Muslim not always Arab
by Nagham Elkarhili
Fact: the largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. Indonesia as in Far East Asia, not Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately, when Islam is presented in the media, images of extremist Middle Eastern men invade the screen. Often times the religion of Islam is synonymous with the Arab ethnicity. Well here’s another fact: Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs.
Let’s begin with the first part of that statement: Not all Arabs are Muslim. Looking back at religious history, all three monotheistic religions were born in Mesopotamia. This region is located between modern day Iraq and Egypt. So technically Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were all Middle Eastern men.
Arab is an ethnicity, not a religion. Arab Christians and Jews do exist. There are a total of 1.5 million Christians all over the Arab world. In countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, churches and mosques are all over the cities and are sometimes right across from each other. The Arab Christian goes to Sunday Mass and the Arab Muslim goes to Friday Prayer. The church bells ring, and the call to prayer goes off. It has been that way for thousands of years and up to this day.
I grew up with many Christian friends in Syria. They were either orthodox Christians or Catholics. They had very “Arab” names, looks, families, traditions. It seems the American continent is so far away and isolated from the rest of the world that any image can pass for the far-away eastern lands.
“Arabs ride camels. They’re all Muslims, and they pray to Allah, the moon god.” This is a statement I’ve heard formulated in many different word combinations, but unfortunately they essentially all mean the same thing. The only time I’ve seen an Arab ride a camel was for them to do something the tourists usually do and take pictures.
Another fact: Allah is not a moon god. Allah is the Arabic word for God. Just like the French monotheists pray to “Dieu” and the Spanish-speaking people of the world pray to “Dios,” Arabs pray to Allah. Arab Christians pray to Allah. Shocker, I know.
And not all Muslims are Arab. The last president of the Muslim Student Association here on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus was 100 percent Cajun. He is a young man originally from Franklin. He converted to Islam a couple of years ago and has been the example of what a good, respectful American Muslim is ever since.
One of the most important goals of the MSA under his presidency was to break this direct link between the Arab culture and the Muslim religion. There needs to be a simple understanding of one of the most fundamental values in the Muslim religion: It is made for everyone in the world. The entire message of the Muslim faith is based on its universality. It breaks cultural barriers and reaches out to people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.
The holy Quran, the book of Islam, is the central guide for all Muslims around the world. Its text is still studied and interpreted to this day. The book is believed to be the words of God, or Allah, whatever floats your boat. Every word is taken extremely seriously. The grammar, the syntax and the context is essential.
The Holy Quran states, “O Mankind, indeed we have created you of male and female, and made you into peoples and nations so that you come to know one another” 49:13. This passage clearly articulates the importance of difference of backgrounds. This highlights the universality of Islam, its acknowledgment of difference, but most importantly the appreciation for cultural distinctions as well as the willingness and eagerness to uncover them.
So thank you news channels for bombarding the screens with untrimmed beards and long robes, and for representing Islam in the worst light possible by making uneducated extremists its official ambassadors to the world. I’d like to also thank Allah for being such a foreign word that most people interpret it as some mysterious dark god. Allah is the god of all Arab prophets: Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.