Islam ranks high in the list of most misunderstood or misrepresented religions in the world. Its holy book called the Quran continues to receive different interpretations by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Although ascribing different meaning to various verses of the holy book is not unique to Quran, in Islam some of the interpretations have been used to justify actions that many people consider wrong. The interpretations vary by country and culture. Nonetheless, two general views that are given attention in literature are Western and Muslim perspectives. Many people in Western and American countries believe that Islam oppresses women. They also associate Islam with abuse of human rights, fundamentalism, and violence. Besides, they consider Islam as an Arab religion. They support their views about Islam via various interpretations of the passages in Quran. The Muslims on the other hand, through their scholars, espouses the perspective that Islam is inclusive, fair and genuine religion. This paper explores different of Islam in various parts of the world with special focus on Western and Islamic states.
One of the most contested views in Islam is the position of women in the religion. Many non-Muslims, feminists, and human right activists especially from Western nations see Islam as a religion that oppresses women. They argue that there are some principles and values held by Muslims that tilt the balance of power relations between men and women. The oppressions are legitimized by the Sharia which is a body of law derived from Quran and Hadith that govern the conduct of individuals in a given Islamic jurisdiction. The interpretations of Quran are conducted in a patriarchal manner by male Islamic scholars. The Quran stresses that women should be obedient to their men who are the providers and protectors of their families. Chapter four verse thirty-four of the Quran says, “Men are in charge of women by what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend from their wealth. So, righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in absence what Allah would have them, guard.” The Quran sort of allow the beating of disobedient women. Chapter thirty-eight verse forty-four of the Quran says, “And takes in your hand a bunch and strikes with it and do not break your oath.”
Western feminists often blame Quran for the objectification of women in Islam. They argue that the Quran requires wives to meet the sexual demands obediently. Besides, it allows men to marry at most four women against their will. Their argument is premised on chapter two verse two hundred and twenty-three of the Quran that says “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth for yourselves.” The Islamic teaching emphasizes on the exhibition of modest women behavior in public life. Consequently, the veilings of women and girls, hijabs, are valued practices in Islamic culture. Such practices are considered as violence against women and symbols of oppression by contemporary American and Western feminists. The portrayal of man as provider and protector of the family by the Quran partly contributed to low participation of Muslim women in economic and political activities. Other laws regarding inheritance and marriage in Islam are also largely viewed as biased to women. Some Muslim academicians have argued Islam treats women and men equally. They base their arguments on several chapters of Quran for example, chapter four verse one hundred and twenty-four that says, “And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged.”
According to Johnston, Muslims view human rights as a western idea which is part of the scheme to entrench colonial enterprise (120). He argues that although Islamic countries participated in the drafting of Universal Human Rights, those involved were primarily western educated. Many Muslims, for example, do not practice freedom even though it is a guaranteed as a right by the United Nations and to some extent allowed by Quran. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.” The Quran teaches that everyone has a right to choose to either believe or not to believe in supernatural being. Chapter two verse two and fifty-six says, “, There shall be no compulsion in the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So, whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it.” Johnson says that many Islamic followers mostly ignore the call for avoidance of compulsion by Muslims. The persecution of Christians is a real problem in forty-four Muslim Majority countries in North Africa, Middle East and Asia. Baker reveals that in countries such as Syria and Iraq, Christians are compelled to pay to remain professing their faith, or forced to convert to Muslims (36). The persecution of Christians makes many non-Muslims feel that Islam is an intolerant religion.
The article 16 of the UN rights declaration says that all men and women regardless of their religion are entitled to equal rights during marriage and its dissolution.” Women according to Quran have a right to half of the inheritance their male siblings get. The chapter four of verse twelve of the Quran says “Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” This passage has been interpreted to mean that women are not accorded same treatment as men by Islam. The dominant thinking among many Westerners and Americans is that Islam undermines women rights though the application of Sharia laws that put religious values above individual rights and freedoms. Muslim scholars who are opposed to this argue that Islam values human dignity and equality, which are tenets of human rights. They often cite chapter forty-nine verse thirteen of the Quran which says that “O mankind, indeed, We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”
A small clique of Muslims especially from Islamic countries of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, view Islam as the only real and in the world. This view of Islam is often referred to as Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalist rejects Western philosophies of democracy, capitalism, and secularism. They hold that there is no difference between politics and religion. Consequently, the church and state are inseparable which is contrary to the ideals of democracy. They argue that some innate human attributes apply to all people irrespective of the political, cultural, social and economic conditions. They refer to all jurisdictions and systems that are outside Islam as jahiliyya (Zimmerman 224). Islamic fundamentalist sees the world in two perspectives. The first perspective is about people that accept Allah as true God and provider of all laws. The second view considers all people that are not followers of Islam as pagans. For them, individuals are either for Allah or against Him. They, therefore, endeavor to establish Islam as the only religion in the world and Islamic law as the sole source of legislation that governs people’s lives. The Islamic States that known to execute a series of terrorist activities in various places in the world aimed at establishing an Islamic system of government.
