10 Things You Didn’t Know about Islam
In a few short days Muslims will begin the most important event on the Islamic religious calendar – Ramadan. In preparation for this special month, Diana invited me to share some information about my faith. Please know, I’m not a scholar. I’ve been Muslim for 10 years and have spent a great deal of time learning the faith and understanding the cultural and religious nuances that exist. For the last year, I have been living in Morocco with my family and this will be my first Ramadan outside of the United States! Some of the points I’ll discuss below you may already know but I hope for those who have had little or no exposure to the Islamic faith I’m able to give you a good overview.
1. Islam and Muslims I’ve heard people use these two terms interchangeably. Islam is the name of the religion and Muslims are the people that practice the religion.
2. The God that Muslims Worship is the same as the God Jews and Christians worship. Muslims do not worship a different God from the other monotheistic faiths. In Arabic the word for God is Allah. It’s the same word for God used by the world’s Arabic speaking Christians. In fact 10% of the Arab world’s population is Christian; 14 million people, and more than the entire Jewish population in the world. Whether you say Allah, God, or Yahweh it’s referring to the same entity. Muslims do not worship the prophet Muhammad. He is revered as a great man, who delivered the word of God to people. But, he is not God, nor do Muslims elevate him as such. It is against Islam to worship anyone but God, this is also where the divergence of Islam and Christianity occurs.
3. The basis of Islam The Islamic religion is centered around 5 basic pillars – think of it like the framing walls of a house. The pillars are a) the testament of faith b) praying 5 times a day c) fasting during Ramadan d) giving charity to the poor and e) making the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime if physically and financially possible. The other details and protocols are the remaining parts of the house, the details. Without the supporting walls the house falls down
4. Muslims don’t worship the moon. This is a misconception some people have. Muslims (and Jews) use a lunar cycle to time our calendar years. In the Islamic calculation, each month has either 29 or 30 days. Traditionally, the first day of each month is the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the crescent moon shortly after sunset. If the moon is not observed immediately after the 29th day of a month (either because clouds block its view or because the western sky is still too bright when the moon sets), then the day that begins at that sunset is the 30th. This was an easy way for people to track time and has continued today. Long before there were watches and clocks, the sun and moon provided a cycle that people could observe and use to track time.
5. Jesus is in the Qu’ran. Muslims very much believe and revere Jesus as a prophet of Islam. In fact Jesus is mentioned more times in Islamic scripture than Muhammad. Maryam (Mary) the mother of Jesus, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an and one of the chapters of the Qur’an is titled Maryam. Where things change is that we do not believe Jesus had an earthly father. We also do not believe in the Christian story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nor do we believe in the concept of the trinity.
6. Sunnis and Shi’ite I decided to include this point because there’s so much on the news about Sunni’s and Shi’ite especially in Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Similar to the Catholic/Protestant split in Christianity, there was a point in history when the Muslim communities split. When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 there was a dispute over who would lead the community. Essentially both believe in the Quran but there are differences when it comes to the interpretation of Islamic law and hadith. Over 80% of the world’s Muslim population is Sunni, and most of the remaining portion is Shi’ite. In many countries that have a population of both sects, the people themselves get along with few issues, however in regions of conflict religion has been and is currently being used as a tool to gain power and legitimacy.
7. Muslims Don’t Hate Women There are A LOT of myths that surround women and Islam. In fact, I believed most of them for a long time. In reality, women are not valued less than men because of Islam. In many cultures that are Muslim the treatment of women is poor. Some people and societies use religion as a justification for their actions, but that doesn’t mean they are acting in accordance with Islam. There is a hadith (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad) that says; “A man once asked the Prophet to whom he should show the most kindness. The Prophet replied: “Your mother, next your mother, next your mother, and then your father.” (Sunan of Abu-Dawood)” Islam is very clear that it is a man’s responsibility to care for his family financially and for a woman to care for her children and home. This doesn’t mean a woman is worth less than a man but that there are roles for them each to play in a family. If a woman chooses to work, she is permitted to do so, and the money that she earns is hers and hers alone. She is not required to use this money towards family expenses – this is her husbands’ responsibility.
8. Women and Hijab In the west this is such a hot topic. When we moved to Morocco one of the very first questions people asked was, “Oh so you have to wear that thing on your head then?” No, there’s no compulsion to wear a headscarf. You may even be surprised to know the majority of Muslim women CHOOSE to wear hijab. Hijab means more than just a headscarf. It describes the conservative way of dress and behavior for Muslim women. Niqab refers to the facial veil plus headscarf, while burqa means the full facial covering, including mesh over the eyes (most common in Afghanistan). Women wear hijab for many reasons; some because of personal conviction, family tradition, cultural norms, or in some cases state mandate. Would you be surprised to know there are Muslim countries that BAN the wearing of hijab? Tunisia and Turkey are two examples. Here in Morocco, I’m just as likely to see a Muslim girl wearing skinny jeans and a t-shirt as I am to see a woman in niqab.
9. Segregation The issue of segregation has some religious bearing but a lot also boils down to culture (again). In some cultures there is very strict segregation between men and women. Even in the immediate family, families they might not eat together. There are others where this concept is strange. In the Islamic faith, women and men are segregated when praying, with women in another room or the back of the prayer hall. This isn’t because they’re being shoved out of sight and out of the way, it’s because the Islamic prayer ritual is very physical, involving bending over and prostrating. Few western women I know would want to do that in front of a man! Women stand with women to pray as a means of modesty.
10. The Ramadan Thing Because Ramadan is around the corner I wanted to include some information on this. Ramadan is the 9th month on the Islamic calendar and Muslims believe it is when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During the month Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, engaging in any sexual activity, or other inappropriate behavior from sunrise to sunset. The purpose is to focus on God, remembering the suffering of those who go without, and worship. Reading the entire Quran over the month is also recommended. Once the sun sets people partake in an iftar (fast breaking). There are special foods prepared for this meal but the initial fast breaking happens with dates and water or milk. This is followed by the evening prayer and a dinner meal. People pray special prayers late into the evening known as tahraweh, sleep a few hours and rise before sunrise to eat a breakfast meal. In summer months, when days are long there’s not much time to sleep or eat! If you work with or are friends with Muslims observing Ramadan grant them a little extra grace this month! I hope through this post you learned a little bit about Islam. If you have questions or would like to learn more leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!
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