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Common Misinterpretations and Misconceptions of Islam Conner Mackowiak University of Kentucky CIS 110 Dr. Warren 14 November 2013



2 Abstract

The three primary monotheistic religions of the world are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While all three have come under society’s crossfire, none has been more heavily criticized in recent years than Islam. There is no great mystery as to why; war breeds animosity and distrust. But are these perceptions validated or supported? This paper examines the politics, history, and misconceptions of Islam, as well as modern-day struggles and misunderstandings. As a result of reading this paper, one will have a better understanding of Islam’s basics, as well as a more defined idea of why there is such criticism of the religion in today’s world.



“RPG!” yells Staff Sergeant Martinez, warning his unit of the Rocket Propelled Grenade flying towards them, launched by a jihad-fueled terrorist. At least, that is the image portrayed by the media. The reality of the situation is a little different. The world has become a place where the words “terrorism” and “Islam” are interchangeable. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, America has been in a conflict in the Middle East for the past ten years. Dubbed the “War on Terror,” it has become the common misconception that all of America’s enemies are Muslims and they are the ones who seek to do the country harm. Popular satirical sources such The Onion even go so far as to poke fun of the idea of Muslims in Jihad (The Onion, 1998). What the United States and her allies fail to realize is that they are not fighting a war against Islam. The fight is with a group of insurgents that, for the most part, are trying to defend their land from what they see as the greatest invaders of all: the United States. These misconceptions and stereotypes lead to gross misinterpretation of an enormous group of people. Islam faces much scrutiny from Western society based on historical interactions and experiences. The actions of a few tarnish the reputation of a whole community. To better understand Islam, one must have a better understanding of the religion and its history. While the exact date is unclear, Islam was believed to have been founded in the year 622 CE by the Prophet Muhammad (Islam). The word Islam literally translates to “Submission” (Islam). Islam is viewed as the continuation and terminal point of the other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity. There are five pillars of Islam, which are expected to be followed and adhered to: Shahadah (the Profession of Faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (almsgiving), Sawm (observance of Ramadan), and Hajj (pilgrimage) (Islam). The Profession of Faith is, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” This is the basic statement that



sums up the religion. Prayer is expected to be performed five times daily, with the individual praying facing the direction of Mecca, which is usually east. Almsgiving in Islam is not very different from other respective faiths, and the individual is expected to donate the equivalent of two and a half percent of their total worth (Islam). Ramadan is the Islamic holy month, and an observant Muslim is expected to fast and abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual activity during the daytime (the QuickTime™ and a decompressor are needed to see this picture.

aforementioned activities are permitted after sunset however). Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is desired of every Muslim at least once in their lifetime. Mecca is the holiest

Figure 1. Muslims at Mecca around the Ka’ba (Akmal, 2011).

place in Islam, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia as seen in Figure 1 (Akmal, 2011). There are permissible exceptions

however; Muslims are excused from this pilgrimage if they do not have the financial security or physical capabilities to do so (Personal communication, 11/4/13). Within Islam is the concept of Jihad, which translates to “struggle” (Personal communication, 11/4/13). The concept is intended to be viewed as the struggle of resisting sin, but it has practical uses as well. Self-defense is permissible, and in the most extreme circumstances Holy War to preserve one’s homeland or religious site is allowed. These interpretations can be misinterpreted however. During the Gulf War, The United States was allied with Osama bin-Ladin against the Soviet Union. Some of the American troops and supplies were stationed in Saudi Arabia however, which is prohibited by the Koran, or Islamic Holy Book. Specifically, it states that infidels or non-believers are not allowed in Mecca. Osama asked the United States to leave, and America did not comply. This resulted in bin-Ladin starting his “jihad” or holy war with the “Great Satan” of the West. This view of jihad is not permissible



by the Koran. Kamal told me that the terrorism we have seen is not permissible under any circumstances. However, he sees the defense of peoples’ homelands as perfectly legal jihad (Personal communication, 11/4/13). Kamal identifies himself as a Sunni Muslim (Personal communication, 11/4/13). This is popularly viewed as the more peaceful version of Islam, with the other sect being named Shiite. Sunni Muslims also make up the majority of all Muslims in the world. With all of the trouble happening in the Middle East in recent months, Kamal expressed slight levels of concern in terms of traveling back to his home country (Personal communication, 11/4/13). This relates to the point I have tried to make through the various aspects of my research. Yes, war in the Middle East is incontrovertible, and yes the enemy is primarily Islamic. But the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and are misconstrued by the actions taken by others. As a result, the actions of a few lead to the condemnation of many. Islam is the second-largest growing religion in the world (Robinson, 2012), with well over 1 billion followers worldwide (Islam). To condemn such a huge population unjustly is an act of ignorance and prejudice. Most simply want to live and be left alone, but because of the mindset and struggle the United States is unable to simply walk away from the conflict. Without a better understanding of our enemy, we are going to remain in a conflict we will not be able to escape. These people are primarily defending their land, not looking to continue a war. It is no great lie that drone air strikes, such as the one seen in Figure 2 (Gaylord, 2011) have revolutionized the way America fights insurgents. Since 2008, The New York Times reports that many al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in Afghanistan as a direct result of these strikes (Walsh, 2013). The news is also quick to announce the number of civilians killed as a direct or indirect result of these attacks. As of the time of this writing, no source was able to



identify an accurate total number of civilians killed in 2013, but the numbers are estimated to be in the thousands. Whether one is in favor or opposed to the topic of drones is irrelevant with this topic. The idea worth looking into is how these killings change other peoples’ perceptions of the United States. It has been said that most who live in

