Understanding Islam

Charlie Lahud-Zahner


Chances are, since you are at a Christian university, you are Christian, and even if you aren’t, you are familiar with the religion.

Because Christians are the dominant religious demographic in the United States and worldwide according to a 2017 demographic analysis performed by the Pew Research Center, American society identifies strongly with Christian values and tradition.

Within the comfort that Christians have, living in a Christian society, I believe there is a religious and civic responsibility to learn about a world religion that has been vilified as an enemy of Christianity.

We Christians need to strive to understand Islam if we want to take our SPU mantra of reconciliation seriously.

Americans live in a predominantly Christian context, where Christian values have shaped and continue to shape American society.

The United States government has a clear distinction between church and state. Yet if you can recall grade school, you can find remnants of the Christianity that built the United States.

For example, the image of our flag procures the words: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God…”

Most of the American national holidays are Christian; there is minimal controversy in wishing someone a Merry Christmas or a Happy Easter.

Christians in the United States have a clear privilege of being accommodated to and being accepted; any American knows that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and the Genesis account of the creation of the world.

It seems only fair that Christians should repay this privilege by matching or exceeding the knowledge that people of other faiths have about Christianity, in regard to other faiths.

While there are many world religions that our society would benefit from learning more about, I specifically chose to highlight Islam for two reasons.

First, I am taking a history course on Islamic Civilization and am only now realizing the depths of my religious ignorance. For the first two weeks of the class, I was totally confused by which was the correct spelling of Muhammad (“Muhammad” is the most agreed upon English spelling, but it is not uncommon to see it spelled as “Muhammed” or “Mohammad.”)

Second, there seems to be an American antagonism toward Islam and Muslims. An unhealthy Islamophobia has recently been highlighted through Donald Trump’s travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries.

It was only seven years ago that the Dove World Outreach Center, a church in Gainesville, burned a Quran during service after proclaiming it to be evil, which instigated deadly counter protests in Mazar-e Sharif, according to the Washington Post.

Christians need to be more educated about Islam, a religion that, in America, has been treated with none of the tolerance and respect that Christianity has received.

Furthermore, being educated about another religion doesn’t mean that you necessarily support every teaching that is has.

In an interview with Dr. Alissa Walter, Assistant Professor of History at Seattle Pacific University, as well as my professor for Rise of Islamic Civilization, cited being educated about Islam as both a civic and Christian responsibility to know more about such a prominent world religion.

“We are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but how can we love someone that we don’t understand?” Walter said.

Walter also pointed out a responsibility to better understanding the religion of nations that we are currently at war with. “It’s our civic duty,” she said.

While civic duty isn’t usually the sort of term that gets anyone out of bed, it is true: part of being a good Christian is being a good student, and that includes being a student of religion.

To be educated about Islam doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to take a class on the subject. Instead, more realistically, Google it. What is Ramadan? What are the five pillars of Islam? Why do some women veil and why do some not? Does the Quran justify violence?

The only way to combat preconceived notions about Islam and Muslims is to learn about them.

An opinion about Islam should only come after gaining knowledge of basic facts about the religion.

Think of it like this, if someone takes the time to learn something about you, to figure out what foods you like and what foods you really hate, the right thing to do is to reciprocate. You learn about them because it acknowledges their effort to invest in you, and broadens your worldview.

So, extend the same courtesy that is often afforded to our own majority culture by the Islamic faith.

Take time to understand Islam. It is our duty to do so.