and Muhammad and his hadith. Misconception about Allah is related to theological concept in Islamic teaching. Some hold that Muslim worships the ancient deity of Arabian paganism; others Muslim worships the new God called Allah. Many misconceive Islamic sharia as a inhuman law through the severe physical punishment toward certain religious offenses. Misconception about Islamic scripture is merely about the history of Quran and authenticity. Finally, the misconception about Muhammad and hadith lies in historical life of prophet. In addition to these misconceptions, Naik (2010) proposed twenty common questions about misconceptions about Islam. They are polygamy, polyandry, hijab for women, Islam spread by war, fundamentalist and terrorist, eating non-vegetarian food, ruthless Islamic method of slaughtering animals, non-vegetarian food makes Muslim violent, Muslim worships the Ka’bah, non-muslim not allowed in Mecca, pork forbidden, prohibition of alcohol, equality of witnesses, inheritance, is the Quran God’s word, life after death, different Islamic sects, all religions are the same, difference what Islam teach to what Muslim actually practice, and non-Muslim referred as kafeer. To make it short, the writer will classify those misconceptions into several simple classifications.
C. Misconception about Islam
1. Misconception about Islamic deity
a. Muslim worships the god of moon
Many non-Muslims communities presume that Muslim worship the god of moon from ancient Arabian paganism due to several factors. To resolve this misconception, Handono (2003) provided the following answers. To begin with, some said that Islam called their God in the same name as Arabian paganism called their moon deity. To hold Allah as a name for god of moon from Arabian paganism is a wrong perception. Firstly, the Arabian pagan did not worship the god of moon, but they worship many deities; the three great deities were known as Al-Latta, Al-Uzza and Al-Mannat which also referred as to Banaat Allah (daughters of Allah). The word Allah itself was used by Arabian pagan to refer to the divine entity which is beyond all deities. They held Allah as a creator of the universe, yet they did not worship Him. They simply worship what theologian called as lesser or minor gods. Moreover, the similar term, Allah, was used as reference to divine entity in the surrounding area of Arab; El, Elohim, Eloy, Elah, Eli, and Eloah (Armstrong: 2002). Those words were rendered to Allah in Arabian dialects. In brief, the word Allah is not the name of the god of the moon because Arabian pagan didn’t worship such deity and the same words had widely been used in the surrounding Arabian areas.
In addition to the Arabian paganism, Muslim, according to another religious community, worships the god of moon because of the crescent is used as a symbol of Islam. To judge the worshipped deity from the religious symbol is considered as a false theory. The symbol used by some religious communities is not always to denote their deities. Christianity, for example, uses the cross as its symbol, but Christian people do not worship the cross. In fact, cross is used as a symbol of God’s love to the humankind that he is willing to suffer to redeem the sin of them. Like other religious communities, the symbol in Islam is not denoted that Muslim worship the god of the moon but to show the world about the expanding of Islamic territories at the time of Islamic dynasty (Armstrong: 2002).
b. Muslim worships Kaaba
The view of Muslim as a worshipper of Kaaba is resulted from Islamic liturgy of bowing down to Kabaa and face to Kaaba in their ritual practice, prayer. Kabaa is only a direction for Muslim for prayer. Though they foster toward Kabba, they still worship Allah because facing Kabaa is the command from Allah himself
“We see the turning of thy face (for guidance) to the heavens: now shall, we turn thee to a Qiblah that shall please thee. Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction.” [Al-Qur’an 2:144].
The ultimate goal of prayer facing toward Kabaa is to show the unity of Muslim. If Muslims want to offer Salaah (Prayer), it is possible that some may wish to face north, while some may wish to face south. In order to unite Muslims in their worship of the One True God, Muslims, wherever they may be, are asked to face in only one direction i.e. towards the Kaaba. If some Muslims live toward the west of the Kaaba they face the east. Similarly if they live toward the east of the Kaaba they face the west.
c. Muslim worship Muhammad
It is a common misunderstanding that "Muhammad was divine and that Muslims worship Muhammad," similar to some Christians who worship Jesus. The truth is that Muhammad (peace is upon him) is no more than a messenger of God. He died like any other mortal. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was divine (God or part of God). Muslims regard Jesus as a blessed and chosen Prophet of God (Akhtar: 2011)
d. Muslims worshipped a new God
Some non-Muslims incorrectly believe that Muslims worship a different God than Jews and Christians. This might be because Muslims sometimes refer to God as “Allah”. In real practice, Muslims worship the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The word “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for Almighty God - an Arabic word of rich meaning, denoting the one and only God.
Allah is also the same word that Arabic speaking Christians and Jews use to refer to God. If you pick up an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible, you will see the word “Allah” where “God” is used in English. Moreover, the same words denoted to God are found in the several Arabian areas as previously stated.
