5 Facts and 5 Myths About Islam

What Americans still do not understand about the faith of Muslims.

Here’s a list of five facts that most Americans have learned about Islam since 9/11, and five misunderstandings that we as American Muslims still have to grapple with.

Fact #1: Islam is a religion with a significant number of of followers around the world.

In fact, it’s the second largest religion in terms of adherents (after Christianity), with more than a billion followers worldwide. Pre 9/11, many people weren’t even aware of other religions besides Christianity.

Fact #2: Adherents of the faith are not all “Arab,” and are as diverse as humanly possible.

Ethnically, Arab Muslims represent only around 20 percent of all Muslims worldwide, and the largest Muslim country is not even in the Middle East (it is Indonesia, with over 200 million Muslims; the second-largest Muslim country is Pakistan, also not in the Middle East).

Fact #3: Islam has a healthy and historical presence in America.

Everyone is now aware that there are plenty of Muslims in America (just look at all the mosque-building controversies around the country!). It is estimated that there are around 8 million Muslims nationwide. There were Muslims living in America during the days of the Founding Fathers, and a significant percentage of the slaves brought in from Africa were Muslims. There are even records of Muslims who fought in the Civil War. A significant percentage of American Muslims are African-American, and trace their roots to Islamic movements in America that began in the early part of the last century. However, the bulk of the Muslim community are recent immigrants who have come for higher education in the last fifty years, and who are now a part of the American fabric. My own father is an example of this wave; he landed in Houston, Texas in 1963 to pursue a Ph.D. in medicine, and was one of the first immigrant Muslims to Houston.

Fact #4: The religion of Islam consists of rituals, beliefs, and laws.

Muslims believe in One Supreme God – the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus – and have specific rituals (such as daily prayers, annual charity), beliefs (such as believing in the Virgin Birth of Jesus and his ministry on Earth), and laws (the most apparent being laws pertaining to food and drink).

Fact #5: There are diverse factions of Muslims, with different understandings of religious tenets.

Just as Christianity and Judaism are divided into many different sects, so too Muslims have their fair share. If one Muslim does something in the name of Islam (such as destroying the WTC), this is as representative of the entire faith as is a Christian bombing an abortion clinic in the name of Christianity.

Myth #1: “The term jihad signifies holy-war, ‘killing the infidel,’ and political dominance.”

Actually, the term ‘jihad’ means ‘struggle’, and signifies many things, including struggling internally to fight one’s desires and living a better, more righteous life. The bulk of the Muslim world would consider acts of terrorism to be just that: acts of terrorism, and not a true manifestation of jihad.

Myth #2: “The ‘Shariah’ is repressive and against American values.”

This is simply not true. The “Shariah” is simply a set of rulings by which Muslims choose to draw closer to God (think of the laws of the halakha and kosher laws for Jews). The bulk of the Shariah deals with personal laws, procedures for ritual worship, and dietary restrictions.

Myth #3: “Muslims are out to overthrow the Constitution and establish Sharia in America.”

This is actually so preposterous as to be comical, were it not for the fact that it is being used to indoctrinate hatred and fear against Muslims. There is no national organization that aims to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with Islamic law. Practicing the Sharia is not only fully compatible with the Constitution, it is a right that is protected by our Constitution, and American Muslims are proud to be both American and Muslim. Efforts to ban the Sharia are completely unconstitutional, and have always been ruled as such in all federal court cases.

Myth #4: “Muslims aren’t condemning terrorism enough.”

Again, simply not true. Countless Muslim leaders have spoken out against terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular; in fact, there is not a single national American Muslim organization or prominent leader that has remained silent on this issue (much less supported the terrorists!). Don’t believe me? Log on to any national Muslim organization’s Web site, or ask your local mosque their opinion and official stance on this issue.

Myth #5: “If that is the case, then why can’t Muslims just all release a statement against the terrorists?”

The answer to that is to understand that there is no central authority in Islam (i.e., there is no pope-figure). It’s the equivalent of asking all Protestants to unite together for some official statement. Each denomination and group can issue its own statements, but there is no mechanism for all Muslims (just as there is no mechanism for all Protestant denominations) to come together under one banner to ‘officially’ say something.

Note: This post appeared originally at the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and contained the following introduction: “This weekend will mark the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks of 9/11. It’s hard to believe that those tragic events, so fresh in our collective memories, occurred ten years ago. So much has happened, good and bad, since that eventful day a decade ago.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Yasir Qadhi
Written by

