The religion of Islam is widely misunderstood. It has become a familiar topic on the news, connected to terrorism, violence, and human rights abuses. Often, this is the only exposure that Americans have to this vast and complex belief system. We see the word Muslim, and we associate it with war.
Like the adherents of all of the world’s major religions, the very human practitioners of Islam are not always the perfect embodiment of its virtues. Affected by political currents, manmade cultural traditions, and misinterpretations of their own holy text, a small number of those who claim Islam as their religion do commit vile acts in its name.
But they are wrong. The true nature of Islam is one of peace and compassion.
It is more vital than ever that we demythologize Islam, and that we become informed of what our Muslim neighbors really believe. The mysterious is the frightening, and what we fear, we fight.
This is one cultural fight that needs to end. Knowledge is what will help heal the current divisions between the Western and Muslim worlds, so let’s take a look at a few ways in which Islam is more compassionate than you’ve been led to believe.
Islam Values Life and Liberty
Surah 49:13 of the Quran—the holy text of Islam—reads, “If anyone kills a person, it is as if he kills all mankind, while if anyone saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.”
Terrorist groups like Isis recruit young, naive troops who have little knowledge of Islam, and warp the teachings of the Quran to support their violent endeavors. Theirs is not a holy war; but a political crusade.
A commonly misinterpreted surah is 9:5, which reads, “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer let them go on their way.”
At first glance, this may seem to advocate religiously-motivated killing, but when we look at the historical context, we find that this surah is speaking of a very specific instance in which assassination attempts were being made on the Prophet Muhammad as he was mediating a truce between Jewish and pagan clans.
The Quran surah 2:256, in fact, commands that “there is to be no coercion in matters of religion”.
Doesn’t quite sound like the Muslim narrative we’ve establish today, does it?
Islam Teaches Kindness, Not Retribution
Within Islam, stories are told about the Prophet Muhammad, the man who was given the Quran through divine intervention, and disseminated its wisdom to all humankind. Many of these stories include a moral or lesson on the art of kindness and self-control. The Prophet’s life is taken as the ultimate example of moral behavior.
One such story is “The Rubbish Thrower,” and speaks of an old woman who, maddened by Muhammad’s peaceful demeanor, regularly collected and threw garbage upon him, hoping to finally get the prophet to become angry at her.
Unfortunately for her, Muhammad never became upset with her, and said nothing when she showered him with garbage.
But day, however, the old woman became sick. When Muhammad heard of this, he immediately rushed to her home to inquire about her health and offered her aid in an act of sincere kindness.
In that moment, the woman felt very guilty for being so cruel, and apologized, her heart utterly changed. She was forgiven, and became a Muslim.
Most of the world’s religions have drifted from the example of their founders, and Islam is no different. Humans can be fallible, angry, and violent creatures, but Islam promotes the opposite—kindness, charity, and humility.
Islam Teaches Charity
There are several different categories of charity in Islam, with the most important being zakat—obligatory charity—and sadaqa—voluntary charity.
Zakat is a set amount of wealth that must be given to the poor and needy. Sadaq can be given to anyone, and its forms include advice, good cheer, and general help.
The Prophet Muhammad made the importance of charity quite clear.
“A charity is due for every joint in each person on every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.”
He went on to illustrate some of the forms charity can take, saying that, “Your smile for your brother is a charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is a charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is a charity.”
Charity, great and small, is looked on as both admirable, and a necessity, in the life of a Muslim. Muhammad goes on to caution Muslims against the dangers of greed and injustice, saying that one’s injustice will turn into darkness on the Day of Judgement.
The charity of Islam, if followed as it is written, has the power to unite communities, both within Islam and outside of it.
A Religion of Peace
The word “Islam,” is derived from the word for “peace,” in Arabic, and was revealed to mankind with the intention of teaching the infinite compassion and mercy of God. Muslims are called to live moral lives that are marked by respect for life, kindness, and charity.
When we delve into the actual ideas of Islam, we can see that it truly lives up to its name, and that we have nothing to fear from its teachings. The mercy of the Almighty is one of the most overarching themes in the Quran—no one who deeply reads this holy text could come away with thoughts of war and violence.
The more we learn, the more we, as Americans, can begin to see the Muslim community not as a threat, not as “them,” but as “us”—human beings who mean us well, and aren’t so different as we may have thought.