Why are there misconceptions about Islam?

Four major reasons could be advanced.

A. The natural gap in understanding between different cultures and beliefs.

It is natural for human beings to grow up regarding their own society and its beliefs and culture as normal and reasonable.  By this standard, the beliefs and cultures of another people seem strange, abnormal and unreasonable.  For example to a non-Muslim, the wearing of Hijab by women seems at first strange and burdensome.  Likewise Muslims who are used to seeing women in Hijab often feel shocked to see non-Muslim women going around exposing their bodies in a way they find immodest. It is necessary therefore to be very objective in dealing with people’s beliefs and culture.

B. There are misconceptions arising from the words or behaviour of some Muslims who have themselves misunderstood or disobeyed the teachings of Islam. Some have confused Islam with their cultures and beliefs. Some Muslims themselves have misunderstood and misapplied the Islamic teachings. Some have refused to obey Islamic teachings.  Some have mixed their traditional practices with Islam and do not know the difference, while some have failed to behave in accordance with Islamic teachings due to natural human weaknesses.  It is therefore not fair to assess Islam based on the behaviour or the practice of such Muslims.  Rather it should be assessed on the basis of what it teaches.  It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the true teachings of Islam and the behaviour of some Muslims.

C. Deliberate distortion, misrepresentation and invention of falsehood about Islam by those who oppose Muslims for religious, ideological or political reasons. There are historical reasons why some groups of people have deliberately lied about Islam and distorted it.  Some of these have their origins in the distant past, others are more recent.

Distortion of the truth about Islam began in the European Middle Ages.  As Islam spread and the Islamic world expanded from the 7th Century onwards across North Africa, through Spain and Turkey into Southern Europe, the Christian Church and the European rulers felt threatened religiously and politically.  They mobilised armies to go to Palestine on Crusades to fight Islam.  In order to arouse the people’s hatred and fear of Islam they invented false stories and said that Muslims were pagans – idol-worshippers – and that Allah was one of the Muslim idols. They called the Prophet (r) “Mahound “, and made him into a devil with which to frighten children.

Later during the European scramble for colonial power in Asia and Africa, Christians once more encountered Islam.  Most of the Muslim lands fell under direct or indirect European rule. It then became the policy of the Colonial Governments, supported by the Churches, to portray Muslims as barbarians, and try to destroy Islamic institutions, practices and influences.  They concocted stories to distort Islam e.g. it was said that the Prophet’s body was in a coffin suspended between heaven and earth (even though every Muslim knows that he is buried in Madina).

The influence of the Jewish Zionists in the Western media has also ensured that misinformation about Islam is repeated over and over.  The Zionists regarded the Muslims as enemies and used every means in their control to convince the west that Muslims were barbarians and backward people, and that Islam should be seen as the cause of their backwardness. This practice still goes on.

When the European Colonialists withdrew from the Colonial territories in Africa and elsewhere, they left a population of mixed Muslims, pagans and Christians who had been converted by the missionaries.  Many of these missionaries found it expedient to continue giving false information about Islam to their converts so that they would hate it and avoid finding out the truth.

D. Misconceptions due to faulty logic and reasoning are common among both Muslims and Non-Muslims. An example of this is the false assumption among some Muslims that whatever is Arab is Islamic and whatever is Western or traditional (in a non-Arab culture) is unIslamic.  Another example of faulty reasoning is the claim that the Qur’an was copied from the Bible because it contains some similarities and came at a later period of time.  Further reflection would help one understand that the age of a scripture and similarities in teachings do not entail definitive proof that one was derived from the other.  Otherwise, it could also be claimed that the New Testament was copied from the Old Testament and that they both were copied from the Vedas or Puranas of Hindus, which came much earlier.

Another example of faulty reasoning is the claim that Jesus (peace be upon him) is divine and greater than Muhammad (r) because he was born miraculously with no father. Further mental deliberation would help one recall that Adam (peace be upon him) was created without a father or a mother, and that all miracles come from God.  Therefore, it is not the object/subject of the miracle that greatness should be attributed to, but God Himself.