Islam – Perception & Reality

By Waleed Ahmad

Perception and reality are not always the same. Often our perception of reality
can be manipulated to give a more positive or alternatively a negative
understanding of a given subject.
It is essentially in this latter group that we find Islam in. It is portrayed not in a
positive light, but in a negative one. Its reality is being continually manipulated
to create an ugly perception of Islam.
Consequently Islam these days is characterised by war, terrorism, gratuitous
violence, intolerance and ignorance.
All I can say at this stage is that this is a distorted image of Islam. In reality,
these activities have nothing to do with Islam and the vast majority of Muslims
would not subscribe to this presentation as being reflective of the true teachings
of their faith. The perception being promoted is false – the reality is quite
The first clue as to why such violent representations are not ones of real Islam
can be found in the meaning of the word Islam itself – it means peace. Its name
indicates the goal it tries to achieve for a believer, that of peace. Not any odd
peace but peace at all levels. Inner peace through prayer and meditation, family
peace through providing guidance on how to behave with near relations, social
peace through its teachings on the rights of the neighbour and responsibilities in
the community, national peace by emphasising on loyalty to the country one
lives in and international peace.
So peace is at the heart of Islam’s teaching, its goal if you like, its primary
objective. And we are constantly reminded of this every day. When we meet we
are instructed to use the greeting of peace ‘Peace be upon you,’ we say. When
we complete our daily prayers – we have to pray 5 times a day –we turn to the
right and extend peace to everywhere on our right and then we turn to our left
and repeat the same, wishing peace everywhere on our left. So peace lies at the
heart of a Muslim’s life and he/she is reminded of it and its promotion both
internally and externally repeatedly.
One of the perceptions promoted about Islam that I mentioned earlier is that it
supports indiscriminate killing through terrorism, suicide bombings and the like.
This is a perception, a false perception. The reality is different.


On the contrary the stress is on safeguarding and promotion of life. This is why there is so much emphasis in Islam on charity and serving others. Apart from the institution of Zakat which is used to spend on the underprivileged in society. So the emphasis in Islam is not on wanton killing – far from it.” And in Verse 33 of chapter 5 we find. it is unfortunate that Islam is associated with violence and terrorism in a manner that other faiths are not when its teachings in reality are so different. and if any one saved a life. the question has to be posed. "The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand others are safe…" (Bukhari). Chapter 6 verse 152 of the Holy Qur’an reads. why? Why is it that the perception of so many of us particularly in the West is associating Islam with terrorism and violence? Why this divergence of perception from reality? In my opinion the fault of much of this lies in two camps – first those tiny minority of Muslims who insist in using the name of Islam to justify their criminal acts and pursue their worldly aims and the second. “…if any one killed a person.. it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – When it comes to the Hadith – the sayings of the Prophet . One of Hadith reads. giving in charity is considered a devotion and a dedication designed to bring you closer to God and a practice excessively engaged in during the month of Ramadhan. in Islam is considered sacred and the taking of it indiscriminately as is done in terrorist acts cannot be supported by its teachings.we find no difference in the teaching being conveyed. Tell that a would be terrorist.Life. So. Having said this. much more significant and perhaps 2 . it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind. “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct….

gov/news/stories/2008/january/tamil_tigers011008 3 . he was never described as a Christian terrorist – or even a terrorist at all. among other things. Similarly the Lords Resistance army of Uganda – originally United Holy Salvation Army and Uganda Christian Army/Movement1 . the Tamil Tigers . When Anders Brevik massacred more than 70 people in cold blood in order to preserve the Christian heritage of Europe. Consequently when atrocities take place where Muslims have committed the outrage. The killing of Lee Rigby is treated as an act perpetrated by two Muslims prompted by the teachings of their faith. and despite the fact.sinister. was motivated to kill Lennon because he was upset that he had declared the Beatles more popular than Jesus. Nor should they be. they were never characterised as Christian terrorists. 1 It functioned as a personality cult of its leader Joseph Kony who declared himself to be a Prophet leading a violent cult that earned him the nickname "Africa's David Koresh" 2 http://www. the name of Islam is invariably used.committed atrocities and terrorised the region.fbi.were terrorists alright but seldom described as Hindu terrorists. The same is not done when similar atrocities are committed by people of other faiths. Mark Chapman the murderer of John Lennon was a born again Christian and. are those in the mass media and the promoters of Islamophobia who are ever keen to portray the antics of such extremists as representative of true Islam. in the Sri Lankan civil war. they considered themselves Christians and doing a Christian duty (they wanted to rule according to the 10 commandments). The fact that both were recent converts with limited understanding of the religion of Islam is conveniently ignored. In fact attempts were made to suggest he was insane.described by the FBI as ‘among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world’2 . Cross over to the continent of Asia. 9/11 and 7/11 here are considered as Islamic acts not just terrorist ones.

