Coexist: 5 Common Misunderstandings About The Muslim Culture

Especially in the Western world, anger and misjudgment toward Islam and Muslims seems to grow stronger by the day.

As an American who grew up in a Muslim family, the distasteful attitudes and hateful words online baffle me.

I can’t help but wonder: If people understood more about the religion, if they just realized how similar it is to their own, it could bring a sense of enlightenment. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are similar in their respective teachings, yet Islam seems to be most criticized.

By clearing up five common misconceptions, I hope anyone who is afraid will realize there is nothing to fear but hatred:

1. "Jihad" means Islam against the world

Jihad is often portrayed around the world as the “Holy War” of Islam; however, in a purely linguistic sense, the word "jihad" means struggling or striving.

For many peaceful practicing Muslims, jihad is not a war on the West. There is no desire to pick up AK-47s and rocket launchers in order to start the next crusade.

In fact, jihad is meant to be defined as the ultimate internal war; the war we all, as individuals, face every second of our lives: the struggle to be a good person, remain honest and contribute positively to the world. It's the struggle against damaging desires and selfishness.

Islam is not launching a war on mankind; it is merely a guide to help us win the battle within ourselves. It is similar to the core purpose of every other religion ever created.

By the way, as was reported in 2009, there are currently 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today. If we all wanted to collectively watch the world burn, life would not be pleasant.

2. Allah is the God of Islam

The most common misunderstanding is the idea that Allah is some sort of murderous, bloodthirsty Islamic deity.

However, Allah is just purely and simply the Arabic word for "God."

That’s right, folks; Islam teaches that there is only one God, and it’s the exact same one any Christian or Jew would worship.

Muslims prefer to call God "Allah" as a token of respect and in order to not compare God to the many other uses of the word, such as godlike, Greek gods or godly. Allah, the name, and whom it represents, signifies purity and is not altered or used in another context.

So, whenever you hear or see someone disrespecting Allah, say something because he or she is disrespecting the higher being that 4 billion people look to for guidance and purpose.

3. Islam oppresses women

The common image of a Muslim woman covered in a veil and being forced to stay home and serve her husband is very widespread among many misguided people around the world.

Although a few Muslim countries oppress and strip their female population of dignity and esteem, these examples do not reflect the teachings of Islam.

In fact, women hold many rights in Islam. It is taught that a woman, whether single or married, is an individual in her own right, with the ability to own and dispose of her property and earnings.

Both men and women are expected to dress dignified, and the Quran even states:

“He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest and peace of mind in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy." (Quran 30:21)

Heavily ignored is the fact that four out of the five countries with the largest Muslim populations — Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey — have had female heads of state, an attribute many other countries cannot claim.

4. All Muslim people are Arabic

The Muslim population exceeds 1 billion people. An astounding one out of five people on Earth is Muslim.

Islam hosts a diverse range of races, nationalities and cultures from around the globe — from the Philippines to West Africa — and their common faith unites them.

Only about 18 percent of Muslims reside in the Arab world, and many famous people also identify with Islam.

Hakeem Olajuwon, Lupe Fiasco, Dave Chappelle and Ice Cube are just a few influential (and non-Arab) individuals who are Muslim.

Islam definitely boasts variety, and Muslims come in all shapes and colors.

5. Muslims do not believe in Jesus or Moses

Muslims not only acknowledge, but also revere Jesus and await his Second Coming. In Islam, he is considered one of the greatest of God’s messengers to humanity.

He is respected to such a level that a true Muslim never refers to him simply as "Jesus," but always adds the phrase “peace be upon him,” just as with Prophet Muhammad.

The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Quran is even titled "Mary"), and she is believed to be the purest woman in all of creation.

The story of Moses is abundantly taught, too, and he is also considered one of the most important prophets.

Islam rejects the notion of a Holy Trinity and teaches that no being is associated with the one true God, but almost every other aspect and story in the Bible and Old Testament are prevalent in the Quran.

Doesn’t a religion that guides more than a quarter of the world’s inhabitants deserve a greater level of understanding?

I am an American Muslim. I am by no means perfect, and I am still figuring out my purpose in life.

I have no ill will toward any other culture or belief, nor have I ever been persuaded to believe so.

I eat hamburgers, troll Tinder and constantly make bad decisions, just like any other 20-something still finding his or her way.

IS and Al-Qaeda do not symbolize me or Islam. The world should be more curious about what Islam represents, not merely how it is clearly misrepresented.