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Islam as the World’s Most Misunderstood Religion: The Problem of Stereotyping

The word “Islam” is imbued with a plethora of complex and quite frequently misguided perceptions, most of which are based on the stereotypical idea of the Muslim religion and culture. Unfortunately, due to the tremendous misrepresentation of Islam and Muslim culture in the media, a significant number of harmful stereotypes about Muslim religion and Islam have been perpetuated, causing the discrimination of Muslim people.

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In discussions regarding Islam and its major principles, the concept of gender roles and the relationships between men and women is often highlighted as one of the most problematic aspects of Muslim religion. Specifically, most non-Muslim people tend to believe that women are perceived as inferior to men and stripped of their rights in Islam. However, the specified stance on the role of a woman in Islam could not be further away from the truth. Quran specifically outlines that women are to be venerated and appreciated: “Nevertheless, the wide scholarly attention regarding the stereotyping and othering of Muslim women in contemporary public debate contrasts sharply with that regarding how Muslim women deal with this” (van Es 377).

Admittedly, the focus on the tremendous effort that women make when becoming mothers and wives might seem skewed to a foreigner when compared to the perception of women in the workplace according to Muslim culture. For example, Bint Anis mentions that “An ideal relationship between men and women in Islam is that of mutual support, trust and honour” (41). However, the described phenomenon does not signify that the contribution of female workers is downplayed in Islam; instead, it shows the tremendous appreciation for mothers that Islam has compared to other religions and cultures. Therefore, the current assumption that gender roles are restrictive to the point of infringing upon women’s rights in the Muslim culture is quite far from the truth. Instead, Islam seeks to protect women from the threats that male violence may pose to them, therefore, ensuring that gender norms should not be used to the detriment of women as a vulnerable social group and sex class. The specified assertion can be supported by Ghodrati’s research, which indicates that “There is no verse in the Holy Qur’an that declares judgment on women’s work” (562). Therefore, reinforced gender oppression, of which Islam is typically accused, is not characteristic for the Muslim religion.

Another myth that has been circulating both in the media and in communities across the globe is that one of Islam is the religious philosophy that promotes violence. The specified misconception is particularly harmful to the Muslim community since it creates a very hostile environment for Muslim people, with them being seen as the immediate source of threat (Al-Tarawneh 102). Moreover, the promotion and further spreading of the specified myth have led to the instances of violence against Muslim people (Al-Tarawneh 118). Therefore, the idea that Islam promoted violent and hateful messages is not only erroneous and offensive, but also dangerous to Muslim people.

Arguably, the point that the proponents of the specified idea misrepresenting Islam are trying to make could be understood given the general lack of knowledge about Muslim religion among Western people. Namely, the media coverage of the radicalized Muslim people that committed acts of terror to promote their agenda has been skewed noticeably toward blaming Islam and its values for the tragedy that occurred: “Investigators have found evidence that Farook, an American citizen with Pakistani parents, and Malik, a Pakistani national, had become radicalized before their July 2014 marriage, talking online about jihad and martyrdom before meeting each other in person” (Powell p. 5). Remarkably, in the specified isolated incident, the reporters did not even attempt at fact-checking the information that thy dispersed and that eventually turned out to be misleading, at best, and false, at worst.

The described reaction to the undeniably tragic events that occurred to innocent citizens is, however, a completely misconceived idea of what Islam is and what values the Muslim religion promotes. Von Sikorski explains that the portrayal of terrorist attacks perpetrated by radicals as it is provided in the news does not necessarily imply a malicious intent but, instead, is a direct product of being misinformed, guided by fear, and willing to deliver the news that will draw the attention of a tremendous number of people (Al-Tarawneh 104). Specifically, von Sikorski states that “when news reports addressing Islamist terrorism do not explicitly differentiate the outgroup categories of Islamist terrorists from Muslims in general, non-Muslim news consumers are liable to perceive that the two categories overlap” (206). Thus, von Sikorski indicates that there is the need to differentiate between Islamic people and Islamic terrorists, the latter representing a fringe group that itself has misinterpreted the principal ideas and wisdom of Quran and, spearheaded by hatred and emotions, attacks innocent civilians.

