Over the weekend I heard a lot of mumbles and whispers about Islam. I read a news article about a woman in the UK who banned Muslim women from visiting her salon after the ISIS attacks on Paris. I heard someone joke at a party that we could solve the ISIS issue by burning and bombing the mosques around the world. I saw hundreds of “Pray for Paris” and “Stand by Paris” Facebook posts and artsy peace signs created out of Eiffel tower drawings on Instagram and I was saddened. Conflicts in the Middle East are so complicated and based on so many years of turmoil that even well-read citizens have a very difficult time dissecting the issues. I studied history during my undergraduate education, I spent most of my time reading about the Renaissance, Italian art and cultural shifts brought about by European revolutions. However, I purposefully enrolled in a handful of courses surrounding Islamic foundations and modern Middle Eastern affairs because I knew I was so naive about a very large world population.
Learning about both Islam and the Middle East, my world was altered. I realized how little I really knew about what it meant to be Muslim, I discovered a world that was so complex and misunderstood I knew there was realistically no way I could possibly understand the intricacies of an entire region from short news clips I caught every so often. Most importantly I realized the importance of studying culture, society and religion before passing judgement on a group of people. Since graduating I’ve extended my research on Islamic culture and lifestyle primarily in the realm of women’s rights and education. I am nowhere near an expert in the field, simply a small, interested voice who has done just enough research to realize how quickly acts of terrorism can spread mainstream Islamic hate like wildfire.
The terrorist acts in Paris were atrocious, there is no arguing that. However, many fail to recognize that western people were not the only people harmed by ISIS, just the group receiving the most media attention. Aren’t the lives of those harmed or killed by ISIS in Beirut and Baghdad just as meaningful and atrocious as those killed or injured in Paris? Let us not forget that though many of those who died in Beirut and Baghdad were not from the city of love and light they were just as innocent and just as unaware of the terror that would strike the cities they called home.
We associate the Middle East with terrorism. I’m not booking a Christmas vacation in Baghdad not because I don’t believe it is an interesting city but because I am afraid to travel there! Yet, we must remember that just because a land is perceived (however accurately) as dangerous doesn’t make the loss of innocent lives any less meaningful. Muslim lives lost matter, and ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other group! Furthermore, as Reza Aslan points out in this news clip gone viral we should not confuse oppressive culture with oppressive religion. We cannot clump all Muslim people together, just as we cannot clump all Christians together.
It is for this reason I wish to dispel the few misconceptions I can speak to regarding Muslims and terrorist acts. This isn’t a “Western World versus Islamic Terrorist” issue, it is a “World of Just War versus World of Terrorism” issue. Islamic terrorists, Christian terrorists, and Buddhist terrorists should be recognized, because though we are dealing with a group killing in the name of Islam right now…religions of all kinds have been used for acts of genocide and terrorism.
ISIS & Islam
The Islamic faith is subject to many radical stereotypes and misconceptions especially in the western world. Words like Jihad, Sharia law and Isis strike fear in the hearts of well-meaning individuals. Sadly, many aspects of Islam are misinterpreted. These major misinterpretations are perpetuated by terrorists who represent a very small, very radical interpretation of a very large religion. ISIS, though it claims to be Islamic, does not represent Muslim principles of Islamic faith.
Referring to yourself as a specified religion is tricky business. If I were to share that I am Jewish the outside observer would have no problem believing my claim (especially if he or she was not Jewish). I could run around eating bugs and camels all day and most non-Jews would probably think I was a weirdo as bugs and camels aren’t common cuisine here in the US but very few non-Jew people would realize these eating habits violated Kosher laws. Does violating kosher mean I’m not Jewish?
Defining a person’s religion and whether or not they adhere to it is difficult. Most people would probably except me as Jewish even if I ate milk and beef at the same meal (which is forbidden), just as many adults who practice premarital sex still consider themselves Christian. Yet, at some point outside observers tend to draw a line. I could say I was Jewish all day but if I celebrated Jesus as the messiah, didn’t participate in passover and rarely ate kosher the educated outside world would probably begin to roll their eyes at my claims of Judaism. But I could still claim to culturally Jewish couldn’t I? I could claim Jewish heritage (as many do), celebrate Jewish traditions and enjoy my bacon and eggs with a glass of milk every morning.
