My senior year of high school I went to the ACT-SO art competition in Miami, Florida. I went as a regional winner for visual arts along with 10-15 other students from my high school and nearby schools and a few parent chaperones. We loaded a coach bus headed for the airport and before we took off, one of the parent chaperones suggested we bow our heads in prayer. I quietly bowed my head, praying it would be a generic prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, our holy savior, we pray in your name, we pray that we arrive safely…..” Uncomfortable I lifted my head, dismissing myself from the prayer. As a Muslim, I don’t believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) is God or the son of God, and thus such a prayer opener made me highly uncomfortable. Later in the trip, a parent chaperone asked me what church I attended. When I told her I was Muslim, she asked offended, how it was possible that I didn’t “believe the lord Jesus Christ had died for my sins”, she then told 18 year old me, that I would “go to hell” if I didn’t come to accept this. At 18 I was soft spoken with a reverence for all adults. I didn’t know how to respond to such a statement so I didn’t respond at all.
Over the next 15 years, I’d experience softer versions of the same encounter, uncomfortable workplace prayers, not so subtle disapproving inquiries about my faith, and attempts to identify with me through misrepresented understandings of the religion. At Thanks giving this year, I complained to my father about how fed up I was. “You are too sensitive”, he said. “Aren’t you a teacher? Most people don’t intend to offend you, they just don’t know much about Islam. You have to teach people.” I knew that he was right. I had acquired many friends in the 15 years since high school. Many had learned so much about Islam from simply knowing me. One friend had even chosen to fast during the month of Ramadan. My father was right, frustration was futile. And with that, I decided to write this article and dedicate it to my very wise father, and to all my non-Muslim friends who I’ve had the honor of sharing my faith with and who have in turn given me equal education and perspective.
10 Things I Want Non-Muslims to Know About Being Muslim
1. Islam is the name of the religion. Muslims are its followers. Muslims are to Islam as Christians are to Christianity. Correct example: Her mother was Christian and her father was Muslim. Incorrect example: Her mother was Christian and her father was Islam. The word Islamic ending in -ic is an adjective, a word that describes a noun, not a noun itself. Correct usage: She buys her clothes from the Islamic store. Incorrect usage: The girl was an Islamic.
2. I don’t represent all Muslims, neither does he or she or them. If you know a practicing Muslim of good character, you may have a positive impression of Muslims. Likewise if you know a hypocritical Muslim or you don’t know any Muslims firsthand and the media is your primary reference, you may have developed a negative impression of Muslims. Just remember that there are over 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, that’s 25% of the people on earth. We come in all colors, from all parts of the world. No single one of us, nor even a handful of us exclusively represent the 1.6 billion of us.
3. Being Muslim is more than not eating pork or not drinking alcohol. Muslims believe in the five pillars of Islam and these are the most important components of the religion. The five pillars of Islam are:
- Shahada: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith (I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad was his prophet and messenger.)
- Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
- Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
- Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
- Hajj: making the pilgrimage to Mecca
While it is true that we do not eat pork, please do not emphasize it as the key way to define us. It is so minuscule in proportion to the 5 pillars listed above.
4. Allah means God in Arabic. Muslims are not praying to a “different God” when we refer to Allah, we are simply using the Arabic word for God. “The word Allah has been used by Arabs of different religions since pre-Islamic times. More specifically, it has been used as a term to refer to God by Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) and Arab Christians. It is now mainly used by Muslims and Arab Christians to refer to God.”(Wikipedia)
5. We don’t pray to Muhammad and we do believe that Jesus (PBUH) was a prophet (messenger of God). I was recently playing a game and one of the game cards said Muhammad (Praise Be Upon Him). This particular card stood out to me because it was unintentionally yet grossly inaccurate. The card said “Muhammad (Praise be upon him) instead of Peace Be Upon Him. When Muslims say or write in text (PBUH) behind the prophets name the intention of the phrase “Peace Be Upon Him” (PBUH) is the equivalent of saying Rest in Peace (RIP). Changing the phrase from “peace” to “praise” would suggest that we praise or worship the prophet. We do not. We only worship God himself. Likewise, Muslims do honor and respect the prophet Jesus(PBUH) just as we do Abraham(PBUH), Moses(PBUH), Adam(PBUH) and all other prophets.
6. I don’t know any more about ISIS than you do. In fact, I probably know less. I have no insider perspective. I do not know the mentality of young Muslims who are recruited to ISIS nor do I consider them true followers of the faith. I find it offensive when people bring me news stories about ISIS or ask for my opinion or outlook on anything related to the topic. Consider being Catholic and being asked repeatedly about the Catholic church sexual scandals. The actions of a few do not represent the masses, nor are they understood by the masses.