000 Muslims in 35 countries of the world3. Interestingly when Gallup conducted a poll of 50. none are motivated by religion.has nothing to do with gratuitous violence or terrorism. 4 . 3 The poll was carried over 6 years and featured in the book ‘Who Speaks for Islam’ by John L Esposito & Dalia Mogahed 4 Robert Anthony Pape. not religious ones. it reported that 93% of those who were polled rejected 9/11 and suicide attacks as legitimate and of the 7% that considered them legitimate.So you can see how from a Muslim perspective we feel unfairly treated and victims of Islamaphobia where the outrages of a few cranks and wierdos – who exist in every faith – is considered and projected as the norm. especially the coercive strategies of air power and the rationale of suicide terrorism. not only Islam but religion in general . Jr. Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago –a leading terrorism expert4 .examined every single case of suicide bombings from 1980 to 2005. they cited political reasons for their stance NOT religious ones. So only a small fraction of Muslims have sympathy with 9/11. and of those that do. Many of these activities that fall under the guise of religion are motivated by political social and economic reasons. Serious academics in the field endorse this position. is an American political scientist known for his work on international security affairs. There were 315 and concluded. Religion.

.Rather what nearly all suicide attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from what the terrorists consider to be their homeland. people in those lands have been able to remain there and practice their faiths freely.compounds the outrage even further.’5 Therefore any perception that religion is at the root of terrorism is false because the reality is quite different.the antics they are embroiled in. of intolerance of those of other faiths and the destruction of monuments – these have nothing to do with Islam and history lays testament to this. Yet these barbarians – there is no other word for them – deem it right to expel those who do not agree with them in matters of religion and demolish a heritage that has existed for thousands of years and belongs to all humanity. Despite their name .‘..there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism or any of the world’s religions…. ‘Religion is rarely the root cause. the statutes and heritage sites belonging to ancient times have been preserved and left intact.’ He adds. be they Yazidis or Christians.Islamic State of Iraq and Syria . and in compliance with their teachings. Sunnis or Shias. creating havoc in the Middle East and beyond. We don’t have to give chapter and verse from the Holy Qur’an to prove this – just look at history! Muslims have been in these lands for over a thousand years. although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective. In recent years we have observed the emerging sceptre of ISIS. 5 Extract from the US hardcover edition of “Dying to win: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism” 5 . That they use the name Islam compounds the outrage and the fact that our media in the West perpetuates this characterisation – that this is in line with Islam.

the synagogues. There is no need to do so. one of the most prestigious institutions of learning in the Islamic world claims that ISIS follows false Islam9 and the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has said that ISIS is the enemy of Islam. Yet these people devoid of any scholarship in Islam have engaged in these acts considering them Islamic. Yet in this crusade of the promoters of Islamophobia the perception that is being created is that it is ISIS that is presenting real Islam despite its vilification by the vast majority of Muslims. Polling in the States have revealed that over a quarter of those polled believe that ISIS is what a true Islamic society looks like. churches and cloisters7.ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) are not Islamic except in name only – certainly not in deed. ‘There is no compulsion in religion’6 the Holy Qur’an declared and exhorted believers to offer protection to the places of worship of others.14 6 . The al Azhar University. The Holy Prophet tolerated people of other faiths so much so that he even allowed them to worship in his mosque. 6 Holy Qur’an Ch2 verse 257 7 Holy Qur’an Ch22 verse 41 8 Phd in Education – some say Islamic Studies . {Abu Bakr Baghdadi may have a qualification in Religion8 but the rest.} Their presentation of Islam is not accepted by anyone in the Muslim world. It may call itself Islamic but in reality it has nothing to do with Islam.12. Such is the tolerance and acceptance expressed in Islam. 13. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria we say. It is absurd. North Korea is not a democratic nation and even though it calls itself ‘Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’ we hardly ever refer to it by that name because in reality it has nothing to do with democracy.from the University of Baghdad 9 Statement of Al Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb as reported by Ashraq al-Awsat. The same should be with ISIS. so let us not dignify it with that name. Part of the reason for this is that we in the West choose to describe this cult as Islamic. like David Koresh are practically illiterate when it comes to religion and are led by others with ulterior motives.

let’s examine this.” (Al-Tirmidhi) ‘doing good to those even if they do evil’ is a very noble even saintly sentiment. and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. not mass murder is! And what about the man himself. Did Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) manage to practice what he preached? Well. do not sit with them until they engage in a talk other than that.This year we were marred with the tragedy of what took place at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when two French Muslims along with a third at a kosher delicatessen later murdered 17 people including a Muslim policeman. what would he have been his response when subjected to the provocation meted out by Charlie Hebdo? Would he have emulated the murderers or reacted differently? Well.. consider these two incidents in his life and judge for yourself. Easy to say but very difficult to do. ‘…when you hear the signs of Allah being denied and mocked at. What the killers did was wrong. the Prophet.’10 Swapping seats. “Do not be people without minds of your own. Instead. 10 Holy Qur’an Ch 4 v141 7 . He is known to have said. The caricatures that had provoked the murders were offensive and were hurtful no doubt but as many Muslims were at pains to point out. They claimed they did so to avenge the drawing of the caricatures of the Prophet which Charlie Hebdo had published and which they found offensive. they could not conceivably warrant murdering the perpetrators for this act. saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well. is what the Qur’an’s idea of the right response should have been to such acts of blasphemy. it was totally un-Islamic and absolutely contrary to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an which in one place says. accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.

