Gender & Identity, Life

20 cool things you should know about Islam

When an intolerant neighbor shakes a Bible at me and shouts that Jesus loves me, I can just nod my head. Muslims love him too.

As one of the most practiced faiths in the world, Islam has been around for quite a while. In the past decade, the religion has been demonized and manipulated often by politicians in order to preserve political, economic, and social interests.

If you’re not Muslim, it’s definitely valuable for you to know what to bring up when defending Islam.

1. “Jesus loves you!” “Cool, I love him too.”

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While the beliefs surrounding his crucifixion vary among sects of Islam, Muslims love Jesus (peace be upon him) and regard him as a prophet sent by God to lead the people of that time and region (a metaphorical son of God, but not literal). You might have heard of Muhammad, our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), but you probably never thought that we also believed in Jesus, too.

Often, we grow up learning stories about him and appreciating his relevant, wonderful ministries of love, kindness, and tolerance. Loaves and fishes, walking on water…

In Arabic- and thus, in the Qur’an- he’s known as Isa. He’s mentioned 187 times: more times than Muhammad, in fact. When an intolerant neighbor shakes a Bible at me and my Muslim-ness, shouting that Jesus loves me (and thus I should convert), I can just nod my head and smile. I’m sure Jesus loves me, and I love him too. We’re in this together, sister!

2. We believe in Mary, too.

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Hadhrat Maryam (peace be upon her), or your Mary, is regarded as a woman of God in Islam. We believe in the Immaculate Conception and also consider her piety, devotion to God, and birth to Jesus (peace be upon him) to attest to her beauty and value in our faith. She’s the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an (a staggering seventy times, more than the whole New Testament!), and our Book even names her as the greatest of all women, “chosen above all the women of creation.”

The Quran tells us that the angel Gabriel told Mary, when she was a young woman, that God had chosen her and that a child would be miraculously conceived by her. This child, Isa/Jesus, was the Promised Messiah and would lead the people of the time from darkness unto light. So all those Muslim girls and women named Marium, Mariam, or Maryam? Same as a Mary!

3. Hijab is a choice.

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Hi, White Mom from Facebook. You think women should be able to wear whatever they want? Well, guess what- just like it’s wrong to slut-shame, it’s also wrong to criticize women for covering up. So your clever posts about how Islam “forces” women to wear veils or head-coverings aren’t so clever after all. While in some countries, headscarves are mandatory, this doesn’t mean Islamic law or practice forces any women to go beyond her comfort zone.

This is especially relevant today, when we see Muslim hate crimes centered around a woman’s right to wear a hijab, like here and here and here. There’s a lot of myths and confusion surrounding the issue. Here’re the facts, cut and dry: like any other article of clothing, wearing the hijab is a choice. It’s required in most branches of Islam, but not obligatory in any. So essentially, we’re usually advised to wear it when we feel comfortable- but to each her own.

4. Hijab doesn’t encompass every type of head covering.

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If you are an ally to Muslim women, it is really, really helpful to know what they might be wearing. A Muslim woman with a veil on her head isn’t necessarily just wearing a hijab. Neither is every black coat a burqa. Those are the two labels around the world, but the plain and simple truth is that there is no required form of covering your head and/or body.

A lot of it is cultural: women from different parts of the world cover up in different ways. For example, Muslim women in India might be wearing a dupatta loosely draped over their head and shoulders (like my mother does). While in a country like Saudi Arabia, you might see more niqabs.

Get educated! Here’s a helpful graphic that labels some of the most common forms of veils.

5. Muslim women were the first to have certain rights.

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Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) married a woman much older than him who owned and operated a thriving trade business and was known during the era for her wealth and success. Over 1,400 years ago, Islam granted women economic rights like the freedom to own their own property, to seek divorce, to inherit, to remarry, and carry out economic deals independently.

Pre-Islamic Arabia had been rampant with overt sexism, including the live burials of baby girls. With the advent of Islamic law, the education of girls became a sacred duty and women’s consent was necessary for a legitimate marriage contract.

Our Holy Book is often misquoted to offer proof that the faith somehow condones sexism. That’s far from the truth. In fact, Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “It is the duty of every Muslim man and woman to seek knowledge.” Surah Al-Alaq further stresses the importance of education, and the Qur’an also promotes working: “…And their Lord responded to them, ‘Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another’.”  [Quran 3:195]

No shade, but women in Europe and America were denied the right to own property until the 18th century. Okay, okay. Some shade.

6. Muslims come from every. part. of. the. world.

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I can’t tell you how many times people have sat there in disbelief when they found out I was Muslim.

“But- you’re Indian?!”