Although Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the same God (the Creator), their concepts regarding Him differ very much. For example, Muslims reject the idea of God having any partners or being part of a ‘trinity’, and ascribe perfection only to The Almighty
2. Misconception about prophet Muhammad
a. The marriage of Muhammad as a lust
It is commonly known that Prophet Muhammad married to several women in the several times during his lifetime. The multiple marriages he did is considered as a token of his excessive sexual lust by some people, non-Muslims; on the other hand, his multiple marriage is not to satisfy his lust and desire. To answer this misconception Handono (2003) stated if his marriage was to satisfy his sexual desire, he should have married young women instead of the widows in their middle ages. During his lifetime, Muhammad married to widows of Muslims who died in the battle in order that they can be protected and sustained. It was uncommon for a man in that time to give protection to women who has no any relationship to him. In addition to it, the multiple marriages were quite common at that time. Those who hold an important role and status in the society were usually practice polygamy.
b. The tendency to kill and to do violence
Apart from disgracing Prophet Muhammad through his marriages, many non-Muslims also thinks that prophet Muhammad is a person who likes to kill and do violence to others. Seen from the historical record of Muhammad life written by the trusted scholars, it is true that the prophet killed some people during his lifetime but the murdering is for reasonable thing. Firstly, he did murdering in the battle and war, killing people in the war is acceptable both by logical and Quran because we have to defense ourselves from the enemy we fight with. Secondly, the prophet ordered to do penalty death to some Jewish people in Medina but this penalty is not considered to be rude. Two Jews which were given the penalty death were Ka’b bin Asyraf and Asma bin Marwan.
Ka’b bin Marwan was given the death penalty because he did something very bad to the Muslims community in Medinah despite the treaty of Medina charter which was signed by both Muslim and Jew. His hatred to the prophet led him to extreme deeds, from saying the bad things about the prophet to incite the Quraish tribe to hold a war against Muslims and the prophet. He had been warned for several times, yet he kept doing the same. Hence, to maintain the stability of Medinah, the prophet took a further action. The execution, however, was not carried out by Muslim but by his own tribe, Bani Aus. The same thing goes to Asma bin Marwan.
What the prophet did toward the offense committed by these two Jews is not considered to be violence. Lammens, a Jewish historian, (in Handono:2003) acknowledge this penalty “It was understandable if Muhammad gave such penalty to Jews because they have betrayed him and the treaty they both taken together, and not to mention the unstable condition of Arabian country within the prophetic period.” Furthermore, Welfinson, a Jewish history professor stated that the loss the Jews obtained in Hijaz is lesser if it compared to the gain that they obtained from the spreading of Islam which saved many life of the Jews from the Roman Empire. Besides the establishment of Islamic civilization during the period of Umayyah and Abassyah dynasty had significantly contributed to the advancement of Jewish people.
c. A sinful prophet
The begging for mercy and apology which the prophet often did in his lifetime makes some presume that Muhammad was a sinner as apology and mercy is only needed by those who committed sinful things. Armstrong (2002) explained that begging for apology and mercy of God is the common thing which the prophet does in his teaching. Why he begs for apology and mercy of God is not to show their weakness and the bond of sin they committed but to teach the followers how they redeem the sin they have committed.
3. Misconception about Islamic Scripture
a. Duplication of biblical accounts
The same stories of the same people are found in both Bible and Quran. These similarities lead to the misperception that Quran was direatly duplicated from the biblical sources. The same stories of Bible and Quran can be used as a point to show that Quran was derived from Bible. The similarity is merely because many similar prophets are acknowldeged in Jew, Christian and Islam. Hence, the stories of those prophets are recounted in the scriptures of the three religions. Moreover, some Islamic experts said that Jews in Medina often asked the prophet about the stories of their prophets to test the knowledge of the prophet.
Although there are similarities between Bible and Quran, both scriptures significantly differs in the authencity. Unlike Quran, Bible has undergone many changes in its courses of the time. Gospels, the first four books of new testaments, were written in the different time and from the different source (Samad:2003) namely Q (Quelle), U (Urmacus) and L (Luke). The first Gospel to be written was Mark which was written at Rome at least forty years after the crucifixion as an expanded version of Urmacus. The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek at Antioch about 90 C.E. The author of this book use the two lost documents as sources: Q and Urmacus. The third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, was written somewhere in Greece about 80 C.E bu someone referred himself as Theophilus who was the friend of St. Paul. The source which the author wrote this book is L. The last Gospel, Gospel of John, was written at or near Ephesus between the years 110 and 115 C.E by some unknown writer from unknown source. Those Gospels, however, show some differences in their contents. Compared to these books, Quran has more clarity in its content and history. There is no doubt about its authenticity because this scripture was written not long after the demise of the prophet.
b. Grammatical errors found in Quran
Many orientalists claim that some grammatical errors found in Quran. They insist why the so-called words of God have errors in language. According to Handono (2003) it is a very wrong perception to hold that Alquran has some errors in grammatical structures. The grammatical rules of Arabic were firstly written by Sibawaih of Persia in the 2nd century of hijri years, 150 years after Quran was revealed. How can ones measure the grammar of Quran from Arabic grammar which was established 150 years after its revelation. Moreover, Quran is categorized as the piece of literature; in fact, some claim that Quran is the highest achievement of human literature. As Quran is viewed as the literary sense, it is free the bound of grammatical rules like other literary works.
