7 Myths About Islam
By Timothy R. Furnish
Georgia Perimeter College Dunwoody , GA 30338 Middle East Salt Lake City Hollywood Penn State University Ottoman Empire Arabia Morocco France India Iberia London Iraq Iran Afghanistan
Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History,
One of the few positive effects of 9/11 has been renewed American interest in Islam and the
First, it is untrue that Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion. (Mormonism and Scientology also claim this, but few outside of
Second, despite the claims of even President Bush in a number of public statements, Islam is not solely a "religion of peace." Yes, there are verses of toleration in the Qur'an: Sura(chapter) al-Baqarah:256 says "there shall be no compulsion in religion;" Sura al-Furqan:65ff says that Allah will be merciful to those who repent and do good works; and Sura al-Nisa':19ff enjoins Muslim men to provide financially for wives and ex-wives. But verses such as these are arguably outweighed by others: Sura Anfal:12ff and Sura Muhammad:3ff command the beheading of unbelievers; Sura al-Nisa':34ff allows for beating of one's wives and in verses 74ff and 94ff, promises great reward for those who die fighting for Allah; Sura al-Ma'idah:51 says "Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." Of course there are violent sections in the Bible—or at least in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament (Joshua and David were military leaders as much as religious ones). But no one denies that, as many—both Muslim and non-Muslim—deny these violent and misogynistic passages in the Qur'an. Many arguments can be made against such verses (they must be contextualized, they are applicable only to that time, they are metaphorical, etc.) but one cannot say they do not exist. Someone who simply rehashs that "the Qur'an teaches peace" obviously hasn't read it. No doubt most Muslims do not read the passages about decapitation as a blueprint for today. But just as some Christians take literally, for example, the command of to Christ handle poisonous snakes (Luke 10:19), some Muslims take literally the injunction to behead unbelievers. And the latter practice is a bit more injurious to other folks than the former.
Third on the misinformation parade is the allegation that jihad does not mean holy war. This falsehood crops up often in text books and in the media, where the politically-correct tirelessly repeat that jihad actually means only "striving to be a good Muslim." This is half-right. But early on in Islamic history, jihad came to mean fighting against unbelievers in order to expand the territory under Muslim rule. al-Bukhari lived in the 9th century CE and was the most authoritative compiler of sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad; he mentions jihad many times as meaning "holy war." Jihad as "Muslim piety" is mainly the province of the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, and has become a minority view today. Furthermore, Islamic history is chock-full of leaders declaring jihads against their enemies—even the moderately Muslim
Fourth is the whopper that Islam spread peacefully from
The fifth tiresome myth is that the European Catholic Crusaders started the war with Islam and that for eight centuries Muslims have been brooding over the horrible injustices thereof. Actually, the Crusades, 1095-1291, were simply the first time that European Christians managed to take the fight to their enemy's territory. And besides: why are the Crusades being constantly used as a club with which to beat the West—remember the scathing attacks on President Bush when, not long after 9/11, he referred to a "crusade" against terrorism?—when the Muslims won? Usama bin Ladin's constant references to Americans as "Crusaders" is thus a perfect marriage of historical illiteracy with keen psychological insight into his enemy's self-hate.
Another fairy tale about Islam is that poverty produces terrorists. This hoary myth tells us more about the worldview of its American adherents than it does about the ranks of the Islamists. Most of the 9/11 and
And finally, we have politically-correct mendacity number seven, which even British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently repeated: that Islam has been "hijacked" by terrorists. In this view Bin Ladin, the ayatollahs in
Islam is where Christianity was before the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and then the Enlightenment led the West to divorce religion and state, thereby removing (mostly) the threat of religious-based warfare. As a fellow monotheist with Muslims, I pray that the moderate strands within Islam win out over the more fundamentalist ones, allowing that civilization to follow suit. And for we in the West to help with that, we need to open our eyes to the reality of the harsher aspects of Islam and Islamic history. Anything else is simple—and dangerous—self-deception.
Salt Lake City