And your point? Muslims hail from every part of the world. The country with the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia. Among the black community, Islam is a fast growing religion for conversion. Literally every corner of the world: Muslims exist. This is an important misconception to clear up because when people confuse religion with nationality, they tend to also confuse religious law with the law of a country.

Muslims are intersectional! We aren’t just defined by the one word Islam. We call countries all around the world our homes, and we’ve made impacts in several different countries.

7. We don’t all speak Arabic.

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But many of us can read it, because it’s what the actual Qur’an is written in, and also use common everyday phrases. Here are a few you might hear, and what they mean.

Mashallah = God willed it (used to express admiration)

Alhamdulillah = Thanks to Allah

Assalamu Alaikum = Peace be upon you

Allahu Akbar = Glory be to God

Inshallah = If God wills

Astaghfirullah= God forbid

Haram= Something forbidden by Islam

8. It doesn’t end with Sunni and Shi’a.

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Most people have heard the word Muslim. Many of those are familiar with “the two types” of Muslims: Sunni and Shi’a.Beyond that? Some Muslims aren’t even aware of the fact that there’s more to the faith than just those two branches.

While the majority of Muslims identify as Sunni, all others are not automatically Shi’a. There are Muslims that identify as Ismaili, Ahmadi, Baha’i..the list goes on! When you talk about Muslims being persecuted, or even just diversity among Muslims, it’s important to note all the different sects and the different challenges they face and beliefs they hold.

Most of the core tenets of their faith are common, but it’s still important to know differences. exist.

9. Allah is not an exclusive God.

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A lot of people throw around the word Allah because it’s so closely linked with the idea of Islam. Here’s the thing, though: the word Allah literally just means God in Arabic. Our holy book, the Qur’an, was revealed to the angel Gabriel in Arabic, so we tend to use Arabic words even if you don’t speak Arabic (like me). In fact, even Christians in the Middle East use the word Allah to mean God.  If you read a translation of the Qur’an, you might see God, Lord, or Allah. It’s all the same!

My God is your God is our God. Inclusivity, hooray!

10. Our Holy Prophet is not our God.

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This would be completely blasphemous in our faith, in fact.

Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself stressed the unity of God, and that he was only a messenger in a time of darkness (Qur’an, 7:157). According to our beliefs, in the 500s-600s A.D., Muhammad (peace be upon him), a peaceful man in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, received a revelation while meditating from the angel Gabriel that God had sent him to reform the corrupt people of that time. He firmly denied being a god of any kind and actually worked tirelessly to stress the unity of God.

Period. That’s it. No ifs, ands, or buts.

11. Jihad WHO?

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Murder is so fundamentally in contrast with Islam it could almost be funny. We are literally told that killing one person is like killing all of mankind. We’re taught “for me, my religion. for you, your religion.” Maybe 2000 years ago, when warfare was how tribes conquered regions and gained power, jihad of the sword was relevant.

Today, it is so entirely obsolete. We are instead told of jihad of the pen, or of the mind, when we use writing, reading, and intellect to spread the messages of Islam.

There are only three ways of communicating with Jihad- through the pen, to struggle from within, and striving for Islam. Jihad means to better yourself, and to strive for utmost perfection, to establish a perfect self-identity. Sound familiar? Maybe from the US Constitution: “In order to establish a perfect union…” 

Same concept. Islam isn’t about killing. The. End. 

12. When you say Shari’ah Law, you sound silly. Sorry.

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Shari’ah means Islamic law. So you’re saying Islamic Law Law. Same concept as when white people say “chai tea.” Sigh.

It only refers to any rules that Muslim societies are expected to follow.

13. Speaking of Shari’ah…you’ve got it wrong.

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That crazy amputating head-chopping stuff you see that’s so widely circulated is false or obsolete in the present day.

And either way, Muslims are strongly taught to put the laws of a country above all else. Within my mosque, for example, we are generally advised against protests by principle unless they are defending the rights of people around us, rather than those of ourselves.

We don’t fight back if it means disrespecting the hard work of our law enforcement and Founding Fathers or disrupting the lives of everyday people.

14. Just because we don’t appreciate rude cartoons, doesn’t mean we’re against freedom of speech.

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So back in 2015, the French satire magazine continued its infamous legacy of general nauseating-ness by publishing very offensive cartoons of Muhammad (peace be upon him). In response, two attackers committed a mass shooting, claiming ties to ISIS.

This wasn’t a rare case; it’s happened before, and often.

But in the aftermath of a such an attack, a lot of people forget that Muslims do believe in free speech. And our religion never condones initiating violence against opponents.

