Jan 19, 2012

Reflections On A Misunderstood Faith

by Raima Amin

Islam. Such a simple word, yet with so many connotations. For me, Islam means a world of things. It represents the faith I was born into and the life I now lead. Islam is what wakes me up every morning long before the sun has risen, drowsy-eyed and weary from an incomplete night’s sleep, to establish the first of five daily prayers. It is why I dress the way I do, why I choose to cover my hair instead of styling it like other girls my age. It is why, for one month a year, I deprive myself of food and drink during the daylight hours. Islam gives me the conviction to starve so that I may feel the true pangs of hunger and be encouraged to do something for the millions that feel this way every day of the year, often for the entirety of their lives. Islam has taught me to live a life guided by moral principles designed to benefit myself and the lives of those around me.

And yet, for many people today, Islam represents the opposite of all these concepts. Islam is blamed for hate and violence, for misguiding members of our society towards evil and destruction. Islam is not seen as the peace it has always represented to me, but instead as a radical ideology that destroys any hopes for coexistence among diverse populations. Phrases like “9/11”, “Ground Zero Mosque,” and “Al-Qaeda” conjure up images of angry, bearded men dressed in flowing robes and turbans, chanting words from the Quran and determined to kill Americans simply for being who we are.

 “How did this happen?” I wonder to myself. Growing up as a Muslim in Montana, I often had doubts about my religion. All my friends were Christian, and I recall frequently asking my mom why I could not be more like them. I, too, wanted to feel the excitement during the Christmas season, write letters to Santa and daydream about the presents I would soon discover under our tree. Instead, I was a passive listener as my peers excitedly conversed about such topics every year. My family observed holidays that no one had ever heard of. Instead of celebrating by attending dozens of parties, exchanging presents, and staying up late, our religious holidays were just like any other day of the year. Instead of sleeping late into the mornings, we had to wake up extra early in order to attend a small prayer service before being dropped off at school for the remainder of the day. When my friends would ask why I had dressed up, I would find them confused by my description of a holiday completely unlike their own traditions.

Yet as I grew older, instead of drifting away from the faith that prevented me from fitting in with my peers, I found myself increasingly drawn to Islam and its powerful teachings. Instead of dreading the morning prayers that awoke me from the deepest part of my sleep, I learned to enjoy the opportunity to start my day with the remembrance of God. Instead of reacting to my growling stomach in Ramadan with impatience for the impending sunset, I embraced the opportunity to self-reflect on my blessings and donate to those less fortunate. Although I had long resented Islam for setting me apart as a child, I now learned to appreciate it for the guidance it was providing in my life.

Thus, it was an immense shock when I first began to notice anti-Islamic sentiment in the country I called home. When the disaster of 9/11 struck, I, along with all my classmates, was stunned that such a calamity had actually occurred in “real life.” I recall sharing in my disbelief at school that morning and my sympathy for those who had lost a loved one in the tragedy. I remember feeling confused when a secretary came to my classroom to inform me my dad was on the line in the main office. “Are you okay?” he asked, an obvious note of worry in his voice. “Of course I’m okay,” I thought to myself. I was thousands of miles away from Ground Zero and felt worlds away from comprehending the impacts of such devastation. “Did you hear about Osama bin Laden?” he hesitated at his own question. It was a name I recalled vaguely, belonging to a figure that felt distant and unrelated to my life. I reassured him I felt perfectly safe and he promised to explain more in the evening. I returned to class, confused by his worry. However, as we continued to follow the major news networks throughout the coming days and months, I connected the dots that my father had silently alluded to on the phone that day. Slowly, I began to understand the worry I had heard in his voice. Osama bin Laden was a terrorist. He was now proudly taking responsibility for the murder of thousands of human beings on 9/11, taking credit for the actions of men who had crashed commercial planes into buildings and killed innocent Americans. What was more difficult for me to comprehend was that bin Laden also claimed to be a Muslim. He suggested that the actions committed were done in the name of God, according to the teachings of what I knew to be a peaceful religion. The same Islam stating that to kill one innocent being is to kill the entire humanity, was now being used to justify the killing of thousands of innocent beings. How could this be? It is an association I still fail to understand, and one that I continue to resent with a vengeance.

Despite a plethora of anti-Islam rhetoric in recent years, ancient followers of this faith have left behind an impressive legacy. The Islamic Golden Age, dated from the mid-8th to the mid-13th century, saw significant advancements in the fields of agriculture, art and architecture, economics, law, literature, navigation, philosophy, science, sociology and technology. At the time, Muslims were not personified as uneducated men preaching violence and oppression of women, but rather as a remarkable and diverse array of artists, scientist, traders, and scholars. Their contributions to society left impacts all over the world that continue to be felt today. It is this view of Islam that I yearn to see reinstated in our current society. Instead of being a faith constantly associated with evil, I hope to see it gain an increasing level of respect for its true teachings and an appreciation for its important influences on our world.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post them in the comments section below :)


Mash'alLah! May our Cherisher(swt) Make it so, my Sister. Aameen.

Salam alaikum, I thank you for posting this. I'm a converted muslim woman born and raised
in the U.S. I had been converted & interviewed by a local newspaper for my conversion in the
1990's. I was horrified and felt compassion for the innocent lives. However; I being born in this
country knew that people would see it the way you have just stated. I remembered though, our
history of destroying peoples of another belief and culture. This to was an unforgivable history.
Yet our country will always see what the government want's the people to see. The hate and
 On September 27, 2011; a new masjid opened in my state. I took my Mother there, with her approval
of course. My Mother is Christian. She has respect for my belief's and I her's. It's our choice.
When we arrived at the Open House; it was amazing the turn out of all the local residence and other
surrounding cities. When we left my Mother said to me, "I can't believe how friendly, kind and welcoming
all the Sister's & Brother's were. She to had been led to believe that being a muslim was a horrible
thing until her visit to the Masjid. Alhumdulilah sister. I'm happy to hear of muslims in our country
showing that we are a loving Faith. We are what Allah (swt) has taught us to be through the Prophet Muhammad(saw). Walaikum salam

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