My girlfriend is Persian and we’ve been dating for two years, so we figured it was time for me to meet her family. The only problem is that her extended family lives in Iran. So, in order to get an expedited Iranian Visa, her and I had to have an Islamic recognized marriage (we aren’t legally married but are faithfully so according to Islam). So, we went to the Islamic Center of Northern California in Oakland to see if we could get this done. But to have this process completed, I would have to become Muslim myself. So, if you’ve been watching your Fox News (or reading Mike Huckabee’s Twitter) lately then you know very well why this was terrifying. After all, we are at war with radical Islam. And Islam’s primary mission is to convert you or destroy you if you refuse.
The process began and I nervously awaited to accept Sharia Law, be armed with weapons, and begin my new life as an enemy of democracy. The Imam said some phrases in Arabic and Farsi; I repeated some without knowing what I was saying. Then he began to explain what they meant. Thus I received the most unsurprising news of my entire month: everything Fox News and Rush Limbaugh say about Islam is completely, wholly, entirely inaccurate and misleading.
Firstly, he told me that there was no “conversion” taking place. I was taken aback to learn that becoming Muslim was not a “conversion;” rather, the Iman described it as an “addition.” That is, becoming Muslim is just adding some of the beliefs to my pre-existing set. The only prerequisite was that I acknowledge some form of monotheistic higher power- essentially no difference from Judaism or Christianity. He further instructed me that adding Islam to my spiritual repertoire did not mean I had to consider Mohammed the only prophet. On the contrary, Islam apparently recognizes Jesus as an important prophet as well; but Mohammed is known as the last prophet.
As he continued, he made another salient point. He said that God put myself and my girlfriend together to live together, peacefully. When we are not living in peace and tranquility, he said, we are not doing God’s work. So, if people ought to be coexisting peacefully to be doing God’s work, then how could any type of violent representation of Islam be an accurate one?
The answer is it cannot be. All of this proves a simple truth and reaffirms a sad trend giving power to the current Islamophobic narrative. Even though I have heard these truths and explanations provided by a devout Muslim himself, opponents and Islamophobes will still brush it off, cherry pick out-of-context lines from the Quran, and use them as evidence of why Islam is inherently violent. While the truth is, those same accusers and detractors of Islam as a legitimately peaceful faith will ignore the actual politics that have led to an unstable Middle East since the end of the World War I, and the money that has poured into the region because of oil.
The truth is that Islam does not concern itself with “converting” others or expressing superiority over the other monotheistic religions. Its message and goal of recognition are often misconstrued by ignorance to appear violent and hateful. Therein lies the greatest irony of all: the same people accusing Islam of being an inherently hateful religion are so deeply consumed in hateful rhetoric and ideologies that they end up standing in contradiction with a lot of Islam’s core values. Perhaps all people should be married under Islam’s recognition; then everyone can do God’s work by living peacefully and ceasing to accuse one another.