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What are Some Myths About Islam?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Islam is a religion which is widely misunderstood among people who do not practice it. A number of myths about Islam are both untrue and hurtful, and perpetuating such myths leads to a breakdown in honest dialog and frank discussion about Islam and Muslims around the world. Many Muslim organizations work to dispel myths about Islam so that people have a better understanding of Islamic faith.

Like all religions, Islam is an extremely complex faith with many facets and sects. While all Muslims adhere to the Five Pillars of Faith, Muslims interpret the Qu'ran and other holy texts differently, and there are a variety of ways to read these texts. For example, some people use the fact that the Prophet Muhammad had multiple wives to suggest that Islam promotes polygamy; many Muslims would suggest otherwise.

One of the most commonly disseminated myths about Islam is that Islam is a violent religion. This is not, in fact, the case. While the Qu'ran does support the use of violence in some cases, just as the Bible does, Islam is primarily a religion of peace and learning, and there are numerous sections of the Qu'ran which indicate that violence is frowned upon. Some radical Muslims choose to focus on clauses in the Qu'ran or Sharia which appear to promote violence, and they may use these as justification for violence, but they are condemned by more moderate Muslims.

Much misunderstanding, in particular, swirls around the concept of jihad, or “holy struggle.” Holy struggle takes a number of forms, but many moderate Muslims believe that it is fundamentally supposed to be about the personal practice of faith. Individual Muslims are expected to engage in personal struggle to enhance their faith, taking on difficult challenges both large and small. While jihad sometimes does take the form of war, it is not necessarily violent.

Another of the common myths about Islam is that Muslims are not tolerant of other faiths. In fact, many Muslims believe that all faith is sacred, and that respect should be paid to the practitioners of other religions, along with their holy texts and places of worship. Islam also shares many ideas with the Jewish and Christian faiths, and accepts Jewish prophets, including Jesus, as valid religious figures. While individual Muslims may behave in a way which contradicts this view, they not represent all members of their faith.

Some people also mistakenly believe that all Muslims are of Arab descent, and that all Arabs are Muslim. This is not the case. An estimated 15% of the world's Muslim population is Arab, with many Muslims coming from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, and Africa. Arabs can be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or any other faith, and they are not necessarily Muslim simply because of their racial descent. Christianity and Judaism both got their start in the Middle East, and both pre-date Islam, so clearly all Arabs cannot be Muslim!

The treatment of women in Islam is also the source of many myths about Islam. Critics of Islam point to fundamentalist governments such as that found in Saudi Arabia to suggest that Islam advocates the mistreatment and abuse of women. In fact, the Qu'ran specifically addresses women's rights in numerous places.

The mistreatment of women in some Muslim societies reflects conservative views and fundamentalist interpretations of the Qu'ran and Sharia, not the moderate beliefs of Islam. The wives of the Prophet were in fact vibrant, outspoken members of society who had distinctive and unique personalities, and while there are sections of the Qu'ran which seem to suggest that women were not viewed as equals, many Muslims have reinterpreted them. Just as many Christians do not believe that women should be stoned to death if they are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22:21), many Muslims do not think that radical interpretations of the Qu'ran are appropriate.

One of the best ways to dispel myths about other religious faiths is to talk directly to adherents of those faiths, and to religious officiants. Many Muslims are happy to discuss their faith with people who are genuinely curious, and some mosques even hold open house or community days for interested visitors who want to learn more about Islam.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon336098 — On May 26, 2013

This comment should not be taken against any religion. I, as a Muslim, am very strictly forbidden from degrading any other religion

The butcher of human history, Adolf Hitler, was born a Catholic Christian and was a member of a Church until his death. But his actions strongly contradicted what he was obliged to do as a Christian.

Another butcher of history, Joseph Stalin, was a Georgian Orthodox and later became atheist.

Similarly, those who kill innocent people in the name of Jihad, the Taliban and Al-Qaida people are also Muslims but they are not doing what they are supposed to do.

The only difference between Hitler and Al-Qaida members is is that the latter are either “innocent” or “idiot” enough to believe that they are doing any good for Islam.

