What Do People Ask about Islam?

Two weeks ago, I went to a sociology class to give a presentation on Islam. I have gone to this same class for at least the last four years. The experience is always interesting and challenging. Over the years, I have found that many of the questions remain the same, but become more nuanced, although sometimes the questions are new and force me to stop and think. In this post, I wanted to talk about the experience and the questions that students often ask about Islam.

Usually, at the start of the presentation, I begin by giving a disclaimer: I am only one of 1.57 billion Muslims and what I say doesn’t represent the entire Muslim world. I think that this is important because often people take the opinion of a few Muslims to represent the entire Muslim worldwide population and Islam as a whole. This is where many stereotypes are introduced (and one of the things that Inside Islam tries to address). After the disclaimer, I give a short overview of the 5 pillars of Islam and then open it for questions. Suprisingly, students can always fill up an hour and fifteen minutes with questions!

Questions almost always come up about the role of women in Islam, the relationship between the genders, what Islam says about other religions, when and how Muslims pray, the difference between Sunnis and Shias, and Islam’s position on violence. The last question on violence has of course became more prevalent since 9/11, but in this most recent presentation specifically arose in the context of the Fort Hood shooting. Even though I have answered these questions many times, every time I have to think carefully about my response because I want to be able to show the Islam that I know, not the version that leads to negative responses to my faith.

The topics I make sure to emphasize include the role of Jesus and other Judeo-Christian prophets in Islam, because so many people do not realize that Muslims share a common prophetic lineage with Judaism and Christianity. More often than not, students are surprised by the respect accorded to Jesus in Islam and the role he plays in the Muslim worldview. I also try to talk about the Qur’an–not only what it means to Muslims but also how it is misunderstood as a text. Finally, I always try to provide information about the Prophet Muhammad because I find that many people do not really know that much about him and if they did maybe their ideas about Islam would shift.

I have been giving this kind of presentation since I was in high school, but it was after 9/11 that it almost became necessary for Muslims to go out and engage in discussions about Islam with non-Muslims. Sharing your experience of the faith gives a human face to something many people do not understand.  That is also why a project like Inside Islam is so important because it provides the space to really address those questions. For example, Lisa Bu, my fellow blogger on Inside Islam, has been conducting a series of interviews on campus with professors and students about topics related to Islam in order to establish two-way communication. Moreover, in an effort to further acheive this goal, the next Inside Islam radio show, on December 29th, will be an open line so that listeners can call in and give feedback on the blog and the radio show.

What are your questions about Islam? Please share your questions and comments below.

4 thoughts on “What Do People Ask about Islam?




    • Thank you for your questions.
      1. Muslims believe that no one wrote the Qur’an. They believe it to be the literal word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad was illiterate, so he did not write the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad memorized what was revealed and recited it to his followers. Eventually, all the different parts of the Qur’an were recorded and compiled by the followers who were literate.
      2. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar) everyday from dawn to sunset for a number of reasons. First, they were commanded by God to do so in the Qur’an. Second, it is a way to be truly grateful for all that God has given you. Third, it makes you more empathetic to the less fortunate. Fourth, while you fast each day you are more conscious of God. Finally, it builds your willpower and self-control.
      3. Muslim women are required to cover out of modesty. In Islam, a woman’s worth is not measured by physical beauty but by character; therefore, it is not necessary to see her body to assess her character. Also, it helps women control how men perceive them and interact with them, especially since they will know from her clothing that she is a Muslim. By the way, men also have requirements for clothing. They too have to wear modest clothing and have a modest demeanor, which means it has to be loose, not transparent, and cover everything from the navel to the knee.

    • Thanks for your question. The majority opinion about covering is that the headscarf and long clothing. However, there are some Muslim women who want to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives and cover their face for increased modesty. It is often the personal choice of the woman. Of course, there are situations that women are forced to cover in a certain way, which is not in line with the dictates of Islam.