Editor’s Note – Simran Jeet Singh is an Assisant Professor in the Department of Religion at Trinity University. This essay was written by his student as a part of a class assignment on why people should study Islam.
My name is Bethany, and I am a collegiate athlete, sorority girl, and dog lover hailing from a Christian family in Bethesda, Maryland. This summer while driving to a morning swim practice I made the mistake we all make once in our driving career. While searching for a power bar in my bag, I let off the brake without noticing and rolled into the bumper of the jeep Cherokee in front of me.
I pulled over to the shoulder, grabbed my water bottle and went out to give my sincere apologies to the other driver for the unexpected “love tap.” What greeted me on the other side of my door however, was the opposite of love. I walked straight into a torrent of Arabic and Muslim phrases being thrown at me faster than I could even react. I was confused and speechless.
I was not a part of the Islamic faith in any sense, and who was this person antagonizing me for it? I could not look this driver in the face, and my eyes wandered to the water bottle in my hand with my name gracefully stretching across its width in large Arabic letters.
My big sister in my sorority had made it for me after finishing her Arabic class last semester. It was then that I put two and two together.
It was a big misunderstanding. The driver had seen the Arabic and automatically jumped to conclusions. Confusion quickly turned to anger, and I turned my back, got in my car and pulled back into traffic. I cried the rest of the drive to practice, not out of sadness or anger, but out of disappointment.
I was from the north, the progressive, up-and-coming area to be. It was the liberal hub of the country where the normal was changing and equality was [deemed to be] universal. Things like this were not supposed to happen here.
Fast-forward two months, and I was back at college. My schedule was the usual, consisting of math, sciences, and a class on the study of the Quran, which is a tradition to take among my sports team. Two weeks into the fall semester I received a call from my parents, who had looked over my classes.
They were concerned as to why I was taking The Quran and not taking instead a class about the Bible or a study of Christianity. There it was again. That misunderstanding. That disappointed feeling inside. These were my parents, my support team, and the tones of judgment and prejudice in their voices made me ill.
Somebody once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Twice was all I needed to notice a pattern. No matter where you come from, no matter who you are, it is undeniable that there is a large “misunderstanding” concerning Islam. This century of “terrorism” that we live in has tainted our rationale and placed a filter on how we view the world, particularly concerning certain cultural groups.
I realized this now more than ever as I neared the end of the semester in my study of the Quran. I also realized that things need to change. To all those who are skeptics, who are anti-Islam, who put others down out of fear and out of blind hate, this paper is for you.
These are three reasons why you should study the faith of Islam.
The first reason is simply for the sake of a good argument. In school it is engrained in us that one cannot make a strong argument without also recognizing the counterargument. This, however, requires a deeper understanding of the topic. How can you argue that Islam is “anti-Christian” without knowing that they are both actually Abrahamic faiths, stemming from the same original prophets?
How can you argue that Islam is a religion of violence without first reading Muhammad’s “Constitution of Medina,” where he united multiple faiths in one city under a peaceful contract? How can you say that Islam is a misogynistic practice without first understanding Arabic, the language of the Quran, its gendered words, and our lack of item gender in English?
Ignorance is bliss, until it makes you look like an idiot in conversation.
The second reason to study Islam is to understand the actual meaning of jihad. Jihad has recently been a popular term to throw around, especially in recent political debates. It is probably most people’s biggest qualm with Islam, despite the fact that they do not even grasp its actual connotation.
What we associate with jihad in our society is terroristic violence in the name of faith. While it is undeniable that things like this do take place under the name of jihad, it is also important to realize that this is an extremist take on the concept.
In Islam, there are two forms of jihad: “Greater Jihad” and “Lesser Jihad.” Greater jihad refers to the internal struggle for faith. It is like arguing with your thoughts to maintain a good faith. This is the most prevalent and most important form of jihad in Islam.
The second form, “Lesser Jihad,” is the external struggle for faith. The Prophet Muhammad authorized this form of jihad in times of great oppression of the Muslim people. It allows for violence for the sake of the survival of the faith. It is here that we see the window for interpretation, which sometimes results in extreme opinions.
The third reason to study Islam is to understand the difference between the faces we put to al Qaeda, ISIS and the faces of everyday Muslims. We live in a period of terror; but this terror is the terror within ourselves. As mankind is faced with incomprehensibly terrible actions, we struggle to find a reason. Unfortunately the “reason” that we choose encompasses a larger crowd.
Suddenly we have a scapegoat, a target for our fear and hatred. Islam has become our scapegoat. We forget that these extreme groups, while well known, are relatively small and isolated. We are so focused on picking out the “terrorists” that we stereotype the entirety of one of the world’s largest religions.
Anything can become a trigger, from the Arabic language to a turban, to simply the color of your skin. Most Muslims are peaceful practitioners of their faith, and no, they do not always wear turbans or veils. They are not a monolith. And contrary to what Islamophobes think, they don’t carry concealed bombs or are out to destroy everyone else.
Many of their practices are quite beautiful and focus on the individual’s connection with God. Our hate and our fear only fuels the fire for the small extremist groups. It is important to note that there is a difference between the two. We can still be anti “terrorism” and pro-Islam or just neutral about Islam. It’s not an either-or.
Whether you are a supporter of Islam or not, the end goal is to be a more educated member of society. Especially with the current global climate, Muslims have a large role to play, and everyone will have a choice to make. Perhaps a little background will be the difference between a racist slur and the simple exchange of insurance information. Or, the difference between alarm at studying Islam and understanding.
Bethany Rysak is a Sophomore Geoscience major at Trinity University. She is passionate about tacos and speaking her mind.
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