  • rentianxiang

    There some other myths regarding Islam that should be mentioned:
    1. Mohammed was someone whose conduct should be emulated. (I read his biography and found him to be a very awful person. And the biography was even a hagiographcal version written by a Muslim.)
    2. Shariah is compatible with the constitution. (It is not. Shariah does not simply deal with dietary restrictions and rituals of worship. The author conveniently ignores the unequal treament of women, the subjugation of non-Muslims who must be either converted to Islam or subjugated as second-class citizens subject to the jizya, or fought against. Every apologist of Islam likes to brush over or avoid talking about those areas of shariah which do actually conflict with our world view. But the real reason theat Shariah conflicts with our constitution is the very notion of where the authority or source of law is derived. For shariah authority comes from god (allah) through the Quran, and hadith and the sira (biography) and , if not covered by those, interpreted by scholars based on the principles found in those writings. Our constitution is derived from the consent of the governed and from the consensus of men. God and religion are not the source of the authority of our laws. That principle makes shariah and the constitution frundamentally incompatible. Any agrement is merely coincidental.)
    3. Another myth is that jihad does not mean holy war. Sometimes it means internal struggle, but very often it does mean struggle to expand the dominions of Islam. Just because it CAN mean something else, does not mean that it does not also mean, to many Muslims, that which we should oppose with all vigor: a holy war/struggle against the infidels.
    4. Yet another myth is that the terrorists are not true Muslims. They are just as Muslim as any other Muslim that organizes their life around the Quran and the teachings of its founder. Just becasue not every Muslim agrees does not make their interpretation un-Islamic.


    What I have learned about Islam post 9-11.

    The Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are a menace to this planet and its inhabitants. They spawn fanatics. They are happy to kill others for their beliefs. Their body counts are appalling.

    If humanity is to survive, they must be eliminated as ideologies – not by violence, but by social pressure. First off, remove their favorable tax treatment.

  • YusufKhan

    A concise and lucid summary that directly addresses the confusion and misconceptions in the minds of contemporary Americans toward their Muslim co-citizens.

    I am quite embarassed at the vitriolic comments here by the usual trolls, still bent on hate.

    We need more content like this on the Post. Thank you, Yasir Qadhi.

  • YEAL9

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? And what drives today’s 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror? The koran, Mohammed’s book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no female or male Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere…………………………….

  • YEAL9

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the “Gi-b G-nab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a “crea-tionist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No “pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and “tin–ker be-lls”. Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educate

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “Muslims believe in the SAME god you do and he has the same rules about not killing people. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all follow the Old Testament – Christians add the New Testament and Muslims add Mohammed’s teachings.”

    Christianity is quite simply about God becoming One of us.

    The god of islam vehemently denies that God became One of us.

    Jesus, God-Incarnate, taught us in prayer to call God, Our Father.

    Doesn’t the god of islam get upset if anyone calls God their Father and especially gets upset if anyone says the Jesus is the Son of God?

    Not only is Christianity about God becoming One of us but is also about His Life, Death and Resurrection.

    Doesn’t it say in the koran that Jesus did not even go to the cross?

    Jesus, flatout said that He was God many times and the Trinity is spoken of in the bible also, even if the Trinity was not called by name.

    Doesn’t the god of islam say that “God is One and yet a Trinity” is simply not true?

    Wasn’t it Isaac, in the bible, that Abraham took up with him?

    Isn’t it Ismael, in the koran, that Abraham took up with him?

    To simply repeat that the god in the koran and God in the bible are the same does not make it so.

    Doesn’t the Jesus spoken of in the koran bear little resemblance to the Jesus spoken of in the bible?

  • Elbanosear

    I know it’s an opinion piece, but the lack of fact checking is disgusting. If two women are required to equal the testimony of one man in a Shariah court, then Shariah is, on it’s face, totally incompatible with any progressive legal system in the world. Islam is like the other Abrahamic cults–you can use their holy book to support almost any value or behavior you’d like if you cherry pick–by which I mean to say that nothing is truly forbidden to a true believer, since all they have to do is find justification in a book that seems custom made to justify anything and everything.

  • kanishka1

    Islam has succeeded to the extent it has because the capacity to silence and stifle any effort to honestly analyze its teachings is built into its design

  • TheKeekian

    Tomorrow (9/9/11) at 4pm, Yasir Qadhi will be at the University of Maryland College Park leading an open discussion of some of the topics mentioned in the article. Use this opportunity to ask questions and engage him in intellectual discussion about Islam in America.

  • drrobertcgreer

    I’m afraid I disagree on many of your points.
    1) The United States of America prides itself on multiculturalism. Most Americans are aware of other religions apart from Christianity—such as Buddhism & Hinduism, 2 of the largest religions in the world.

    2) You are correct about the demographics of Islam. The country with the most Muslims is indeed Indonesia. The Arab Muslims, however, are the first among equals inasmuch as Muhammad was an Arab, the Islamic religion originated in the Arabian Peninsula, & the Qur’an is written in Arabic.

    3) The slave trade in the 17th, 18th, & early 19th centuries, however, was principally an enterprise that benefitted the Muslim world. Colonial America received only five to six percent of the slaves taken from Africa. The Arab slave trade, mostly from East Africa, lasted longer & enslaved more people than the European slave trade. According to the best estimates, between 12 & 17 million African slaves were taken to Islamic societies.

    4) Islam is monotheistic, yet has no similarity to Christianity. The Qur’an insists that Jesus was not the Son of God. He was merely a prophet. Yet the NT repeatedly presents Jesus as the Son of God. The Qur’an condemns to Hell anyone who believes in the Trinity (see Q 5:73). By leaving this important fact out, you are disingenuous in your presentation.