QuickTime™ and a decompressor are needed to see this picture.

the Middle East are opposed to the “jihad” that is being waged against the West, but when a missile comes crashing out of nowhere to blow up half a village,

Figure 2. An Unmanned Air Vehicle (Gaylord, 2011).

these people begin to feel a certain amount of hostility towards America. Two of America’s top news sources are CNN and Fox News. Both lean fairly heavily towards opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both offer somewhat similar perspectives to the War on Terror. One CNN article claims that young men look towards this Jihad as a means of getting by, due to the lack of opportunity in this war-torn part of the world (Blake, 2009). A Fox News article claims that Islam is experiencing a violent stage, one that will pass with time (Green, 2011). One thing neither article denied however is that Islam is associated with violence for good reason. Something that many people fail to realize is that there are terror agencies across the world, and only a fraction of them are based in Islam. That said, these insurgents in the Middle East are fighting groups beyond the United States. Israel has been a terror target for much time, not to mention the conflict in Egypt and Libya. Kamal is originally from Libya, and moved to the United States on a student visa five years ago (Personal communication, 11/4/13). When asked about that situation, he replied that he was not sure what he was going to do in terms of returning home. The conflicts are too dangerous to bring a family back home. My own experience was much different than what I expected. I went to the Islamic



Center of Lexington (Field notes, 10/9/13), thinking it would just be some support building where Muslims can go to find out information regarding to Mosques, events, and other such things. But as I walked nearer to the building, I noticed that there was a foot washing station directly next to the center. I later discovered that the Islamic Center is in fact its own Mosque, one that people pray and worship in on a daily basis (Field notes, 10/9/13). I walked in and was introduced to QuickTim e™ and a decompress or are needed to see this picture.

Kamal, who taught me what he could of the faith. One thing I noticed about the Mosque was how soft and comfortable the carpet was. Then I remembered that one

Figure 3. Muslims in prayer at the Islamic Center of Lexington (Clark, 2009).

is not allowed to wear shoes inside the mosque, and much of the prayer is spent on the floor in prostration. I observed that

the Muslims all knew exactly what they were doing: one led them in prayer, and people walked in and jumped in at different points without missing a beat, such as the ones seen in Figure 3 (Clark, 2009). This impressed me. Additionally, all of the men at one point or another took the time to say, “Salam Aliekum” to me, which I later learned translates to, “Peace be upon you.” The response is “Wu Aliekum Salam,” which translates to, “And upon you” (Field notes, 10/9/13). The second time I went the Imam was present, and I was able to share a few brief words with him. The mosques are divided so that men and women are in separate rooms. I found this interesting because in a world that consistently becomes more focused on being politically correct, Muslims stay true to their traditions even though it may upset others. Of the many things that I learned throughout this project, it became apparent that Muslims are not violence-minded individuals. Islam is a peaceful religion, one that has been around for 1,400 years. The confusion comes when a radical extremist decides to blow up a



subway, “in the name of Allah.” These people truly want nothing more than to observe their religion in peace, without quarrel from others. This is a very lassiez faire approach, one that has no intention of causing harm to others. It is a common occurrence in today’s society to harshly condemn an entire group of people based on the actions of a few individuals. I learned a lot through my experiences with the Islamic Community. It would be inaccurate to say that my own predispositions and thoughts were very much alive at the time of the beginning of this project, but I quickly realized that my ignorance was what kept me from seeing this group of people for what the truly are: peaceful. Yes there are struggles and hardships that are difficult to overcome, but I believe that in time all conflicts come to an end. It is my hope that this happens soon, so that the “Islamic Terrorists” can one day be known simply as “Muslims.”



References Akmal, Haseeb. (August 5, 2011). Beautiful Pictures of Holy Kaba [Wallpapers]. Retrieved from Blake, John. CNN. (August 13, 2009). Experts: Many young Muslim terrorists spurred by humiliation. Retrieved from Butrouna, Kamal. (November 4, 2013). Personal communication, Clark, Laura. (March 3, 2009). Campus group offers Muslim prayer services for students. The Kentucky Kernal. Retrieved from Gaylord, Harry A. (January 24, 2011). American cities may have aerial drones by 2013. Sun and Shield. Retrieved from dronesby-2013/ Green, Lauren. (March 10, 2011). Is There Something In Islam That Makes Believers More Susceptible to Radicalization?. Retrieved from Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. Islam. Retrieved from Mackowiak, Conner. (October 9, 2013). Field notes.



Nawwab, Ismail, Speers, Peter, and Hoye, Paul (also edited by A Brief History of Islam (part 1 of 5): The Prophet of Islam. (October 16, 2011). Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia. Islam. (September 21, 2005). Retrieved from Robinson, B.A., (November 29, 2012). Islam: The second largest world religion…and growing. Religious Tolerance. Retrieved from The Onion. Islamic Fundamentalists Condemn Casual Day. (February 18, 1998). Retrieved from,9216/ Walsh, Delcan, and Mehsud, I.T. (October 22, 2013). Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes Cited in Report. The New York Times, Page A1. Retrieved from

Common Misinterpretations and Misconceptions of Islam  

This paper was written by Connor Mackowiak for the CIS 110 Community as Culture essay assignment.

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