January 24, 2017

LEE | Islam from a Non-Muslim Perspective

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It has been many months since the end of Ramadan, the holy month of Islam. Here in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, expats who compose almost 90 percent of the population are left in despair as they face 120 degrees Fahrenheit heat, restaurants closed until 7 p.m. and roads filled with hasty drivers. During this month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in accordance with one of the five pillars of Islam, misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims widen. Some Muslims get annoyed at some non-Muslims who disrespect their fasting by eating in front of them. Other non-Muslims are displeased by the fact that they are not to eat in public during Ramadan. However, rarely do these two groups communicate in terms of their respective perceptions on Islam and its practices. My concern is that when such misunderstandings even persist in an Islamic country, how many more misconceptions will there be in the United States where many only hear about Islam through news about ISIS or injustice for women in Saudi Arabia? That is why we most certainly need to have more open talks about Islam, as well as any other cultures that are considered foreign.

When I moved to the UAE three years ago, almost all of my friends told me to “be careful” simply because of the fact that I was a girl heading off to a Middle Eastern, Arab, Islamic country. Even to this day when I tell my friends that I have never felt so safe before in any other country, they give looks of doubt or simply say that it’s probably because I’m living in the multicultural hub of Dubai. That’s partially true. I have come to realize that because people from more than a hundred different countries make Dubai the place of wonder that it is, it can’t help but be accepting of several cultures and backgrounds. But I have also realized that Dubai wouldn’t have been able to become the place that it is if the Islam that dominates the country was intolerant as many wrongfully assume it to be.

As ISIS makes headlines almost everyday with its terrorist attacks supposedly held in the name of Allah (God), Islamophobia has escalated in many parts of the Western world, if not the rest of the world. However, one must realize that although news about ISIS dominates the media, it most definitely does not dominate Islam. The other one and a half billion Muslims do not believe in such terrorist attacks. Time and time again Arab countries have deplored ISIS for wrongfully portraying Islam and have held airstrikes against IS militants.

What’s more, the hijab, a veil used by some Muslim women to cover their hair, has become a symbol of female oppression. To be clear, forcing the hijab is condemnable in all forms and is most certainly a way of limiting women from seeking basic freedom. However, forcing women to abandon the hijab is also almost as inconsiderate. Many Muslim women prefer to wear the hijab because it is their belief that showing their hair to strangers is inappropriate. Those who choose to wear the hijab should have just as much freedom to do so as those who prefer not to, because it is a matter of personal choice: a basic right.

Moreover, the people who choose to preserve their faith in Islam deserve to be respected for their views, just like any other belief. Too often do Muslims get shunned for their apparently unconventional views. What would become of this world if we were all to preach the exact same values and beliefs?

In case you were wondering, I am not Muslim. Nor do I support ISIS or gender inequality in extremist sections of Islam. Nor do I oppose Christianity. I simply hope that before one goes against any culture or religion with preconceived notions, even if not in full agreement with all of its beliefs, one will try to look at it from different angles before being too quick to judge. I hope that my non-Muslim perspective on Islam, although not entirely comprehensive, will help you realize that issues on the religion need to be seen from a new light.

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a freshman in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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  • J_Sentinel

    Your article shows you haven’t done enough research on Islam. Please spend some time researching the life of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, whom all Muslims are expected to revere and emulate. Now compare him to Jesus of the Bible and see if you can tell me with a straight face that you support Muhammad’s marriage to a 6-year old girl, whom he had sex with when she was 9.

    • Mustafa

      The ages of 6 and 9 are not agreed upon by muslim scholars. Its not well documented. What is agreed on is that it was post puberity. Its quite interesting that this is on the top of your mind when it comes to the religion of Islam. I won’t go into the various ages of consent across the world today, 50 years ago, etc.., the time period was 1400 years ago in a society that was not like any we can compare to today (even human sleep cycles were different back then), yiu can find similar cases with respect to age in the old testament.

      • Jash

        “A man can marry a girl younger than nine years of age, even if the girl is still a baby being breastfed. A man, however is prohibited from having intercourse with a girl younger than nine, other sexual acts such as foreplay, rubbing, kissing and sodomy is allowed. A man having intercourse with a girl younger than nine years of age has not committed a crime, but only an infraction, if the girl is not permanently damaged. If the girl, however, is permanently damaged, the man must provide for her all her life. But this girl will not count as one of the man’s four permanent wives. He also is not permitted to marry the girl’s sister.” A quote from Iranian leader and religious head, the Ayatollah Khomeini

        In ultra-religious Yemen, it is reported that half the girls are married before they reach puberty.

        This is because Mohammed married a nine year old girl who was still playing with dolls when he took her home for sex.

        • Mustafa

          Maybe I should have prefixed that with “muslim scholars that are accepted by a least the majority of muslims”. Mr. Khomeini is not accepted by >= ~80% of muslims.

          Having said that, I am not sure he said what you quoted him as saying. I did some research and found this interesting wiki talks that has an in-depth conversation about your attributed quote to him. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ATahrir_al-Wasilah

          Aisha bint Abi Bakr (the wife of the Prophet) had a tremendous impact on early Islamic thought as she narrated over 2000 hadiths. She had a wide array of contributions which sort of goes against this notion that she was a victim.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aisha

          • Jash

            Right. As you and I both know, Khomeini was a Shiite leader, so he does not have the support of the Sunni masses.

            As for Shiite clerical opinion on child marriage, family law after 1979 (the Islamic Revolution) reverted marriage age to 9 for girls. The outrage and disgust of the public forced Khomeini to amend it to 13.

            Here is Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, grand mufti of Saudi Arabia:
            “It is incorrect to say that it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. “A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she’s too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.”

            Now are we going to play a shell game that the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia is not an authority to Sunni Muslims?

  • Sun reader

    Glad you had a good experience in an Islamic country but Dubai is an exception rather than the rule.
    Yes most Moslems are good people just like any other religious group but Islam itself needs to evolve and progress and modify.
    You should read the Koran.