    5) Indeed Islam is divided into factions, & they kill one another on the grounds that the other has committed apostasy from the true Islamic religion & worthy of death. Such killings occur in Iraq & India (currently) & have occurred throughout the Middle East through the centuries.

    As far as the myths are concerned,
    1) Though jihad means “struggle” in the Qur’an it is presented as a struggle against the infidel—Holy War. Islamic theologians currently speak of the inward & outward jihad. The inward jihad is that which you mentioned in the article. But the outward jihad is military conquest. Al-Ghazali (renowned as the greatest Isalmic scholar (1056-1111), described this as

  • drrobertcgreer

    I share your sentiments. You may want to read my rebuttle to this article on my site: http://www.thequranrevealed.com.

  • drrobertcgreer

    I address this point in my response to this article on my site: http://www.thequranrevealed.com. Islam & Christianity are both monotheistic, but that is where the similarities end.

  • me1212

    Would that be similar to your other site:


  • WmarkW

    Dr. Greer, does your book discuss the theory that the later Medina verses are not from the same source as the Mecca and early Medina verses? The implication being that the surah advocating violent conquest aren’t actually about the real Muhammed; an army that conquered Arabia just wrote some additional text about their tales of conquest, re-casting Muhammed as the central character of something he had nothing to do with.

  • Kingofkings1

    Dr. Greer, whoever granted you your phd should promptly send for a recall. It is because of people like you that the world is now a more dangerous place (I beleieve more so than because of al qaida).

  • jbardsle

    Many of the comments below are negative towards Islam. The effect of a religion on people is difficult to judge, because different people assimilate the meaning of a faith tradition differently. Mr. Qadhi probably really does believe what he said in the above article. No amount of Qur’anic interpretation or citing of historical data to the contrary will change that. Perhaps this article really does show how American Muslims have absorbed the truths of their faith, which is great! As to the terrorists, we should be careful to consider the socioeconomic, cultural (other than Islamic culture) and historical factors that contributed to an environment that encouraged terrorists, and not just blame Islam. There are many things about Islam that are profoundly beautiful (to me, a non-muslim).

  • hitman2

    Where was Islam and radical Islam in particular before 9-11.
    Have you ever read the views by Bernard Lewis, Fokoyama and Sameul Huntington and its impact on neoconservatives who run the Bush administration. It was all before 9-11. A prepration to take on muslims after cold war was being planned well before 9-11.
    The truthers who are holding an international conference in Toronto these days on 9-11, thinks that this was a insider job – if so then? the whole senario is going to shift 180 degree. The personal fears of the “dwarfs” is responsible for all these war-mongering fevers.

  • edwerntz

    As most americans, I also do not understand Islam. AND I DO NOT WISH TO.
    They may take their beliefs back to where they came from and leave our christion beliefs alons. If they would stay in their own countries, there would be less conflict.

  • Secular1

    Mr Yasir Qadhi, this is splendid and great. But instead of informing all of us how great your religion is. It would be a lot more helpful if you were to write such articles in the newspapers ofthe 47 OIC paradises, where officially sponsored and supported tirades against people of every other religion and no religion are vilified. We have read and heard these empty inanities many a time from the like of you. Please next time write about the reaction you received when you tried to pontificate in the 47 OIC paradises about living peacefully with each other and above all amongst themselves – shia, sunni, bhai, boharis, and the other 77 branches of islam.

  • Secular1

    Mr Yasir Qadhi, this is splendid and great. But instead of informing all of us how great your religion is. It would be a lot more helpful if you were to write such articles in the newspapers ofthe 47 OIC paradises, where officially sponsored and supported tirades against people of every other religion and no religion are vilified. We have read and heard these empty inanities many a time from the like of you. Please next time write about the reaction you received when you tried to pontificate in the 47 OIC paradises about living peacefully with each other and above all amongst themselves – shia, sunni, bhai, boharis, and the other 77 branches of islam.

  • Secular1

    Hitman2 are you kidding man – the truthers!!! Even your buddy Usama owned up to the 9/11. You and your truthers live in a delusion.

  • Secular1

    Jbatdsle you are indeed naive, to think that “American Muslim have absorbed the truths of their faith, which is great!”. Have you seen the women coming out in their bee keeper suits a lot more or wearing the hijab as a sign of outright defiance, over the past 10 years than before the 9/11. All religion sir/madam is delusion, and islam is just a little bit more. If you find anything beautiful about delusions, you are indeed welcome to that thought, this is a free country.

  • Secular1

    Kingofkings1, if you do not have anything meaningful to say you rather shut up. If you had something to say to contradict Dr. Greer, however unfounded it may be, you can betray your stupidity here. But to say that his Ph D should be recalled, without knowing in which subject he got it in betrays your stupidity beyond words. What if (s)he got it in Physics, does his lack of scholarship in islam still merit the recall? KoK1 you could not counter any of his writings above you resort to this absolute rubbish. I could say shame on you, but after reading a countless fulminations of yours, I know that you have no shame, so I will not say that to you sir.