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Understanding Islam

Introduction The literal meaning of Islam is peace. Because of many current world events, Islam is a highly controversial and sensitive issue that has many misconceptions that need to be more fully addressed and understood. It is true that the events of 9/11 have separated the history of American relations with the Muslim world into before and after phases, negatively affecting the patterns of assimilation of immigrant Muslims into American culture and society (Simmons, 2008).

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This essay will begin to give factual details regarding the Islam faith, compare Islam with other Abrahamic religions and discuss common misconceptions and current events that have changed the way the world looks at Muslims and the Islam faith. Body It will be useful to begin with attempting to scratch the surface and try to understand the teachings of Islam. Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. These revelations were recorded in the faith’s text, the Qur’an. The Islam faith has “Six Articles of Beliefs”.

People of the Muslim faith must have great conviction in these most important six areas. They are: 1. Belief in God. 2. Belief in the Angels. 3. Belief in the Prophets and Messengers. 4. Belief in the Sacred Texts. 5. Belief in Life After Death. 6. Belief in the Divine Decree (Abdulsalam, 2006). The believers worship God directly without the intercession of priests or clergy. They also have five duties that are given as rules to follow. Those are the Five Pillars of Islam; Belief, Worship, Fasting, Almsgiving and Pilgrimage (Grupper, Prentice, & Roughton, 2000).

The country with the most Muslims is Indonesia, with 120 million. In addition there are millions more in parts of Eastern and Western Europe and in the Americas. The Islam religion claims nearly 1 billion followers in countries throughout the world. Islam is also the youngest among major world religions but is still one of the largest (Ridenour, 2001). Islam belongs in a group of three religions called the “Abrahamic” religions. Those three religions are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. They are three sister religions that are monotheistic and that claim the prophet

Abraham as their common forefather. To compare Islam and Christianity, in relation to God, Muslims believe there is no God but Allah; Christians believe that God is revealed in scripture as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons who are coeternally God (Ridenour, 2001). This sometimes causes Jews and Muslims to criticize the Christians as polytheistic. In all three religions, there is an ethical orientation. All three religions speak of a choice between good and evil, which is depended upon obedience or disobedience to God (Unkown, 2007).

The three also have a linear concept of history with creation as the beginning and that God works through history. The believers of Islam are called Muslims which means “one who lives his life according to God’s will” (Langley, 1993). It would seem that this particular people and religion would be a people of peace, sincerity and love. Since 9/11, the world of the faithful in Muslim societies has been in turmoil because the living Islam, dominated by its traditional interpreters, the learned ulema, has not been able to guide the community at the most critical period of its existence (Sachedina, 2010).

This current critical period of Islam existence has created many misconceptions. Only if it is assumed that the goal of Islam is to establish peace without resorting to aggression can one claim that that militant Islamists have hijacked their religion (van der Krogt, 2010). Islam is practiced all over the world and the way it is practiced is different in different locations. Islam does claim to be brotherhoods of “one religion”, but the Islam practiced in Indonesia is very different than the Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, which is also different from that in Kazakhstan, or Iran, or Morocco.

In researching for this essay, the author found many different “types” of Islamic groups all over the world. There are over 73 sub-sects that have emerged within Islam today (Venkatraman, 2007). Some peaceful and some more aggressive. A group called Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (The Party of Islamic Liberation) began working in Central Asia in the mid-1990s and has developed a committed following inside Uzbekistan, and to a lesser extent in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

Estimates of its strength vary widely, but a rough figure is probably 15-20,000 throughout Central Asia. Its influence should not be exaggerated – it has little public support in a region where there is limited appetite for political Islam – but it has become by far the largest radical Islamist movement in the area (Unkown, Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir, 2003). The common misconceptions regarding Muslims did not begin with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but that seems to be the current event that hits closest to home.

Islamic terrorism is a movement in which the violence caused by terrorism is derived from and used to preserve extreme interpretations of the Quran in an Islamic community. Participants of this movement call for an unquestioned devotion and blind obedience or a Quaranic tenet has been broken. A few of the Islamic terrorist groups are Al-jihad, AlQaeda (Afganistan), Hamas (Palestine), Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (Kashmir), and the Lashkar e-Toiba (Kashmir) (Venkatraman, 2007). The 9/11 terrorist attacks were performed by AlQaeda under the direction of Osama bin Laden, the founder of AlQaeda.

The death of Osama bin Laden has also certainly not stopped Islamic violence, but according to the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, Salam Al-Marayati, the death of Osama bin Laden “represents the beginning of the end of a dark era in U. S. -Muslim relations. ” He goes on to say that “hopefully this ushers a new era of hope and democracy in dealing with the grievances of Muslim people throughout the world without resorting to political violence. ” (Lozano, 2011). The media and these current world events are a definite misconception of all Muslim people.

To gratuitously insult law-abiding Muslims by conflating them with terrorists is not only wrong, it is dangerous to U. S. national security (Stern, 2011). An article written in the New York Times in October of 2010, spoke about local New York Islamics having open houses to invite non-Muslims in to attend prayers, discussions and tours of Islamic centers as a way to defuse hostility toward the Muslim population. The idea for the program, “A Week of Dialogue,” emerged from a summit of Islamic leaders as a response to the furor surrounding a plan to open a Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero (Semple, 2010).