7. There is a major difference between Muslims and the Nation of Islam (commonly referred to as Black Muslims).
- People often assume that because I am African American and Muslim that I am a “black Muslim”, a member of the Nation of Islam. I am not. I am a Muslim, a follower of Islam. What is the difference they ask? The main difference I tell them, is that there is no political agenda in Islam, there is no racial category or component. When I pray at the mosque, I am often alongside my fellow Chinese, Arab, Nigerian, and of course American Muslims.
- The Nation of Islam is an African American religious and political movement, founded in Detroit by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in 1930. The movement has grown in the African American community in several great migration cities including Chicago. As of 2007, the Nation of Islam had between 20-50k members. The religion of Islam originated in the year 610 (this was the year the prophet Muhammad received revelations, however, Muslims believe the message of Islam existed with Adam). Either way this was centuries before the Nation of Islam. There are currently 1.6 billion followers from all over the world varying in ethnicity, culture, political views, and etc. A Muslim is not characterized by their political views, race or culture, but rather by their belief in the five pillars of Islam.
- In the 1970’s many African Americans converted to Islam. Many, but not all of them, became Muslim by first joining the Nation of Islam. Many, then later left the Nation of Islam and converted to orthodox Islam. Malcolm X, who converted to orthodox Islam after going on the Hajj, is one such example. To read more: Is there a difference between Muslims and Black Muslims?
8. The Arabic word Jihad actually means struggle not holy war. While the media has coined the term, it’s literal translation is actually struggle or striving. “In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, “jihad” has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslims or believer, as well as working to inform people about the faith of Islam.” Click this link to read more:Jihad: A Misunderstood Concept from Islam – What Jihad is, and is not
9. Neither culture nor language define Religion I often find myself in conversations with people where they ask me if I’m planning to partake in something that I’ve never heard of before. Recently a co-worker asked if I would have a naming ceremony when I have kids. Naming ceremonies are not a requirement of Islam, however being that so many people of varying cultures exist within the religion it is possible that a Muslim could have a naming ceremony as a part of their cultural practice. Islam states that as long as culture and religion do not contradict one another, culture should be embraced. With that said, when non-Muslims read about, witness, or attempt to learn about Islam they should be careful in their observations to decipher between cultural practices vs. Islamic practices. i.e. an American Muslim wedding may look quite different from a Chinese Muslim wedding, or a Nigerian Muslim wedding. All are Islamic weddings, but the particular forms of celebration may vary depending upon culture.
Additionally, language is not religion. A common misconception that I’ve heard is that speaking Arabic is a requirement of practicing Islam. It is not. The Quran was originally revealed in Arabic, and thus many Muslims learn Arabic in order to be able to read the Quran in it’s original language of origin. The Quran however, has been translated in its entirety to 114 languages. Every translated copy includes the original Arabic alongside the translated language, as well as an explanation for the specific word choices used in translation.
10. Islam doesn’t restrict women. Cultures, governments, and rulers sometimes restrict women. Sometimes those cultures, governments, and rulers use faulty interpretations of Islam to restrict women. Islam itself never preaches anything about the inequality or mistreatment of women, quite the opposite in fact. A few personal examples / myth busters:
- Myth: Islam restricts women from working outside of the house or becoming educated. I work a full-time job and I have a master’s degree. Islam encourages education for all Muslims. Islam says that women are not required to work outside of the home nor are they restricted from doing so. The Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadija, was a prominent and affluent business woman.
- Myth: Islam forces women into arranged marriages – While many Muslim women of various cultures throughout the world do have arranged marriages some willingly and some unwillingly this has more to do with culture than religion. I met my Somali American Muslim husband at a July 4th party three years before we got married. Our marriage was not arranged.
- Myth: Hijab is restricting, forced, or various other misconceptions – In my 32 years, I’ve heard so many misconceptions about hijab that I find it difficult to pick just one to list. Instead I’d like to share this beautiful article about the history and intention of the hijab. 3 Myths We Need to Debunk About the Hijab
Thank you for reading this article and the adjoining links. I hope that it was helpful and informing. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would benefit or enjoy reading.**Quick disclaimer: I am not a Muslim Scholar nor do my opinions or interpretations represent all Muslims (see #2). If any Muslims reading this want to add additions, corrections etc. please do.
Lastly, if you belong to an under-represented or misrepresented group and you would like to share more information please contact me regarding a guest post. The lovefromtheotherside community would love to learn more about you!