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Do We Truly Understand Islam?

After serving in the United States Marine Corps for five years, going to college now for three years, watching the news, politicians, religious leaders, and so on, I ask myself, do people truly understand what Islam is all about, and beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, the different nuances and such that make up Islam as a whole.

I am not going to answer questions or try to explain anything in this post, I am saving that for later, but here are some questions that arise in my head:

Do people realize that Islam simply means “Submission?”

Do people realize that Muslims believe that thge Qur’an is THE WORD of God (Allah), not the inspired word. Arabic is considered the language of the angels, the words recited (Qur’an means “Recitation”) to Muhammad, by the angel Gabriel, are the EXACT words of Allah, word for word, in Arabic. Because of this, any “translation” of the Qur’an in any language other then Arabic is not considered a translation, but a “definition” of the meaning of the Qur’an.

Do people understand the difference, and the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims? To compound this even more, the conflict between the Wahhabi and the Shia, as well as the Wahhabi and the Sufi?

Do people even understand what a Sufi is? Or a Wahhabi?

Do people realize that there is more then one “version” of Islamic Law? That the Qur’an is not the only authoritative text from the period, but you also have numerous Hadithe? Therefore it is never enough to say to a Muslim that “this or that” is not in the Qur’an so how can you justify it?

Do people realize that once Muhammad had “cleaned” up Yathrib (Medina) from the “traitorous” Jews, that Muslims, Jews, and even Christians lived in relative peace – North Africa can be seen as an exception, however, many conversions were not forced, and those not converting at first were allowed to follow their own religious practices, and yes I also acknowledge the conquest of the Holy Land – until the Crusades – and that the Crusades truly had nothing ot do with liberating the Holy Land, but that the Eastern Emperor wanted his power back, and the Pope wanted a foothold in the East again since the Church has split (officially) forty years prior.

Do we understand that Islam is a religion of “peace,” at least as much as Judaism and Christianity are. Do we understand that the “average” Muslim is probably less “extreme” then the average Christian – i.e. “fundamentalist?”

Do we understand that Muhammad’s intentions were a) to bring the Arabian Peninsula together b) to get rid of paganism and c)to promote the worship of the “One God,” which in Arabic is Allah (in Hebrew El)? He understood that paganism was being used to exploit the people of Mecca and the surrounding area, i.e. the rich get richer, the poor get poorer – ironic since his wife was one of the richest people, due to her inheriting her former husband’s caravan company, which Muhammad ran even more effectively… then left at the age of 40 to go “into the mountains”

Anyways, I think I could go on and on. Am I saying that I “believe” in Islam, no, because I do not. However, I believe that many people do not have a correct understanding of what Islam is truly about. It would be like someone not knowing what Christianity was all about and then trying to understand Catholics based on Southern Baptists, and Presbyterians based on Ethiopian Orthodox. Then, on top of that, trying to make them conform to ideals which run contrary to their entire belief system, and trying to force Catholics to live with Baptists and Baptists with Episcopalians and Episcopalians with Evangelican Charismatics.

Islam is complex, and yet at times more simpler then Christianity to understand. One must just be willing to do the research, the reading, and ask the questions that are necessary. One must be willing to look beyond their preconceptions and their own prejudice, their own pre conceived notions and “understandings.” One must be willing to take blame and responsibility and place it on more then one group.


8 thoughts on “Do We Truly Understand Islam?

  1. Jared

    Really good post which asks all the right questions. The fact is that most Americans are ignorant of Islam and rely on talk radio or websites like World Net Daily to get often highly prejudiced and inflammatory information which both dehumanizes and demonizes Moslems. I am not a Moslem but understand and respect them and have friends in the United States and the Middle East who are faithful Moslems who are tolerant and respectful of others.



  2. Thanks Fr. Steve! Yeah I know, I had friends in the Marine Corps who are Muslim, etc.

    Another thought I had, if we are going to lump Islamic terrorists into the much broader scope of Islam, then we have to do the same for “Christian” terrorists – i.e. abortion clinic bombings, the KKK, even Nazi Germany in many cases – since Luther’s writings were used as justification for many.

    Of course, we cannot forget even more history – i.e. the British Isles, from the persecution of of reformists under Henry VIII, to the “Glorious” Revolution, to the oppression of Catholics, particularly the Irish, then the IRA, Sinn Fein, etc.

    Also, the Inquisition, the Huguenots, all of the wars fought in Europe over the Reformation, etc. Then even before that, with the persecutions of groups deemed heretical, such as the Cathars and the Templars. The “Christian” conquest of Europe, etc etc.

