Islam, Muslims, and Assumptions.

“Never assume,” my mother used to say, “Because all you’ll do is make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

Good old American girls and boys make a lot of assumptions about Islam, Arabic and Persian culture, and what it means to be a Muslim. People who travel extensively would tell you that our assumptions trap us in a box that leaves little room for reality. We’ve been bathed in Media images of beggar women in full burka, of grim faced Afghani activist women and arrogant gun-toting men. It’s easy to assume that those images portray the whole of the Muslim experience- easy, but to be honest, also ignorant. Islam is one of the Big Three religions, and we know better than to picture every Christian like Pat Robertson and every Buddhist as wrapped in an orange robe.

Don’t we?

These are the images that first come to mind when I think of Muslims:

Afghani BeggarMeena

And it’s no wonder with these images in my head that there is some small part of me that believes Islam is an oppressive faith. But, then I pause, and realize that there is (as always) more to life than what my emotions and the Media tell me. There is the fact that when I think of Muslims I also think of American Islamic faith, something that is highly different than the Afghani experience. After all, in America Muslims are not governed by the Taliban. They are not subjugated and abused. In fact, there is only a single Muslim man in government. (No, not Barack, he’s NOT Muslim! I’m talking about Keith Ellison.

Congressman Ellison

But there is so much more to think about. My church is closely affiliated with an organization that is ministering to the Wolof people of Senegal. The Wolof people are largely a Muslim population, but they also carry African tribal traditions. So instead of the Arabic Muslim culture (which many Americans falsely assume to be ALL Muslim culture) there is a new breed of Muslim, the vibrant African faith that is not dour and oppressive, but generous and community based. Instead of somber gray and blue tones, the women dress in vibrant colors, they laugh largely and smile loudly. This is the picture of Islam that I want to retrain myself to see, not one of quiet desperation but one of life and love, one of big expressions.

Wolof DancerSenegalese Market Ladies

I am realizing more every day that I simply need to be more educated about the other religions around the world. Not just I, but all people. So many people use the words “Arabic”, “Muslim” and “Middle-Eastern” interchangeably, as if all people in the Middle East are Arabic Muslims, as if all Muslim people are in the Middle East and as if the Muslim faith is a purely Arabic phenomenon. This language assumes things that it has no right to, as not all Muslims are Arabic, and the Middle East is home not only to Muslims but to Jews and even ancient colonies of Christians.

It is most disturbing to Christians to discover that the American war in Iraq is unseating one of the oldest Apostolic colonies in existence, one that dates back two thousand years. Not to mention the fact that what was once a secular society, one in which women could attend universities and pursue careers, is now in danger of becoming a country under Islamic law.

We must leave our assumptions.


The Wolof People:

Afghani Women’s Liberation:


6 thoughts on “Islam, Muslims, and Assumptions.

  1. Brilliant post!!!

    I would like to add a few things if I may….

    Firstly, the Coptic Christians were amongst the first TRUE Christians. It was they who were fed to the lions, and they who suffered terribly for their faith in biblical times. One of the most beautiful examples of this Church lies in the center of Cairo. It is called the Hanging Church . The first Christian Monestary (St. Catherines)'s_Monastery,_Mount_Sinai is also located in Egypt on the Red Sea. It is where the Burning bush lies.

    Why am I telling you this? Because these people live in harmony with the Muslims. Side by side every single day. They are Egyptians, they are Middle Eastern, and they are Christians.

    There are also Jews living well in Egypt. I have visted the Temple in Cairo too. It is beautiful. It is not vandalized in any way, or scorned. I was escorted to it by a very devout Muslim.

    We need to stop focusing on our differences and instead embrace our similarities.

  2. The Middle East is still quite cosmopolitan…

    Re. area religions, there are also many Druze and Baha’i.

    And the culture of the Middle Eastern and North African “Arab” countries is very sophisticated and diverse. (Then there’s Iran… again, highly sophisticated, with amazing traditions of literature, music and art that are several millennia [sp?] old.)

    The US media has been spreading some very confusing and prejudiced notions about Arabs and Muslims for many decades, but the way things are ow is beyond atrocious.

  3. You are right to post about this. Many people do have such assumptions. I was one who did. Then, into my youngest son’s life has come a young lady who works with him. She is what is known as a Black Zionist. She is a member of a fundamentalist church whose preacher teaches his congregation that they have an obligation to help Jews in their fight in Israel because, during the civil rights fight in the 60’s, the Jews backed MLK Jr. and gave millions of dollars for the advancement of civil rights.

    My point? My son’s girlfriend has traveled to Israel three times, has met many Jews and Muslims. She has protested at her college campus against the violence in Israel. She’s told me about the people she’s met and how the assumptions we have are wrong. She’s majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and studies both Hewbrew and Arabic so she can work in Israel someday for the Dept. of State or at the U.N. She’s absolutely mind-blowing, in the sense that she has such an open mind and wants to work in a field that most people would never consider. She has expanded my understanding in ways I never imagined.

  4. You’re right that we can’t categorize a religion by one person, and I applaud you for that. I’ve heard that the African Muslims are the ones who practice female genital mutilation (circumcision). Does this group?

  5. Female genital mutilation is extremely rare in Senegal and only practiced in small, cloistered pockets. The vast majority of Muslim leaders in Senegal are now teaching that it is not required for holiness.

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