We cannot stigmatize any religion because some of its members are not following its guidelines. As someone rightly said, we cannot sue a car manufacturing company if a driver crashes its car and kills someone because he was drunk!

By anon105780 — On Aug 22, 2010

Funny how all of you talk about how this article lacks evidences and proofs to support its claims, yet you all use no evidences to bring your points.

People need to read by themselves and stop listening to videos or the media. The books are actually there how many of you actually took the time to read them? Like Ali ibn Abu Talib said: "No goodness lies in silence with wisdom, as there is no goodness in saying with ignorance." So if you don't know what you are talking about how can you debate about it?

So i invite every single one of you to enlighten himself by reading every scripture and by then reading history before talking nonsense. Aren't there sayings in the Quran promoting interfaith dialogue? Wasn't there a place in the Quran telling how "Ahlul-Kitab" were allowed and welcomed to live in Muslim cities?

When there was the constitution of Medina at the time of the prophet (pbuh) that he said: Not one muslim shall attack a jew, nor a jew shall attack a christian, nor a christian shall attack a jew, and so on and so forth? How can people just come without evidences and debate on such a pointy and complex subject? Just with "what they heard".

Surat al-Kafiroon discredits all the hatred you guys seem to see in Islam when the Quran states in that Surat: Oh disbelievers, I worship not that which ye worship, Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion." How is that violent good sirs?

And didn't Ali Ibn Abu Talib (pbuh) say: "A person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity."

How would such an important figure accept that if one is not your brother in faith he is at least equal to you as a human being while you claim the Quran is full of hatred for disbelievers and other faiths.

So please, like they say where i am from: learn to read. Peace.

By anon57712 — On Dec 26, 2009

I think that you are mistaking cultural behavior with what the Islamic teachings are. It is not quranic law that is intolerant of other religions, it is the Arab culture that has misinterpreted the fundamentals of islam.

I cannot comprehend where you got the information about the death penalty stated by the Quranic law? I highly recommend you check your sources as although Islam encourages non muslims to convert to it but has never encouraged intolerance.

In fact, Prophet Mohammed's successor Ali Ibn Abu Talib has been quoted: "A person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity."

Most of the myths about Islam come from analyzing the Arab culture which is in no way the true religion. Although they dominate the media, they are only a small percentage of the muslim population.

The interpretations of the Quran are very complicated and can easily be misinterpreted. Radical muslims have chosen not to read verses in a context that justifies their violent behavior. This is in no way condoned by moderate muslims as they will not accept the twisting in meaning of Quranic verses.

If you look deeper into the Quran, you will be amazed by it. There is nothing in it that needs to be altered, hence it has remained unchanged for thousands of years. It is a timeless book in which there are even verses that mention scientific theories that were only just proven recently.

By anon38920 — On Jul 29, 2009

Peaceful: The Qu'ran and Qu'ranic Law specificly state that Islam can legitimately be spread by conquest and forced conversions. It endorses slavery of kafir (non-muslims). And it gives the death penalty for leaving Islam. By whose definition is that "peaceful?"

Tolerant: Qu'ranic Law tolerates the kafir only upon the condition that the kafir is subject to an Islamic state, to which he owes special taxes based on his (non-Islamic) religion. Muslims are also encouraged to publicly humiliate non-Muslims to show their second-class status. Again, where is the "tolerant?" Because that isn't in Webster's.

You do say that "moderate Muslims" do not believe in these outlooks. But, if you do not believe the Qu'ran and do not follow Qu'ranic Law; in what sense are you Muslim? (Isn't that a bit like saying many moderate Christians don't believe in Christ's divinity?)

By anon26587 — On Feb 16, 2009

I have some objections to this entry as nearly all claims made here are not supported by any evidence. Especially, phrases like "many muslims are [...]" is not supported by studies or other evidence.

Moreover, it is not clearly pointed out if the "many Muslims" referenced represent a deviation from the tenets of this religion or if the official theology of this religion itself promotes a different view as is commonly thought (and none or insufficient evidence is laid out for either claim).

The distinction should be made clear since the title of this entry is "myths about Islam" which suggests that myths about the theology underlying Islam are dispelled and not "myths about muslims".

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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