Defining another person’s religion is tricky business. The ideals of a religion tend to be wide in scope and interpreted differently by different people thus making Christians just as different from one another as they are from Muslims or Jews.
Haters gonna Hate (No matter what religion they identify)
The moral of the story, though ISIS claims to be a group of Muslims the vast majority of Muslims worldwide would invalidate the religious claims of ISIS. Christian hate groups exist spreading hate and evil and bigotry but most Christians do not support these radical extremists. A group of haters can claim any religion and cause massive chaos anywhere because their principles do not align with any of the three Abrahamic religions. Muslims don’t just condemn ISIS, Muslims HATE ISIS.
Are Islam & Terrorism interconnected?
The short answer: no. The long answer: also no. Christians have historically massacred opposing cultures, yet, the majority of modern day Christians would argue that these atrocious acts defy the fundamental principles of their religion. Similarly, despite common westernized misconceptions, Islamic Law forbids terrorism.
But what about Jihad? Doesn’t the term promote holy war? The word “Jihad” is perhaps the most widely misunderstood Islamic concept in the western world. The word Jihad translates not into “holy war” but rather into “the struggle”. Jihad often refers to the individual inner struggle to be a person on faith as well as the external struggle to convey the message of God to humankind. Physical Jihad is indeed a concept but does not refer to waging war on non-muslims but rather defense against tyranny and oppression. Only a severely violent and psychotic terrorist could twist the meaning of Jihad into acts of violence against innocent people. In fact, the Quran specifically states even physical Jihad should never be used as aggression towards innocent civilians. Understanding what Jihad is and is not helps non-muslims to understand that terrorists are terrorists not because Islam sanctions terrorism but because they are warped groups with violent intentions derived from their own political agendas outside of the historical purpose of Islam.
So why are there so many Terrorists calling themselves Muslims?
Perhaps the most complex and controversial question of all: If Islam is a religion of peace and the vast majority of Muslims disapprove of extremist terrorist groups why are such prominent terrorist organizations sprouting from Islamic roots? Though there is not a definitive answer to this question, speculation based on historical facts can lead experts to a multitude of conclusions. One theory is the marginalization of Islam in a Christian dominated world.
Historically Islam has been associated with progressive thinking, education and innovation. The common Islamic saying “Seek knowledge even if it takes you to China” is not actually a scripture but represents the historical association between Islam and education.The Islamic Golden Age is characterized by massively influential discoveries in the world of science, economics and culture. The world of the Islam was powerful, well respected. The world of Islam was large-it spanned throughout Spain, parts of Italy, Turkey, Indonesia and parts of Africa. When we talk about the dark ages we imagine a world without the pursuit of knowledge, however this term is refers only to Europe. While Europe was in the dark ages, the world of Islam was leading the way. It wasn’t until the 15th century that the Islamic states began loosing power and territory.
As Muslims continued to loose political power to the western world the Islamic identity came to associate the west with a threat to Islam. In this fragile state extremist groups (though few and far between) emerged. Similarly, many “Islamic” extremist groups today view themselves as disenfranchised and hope to return to the former state of Islamic glory. Groups like ISIS are essentially just a violent attempt to return to a Pan-Islamic world. This historic reasoning does not in any way justify the acts of terrorist groups like ISIS however it explains why terrorism from a specific religion seems to emerge frequently at specific times throughout history. An article by Juan Cole, professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan, reviews terrorism and religion. Cole’s article illuminates terrorism as a religious trait rather than an Islamic trait. As Cole reiterates, no religion including Islam preaches indiscriminate acts of violence against innocent civilians.
Interested in learning more about Islamic Culture?
My favorite resources surrounding Islamic culture don’t focus on war, or terrorism but rather on the daily lives of people living in a religion they love and believe to be peaceful. Often times we don’t understand a culture outside of extremist movements and click-bait worthy news articles. I encourage you to explore film, literature and news surrounding Islam that may not make headlines because it does not revolve around terrorism. One of my favorite books Love Inshallah centers around love and dating in a modern muslim world. Next on my list is The Underground Girls of Kabul, if you’ve read it let me know what you thought!
Thank you for taking the time to read a post outside of my regularly scheduled fashion & beauty posts. In a time when so many misconceptions are flying around I believe it would be wrong not to share what I have learned. I am not claiming to know it all (not even close) but I do wish to share the knowledge that has helped me to respect and understand Islam as a religion of love and peace.