Debunking Some Myths About (Gasp!): Muslims and Arabs
Hi, I’m Sarah.
I’m here to serve as your token Arab friend for the sake of this blog post, but please keep in mind that I am not the sole representative for all Arabs or Muslims across the globe, so please, use this posting as an introductory session to your education of Arab-Muslim affairs.
I am addressing just a few of the most common myths about Arabs or Muslims I have heard in my short lifetime thus far.
There are definitely more but alas, I’m only one person.
Not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Arab.
The two aren’t interchangeable! Arab is an ethnicity. A Muslim is a follower of the religion of Islam, just as a Christian is a follower of the religion of Christianity. Most Arabs reside in the Middle East, which is an unofficial label for the mass of Arab countries residing in Europe and Africa. The most basic map of the Middle East includes Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. There are close to 2 billion Muslims in the world. Believe it or not, Indonesia actually has the most Muslims in the world, with about 62% of the population identifying with Islam.
Not all Arabs speak Arabic.
For example, out of all the countries that encompass the Middle East, there are about 60 languages spoken including, Turkish, Hebrew, Kurdish, etc.
Allah isn’t some cynical code for evil.
Prepare for some major insight into Islam, its conservatism, and dress. Allah literally translates to G-d in Arabic. Like any other kindred, holy spirit.
Islam does not encourage terrorism.
Religion is a moral code for life. If you actually read the Qur’an, you’d find that it is an incredibly peaceful religion, like practically all religions in existence because… that’s the point. Referring back to my fourth point, when authoritative governments assert their views on religion, dictatorial restrictions can be placed to enforce their theology. That’s why I value a separation between church and state. Sure, religion can provide a motive for your reason as a politician for siding with a specific decision, but your interpretation of a religious text shouldn’t be enforced on others. Guys, all these “Islamic” terrorist extremists do not represent the religion of Islam as it should be. These terrorist groups are killing other Muslims… They are wiping out entire neighborhoods of their own kind. Most Muslims, like 99% of them, denounce the actions of terrorists, and often flee war zones in search of a better life. Most Christians don’t agree with the values of the KKK, but we don’t just associate all Christians with racist, homophobic, xenophobes. Same thing.
The Call to Prayer is played at the start of the five daily prayers. I am no longer a practicing Muslim, but I find such solace in hearing the muezzin recite the call. It’s so angelical and majestic, and unlike anything I’ve ever heard in my life. The rough translation of the Call to Prayer is, “God is the greatest. I testify there is no God but Allah. I testify that Mohammed is God’s prophet. Come to prayer.” That’s it. There isn’t a chanting of world duress or evil.
Women are not oppressed in Islam.
Technically, Muslim women are encouraged to prosper and thrive. “Two of the agreed upon principles of Islamic law: rationality (‘illah; when a reason for a law disappears, so must the law) and public interest (maslahah; Islamic laws must serve the public interests, including those of women) are important foundations for revising patriarchal laws and re-engaging in ijtihad. As such, Muslim women’s rights can be attained through these Islamic jurisprudential principles and requirements” (Kharroub).
Just like any religious text, it is important to consider the context of the entire story and the period of time to which the earliest interpretations were prescribed. “According to Dr. Aziza al-Hibri, professor emerita of Law at the University of Richmond and one of the leading scholars in Islamic law and human rights; medieval Islamic jurisprudence and the dominant schools in ijtihad adopted today, are largely influenced by the patriarchal traditions of their times. These patriarchal cultural assumptions became deeply rooted in ijtihads and Islamic jurisprudence to the point that such patriarchal structures are inaccurately believed to come from the Qur’anic text itself” (Kharroub).
Stories of abusive and oppressed women and girls often derive when government or authority figures enforce their own interpretations of Islam upon its community. The foundation of Islam pronounces the consideration towards women, orphans and the poor. Islam, just like all other religions, are meant to be interpreted and followed by the practicers of the faith independently. This leads seamlessly into my next point.
Violence and corruption in the Middle East is not normal.
For years, it has been a normalized concept. The Arab-Israeli conflict, poor legislative leadership in Morocco, Jordan, etc., Al-Qaeda, the Syrian conflict, the Yemeni civil war, the bombing in Beirut, and more. This isn’t normal but the media is forever tainted the Western world’s ability to empathize in a post 9/11-era.
Muslims believe in Jesus.
I’m about to blow your mind. The three main monotheistic religions all believe in the same G-d. The main differences between these religions are the stories scribed in their text. Christians believe Jesus is the son of G-d, gifted to the Virgin Mary. Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection provided salvation and a promise of an eternal life. Muslims believe G-d is its own genderless, faceless entity that cannot have off-spring, and believe Jesus was a prophet. Jews don’t regard Jesus as a prophet as it is believed he failed to fulfill the prophecies. It’s actually incredibly interesting to read the differences between the three religions, and understand the connections. The beauty of religion is that it’s a personal conviction that can shape you as a person, however no one on this planet knows the truth. Until our passing, we are as clueless as our neighbor. Respect the differences and keep it pushing people.
Muslims have sub-groups, too.
Just as Christianity is divided into groups, so is Islam. The main groups of Islam are Sunni and Shia. The fundamental beliefs are shared, but they remain divided on who the successor of the Prophet Mohammed is. About 85% of Muslims identify as Sunni Muslims, but the groups can pray and live civilly together.
Not all Arab or Muslim women are expected to be submissive.
I believe this is transitioning into more of a generational expectation that will phase out overtime. Depending on where you reside in the world, and what your cultural and family environment is like, it is common for women to experience a double standard. Ultimately, the truth of this rests on the woman herself and the resources available to her. Some families may raise their children as equals. Some women may enjoy working as a stay-at-home parent. Some spouses may not have an expectation that their partner cooks and cleans. I have noticed some Arab or Muslim peers or extended family who do expect women to be more submissive, but this still remains too general of a statement to be true.
My dad, for instance, was incredibly upset that I decided to live on campus in college out-of-state instead of commuting, despite attending a school only an hour away. My brother, on the other hand, attended a university in New York City, three and a half hours away, without any hesitation from my father. None. My dad does, however, encourage me to continue my education, and reminds me to take advantage of my opportunities. He believes I’m intelligent, responsible, and capable to lead my own life without a man, so, I’d say that the American ideal of individualism has rubbed off on him while living in the States.
all Arabs aren’t wealthy.
You can always expect some generalization with any ethnic or national stereotype but from my own social circle and personal experience I can confidently tell you, no. Not all Arabs are affluent, wealthy business executives, or related to Saudi royals. Absolutely not.
I can confidently admit to you that yes, Arabs are traditionally, loud AF.
It’s disheartening to live in this diverse salad bowl of a country, the birthplace of this optimistic ideology of “the American Dream”, and to witness prejudice of any kind. Islamophobia and xenophobia is destructive to the progress of this country, and violence sets us backward. I encourage you to watch the Ted Talk below by the charming and brilliant, Amal Kassir. She expresses her truths as an American-Muslim much better than I ever could, and it’s a sound way to conclude this post.
Moral of the story: Don’t assign anyone a story without first asking their name.
Kharroub, Tamara. Middle East & North Africa: Corruption Continues as Institutions and… 4 Oct. 2015, www.transparency.org/en/news/regional-analysis-mena.