Through my interfaith work and other NGO’s that I support, such as Dining for Women, I am privileged to make new friendships and get to know women, and men sometimes, that are seeking new knowledge, that have compassion and empathy and that are determined to reclaim America’s values of fairness, equality, opportunity and so many other beautiful qualities that seem to evaporate daily in front of our eyes. Two of them- Monica Weiss and Lisa Hochman – who are active with the Rotary Club- asked me to speak at one of their meetings about Islam, and to focus on new knowledge and insights that would shatter the myths and misinformation about Islam. I found myself preparing to talk about Islam, which I feel so unqualified to do, again after many years, as I did it quite frequently after 9/11.
The first point I made is that I was a happy Pakistani American making my contributions to our society as any happy immigrant wants to do. And I shared my pride in raising four accomplished children, a lawyer, doctor, periodontist and digital strategist, just like any good Jewish family! Then 9/11 happened, and overnight all 1.7B Muslims were held accountable for the acts of a criminal few, which made us reluctant American Muslim ambassadors trying to defend a global faith – how is that even possible? It is clearly not, and some of us are fatigued from the constant barrage; but we do it because 9/11 also caused us to look and learn within. For me, it increased my faith and spirituality as I relearned more about what Islam really teaches, which is so different from what it is practiced in the 57 Islamic countries around the world.
The second important point is that there is a deliberate defamation of Islam to the tune of $1.5B being carried out by certain groups and individuals, many of them in important jobs like John Bolton (surprise, surprise) which enables the racism, hate and violence domestically, and supports the empire’s foreign policy goals internationally. Throughout history, scapegoats are created and hate is manufactured when leaders want to distract attention, and this is no different, only more systematic, global and technologically enabled. However, no worries: in the era of Trump, we are not alone in being attacked. Democracy itself is! Watch https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy
So what are the most common myths about Islam that amuse or annoy us but scare others?
- Impostor religion – that Allah is not the same as the Christian God or the Jewish God, and that Mohammed was not a real prophet. Muslims on the other hand revere Jesus and Moses and both are mentioned more in the Quran than Prophet Mohammed himself.
- Violence- that Islam was spread by violence, when in fact history shows that Islam was embraced by its very own attackers, such as the Mongols in the 12th century. In India, my ancestors embraced it through Sufi saints who sang the praises of the Creator and preached equality, rather than a caste system.
- Jihad- what is Jihad really, and why do extremists claim that they will get into heaven and be rewarded for suicide? Suicide is forbidden in Islam, and even harming civilians in war is strictly forbidden. Modern warfare began to target civilians (think of Nagasaki and Hiroshima). There is also no mention of 72 virgins in the Quran, again showing how easy it is to hijack faith.
- Islam and Culture- I shared how my children’s weddings were more like Indian weddings than Egyptian weddings, because Islam adapted many of the local cultural traditions. The negative impact of that of course is that tribal customs, such as honor killings, subjugating women, FGM, and many other cultural practices remained in Muslim countries, especially in the poorer regions. On the other hand, colonialists left behind an elite secular ruling class that created a “cultural tear” in society (Moving the Mountain & What’s Right with Islam by Imam Feisal Rauf); these elites act and behave like colonialists of times past, creating new class systems in countries like Pakistan.
- Women’s role- Islam gave many rights and responsibilities to men and women; for women in 6th century, these were revolutionary, such as the right to divorce, own and keep one’s own property, right to seek knowledge and right to conduct business. Yet we find ourselves still working so hard to reclaim these rights, as culture trumped faith.
- Sharia- what is Sharia law and why are Americans so scared of it? I shared the principles of Sharia which is essentially all about leading a good life and following the practices outlined in the Quran. I had never even heard of the term in my own family until Anti-Sharia Activists started their fear campaign here. Ordinary Americans are being told that Sharia law could replace the US Constitution, which itself is against the Sharia law about the law of the land being supreme.
These were only a few of the myths that I talked about as a poorly educated (in Islam) layperson, with many references for the listeners to refer to later – a great resource is the WISE-UP Report edited by Daisy Khan with contributions from over 50 scholars – see
https://wisemuslimwomen.org/projects/wise-up/ . We all agreed that educating younger generations about all faiths and regligions without bias is important, and teaching critical thinking so they can not be easily misled.