Radical Muslins view Quran as the unchallenged word of Allah that people of all over the world should strictly observe. The Quran is often interpreted as commanding Muslims to kill the people who are worshipping other Gods, Al-Fitnah, apart from Allah. The chapter two verse one hundred and ninety-one of the online Quran version says, “And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing.” This verse has been interpreted by fundamentalist to mean it is right for Muslims to kill individuals who do no profess Islamic faith namely Christians, Jews, Buddhist and even non-believers. This perspective is partly responsible for the persecution of non-Muslims in majority Muslim states. Islamic fundamentalism is largely recognized as Islamic radicalization in many Western nations. Radicalization is the processes of developing extreme religious belief to the point of accepting death for the sake of that conviction. Githens-Mazer argues that social exclusion, economic deprivation and prejudice against Muslim immigrants in Western nations are one of the contributing factors of radicalization (552). Although many countries view radicalization as a security threat, the Muslim fundamentalist sees it as means of revenging historical injustices and oppression of Muslim (Murshed and Sara 260).
Most people in the Western nations in Europe and Northern America view Islam as a militant religion that encourages violence against non-Muslims who are the majority in these countries. Militant nature of Islam is rooted in fundamentalist ideals of the religion. The interpretation of Islam as a violent religion by Westerners and non-Muslims is partly reinforced by the fact that most terrorist activities are executed by Islamic terrorist groups or criminals largely based in the Middle East. They include Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic States operating from lawless states of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iraq and Somalia. Indeed, whenever these terrorist organizations conduct a successful terrorist activity, they often call it a victory for Allah. Such actions have made it hard for non-adherents of Islamic faith world over to differentiate between terrorism and Islam. The interpretation that Muslims are violent is also shared by the United States president-elect, Donald Trump who has pledged to deny Muslims from Syria and Iraq entry into the United States. In Europe and America, Islam is associated with terrorism. After the 9/11 attacks, a substantial amount of religious and conservatives in the United States classified Islam as a security threat. As a result, a wave of Anti-Islam swept through the nation propagated by bloggers and conservative grassroots organizations.
The violent nature associated with Islam by people mostly from Western countries is largely drawn from some verses of Quran. Some Muslim scholars, for example, Khomeini picked specific verses of the Quran to craft violent version of Islam. These are the same passages that terrorist organizations invoke to justify their atrocious activities. Quran contains many controversial passages that may be interpreted to mean that Islam allows violence against some individuals under certain conditions. Chapter 2 verse one hundred and ninety-four of the online Quran says “So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. Chapter three verse one hundred and fifty-three of Quran say “And Allah had certainly fulfilled His promise to you when you were killing the enemy by His permission. These two verses together with other passages approve the killing of the enemies of the Islam. Wiktorowicz and Karl Kaltenthaler argue that Islamic terrorist groups promise selective spiritual incentives to the people who engage in terrorism activities such as suicide bombing. Miqdad rejects the notion that Islam is a violent religion by saying that Allah denounces violence in chapter sixty-one versus eight of the Quran that states, “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge.”
Moreover, Islam is often viewed as an Arab religion aimed at expanding its influence into other areas of the world. Even though this perspective is partially correct, it is not a wholesome view of the religion. Islam is one of the most popular religions in the world with over 1.6 billion followers according to Pew Research Center. The religion is virtually present in every country, city and culture in the world. In some states especially in, Asia, Middle-east, and North Africa, the Muslims are the majority. For example, in Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Bangladesh according to Pew Research Center, the Muslims accounts for over 90% of the population. In some countries mainly in Europe such as Ireland, Romania, Croatia and Portugal, Muslins makes below 2% of the population according to Pew Research Center. These countries regard the Muslims as minority groups, and consequently, they encounter disproportionate cases of discriminatory practices.
The notion that Islam is about Arabs is influenced by the fact that many followers of Islam are Arabs. Besides, Prophet, the central figure in Islam was from Arabia. According to Berger the consolidation and conquest of Islam began in the Middle East. He argues that from Muslims perspective, the world was divided into two dominions namely the Islam governed and house of war which is not ruled by Islam. Non-Muslims in were treated to belong to the house of war.
In conclusion, it is worth restating that different interpretation of Quran is not unique to Islam as a religion. However, in Islam, it is widely used by Muslim and non-Muslims in Western countries to reinforce their view about Islam. Most people in Western countries link Islam to the oppression of women, denial of fundamental human rights, possession of extreme religious beliefs and violence. This paper takes the position that even though these practices are associated with some sections of the Muslim community, they do not represent the correct and wholesome view of Islam.
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