Islam: Misunderstood for Centuries

Islam: Misunderstood for Centuries

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By Lillian Dong

As a Muslim girl living in the U.S., I have come face to face with many assumptions about the way I dress and what is expected of me by my family. People come up to me asking ridiculous questions, and though I am glad to clear up any misunderstandings, the fact that people think of Islam this way is mind-boggling to me, as I’ve always found my religion as a source of peace and love. 

It is disheartening to think about the number of people who have chosen to call me slurs or make faces at me just because I wear a hijab and dress modestly. It happened to me mostly as a child. What I wear is my choice—people shouldn’t simply assume that I am oppressed or that my parents are forcing me. Once again, the Islamic faith is clear on the usage of passive encouragement, and the prophet (pbuh) never would have tolerated force. With that being said, there are unfortunately many children whose caretakers are making them dress a certain way or do certain things. It is important to note that these are the faults of certain individuals, not of a religion itself.

People never seem to take the time to educate themselves; instead, they continue to harass Muslim females. There are various news articles reporting how women have had their hijabs ripped off, been yelled at, or even killed. Based on what I have observed, this usually happens because of three reasons:

1. People are straight-up Islamophobic.

2. They pity Muslim women because they think we are oppressed, or…

3. They are disgusted by us choosing to externally represent our religion because it is the faith of “terrorists.

We are not terrorists. The word “Islam” itself means peace, and violence is the last thing our prophet would ever encourage, yet groups of people proceed to massacre and torment others  in Islam’s name. 

Certain Islamic extremist groups, such as the Taliban, are seen as a product of what emerges when Islam is followed overzealously. They prohibit women’s education, force them to get married and cover up, and kill hundreds of people for not following their laws. Though these practices are carried out in the name of Islam, nowhere in our faith would they be validated. 

Hundreds of years ago, when the majority of women were bound to their homes and looked down upon in Europe and Asia, Islam allowed women to pursue an education, start their own businesses, and take on religious roles. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forbade the disrespect of women. In most cases, culture triumphs religion—cultures where women were degraded and seen as nothing more than wives to be shipped away so they can then be mothers and make use of their biological bodies. Yet when fingers start to point, Islam is the culprit because the women there are “forced to cover up and follow everything their husband says.”

So, when a group denies women the right to an education while claiming they’re doing this for Islam, can they really be trusted? Can you really blame Islam?

Even if someone identifies as Muslim, that doesn’t mean that everything they do reflects what Islam preaches. But this image is often projected onto religious people or people who choose to appear Muslim, which can further lead to them making choices that force them to change or be untrue to who they are.

I remember watching a video where a young Muslim girl was being sold off to a man decades older than her. My heart went out to her, and I scrolled to the comments, expecting to see disgust at the situation. All I saw was people reprimanding my religion. Though it deeply saddened me, I came to realize that maybe these people weren’t educated on the teachings of Islam. Let me set it straight: forced marriages have been and still are illegal. Yes, a lot of people who reside in Muslim countries and identify as Muslim practice this, but that’s solely because of cultural practices that were prevalent before the spread of Islam. 

The practice of polygamy in Muslim countries is seen as yet another way that Muslim women are oppressed. However, polygamy was something civilizations practiced long before Islam was founded, about 1,400 years ago. The reason it’s allowed is because during the battle of Uhud (a battle between Muslims and the Quraysh tribe), many Muslim men were killed, leaving thousands of women without support. Due to the greater ratio of women to men, the men were then allowed to take more than one wife. At the time, this law was passed to better the lives of women.

What strikes me as prejudiced is that in the U.S., hundreds of cases of child marriages have been happening. The U.S. is a predominantly Christian country, yet people are quick to turn a blind eye to that faith and instead blame the law.

Throughout history, mainly white Christians have used their faith to justify a lot of atrocities, and they have been given that pardon, for Christianity is never ascribed to violence, which leads me to wonder if it’s a racial issue. Whatever it may be, as Muslims, all we ask for is the same respect, along with tolerance and open-mindedness. We ask that people learn the difference between blaming certain individuals and an entire faith that consists of more than two billion people.

As a Muslim female, I’ve never felt restricted by my faith; rather, I feel that it is something that makes me stronger as a person. I have always connected to Islam on a spiritual level, and it’s not something my parents forced, but something they encouraged me to learn about. As I got older, I have often been in awe of the value Islam places on character and the various acts of our prophet. I have been ashamed of my culture, the stereotypes, and the societal norms that come with it, but I have never, ever seen my religion as something that has flaws. What frustrates me is the way others portray it and how some people ruin its name, twisting a beautiful, clean thing into something malicious and dark. 

Others are also fed up with the assumptions that are being made about them daily. Why is it so hard to believe that some of us love our religion and follow it because we choose to? We don’t need pity or sympathy: what we need is respect, both for our religion and the choices we make. 

If I do something wrong, if Muslims do something wrong, blame us. Not our religion.