One old woman. The Charlie Hebdo atrocity also raised the issue of freedom of expression. he treated them with compassion. And yet the Holy Prophet. Like he preached. I’m sure you would have reached the same conclusion as every reader would have of how the Prophet would have responded to the cartoons. in his hour of greatest triumph when he had both Hind and the assassin at his feet. only silence greeted him as he walked by. He forgave everyone. Amazed at his kindness. This represents the reality of the teachings of Islam. Instead he would borne the outrage with patience. It went overboard because the justified wave of sympathy that arose then merged into an acceptance for the irresponsible stand that the magazine had long adopted of provoking and offending others under the cover of free speech. sympathy for Charlie Hebdo itself went overboard. sought no revenge. when Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) walked past her house. As soon as he found out. It isn’t. one of the Holy Prophets chief tormentors offered freedom to her slave to kill the Holy Prophets beloved uncle Hadhrat Hamza and then in a further act of pure barbarism cut out his heart and chewed upon his liver. This was a false perception of reality – a perception based on a delusion – a delusion that the freedom of free speech is absolute. Instead he returned their evil with good (just like he exhorted others to do in the hadith quoted above). What the Paris murderers did was nothing but a gross distortion of Islam and an aberration of its teachings as proved by the example of he Prophet. And the second incident. with mercy and simply forgave them leaving them free to go. he rushed to her sick bed and comforted her. While rightly mourning the victims of this tragedy. no decapitation or hanging not even a formal trial. During the early period of his ministry Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) suffered ten long years of persecution. But one day. he would not have returned evil with evil or in the case of those Paris murderers with a far greater evil. despised him and what he stood for so much that every day. forbearance and responded to it peacefully. Hind. Some even went as far as saying that they were champions of free speech. 8 . On making his enquiries Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) learnt that the woman was seriously ill. torture and abuse at the hands of the people of Makkah which was far worse than these cartoons. she hurled abuse and rotten food at him. After listening to these two incidents. she converted to Islam. and yet when he returned to Makkah as a victor he showed nothing but forgiveness and magnanimity.

no a 100 times. Next year. 11 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 12 Taken from blog by Dr Faheem Younous. we can only do so if we respect the sensitivities of others. our greatest hero all rolled into one. Why? Because the US critics and NAACP11 were offended.12 So it is clear absolute freedom of speech and expression does not exist. our dearest colleagues. DDB. Why?. Sony pulled its Dutch PSP ad showing a white woman clutching a black woman by the chin. Getting Real about Blasphemy and Free Speech 9th Jan 2015 9 . and an insensitivity and ignorance on the part of those who publish such cartoons and support these publications. as an excuse to hurt and offend others needlessly. It is limited and we should not pretend otherwise as the supporters of such outrages invariably do. we can’t mock the Holocaust – it is an offence in some countries to deny it . Snickers pulled its famous "man kiss" ad -. It does not excuse the reaction of the murderers for one moment but it should reveal the depth of feeling that exists. He is dearer to us than our closest relations. apologized and paid thousands of dollars in compensation when Catholics sued them for making a VW Golf ad that mocked Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper.. as we are in the West. Imagine if someone most dear to you is insulted and ridiculed and multiply it a 10 .We can’t for example insult anyone at will. Interestingly in that wave of hysteria following the Charlie Hebdo affair one of the few voices of sanity and reason that arose was that of the Catholic Church and the observations of Pope Francis in particular. a leading advertising company. We cannot and should not use it. Here it has to be understood that any caricature demeaning the Prophet is felt deeply by Muslims. In 2006. He said and I quote. in increasingly multi-religious and multi ethnic societies. Muslims revere the Holy Prophet. That is how a Muslim feels on seeing his beloved Prophet mocked. our best friends. In 1998. If we are to live harmoniously.we can’t use the F word for gays or the N word for Blacks and there are plenty of other examples that can further illustrate this. Why? Because the gay community was offended.because the French Catholic community was offended. like Charlie Hebdo. In order to preserve this freedom and enjoy it we have to tread carefully exercising the responsibilities that go hand in hand with this freedom. So any insult to him is extremely painful.after it played at the Super Bowl.

American writer Harlan Ellison has said. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. he can expect a punch. Dig a little deeper – not too hard to do – the reality of Islam is quite different. of harmony and tolerance. Quite the opposite.not of the false perception of Islam . You are entitled to your informed opinion.but of the reality of Islam. examine the issues by looking at the sources of Islam – the Qur’an and Hadith and talking to Muslims.” So I hope when you form your opinion of any aspect of Islam. You cannot insult the faith of others.” He added. You cannot provoke. it is one of peace. how initial perceptions about Islam can be deceptive. “You are not entitled to your opinion. 13 Independent 15/1/15 10 . That will enable you to acquire an informed opinion .“If my good friend Dr {Alberto}Gasparri says a curse word against my mother. It is not a religion of violence or intolerance at all. No one is entitled to be ignorant. you will not be swayed by any common perception that is being bandied about in the media or expressed by extremists but will be able to separate the truth from the rubbish. “It’s normal. the grain from the chaff.”13 From this it is hoped that readers will see.