Muslims in America and around the world are trying to bring back the truth to the original Islamic meaning of peace. We now must look at how Muslims and non-Muslims communicate and live together in harmony. Historically, in countries where Islam has gained political power, people of all rival religions are either wiped out, or in the interest of “tolerance” or “open mindedness”, permitted to exist as second-class citizens. Christians and Jews are looked down upon and may not practice their religion openly or freely without serious consequence.

But, Islam in the West is completely different from Islam in Muslim dominated countries. Muslims who live in the Western democratic countries enjoy all the benefits and privileges of freedom and democracy. They have secure civil liberties and may practice their religion freely and openly. The Qur’an specifically states that Islam is a religion of mercy, tolerance and moderation. Moderation being the key to Muslim and non-Muslim communication. It allows Muslims to have a good relationship with non-Muslims, but to a certain limit.

One quote from the Qur’an says this: “Let not the believers (Muslims) take for friends Unbelievers (non-Muslims) rather than believers. And whoever does that has no relation with Allah whatsoever, except by way of precaution that you may guard yourselves from them. ” (Surah Ali Imran, V: 28). Conclusion In summation, some of the misconceptions that people around the world have regarding Islam, are backed up by some current and past events. We must first begin to understand the Islamic faith, it’s diversity in people, areas of the world and political stances.

This author does not begin to understand the depth of the Islam faith. After researching for this essay, the realization of the diversity of this faith as compared to Christianity or Judaism, is overwhelming. The peaceful people of Islam must not be judged by the terrorists and the acts they commit. We learned that Islam has political side and a religious side as well. The editor of the journal, American Libraries, Leonard Kniffel wrote an editorial about how libraries jumped at the chance to begin educating communities on the Islam faith shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Kniffel states that, “Knowing that an anti-Muslim backlash was inevitable, they created programs to help the patrons of their libraries understand the teachings of Islam, the history of American policy related to the conflict we now find ourselves in, and what it means to be Muslim in America” (Kniffel, 2002). The Muslim American Society (www. muslimamericansociety. org) has a campaign called “The Straight Path Initiative”. It’s goals are to equip and focus on Muslims in America ages 15-30. This initiative has a goal to initiate an honest open ialog about radicalization and extremism in Muslim American communities. They are targeting high schools and college campuses to provide programs and activities to involve young Muslim Americans in a proactive way that limits opportunities for radicalization (Unkown, The Straight Path Initiative, 2011). Much like any religion or people group, Islam has a group of terrorists and non-peaceful people amongst them. The misconceptions are actually very real and have information and current events to back them up.

It would also be fair to say, that most religions and people groups have those kinds of people. Understanding one another is the most important thing we can do. By educating each other on beliefs, understandings and ways of life, we can only then begin to have peaceful dialog to bring us together. September 11, 2001 became a day for American’s to see the true colors of the terrorist sect of the Islam religion. As this is a day we will never forget, we must begin to heal by understanding and not judging the entire Islam faith for these terrible acts of terrorism.

References Abdulsalam, M. (2006, January 30). The Religion of Islam. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from www. islamreligion. com: http://www. islamreligion. com/articles/6/. Grupper, J. , Prentice, P. , & Roughton, R. (2000). Islam: Empire of Faith. Retrieved June 13, 2011, from www. pbs. org: http://www. pbs. org/empires/islam/film. html. Kniffel, L. (2002, January). Getting to know Islam. American Libraries , 48. Langley, M. (1993). World Religions. Oxford: Lion Publishing. Lozano, C. (2011, May 1). Osama bin Laden Dead: End of a dark era in U. S. Muslim relations’. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from L. A. Times: http://latimesblogs. latimes. com/lanow/2011/05/osama-bin-laden-dead-end-dark-era-us- muslim-relations. html. Ridenour, F. (2001). So What’s the Difference? Ventura, CA: Regal Books. Sachedina, A. (2010, September). Religion, Order and Peace: A Muslim Perspective. Cross Currents , 332-338. Semple, K. (2010, October 22). At Mosques, Inviting Non-Muslims Inside to Ease Hostility Toward Islam. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from New York Times: http://www. nytimes. com/2010/10/23/nyregion/23mosques. html? ef=reconstruction. Simmons, G. Z. (2008). From Muslims in America to American Muslims. Journal of Islamic Law and Culture , 10 (3), 254-280. Stern, J. (2011, May/June). Muslims in America. The National Interest (113), pp. 38-46. Unkown. (2007, September 16). Abrahamic Religion. Retrieved June 14, 2011, from New World Encyclopedia: http://www. newworldencyclopedia. org/entry/Abrahamic_religions. References (continued) Unkown. (2003, June 30). Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from International Crisis Group: ttp://www. crisisgroup. org/en/regions/asia/central-asia/058-radical-islam-in-central-asia- responding-to-hizb-ut-tahrir. aspx. Unkown. (2011). The Straight Path Initiative. Retrieved June 17, 2011, from Muslim American Society: http://muslimamericansociety. org/main/content/straight-path-initiative. van der Krogt, C. (2010). Jihad without apologetics. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations , 21 (2), 127-142. Venkatraman, A. (2007). Religious Basis for Islamic Terrorism: The Quran and it’s Interpretations. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism , 30 (3), 229-248.