Research Paper: Teachings and Practice of Islam

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[. . .] This means there are much more Muslims living in areas like the United States and Great Britain than ever before. Many of these individuals have had to adjust how they practice Islam in order to fit into the legal mold of such Western nations, were religion is kept out of state affairs.

Still, despite growing numbers of Muslim inhabitants of Western nations, they must still often fight against preconceived stereotypes. In most Western nations, like the United States and Great Britain, Muslims are still seen as outsiders. The research claims that "they are classified, officially and in popular parlance, as ethnic Arabs, Africans, and Asians," (Shamsul, 2006, p 68). Those who follow Islam tend to be stereotyped into tight categories in the West. This then makes an impact on the quality of life of the Muslim populations in such Western areas. Many Muslims are faced with the constant stereotyping of Islam as being entirely fundamental and hostile to Western ideas and cultures. In recent times, "the specter of Islamic fundamentalism, especially after the September 11 event, sends a shiver through European / Western society, which seems not nearly threatened by equally prevalent and violent fundamentalism of other faiths" (Shamsul, 2006, p 66). Americans and Europeans are bombarded with media reports of hostile fundamental groups in Islam, with little attention to the majority of peaceful Muslims living in Western regions. Unfortunately, "this has certainly affected the attitude of the [Americans] towards the Muslims not only those living in their own countries but also beyond" (Shamsul, 2006, p 66). As such, prevalent stereotypes continue to tarnish the image of Islam in Western areas.

Muslims find themselves as a minority in Western nations, which is much different than Muslim populations in the Middle East. This minority status has impacted the rights and well being of Muslims living in the West. Essentially, there is a clear "contest between traditional-religious ideas and perceptions vs. The modern-secular ones remain important at the heart of the problematic minority Muslim and majority non-Muslim relationship" (Shamsul, 2006, p 66). Still, with the recent influx in Muslim populations, the tides will eventually begin changing. The research suggests that Islam "is already the second-largest faith in Canada and Europe; it will soon be the second-largest in the United States as well" (Morgan, 2010, p xi). As more Muslim populations in Western regions grow, hopefully they will begin to lessen the prevalence of the harsh stereotypes many Westerners have of Islam.

India

India is the gateway that lies in between Asia and the Middle East. It is heavily influenced by Pakistan in the north, and by Southeast Asian nations further south, both of which regions have large Muslim populations. India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world (Raatma, 2009). The research shows how the Muslim population was "confined at first to North India, Islam later spread throughout the entire subcontinent" (Morgan, 2010, p 157). Most of this progression southwards occurred during the Mughal dynasty that was founded in 1201 (Morgan, 2010). Since then, Islam has grown dramatically and become one of India's top religious affiliations. India now finds itself in a state of "a cultural synthesis between" Hinduism and Islam (Morgan, 2010, p 158). Sufi Islam is popular in India because of the mysticism that goes well with indigenous and Hindu religions that were here well before the spread of Islam into India (Morgan, 2010).

Other Asian Nations

Other Asian nations have adopted Islam alongside India as well. According to the research, "outside of the Arab-speaking world of the Middle East, the next largest population of Muslims is to be found in Asia -- Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Asia" (Shamsul, 2006, p 62). Islam is much different as it is seen in the context of Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian nations. The differences in practices have often been attributed to the fact that "the pluralized Islam was embedded and set into a non-Islamic mould that constitutes an admixture of indigenous belief, Hinduism, and Buddhism" that were layered on top of one another to create a truly unique form of Islam that varies enormously from community to community (Shamsul, 2006, p 63). Fortunately, most "Muslims in Southeast Asia had accepted a separation of religion and politics" that was much like Muslims practicing in the United States and Great Britain (Shamsul, 2006, p 64).

Still, in Southeast Asia, like in the Middle East, a more fundamentalist form of Islam has been a way for individual nation states to revolt and pull away from the colonization of European powers and ideas. Essentially, the research suggests that "in a redefined political, economic, and cultural scenario, Islam progressive as ever, became the source for creative dissent for the locals against the colonizers in each of the nascent modern-nation states" (Shamsul, 2006, p 63). Some of these Islamic dissenters have remained Democratic in their dominance, while others take a more hostile route like the fundamentalists seen in the Middle East.

The Middle East

The Middle East is the birthplace of Islam, and is still the region with the greatest Muslim population. Even within this enormous block of Islam practicing nations, there are still large differences between practices among cultural enclaves. The denominations of Muslims impact how they practice Islam, but also who they see as their primary allies in the region. Here, the research suggests that "most people in the Middle East belong to the Sunni sect of Islam" (Wheeling Jesuit University, 2002). Shiites take the majority is areas like Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran (Wheeling Jesuit University, 2002). The differences in denominations have helped shape relations between nations in the region for decades.

Many Middle East nations practice pure Islamic rule within their own legal requirements and structures. It has been said that "Islamic governments should follow Islamic law" (Morgan, 2010, p xviii). This entails a strong connection between church and state, where Islamic law becomes the primary foundation for law in general in such Islamic states. Essentially, "the Western concept of separation between church and state does not exist in many Islamic societies, nor is religious tolerance always considered a virtue" (Morgan, 2010, p xix). The head of state is typically Muslim and Islamic religious rules are followed as law. Saudi Arabia even forbids the open practice of any other religions in its borders (Morgan, 2010). This highly conservative nature to many Middle Eastern states is what makes practice in this region so much different than practices of Islam elsewhere in the world.

These practices are what often incite gender issues as well. In Islam, there is a general concept of keeping the two sexes separate. From the Quran, this is the principle that "the object of seclusion is that both men and women should be restrained from intermingling freely and that neither sex should be at liberty to display its attraction and beauty to the other sex," (Ahmed, 2003, p 49). It is meant to keep the sexes separate in order to ensure their dignity is not tarnished. Yet, when this is translated into law based on Islamic regulations, it can become an issue to women's rights and well being. In more extreme Islamic states, the rights of women have been dramatically impacted through heavy restrictions on their behaviors and dress. Unfortunately, "it is sheer ignorance of the teachings of that religion to suggest that seclusion means shutting up women like prisoners in a jail," yet often times in the most conservative Islamic states this is exactly what happens (Ahmed, 2003, p 49).

Pakistan

Speaking of conservative Islamic states, Pakistan is one of the most ardent Islamic governments. According to the research, "Pakistan was formed almost single-handedly in 1948 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) as a home for Muslims of the Indian subcontinent" (xviii). It soon became an enclave for Muslim inhabitants who wanted to live under Islamic rule in the Indian subcontinent. Since then, it has turned incredibly conservative. Pakistan has chosen a "military solution" to ensure its Islamic principles are followed (Shamsul, 2006, p 65). As such, there is a very conservative Islamic government that rules over the lives and practices of its people.

The nation is most known for its militant groups against Western ideologies. There are not that many fundamentalist groups out there, yet they are the ones that have "always attracted our attention due to the violent and militant nature of their activities that often costs so many innocent lives" (Shamsul, 2006, p 66). These groups have garnished international attention. Moreover, the sharia, a set of extremely conservative religious rules that serve as the foundation for political rules, is practiced to the extreme in Pakistan. The Taliban in Pakistan set up an extremely conservative rule in Pakistan; one where the "the Pakistani Taliban also interprets sharia as forcing women to remain in their homes and the outlawing of all forms… [END OF PREVIEW]

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