5 Pillars of Knowledge: What Everyone Should Know About Islam
By Andrea Oranday
Let me preface this by saying I do not believe Islam can be fully captured in five main points. I believe people should be expected to know as much about the Qur'an as they do about the Bible. Similar to the Bible, the Qur'an or Islam has an undeniable influence on global politics, social issues, and literature which justifies an equal necessity for understanding both. Keeping that in mind along with the understanding that education about Islam will not become commonplace any time soon, I present five key points that everyone should know about Islam.
1) The Qur'an should be understood within its context: It is not uncommon to see quotes taken out of context for the sake of manipulating how the source is viewed. Considering the tensions surrounding Islam and what it stands for, an informed understanding of any of its rhetoric needs to be viewed within the context of its time period.
Admittedly there are verses that invoke violent images and ideas, but the Qur'an is not the first religious text to do so. Investigation of the history surrounding much of the text that encourages physical strife shows that it was revealed during a time in which Islam and its followers faced potential extinction. After years of persecution, Muhammad and his followers took a stand in an effort to establish their religion and their right to exist.
Moreover, a complete view of Surahs - or chapters - regarding war and violence reveals that such actions should only be directed at those who are actively persecuting them and their faith. Further reading clarifies that Muslims should not actively seek out fighting in the name of God; nonbelievers should come to believe Islam on their own, not because it was forced upon them. So when anyone - politicians, new anchors, strangers - makes a claim about Islam, it is important to know whether their claim has been made in full view of the religion's history.
2) The Qur'an supports equal treatment of women and nonbelievers: Such a manipulation of ideas within Islam causes a gross misunderstanding of important values like equality. Contrary to popular belief, the Qur'an does not support unequal treatment of women or nonbelievers. In fact there are instances where the Qur'an encourages the equal treatment of others when discussing relationships with non-believers. So when a group of extremists commit an act of terrorism, they are not acting in the way of God as established by the Qur'an.
Similarly, there is not enough concrete support for the view that women are lesser in Islam; as previously established, text can be and has been manipulated for ulterior motives, so the image of the oppressed Muslim woman cannot be taken at face value. The use of the hijab was not something enforced by the beliefs of Islam but rather constructed and enforced by man.
Historically, women were not only incredibly important to the progression of Islam but also acknowledged as such. Muhammad's wives and their contributions towards the progression of Islam are undeniable, so the idea that women are a burden or insignificant is not an idea that aligns with the faith. The misinterpretations and misrepresentations of Islam are caused by people rather than the religion itself.
3) The word "Islam" literally means "to submit": Each Muslim is as unique as anyone else and therefore has a unique understanding of their faith and how it guides their life, far beyond just Shia and Sunni association. The word Islam means to submit, that is, to submit to God over their vices, ignorance, or malignancies; but only the individual submitting can truly determine what it means to do so.
My struggle to be a better person is not going to be the same as that of a recovering alcoholic or a single mother of two, but no struggle is more significant than the other. This idea of continual self-improvement is central to one of the most misunderstood concepts in Islam - jihad. Greater jihad - the jihad that goes beyond war - is defined as an internal moral struggle which only the individual can address.
4) God's judgment is based on action, not belief alone: The judgment of God is based on an individual's efforts to improve, not the actions of a group. So when acts of terrorism occur, the tenets of Islam view the transgression as the responsibility of the offender, not the ideals.
The Qur'an repeatedly explains that God acknowledges that humans are forgetful, and will forgive them for errors made as a result. But even so, God still holds the individual responsible for trying to work past this forgetfulness. So when an individual acts hypocritically or maliciously, they cannot make up for it in prayer but instead counter their mistakes with acts of kindness or compassion.
The Qur'an establishes that God's judgment is based on action, not the statement of belief alone. So when an individual misrepresents Islam, God is said to hold them responsible. Considering this, it is important to hold organizations like the self-proclaimed Islamic State responsible for misrepresenting a religion at the expense of billions of nonviolent believers.
5) Love is important in Islam: Lastly, current conversations about Islam virtually never bring up the topic of love despite it being central to the religion. The pervasive misrepresentation of Islam, both by media and extremists' identification with the religion, has caused the disappearance of one of the most important ideas throughout the Qur'an - love.
However, every aspect of involvement in the religion is based on both submitting to God's love as well as reciprocating it. The Qur'an emphasizes God's oneness in everything and everyone, so love for life and others can be equated to a love for God; conversely, hatred can be associated with the rejection of God. A religion that cherishes good deeds, charity, and trust in the love of God can hardly be once that also values hatred.
Growing up, I was very close with a Muslim family that lived across the street. Both parents worked just like mine, and the children played just like me and my brother. I only noticed two differences as a result of their religion: growing up without bacon since my mom helped take care of the kids and pausing hangout time so they could go home to pray.
The Islam that I grew up seeing was one filled with love, kindness, and respect. And when reading the Qur'an and learning about what Islam truly is, I do not see the terrorists in the news or the oppressive societies in the Middle East; I see the family from across the street that has never hesitated to help mine in times of need.
I implore others to look into the context of quotes that supposedly represent Islam; if Islam cannot be wholly represented in five points, it cannot be represented in ten words. Consider what exists past the Islam in the media - the Islam of a refugee, a neighbor, a coworker - where values are based on individualism, equality, responsibility, and love. These aspects should act as reminders that Muslims are just as worthy of acceptance as anyone else; humans are forgetful after all.
Andrea Oranday is student of Trinity University