Islam, the most widely stereotyped of religions?
Islam is perhaps the most widely stereotyped of all world religions.
Western media have often portrayed Muslims as violent extremists, male chauvinists and radically religious people.
Its believers are frequently pigeonholed and as a result many will never know the true essence of the faith.
In an effort to learn more and break through these prejudices, I met with Imam Saleem Talbot from the Bermuda Islamic Cultural Centre. During our chat I learnt so much about the history of the faith and what it means to be a Muslim.
Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic faith. Its followers are called Muslims and they call God Allah, which means “the one true God” in Arabic. The faith originated in Mecca and Medina at the start of the 7th century CE. However, Muslims regard Islam as a return to the original faith of the Abrahamic prophets.
“Islam is not a new religion, in fact we believe it is the original religion,” Mr Talbot said. “We believe that the only way to worship God is to worship Him – nothing else and no one else. Some faiths believe that there are multiple Gods – like the Greeks – or that God had a son or daughter. Some revere and acknowledge saints. But we believe to do that is to diminish God’s sovereignty and is polytheistic.
“Muslim means ‘the one who submits himself to God’. That is literally what it means. It’s not a brand name. You either believe or you don’t believe. You either submit yourself to God or you don’t. And this is why we believe Islam is the original and one true religion.”
Islam considers Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses all to be Muslim and has enormous respect for them and all the other prophets.
The Qur’an is the holy text for the Islamic faith, revealed to the prophet Muhammad over a 23-year period ending in the year 632 CE. The Qur’an is believed to be the word of Allah himself, as it was not divinely inspired but came to the prophet Muhammad as the literal word of God through the angel Gabriel.
“Muhammad is from the line of the prophet Abraham. He comes to us – us meaning the world – through his son Ishmael. That’s who Muhammad is. He comes from a lineage of prophets,” Mr Talbot said.
“Muhammad was illiterate. He could not read or write. We believe that the Qur’an was taught to Muhammad by Gabriel, word by word and line by line. This was first revealed to him during the month of Ramadan, which is why we consider it a holy month.”
Today is the final day of Ramadan, a period when Muslims around the world fast during the day, increase prayer, recite scripture and focus on charitable giving. This is in remembrance of the miracle of the revelation of the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad.
Tomorrow, observers will celebrate with the Feast of Eid, a Muslim custom which marks the end of the month of fasting.
Islamic views on women are widely discussed, though often misunderstood and misrepresented, Mr Talbot said.
“What you see in the media about women being considered lower than men within Islam is simply not true. As far as Islam is concerned, and according to the word of God, women are equal to men. The woman has complete freedom in Islam and their education has always been a priority.
“If you visit Muslim countries you will find that there is a preponderance of Muslim women who are doctors and lawyers. And we celebrate that.”
Opinions surrounding the traditional dress of Muslim women have often dominated conversation, but Mr Talbot explained that the modest dress is designed so women feel “dignified”.
“The purpose of clothing is not only to protect oneself from the physical elements, but also to protect from immorality and pride.
“The Islamic concept of dress applies to both women and men. It sets expectations of moral and respectful interactions between the genders. As a result, both men and women are liberated from their baser instincts and can focus on higher pursuits.
“Islamic dress takes on many beautiful forms, reflecting the cultural diversity of Muslims from all over the world.”
Polygamy is another “hot topic” that many people associate with the Muslim community. However, despite the way it is sensationalised, it is not very common in practice, Mr Talbot insisted.
“I know a lot of Muslim brothers and I only know maybe one or two who have more than one wife.
“The Qur’an permits it, but it does so with caution. There are conditions for having multiple wives. A man must show that he is capable of providing for all wives – not just materialistically but also spiritually. This would not be an easy task. Also, all wives must agree and live in harmony as one family. Can a man have more than one wife and treat them all equally? Only then is it permissible.”
These misguided stereotypes have distracted many from the fundamental principles of the Islamic faith, which are based in submission to Allah, service to humanity, equality, and universal brotherhood.
“The world is at a juncture where it needs to figure itself out. Human fraternity is critical. We have to get rid of bigotry, whether it be racial, social or religious. The world doesn’t have a place for bigotry,” Mr Talbot said.
“There is so much depth to our faith and believers are spread across the globe. I went all the way to the North Pole and I found Muslims. We would love for more Bermudians to investigate Islam for themselves.”
Learn more about the Islam faith here: bermudaicc.com