He was spot on.
Many muslims carry out their own culture’s customs and then claim it’s an aspect of their religion. This has led to many misconceptions about the religion, some of which I am going to try to clear up.
A prime example is the idea that Islam oppresses women and that females have to go around wearing what I like to call a black post box. This is not written anywhere in the Qu’ran. Instead, it teaches followers to dress modestly. Clothing can be from any fashion or culture so long as it is modest, and you should try to integrate with the local culture. Eventually this cultural practice became associated with the religion and is generally viewed by the general public as a religious custom.
If you read the religious texts for yourself you will see that Islam promotes equality between the sexes. Muhammed’s wife Khadija was a very successful businesswoman (whom he cherished and revered). In the Qu’ran women have been given many rights regarding property and education, they can work provided they do not neglect their family, they can retain their own earnings, and they are entitled to their husband’s earnings (as at the time many women did not work).
Education for women is also encouraged. Historically women played an important role in the foundation of many Islamic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri’s founding of the University of Al Karaouine in 859 CE. Yet I have come across men who treat their wives in a subservient manner, cherish a son more than a daughter, and do not believe in educating women. Furthermore, they feel that it’s fine for them to ogle women on the street but should a Muslim sister put a toe out of place all hell will break loose. Many men simply pick and chose passages out of context to create double standards. Up until recently men dominated women, and major concepts have been warped and implemented to suit their own preferences.
One example is idea that men can have 4 wives. This was put into place to preserve women’s dignity when they were widowed. It was often very difficult for a widow to earn a living, and in many cases they resorted to prostitution. There weren’t enough men around to marry all of the women, so they were allowed to have 4 wives as long as they were all treated equally. The problem doesn’t exist in this day and age, so very few Muslim men have more than one wife, and the ones that do are doing it in self-interest and not to uphold any Islamic values.
However it also has to be said that women have also corrupted some of the messages being taught be trying to exploit ‘loopholes’.
Many young women, particularly from the Middle East, are covered from head to toe, but they wear flashy designer attire that is very fitted and a ridiculous amount of makeup. Where is the modesty in that? It seems the idea of modesty has been translated simply to covering your hair. It’s hardly a surprise that some of the best places for cosmetic surgery, particularly rhinoplasty, are in Muslim dominated countries such as Iran.
The annoying thing is that the idea of modesty, and many other teachings, are shared with Christianity and Judaism yet the attitude adopted towards those religions is very different. For example, Christian nuns cover their heads and dress almost identically to some of the more orthodox Muslim women, are not perceived to be oppressed. However, many Muslim women who individually choose to wear the hijab (head scarf) are labelled as victims of a chauvinistic religion. A teacher once tried to convince me to ‘liberate’ some of my hijab-wearing friends as she was under the illusion they were ‘brainwashed’ or forced to wear it, when in reality they wore it by choice. It seemed rather hypocritical when the same teacher often promoted her own belief that people, women in particular, should be free to do, say and wear whatever they want.
Another misconception is that Islam is very aggressive towards other religions and promotes terrorism. The word ’Islam’ means peace and encourages tolerance to all religions and faiths. With regards to attitudes towards Christianity and Judaism, Muslim men are allowed to marry people from those religions, known as people of the book. Muslim women are only allowed to marry Muslim men but this is context related, as historically children were brought up with the father’s name and religion, and things have changed in the modern world. My aunt married a Christian man and their children were brought up with both sets of values (the majority of which overlap).
Acts of terrorism are also forbidden. It is the gravest sin to commit suicide and to kill others. The term ‘Jihad’ is loosely thrown around and used to justify heinous acts. ‘Jihad’ does not mean ‘holy war’ but actually means ‘struggle’. The phrase internal Jihad or greater Jihad refers to the efforts of a believer to live their Muslim faith as well as possible, by upholding the 5 pillars of Islam (prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage and monotheism).
So where does the concept of terrorism fit in?
It comes from misinterpretation.
Muhammed said, ‘The best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled’, but this is under a battlefield context. The general application is ‘The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive Sultan’, which is the statement by which the majority of Muslims abide.
Muslims do not hate Jesus. He is one of prophets in Islam, but he is not seen as the son of god but rather a ‘sun’ of god, in that his teachings light up the path to God. In Islam, he is second only to Muhammed.
Islam is often perceived as being conservative, traditional, and outdated, but there is a great deal of similarity between the way orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims conduct themselves (excluding the mental terrorist ‘Muslims’ mentioned before). This makes a great deal of sense as Islam is based on these two religions. The real reason why the religion is misunderstood is that muslims abide by their rules more, or at least try to based of their own understanding. An example of this is that many people claim to be Christian, yet the basic 10 Commandments (in particular ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’) are rarely upheld. If anything the current generation considers chastity a sin.
I could go on for a very long time in this vein, debunking myths about the religion, but what I will end on is this. Don’t listen to what people tell you, as more often than not they wax lyrical about things they are woefully ignorant about. Instead why don’t you try going directly to the source itself, try reading the Qu’ran, in English or whatever language you want, it doesn’t have to be Arabic. I’m not trying to convert you, as despite having a Muslim name I am very much agnostic. I just think, as with many things regarding culture and faith, that the true meaning has been lost through people telling and retelling things in their own words, as well choosing to omit parts they don’t like. When you read it for yourself you will see it is a very open and tolerant religion with many good values.