Meaning of Islam: Myths, stereotypes hide the truth

By Altaf Ali |South Florida Sun-Sentinel  Sept 15, 2008


Ask the average person what they know about Islam, they might say, “It is the religion of the Arabs” or “Jihad means holy war.”

Some would even say that the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, “promises terrorists 72 virgins when they die.”

Unfortunately, there are many myths and stereotypes about Islam. The “72 virgins” belief is probably the most misused and abused stereotype.

Add the misperceptions of Jihad and you’ll have an accumulation of myths and fears that will inevitably lead to Islam being marginalized and stigmatized.

Today, negative opinions about Islam are unfortunately escalating.

The Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a survey last year indicating that 45 percent of Americans said Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence among its believers.

Let me set the record straight: suicide is forbidden in Islam.

In fact, suicide is forbidden in the Quran and in the sayings and example, Hadith, of the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran and authentic Hadith are very clear and explicit about what happens to anyone who commits suicide.

Prophet Muhammad said, “A man was inflicted with wounds and he committed suicide, and so God said: My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid Paradise for him.”

A few years ago, the Fiqh Council of North America reaffirmed Islam’s condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism by issuing the following fatwa, or formal religious ruling: “We have consistently condemned terrorism and extremism in all forms and under all circumstances, and we reiterate this unequivocal position. Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives.

“There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – prohibited in Islam – and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not ‘martyrs.'”

The Quran states: “Whoever kills a person unjustly, it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.”

The closest reference to “72 virgins” comes from a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “The smallest reward for the people of Paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 companions, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah [a Damascus suburb] to Sana’a [ Yemen ].”

Even if it is an authentic saying of Prophet Muhammad, there is no reference to suggest that if someone commits acts of terrorism they would be rewarded with 72 virgins in Paradise .

The reference “terrorists are rewarded with 72 virgins in paradise” goes against the nature and true essence of the teachings of Islam. One cannot achieve paradise by committing acts of injustice.

Islam is a faith that adheres to peace and justice.

Yes, there are some who are misguided and commit acts of violence, but one cannot hold an entire faith of 1.5 billion people accountable for the actions of some.

In Islam, people who commit good deeds are rewarded and those who commit evil deeds are punished.

Terrorists, all terrorists regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, will be and should be punished not rewarded.

Nowhere in the Quran will one find, “Terrorists will receive 72 virgins when they die.”

This stereotype about Islam and Muslims needs to be put to rest once and for all.

Altaf Ali is executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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