I caused quite a stir when I told a group of non-Muslim friends I am an Islamist. I exacerbated issues when I said I am committed to the principles of jihad as prescribed in the holy Quran. Comments that followed were expected; “Run for cover, we have Boko haram, ISIS, Taliban in our midst”.
I felt awful, but did not fault them because I thought they have consumed too much western media propaganda. For years on end, western media misrepresentation of Islam in their reportage has made Islam the most misunderstood religion in the world. I found their comments normal because they say, repeat a lie over and over again and it becomes the truth.
This bias which is subconsciously implanted by the media, has more to do with myths and not facts. These myths help further create a wedge between “us” (the West) and “them” (Islamic world). The “them”, which constitutes 1.6 billion of the population, are not homogeneous by any stretch of the mind, yet the myths that are spewed as facts put “them” together as one unitary and barbaric block.
Anti-Islam reportage was triggered by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the WTO towers and subsequently by the July 7, 2005, London subway attacks. And in recent years by the activities of ISIS and Boko Haram.
A 2009 polls conducted by Howe in the US and UK showed that 54% of respondents do not personally know anyone who practices Islam. Only about 41% of those polled knew that Allah means God and the Koran is the holy book for Muslims. People therefore rely heavily on media as their only source of information about Islam and Muslims which is unfortunately mostly about suicide bombings and killings in the predominantly Muslim Middle East.
One of the most misreported area of Islam is women’s right. Islam respects and protects women and that can be found all in the Quran including chapter 2.226 which says “And for women are rights over men / similar to those of men over women”. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) stated, “Women are the twin halves of men”. Over fourteen hundred years ago Islam gave women their rights which women in the West have only been given during the last century. Rights such as the to own property, the right to inherit and the right to make a contract in ones own name were given to women. It is only in the last hundred years that England recognized the right of women to property but Islam allowed that centuries ago.
Acts such as Female Genital Cutting (FGC) were eliminated under Muhammad (PBUH) and his early followers. Yet Fox News and other media outlets always perpetuate this action as part of Islam. In reality, according to UNICEF, 29 countries practice FGM. Out of these 29 nations, 27 are in Africa and most of those nations are not Muslim majority. The only two Middle Eastern countries that practice FGC is Yemen and Iraq. The problem is, the media still finds it byzantine separating Arab culture from Islamic doctrine. Besides not all Arabs are Muslim.
The word Jihad has become synonymous with Islam and terrorism. Thanks to the extremists like Al Qaeda and ISIS, this term has come to be portrayed as the means to the Islamic utopia of a global caliphate. This concept of Jihad is misinterpreted and exploited by the terrorists’ organizations to fit their agenda of power and control. The media has taken the definition of the terrorists, which is unislamic, yet disseminate it as if it was a Quranic definition. Jihad simply refers to the struggle within oneself to be righteous and pure. Meaning, when you adopt an orphan or feed the poor, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, it is jihad.
Fatwas (religious decree) have been given by many past and present Islamic scholars decreeing that suicide bombing is illegal and unislamic. One of the most popular fatwas, endorsed by Al Azhar, the oldest Islamic University in the world was published in England directly refuting the Al Qaeda and Taliban ideology as unislamic.
May I end with a passionate plea to the media to desist from negative reportage because, just as it would not be fair to paint all Christians with a single stroke of brush for the actions of Adam Lanza who murdered nearly 30 toddlers at Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, it will equally not be fair to judge all Muslims for the actions of some few lunatics.
May I urge my fellow Muslims to live exemplary lives and abstain from acts of violence especially in an election year as it only adds to the negative press against Islam.
Foreign Policy and Security Analyst
– See more at: http://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/2016/February-28th/islam-a-misunderstood-doctrine.php#sthash.jJfpyVUE.dpuf