August 09, 2005

Overcoming the Islamic Fear Factor

The following article comes from the Wichita Eagle. I had originally thought about posting it to my regular blog, Dunner's, but I decided instead to post it here because I think it makes for a good Learn About Islam-type piece.

There is one paragraph that I have personally modified. The author made the suggestion that to contact a certain person at the Islamic Society of Wichita for more information on classes about Islam. However, in the interest of a wider audience, I have rewritten that paragraph. It begins with "Contact your local mosque..." and is in italics, so you shouldn't be able to miss it.

All it the fear factor: Muslims and terrorists. The two go together in many people's minds, and little if any distinction is made between fanaticism and faith.

Before you give in to fear, ask yourself: How much do I know about the religion of Islam? When I hear the word Muslim, do I immediately think only of terrorists?

Regardless of your preconceptions -- or misconceptions -- are you willing to learn more about the religion of more than 1 billion people?

First, take this six-question quiz to give yourself a baseline for learning:

1. True or false: Most Muslims are Arabs.

2. True or false: The ultimate meaning of worship for Muslims is observing the five pillars of Islam: profession of faith in Allah, performance of prayers five times a day, fasting, giving to charity and pilgrimage to Mecca.

3. Jihad means:
A. Struggle to live a perfect life
B. Struggle to defend Islam
C. Struggle to convey the message of Islam
D. All of the above

4. Only a government, through its Islamic leaders (caliph or imam), can call for a holy war. Which of the following rules for waging such a war does NOT apply:
A. Do not kill children or women.
B. If a fighter turns his back, do not kill him.
C. Take action against an enemy before he attacks.
D. Fight on behalf of religious freedom.

5. True or false: Marriage in Islam is a social contract that requires the consent of both parties.

6. True or false: Islam, Judaism and Christianity all believe in the coming of a Messiah.

Here are the answers, according to several authoritative sources:

1. Most Muslims are Arabs. False. Of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, about 20 percent are Arabs.

2. False. Worship is everything that a person does to submit to Allah. The five pillars are part of that broader and all-inclusive understanding of worship.

3. Jihad means: D. All of the meanings of struggle, including to live a perfect life, to defend Islam and to convey the message of Islam.

4. The following rule for waging a holy war does NOT apply: C. Take action against an enemy before he attacks. The Quran enjoins Muslims: "Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love aggressors" (2:190).

5. True. Neither bride nor groom can be forced into a marriage.

6. True. Beliefs differ, but all three religions teach about a Messiah (or Mahdi in Islam).

If you got all six correct, you've made a good start in learning about Islam. But there's more to do.

Centuries of fear and suspicion -- between Jews, Christians and Muslims -- make the task daunting. And a post-9/11 world has only intensified those fears.

Moreover, it doesn't help that our interlocking histories (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have spawned intolerance and suspicion of one another. No religion is guiltless.

Fueling the greater angst among non-Muslims today is a belief that Islam is only a religion of violence. That's why it's important to learn about the religion. Here are some ways to begin:

• Read such books as What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito (Oxford University Press); Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam by Paul Findley (Amana Books); Terror and Suicide Attacks: An Islamic Perspective edited by Ergun Capan (Light Inc.).

• Attend classes that provide an overview of Islam. Contact your local mosque for more information. Many mosques frequently have classes about Islam for new converts and non-Muslims who are interested in the religion and the Muslim way of life. Look in your local Yellow Pages for the telephone number of the mosque nearest you.

• Raise the hard questions you have about Islam with Muslim leaders. All of us are challenged to explain, as best we can, the seeming inconsistencies, contradictions and mysteries of our faith. Don't be afraid to ask.

"Truth and love are one and the same," wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. "This affirmation -- if we grasp its full import -- is the greatest guarantee of tolerance, of a relationship with the truth, whose only weapon is itself and thus is love."

Although differences will always remain among people who don't share the same faith, learning from one another can break down walls that separate.

And in the end, that can go a long way in reducing the fear factor and increasing mutual understanding and respect.

Reach Tom Schaefer at 268-6586 or by e-mail at


Anonymous said...

Salaam: Interesting and useful, except for the Mahdi thing. We have Messiah (peace be upon him) and Mahdi, Alhamdulillah, and I find it is a common error or misconception that non Muslims have about Islam. -- Umm Zaid

JD said...

You are correct, of course, and I thank you for catching that. There is something of a millennial streak in Islam (as there obviously is in Christianity), but the topic is something that I have paid little attention to so far. As a result, I'm not surprised that I missed that.

And, thanks for visiting the blog! :)