Destruction. Hatred. Fear. These three words define a terrorist. But who are terrorists? At this point, all of America seems to believe they are “Islamists” who run around yelling “Jihad!”and cutting off heads and not tolerating other religions. And who are the Islamists? They are average Muslims. People think any Muslim is a terrorist. Although not everyone in America and the world sees it this way, there is a fair number of people who do. They think that Muslims, just like me, are bad people.
It is very important to me that the American public understand Muslims. In this day and age, it is a very arduous task simply to be a Muslim. Shortly after September 11, listening to just about any news station was disheartening. There were calls from people who said, “I think we should just nuke that place over there. Just blow ’em off the map. That’s how I’d deal with it.” A short while later, I was in a mosque in Austin, Texas to hear a religious scholar preach, when from outside, we could hear someone yell,“Ya’ll can all go to hell!” But this wasn’t a prompt to go after him. It wasn’t a prompt to blow up his car. This wasn’t a prompt to run around yelling “Jihad!” as some might think. It wasn’t a prompt at all, except for us to pray that we do not, one day, become like that. This is just a testament to the fact that the word Islam actually means “peace.” The ultimate goal of this religion is peace. Not war. Not death.
When people try to learn about Muslims, the term “jihad” is brought up as though it were a good thing in Islam. And it is. It is encouraged. But there is a big misconception because jihad means “struggle,” not “holy war.” The struggle doesn’t have to be with other people, either. Yes, holy war is part of jihad. So is doing the right thing even when the wrong thing is tempting or easier. So is preaching Islam. So is showing that you are a Muslim and not hiding the truth. So is being a Muslim. Even the fact that I am writing this essay because information about Islam is important to me is part of the jihad. It is all a struggle, a struggle that has become more and more strenuous.
Another misconception is that Muslims hate all other religions. It is clearly stated that Muslims should be tolerant, and that we should say “yours is your religion, and mine is my religion.” We are to follow our own paths, not obstruct others. Guiding onto your path would be the encouraged form of interaction, because by informing, teaching and practicing in front of others, people would become more aware. Also, suicide is considered a major sin in Islam. These are both teachings in the Qu’ran (or Koran as many call it, which is the incorrect pronunciation). Any person who is intolerant or suicidal is not a Muslim.
There is much more to Islam than people think. Many just do not care to go deeper than the image that the media portrays. Muslims aren’t just a bunch of terrorists who yell “jihad” at the top of their lungs. They aren’t suicidal maniacs, they are Muslims, Muslims in an everlasting struggle for identity.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.