4. Misconception about feminism issues
a. Women are given inferior status in Islam
The status of women in Islam is the most misunderstood aspect of the religion. According to the Qur’an as well as the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, women possess honorable status. Islam gives women separate legal rights as individuals. Fourteen hundred years ago at the very inception of the Islamic faith, by divine decree, women were given the right to divorce, the right to own property in their own name and separate from the husband, the right of inheritance, the right to make a will, and many other rights. These rights were not available to women in the western societies until the 19th century.
Some non-Moslems feminist proponents spread the view that Islam disgraces women through the permission of polygamy. Talking about polygamy, Naik (2010) cited that Islam is the only religion which limits the number of women whom are allowed to be married by men, four women to be exact as it is stated in Quran. Such limitation is not found in other religions. Moreover, some religious figures were known to have many wives.
Polygamy is allowed in Islam due to the outnumber women than men. By nature males and females are born in approximately the same ratio. A female child has more immunity than a male child. A female child can fight the germs and diseases better than the male child. For this reason, during the pediatric age itself there are more deaths among males as compared to the females. During wars, there are more men killed as compared to women. More men die due to accidents and diseases than women. The average life span of females is more than that of males, and at any given time one finds more widows in the world than widowers. Therefore, if one man only allowed marrying one woman then many women will not have husband. The following example is cited in Naik (2010).
“In the USA, women outnumber men by 7.8 million. New York alone has one million more females as compared to the number of males, and of the male population of New York one-third are gays i.e sodomites. The U.S.A as a whole has more than twenty-five million gays. This means that these people do not wish to marry women. Great Britain has four million more females as compared to males. Germany has five million more females as compared to males. Russia has nine million more females than males. God alone knows how many million more females there are in the whole world as compared to males. Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband.”
c. Hijab subjugated women freedom of expression
Islamic women are abiding with the strict rules in fashion that they have to cover themselves. The ‘hijab’ or the Islamic dress is cited by many as an example of the ‘subjugation’ of women under Islamic law. The reason why Hijab is prescribed for women is mentioned in the Qur’an in the following verses of Surah Al-Ahzab:
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad); that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Qur’an 33:59]
The Qur’an says that Hijab has been prescribed for the women so that they are recognized as modest women and this will also prevent them from being molested. Moreover, it is a sign of dignity and respect for women. It signifies that the worth and value of a woman is not in her looks and her physical form. It protects Muslim women from being molested by men. It safeguards the woman from being reduced to mere “sex objects.” Islam prohibits women from all acts of lewdness including public display of their beauty in any form or manner.
5. Misconception about radicalism
a. Islam spread by sword
In the past centuries, Muslim kings, conquered many lands; but a distinction has to be made between lands conquered by these kings and imposition of Islam on its people. Islam does not believe in force or lure of material benefits to spreads the faith. Muslims believe that God alone can put faith into the heart of a person. There are several examples of the tolerance of Muslims towards other religions. Muslims ruled over Spain for many hundreds of years. The Christians and the Jews there were free to practice their own religion in their places of worship. In fact, Christians and Jews are regarded as privileged people and are mentioned with respect in the Qur’an as "People of the Book".
Even during times of war, Islam lays down strict rules. For example, a Muslim is not allowed to harm or kill those in a peace treaty with Muslims, non-combatants, women, minors, servants, the blind, monks, the elderly, those physically incapable of fighting, and the mentally ill. In fact, Muslims are not even allowed to damage crops and vegetation during times of war! These noble ethics were, and still remain, unheard of in any army.
b. Islam permits terrorism
The media portrays as a terrorist any Muslim who fights regardless of whether they fight justly or unjustly, or whether they are oppressing others or being oppressed. Islam prohibits terrorism, unlawful acquisition of property of others, and causing harm to innocent human beings. Islam rejects all forms of violence. Terrorists have no religion. They kill indiscriminately. They use the name of religion to justify their atrocities, and thus bring a bad name to the religion.
Many misconceptions about Islam are spread within the non-Islamic communities. Those misconceptions come from the prejudicial tendency of the different religious practice, the false theories and writing of orientalists which are used as references to Islamic studies in most of universities in this world, and from the bombardments of anti-Islamic media. Non-Islamic communities misperceive many values and teaching and Islam, from the theological concepts to the social life. However, if seen from the original sources of Islam, those misunderstandings are proven wrong.
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