One of the victims of the Hebdo attack was a Muslim security guard!

You’re free to draw incredibly offensive cartoons of our Prophet or other aspects of our faith, aiming to provoke a reaction or ruffle feathers. Of course, you are, if your country deems it legal. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an outcry against such hate speech. A violent outcry, like the Charlie Hebdo attack, is completely wrong. Instead, Muslims often try to respond to such offensive cartoons by resorting to written response (like through publications) or the legal system.

Those cartoons were just bad, bad taste. But to each their own.

15. Moses, Abraham, Ishmael, Jonah…

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Muhammad (PBUH) is our most revered prophet, for sure. But all of the above and more!- are our prophets too.  Each for different time periods and regions, with uniquely valuable teachings. Even if you look closely at the different teachings imparted by each prophet, they all have core messages of love, tolerance, and peace running through them.

We do sometimes call them by their Arabic names, however, which I’ve listed below.

Abraham = Ibrahim (peace be upon him)

Moses = Musa (peace be upon him)

Ishmael = Isma’il (peace be upon him)

Jonas = Yunus (peace be upon him)

Gabriel (the angel) = Jibra’il (the angel)

Jacob = Ya’qub (peace be upon him)

Noah = Nuh (peace be upon him)

16. Waving bacon in front of our faces isn’t going to scare us away.

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We don’t eat pork because pigs are unhygienic creatures and the Qur’an forbids their consumption. But I’m not going to panic if you take a slice of pepperoni pizza. There are Muslim farmers who work with pigs every day. I’ve petted a pig. We’re not allergic or afraid. You don’t have to apologize or freak out unless you really are trying to be overtly offensive by eating bacon in front of me.

There’s also an argument made by racists (that I have specifically heard) that we should stuff pork in the mouths of terrorists so they go to hell.

Honey. Do you really think its the pork that’s going to send them to hell?

17. We believe in the Bible too. (And the Torah, and the Vedas…)

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Your holy book is a holy book for us too!

While we believe the Qur’an has the most updated teachings, we recognize the validity of almost all other holy books. The Bible, the Torah, the Vedas..those are all books from God in our eyes (or at least, the original unaltered versions are).

18. Muslims are responsible for some of the most important inventions of today.

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Here’s where I brag. Two Muslim women, Fatima and Miriam al-Firhi, founded the world’s first university, Al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco, in 859 AD. It has the oldest library in the world and is still standing. Between the 8th and 15th centuries, Andalucia, a province in Spain, was the center of a cultural revolution for all the world. The biggest inventions were happening there, largely due to of the influx of Muslims. The Arabic numeral system was established, algebra was created, and trigonometry was thoroughly investigated.

In Egypt, the Ahmad ibn Tulun hospital was the first to care for the mentally ill, and incredible modern for the time period. A hundred years later, in 1972, a surgeon known as the “father of surgery,” Al-Zahrawi, perfected surgical tools and methods that would be popular for centuries to come. His use of scalpels, bone saws, and foresaw are still now used by modern surgeons, and his C-section operation was unprecedented.

Jabr Ibn Hayyan developed the process of distillation and established its use in chemistry and medicine. Ibn Firnas of Andalucia was the world’s first aviator with his attempt to create a flying machine in 852 (even though it, obviously, did not work).

In physics too, much more recently, Muhammad Abdus Salam of Pakistan contributed pivotal work to the study of the unification of electromagnetic and weak forces, earning a 1979 Nobel Prize.

And that’s just some of it.

19. We love cats. A lot.

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Islam is a faith of cat people. Muhammad (PBUH) owned cats and praised them. His favorite one was named Muezza. One of his closest companions, who related many of Muhammad’s sayings that we know today, was nicknamed “Abu Huraira,” or father of cats.  Cats appear all the time in Islamic art and many well-known scholars owned them and adored them.

There’s also a cute little story about how once, the Prophet (PBUH) wanted to put on a robe to go do his prayers, but his cat Muezza was sleeping on the sleeve. Rather than wake Muezza up, the Prophet cut that sleeve off the robe and wore it with one sleeve torn. Aww.

Sorry, dog people. Cats win this one.

20. Muslims get lit, too.

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It varies based on culture and nationality, but Muslims aren’t boring. Not by a long shot! There’re Muslim YouTubers, actors, singers, rappers….the list goes on. Mahershala Ali, for example, who starred in several recent films and received a Screen Actors Guild Award, is Muslim! So is/was:

  • Dr. Oz
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Janet Jackson
  • Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Ice Cube
  • Amal Clooney
  • Dave Chappelle

And our weddings are LIT as hell.