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Misconception #5: The cultural practices of all Muslims are Islamic

Misconception #5: The cultural practices of all Muslims are Islamic
November 23, 2008

In this final, concluding piece on Misconceptions about Islam and Muslims we pursue three issues. First, we identify Muslim practices that may be culturally based and contradict the Quran and the Prophet's (peace be upon him) role model from true Islamic practices.

Second, we address the media's role in fostering and reinforcing prejudice and discrimination.

Third, we suggest steps people of good faith might take to develop a community in which people of all faith traditions feel they belong in Ames and Story County.

Practices of culture, not Islam
In the United States, we learn how some Muslims elsewhere in the world conduct their lives, and then we often assume that those practices are rooted in the tenets and values of Islam simply because the persons are Muslims or the people who do those despicable actions say the practices are Islamic.

Here are several egregious examples:

  • Violent practices against others person or properties, such as those exhibited during demonstrations - these contradict the Prophet's (pbuh) teachings that one should not do any harm to himself or to others. Moreover, as the Misconception 4 indicated, even in wars, the Prophet (pbuh) prohibited Muslim soldiers from harming non-combatants, destroying property, including houses of worship as well as trees and vegetation.
  • Forced marriages contradict the way of Muhammad (pbuh), who stated that a woman cannot be married except with her permission as explained in Misconception 3.
  • Some Muslim tribes in Africa prohibit a woman from her share of inheritance. As Misconception 3 indicated, this practice contradicts Islam.
  • The Taliban did not allow women to receive education. This violates Islam since the pursuit of knowledge, as Muhammad (pbuh) stated, is a duty on every Muslim man or woman.
  • Dictatorial and authoritarian regimes violate Islamic principles. The Quran states that the ruler must consult others, and the Prophet (pbuh) consulted others about many issues. The caliphs used to consult others, and it was narrated that lay people used to correct them and give advice to them.
  • Honor killing are practiced in some Bedouin and rural parts of Muslim and non-Muslim countries. In Islam, if there are four eye witnesses, the punishment, lashing, for fornication is well known. It is not killing. The government, not vigilantes, should administer the punishment.

Just because these things happen in countries that purport to be Islamic does not mean that the practices are rooted in Islamic tenets or values. The Quran offers guidance on practices within the home and in the community, and the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) indicate what he supported as a practice or a way of life.

Conduct that varies from the stipulated norms of Islam and the model behaviors of the Prophet (pbuh) and contradicts the intent of Islam shows ignorance. We should not be fooled into thinking it is Islamic, and we should not believe others' claims that their chosen behavior is Islamic just because they want us to think that.

Readers should now know that the many misconceptions of Islam and Muslims are false. We have only covered the few that we consider the most damaging to truth, objectivity and consequently to relations between Muslims and our Iowa neighbors. This series has relied on the essential foundation for Islam as a way of life.

When people contradict this foundation, they abandon Islam as a way of life and revert to pre-Islamic norms of tribalism, animosities and ignorance. We have written this series so that readers would have a basis to analyze the accuracy of what they see and hear, so as to avoid misconceptions in the future.

The media's role in fostering prejudice and discrimination
Some of the media outlets do not portray Islam honestly. On a spring morning in May 2002, an image of Muslims prostrating in prayerful submission appeared on CNN. While observing the peaceful and positive image of Islam, viewers listened to the broadcast voice speak about terrorism.

The media has played a crucial role in creating the gross misconceptions that Muslims behave the way they do because of Islam. Since early 2002, the public has heard not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim with increasing frequency. As we say above, readers of this series should now know that this statement is false.

But, Iowa State University students say they hear this in residence halls and in the classroom. Frequently, commentary columns in the op-ed section and cartoons in the ISU Daily vilify Islam and Muslims.

The widespread nature of prejudiced attitudes and beliefs against Islam and Muslims is built upon the sand of caricatures, distortions, and accusations of these misconceptions. U.S. citizens hold these misconceptions, in part, because they do not distinguish between culture and Islam, because they lack accurate information and because they trust their leaders and media to be accurate and honest. What U.S. citizens see and hear fits their preconceptions, a phenomenon known as the science of bias.

It is not about Islam; it is about the cultural context
Judea and Mariane Pearl are the father and wife of Daniel Pearl, the journalist whom al-Qaeda terrorists brutally murdered in 2002 in Pakistan.

The Pearls realize that terrorism grows in the cultural soil of abject poverty and despair, in places where corrupt, tyrannical ruling elites in government, supported by outside powers, have removed moderate voices of Islam for two generations.

These are post-colonial countries whose current boundaries were drawn by Western powers after World War I and whose internal political affairs were sometimes undermined by the CIA.

In these places, desperate youth have their access to education and jobs blocked, many are poor (usually over 40 percent), they have no medical care and they see a future with no hope. The rights of the opposition to speak out without danger against the fundamentalists in league with the elite rulers do not exist.

Without considering factors like power, corrupt ruling elites, despair, fear and the absence of civil society, it is hard to grasp the reasons why so-called Muslims behave in horrible, irrational ways.

In the United States, Muslims do not contend with these factors. We are able to pursue Islam as a way of life.

Unless Americans understand the context, including the invasion and occupation of foreign powers under false premises, the Pearls contend that Americans too will fall victim to the dualistic world of labels that result in hateful conflict and the us versus them framework that al-Qaeda promotes. Mariane Pearl says that labels become symbols that protagonists marshal to justify their hatred and violence toward the other.

Let's establish a community where everyone belongs
We share the Abrahamic tradition of loving God with our hearts, our souls, our understanding and our strength, and we should try to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Perhaps, once we drop our misconceptions about Muslims and others whom we believed were too different, we can interact in formal settings through inter-faith dialogues organized with the collaborative leadership of our religious lay leaders and the facilitative assistance of our imams, ministers, pastors, priests and rabbis. After sustained interactions and the development of personal relationships, persons of all faiths, especially our children, may then interact informally as friends and neighbors with mutual regard, appreciation and respect. We hope and pray that this will be our shared future.

We want to acknowledge the wisdom and good will of David Kraemer, who has worked with us to publish this series. Surely, journalists who honor the First Amendment and wish to preserve civility and foster mutual respect within their communities must follow the example of David Kraemer and the editorial staff of The Tribune.



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