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Why there are varying and conflicting viewpoints of Islam
With the rise of Islamophobia in America, it is time to take a look into and understand the basics of the religion that causes so much fear and hate among Americans. - photo by Massarah Mikati
In the past week, bikers demonstrated outside of a mosque, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman in a religious discrimination suit and a Muslim chaplain alleged discrimination on a United Airlines flight.

Muslims have been in the news regularly, and the effects have been more negative than positive for the world's fastest-growing faith. A 2015 Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 55 percent of Americans had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam.

Accordingly, only 43 percent of respondents said they had some sort of knowledge of Islam, which experts contend is the root of Islamophobia, along with not personally knowing a Muslim.

Writing about the importance of the Supreme Court's recent ruling against Abercrombie & Fitch, the Washington Posts Simian Jeet Singh argued for the importance of diversity in the workplace to counter Islamophobia and the resulting discrimination.

Having a more diverse cross section represented in the workforce would cut against negative stereotypes that contribute to xenophobia and hate violence targeting minority communities, he said.

The events over the past week stem from a misunderstanding of Islam, according to scholars of the faith. Here are a few questions and answers dealing with some issues that were the root cause of the conflicts.

1. How does Islam work?

Islam a religion with over 1.6 billion followers scattered worldwide is not monolithic but decentralized and diverse, according to scholars and surveys of the faith.

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, wrote in a New York Times piece that people interpret religion through their culture and background, leading to diverse practices and teachings.

"No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted," he wrote. "People of faith insert their values into their scriptures, reading them through the lens of their cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives."

Furthermore, unlike Catholicism, Islam does not have a hierarchical, institutionalized structure to unify the diverse religion under a single interpretation of the faith.

"Anyone can be an imam, lead a prayer, or deliver a khutbah (sermon)," M. Hasna Maznavi, founder of the Women's Mosque of America, wrote in the Huffington Post. "We believe that every human has a direct and equal connection to God, without intermediaries."

The closest thing Muslims have to a centralized authority to help them sort out theological issues are Muslim scholars who can best interpret the Quran based on their expertise in Arabic, hadiths or stories about the Prophet Muhammad and the historical context of the faith.

2. Does Islam promote violence?

When people protested against Islam in Arizona last week, they claimed the faith threatened their life, with memories of the Texas shooting, Boston Marathon bombings and 9/11 fueling their fear.

While these terrorist acts were committed by Muslims who claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, research shows that violent Muslims make up a small minority of the global Islamic community.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 81 percent of U.S. Muslims believe such violence is never justified, and "around the world, most Muslims also reject suicide bombing and other attacks against civilians."

When the protesters gathered outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix last week calling for the end of Islam, no violence ensued.

In a letter that Muslim scholars released condemning ISIS, they said, "The slaying of a soul any soul is haraam (forbidden and inviolable under Islamic law), it is also one of the most abominable sins."

Islam literally translates to submission in peace and Muslims in Phoenix demonstrated that by hosting a multi-faith prayer service and speakers preaching love and not hate, according to the Huffington Post.

3. What is the role of women in Islam?

Reports of France's banning the hijab or head scarf in public and of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch discriminating against a girl for wearing the hijab in a job interview have raised questions about the garment and the role of women in Islam.

Islam isn't the only faith requiring women to wear a head covering. Orthodox Jews and some Christian sects observe conservative and modest dress codes that include a head covering.

But the hijab is seen in Western culture as oppressive, obliging women to cover up and dress modestly. However, Abdul Sattar Ahmed, a board member of the Islamic Learning Foundation, said that the purpose of the hijab is not to oppress but to empower and protect.

"In Islam, hijab is not demanded of women by men," he wrote at, a website established by Imam Suhaib Webb. "Hijaband modesty is ordered upon women by God, as a protection and a barrier. A means of interacting in society while holding the line against anyone who would seek to harass, hit on, annoy, or irritate them."

He said Muslim men also are expected to respect all women, even those who don't observe the modesty standards of the faith.

"(Men) should not use the fact that a sister is dressed in a way that does not fit (our personal interpretation of God's commandments) into a reason for having bad manners, a lack of respect, and a lack of humility," Ahmed wrote. "For brothers, we should lower our gazes and move on."

While most Islamic scholars agree that the hijab is obligatory, only 37.5 percent of Muslim women worldwide actually wear the scarf.

4. Why are depictions of the Prophet Muhammad upsetting?

The Arizona protesters held a cartoon-drawing contest of the Prophet Muhammad outside the ICC of Phoenix in response to the violence that ensued at a similar contest in Dallas early May.

Christians portray Old Testament prophets and Jesus in art hanging in churches, homes and museums. But most Muslims find such depictions, cartoonish or not, offensive.

Islamic scholar Moataz al-Khateeb told Al Jazeera that all the prophets of the Abrahamic religions are highly respected and revered in Islam, hence any ridicule of them, particularly the Prophet Muhammad, is an insult to the faith. Islam also teaches that depicting the prophets in any way guards against the possibility of idol worship, which is forbidden in Islam.

While Christians worship Jesus as God, Islam teaches to worship only God the father.

The prophet himself was aware that if people saw his face portrayed by people, they would soon start worshipping him, Akbar Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, told CNN. So he himself spoke against such images, saying, Im just a man.
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