However, if people that equate Islamic terrorists to Muslim people that follow the Islam faith consider the actual teachings of Prophet Muhammad and the actual stance on violence that Quran asserts, they will realize that Islam has nothing to do with the acts of violence that fringe groups commit. For instance, Quran establishes the principles of peace as the guiding rules for confronting conflicts (Powell 257). What appears to lie at the forefront of the miscommunication that has caused the specified perception of Islam as the source of terrorism is the statement regarding the right to self-defense mentioned in Quran 22:40-41 (Powell 257). Therefore, the idea that Islam and the Muslim faith somehow promote violence or incite terrorist attacks is an absurd product of ignorance about the true nature of the Muslim faith.

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Delving into the history of Muslim people and the challenged that they have faced as a religious community, one will recognize the continuous persecution of people with Islam-related beliefs (Powell 257). Documented in Quran, these numerous instances of violence produced the response that suggested resistance against intolerance and aggression toward Muslim people. However, modern Western media has misconstrued the notion, representing the specified passage as the call for violence against any non-Muslim person (Powell 257). As a result of the specified misunderstanding, Muslim people nowadays still face discrimination and prejudices, having to deal with violence caused by irrational fear.

In addition, the misinterpretation of a range of concepts found in Islam by western popular mass media has affected the extent to which Islam has been misunderstood in Europe and the U.S. Specifically, the notion of jihad mentioned above has been reiterated numerous times, yet the fundamental idea that constitutes the core of the specified notion, has been lost in the multiple instances of misrepresentation. Namely, the fact that violence against Muslims has been mostly ignored in the key Western popular media that have been informing citizens on the issue at hand (Al-Tarawneh 107).

Islam is associated with a plethora of stereotypes, particularly, in Western culture, which skews the perception of Muslim people for representatives of Western cultures to a significant degree. Therefore, Islam can be considered the most misrepresented religion in the world, particularly, as far as its philosophy of gender and the stance on violence is concerned. Partially due to the difficulties associated with the translation and understanding of Quran, and partially due to the unwillingness to concede and change one’s perception of the world and the vision of others. Nonetheless, even being significantly different from other religions and philosophies in some of its premises and postulates, Islam is, and always has been, peaceful and appreciative of intercultural differences, as well as the differences between sexes. The misguided approach to the specified issues can be explained by the problems in the interpretation of the Quran and the ideas that it promotes.

Therefore, there is a strong and quite urgent need to change the present perception of Islam as violent and hateful religion. By encouraging self-education and providing useful resources that offer the most accurate translation and interpretation of Quran and its key ideas, one will be able to change people’s current view of Islam. Moreover, sharing knowledge, philosophical tenets, and ethical principles that lie at the core of the Muslim religion may help to encourage tolerance and cooperation between people belonging to different religions and denominations. As a result, the Muslim community will finally be relieved of at least a certain degree of discrimination and persecution that it has been facing throughout its history.

Works Cited

Al-Tarawneh, Alalddin. “The Role of Quran Translations in Radicalizing Muslims in the West and Misrepresenting Islam.” Journal of Religion and Violence, vol. 9, no. 1, 2021, pp. 101-122.

Bint Anis, Rehnuma. “Asiyah, Maryam and Khadijah as Role Models for Contemporary Muslim Women.” IIUM Journal of Human Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, 2019, pp. 30-42.

Ghodrati, Fatemeh. “Investigation of the Right of Women to Work in Islam Based on Quranic Verses and Narrations.” International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding, vol. 7, no. 2, 2020, pp. 561-566.

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Powell, Kimberly A. “Framing Islam/creating fear: An analysis of US media coverage of terrorism from 2011–2016.” Religions, vol. 9, no. 9, 2018, p. 257.

Van Es, Margaretha A. “Muslim Women as ‘Ambassadors’ of Islam: Breaking Stereotypes in Everyday Life.” Identities, vol. 26, no. 4, 2019, pp. 375-392.

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