    It amazes me how we can lump a group of people together and stereotype them and not even look at ourselves and our own history.


  3. You should change the question like that: “Do Muslim people truly undertsand their religion?” No!!! Because they do not know their people. Some many sociological researches should be done city by city, town by town, village by village. I submitted this ide in a paper at the meeting Of American Socilogical Association in Montreal, in 2006. Men invest to reasearches to understand their world. Love. afk

  4. Marianne, though in many cases you have a point, your statement is simply not true. Likewise, you could say the same thing concerning both Christianity and Judaism. These three religions leave no room for democracy as a government structure (which in many cases I also agree with) nor does it promote toleration of anything other then itself – at least historically. However, both Christianity and Islam in their respective sacred texts both give room for toleration of other groups. Ironically, Christianity, historically, is for more intolerant of groups, both internal and external, then Islam, granted, Islam is roughly 600 years younger then Christianity.

  5. I am laughing on this question. In my point of view it should be like that “Do we truly understand each other?” Islam is bad. Christianity is bad. Islam is dead. Christianity is dead. What left in this world? Only those people who are called themselves expert on religions. Christians constitues over 2 Billion while Muslims 1.7 Billion people of the world and we still asking, Do we truly understand Islam. What is shameful act of questioning like these. I am just going to laughing once again.

  6. I do not think it is the institutions of either Christianity or Islam that are bad, but it is what they can and have become in the hands of men whose whole purpose isn’t “righteous.” Of course, no one’s whole purpose is righteous, but there are always individuals who use and manipulate these two religions for their own purposes and greed. IS Christianity and Islam dead? I don’t think so, like you pointed out, nearly 4 billion people proscribe to one of these religions, therefore, they are not dead. Dying? Now that is a possibility.

    Now for understanding Islam, just like understanding Christianity, and I will agree, most people understand neither: Not the history or the modern institution; it is imperative, at least for me, that people in western society… the supposed “Christian Society,” though it could not be any more far from it…. to understand the East, or “Islamic” society. Why? Simple, these two great societies have been at war for a thousand years, they have been interacting in trade and commerce for over one thousand years, they have been sharing philosophy and ancient learning for over a thousand years. They share a common religious “ancestry,” a common bond if you will, yet they are extremely different from one another. I believe it is fundamental to the efforts done by both the west, and the east, to “live together,” for each side to fully understand each other. Now for the west, you cannot simply look at “Christian” ideals, but for the east, the separation between religion and political power and precedence is much smaller. Therefore, for the west to understand the east, it must understand Islam. For a Christian to understand what he or she is reading or watching on the news, he or she must have a basic understanding of Islam… hell, if John McCain would have become President of the United States, he would have had to understand that the Shia Iranian government would not ever support the Wahhabi institutions of the group Al Quaeda, and that hatred goes back over 200 years! It was a ludicrous assumption to say that they were, and yet, the esteemed senator from Arizona did not understand or know this. If our government does not understand Islam, or the history of the Middle/Near East, how do we expect to get anything “right,” etc.

    If Christianity and Islam ARE dying, it is not because of the institutions, but because of the people who make them up. IT is because we have become ignorant, naive, intolerant, absolutist, and even in cases democratic. Yet, if we are dying, remember, unless you die and be buried in the ground, you cannot be reborn and live.


  7. peace jzholloway,

    you said:

    more accurately any translation is considered a translation of the meanings of the qur’an. since any translation will include the subjective interpretation of the translator in choosing one set of meanings over another.

    the qur’an, in arabic, is considered the exact word of god. muslims of all shades and stripes believe in this single book which has been preserved since the revelation. disagreements arise over interpretation. the majority of muslims (sunni and shia) believe that the qur’an must be interpreted as it was understood and enacted by prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). thus muslims have recorded the words and actions of the prophet. these comprise the book of hadith and sunnah. these are not considered revelation and they are not considered free from error. in fact a whole science of prophetic traditions evolved in the muslim world to rank these records with respect to their degree of authenticity. the sunni and shia disagree about which collection of hadith (sayings of the prophet) are authentic. consequently their interpretation of the qur’an varies. you should note, however, that the scope for differences is limited since everybody believes in the same qur’an.

    you said:
    you are free to have whatever opinion pleases you. however, it is well to know that this is not how muslims understand their history. i will recommend reading a biography of the prophet, e.g. “muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources” by martin lings.

    good luck with your research.

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