3 Hurtful Myths About Islam, and How Being an Ally Can Help

This is a guest post from Nancy Graham Holm, a professional journalist in Denmark. Ever since the Danish cartoon crisis of 2005-06, she has been writing and speaking about progressive Muslims, especially Muslim feminism.

Allies are individuals who advocate for and support members of a community other than their own. Allies will not allow intolerance or bigotry in their communities, but will instead strive for a society that is safe for everyone and respectful of all, regardless of race or religion or sexual orientation.

The battle is on several fronts, and one of them is gaining far more support than many of us ever imagined we’d see in our lifetime. This is the ‘queer ally’ movement in which supporters of human rights ally themselves with self-identified members of the LGBTQ community, supporting them in their campaigns: first for civil rights and secondly, against the tyranny of patriarchy. (LGBTQ for the non-conversant stands for ‘lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual and questioning.’)

Once essentially marginalized, the LGBTQ movement has, in just the last six years, become mainstream. When Minnesota made same sex marriage legal †- becoming the 12th state to do so – many ‘straights’ jumped for joy because we are ‘proud queer allies.’ Without our support, it is doubtful the movement would have gained as much momentum so quickly. And we are honored to be in their corner.

Can’t we now extend this support to the abolition of another type of bigotry, specifically, Islamophobia? Isn’t it time to establish a movement for non-Muslims who wish to stand up for the followers of Mohammed; Muslims who love their faith but who are not jihadists, not misogynists, and not secret agents for the establishment of shari’a law in western societies? Isn’t it time to declare our support for Muslim feminists and the majority of Muslims who are not socially alienated ‘losers,’ seeking salvation in Wahhabism or Deobandi Islam, complete with recipe books on how to make bombs from kitchen utensils;†the insane ones who take butcher knives into the street? Isn’t it time to identify ourselves as ‘proud Muslim allies’ for the millions of law abiding, diaspora Muslims living in our secular societies of North America and Europe?

We can use our voices to protest the bigotry that is unintentionally created by the media. We are not naÔve. We know that the media’s job is to sell newspapers and deliver consumers to commercial sponsors so that good news is never news at all because only bad news sells. But we regret that Imams with liberal views are seldom quoted and that academics engaged in liberal Quran’ic scholarship are never profiled. We regret that organizations that promote empowerment for Muslim women in the Third World seldom appear in mainstream magazines. We regret it when a major Danish newspaper prints a cartoon that shows Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. We especially regret it when Muslim Palestinians are generically described as ‘savages’ in New York City posters.

As a ‘proud Muslim ally,’ it is our responsibility to combat cruel and intentional ridicule. It is our mission to dispel prejudices and falsehoods about shari’a and interpretations of certain hadith that violate human rights. We can begin with the most obvious distortions, the assumptions many Westerners make about women in Islam such as female genital mutilation, compulsory veiling and forced marriages.

Firstly,†female genital mutilation†(FGM) is not asked for in the Qur’an and it is not practiced in the majority of nations where Islam is the dominant religion.

Secondly, veiling for Muslim women is optional. The verse in the Qur’an is ambiguous, says religion historian, Reza Aslan. Geography matters. Culture and historical traditions differ and both sides find justification in the verse asking for modesty. (24:30-31) “The woman who says I am absolutely certain I am supposed to cover (my head/my face),” says Aslan, “is just as correct as the one who says I am absolutely certain I am not supposed to cover (my hair/my face.)” In fact, less than 40% of Muslim women wear a veil, according to Abdullah Ahmed An Na’im, a legal scholar at Emory University.

And thirdly, forced marriages “are most definitely not endorsed by the Qur’an,” says Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy with a law degree from the London School of Economics. A woman is required to sign the nikah papers, demonstrating her consent.

These practices, among others, prejudice Westerners against Muslims but as ‘proud Muslim allies,’ we need to remind everyone that they are based on cultural practices with a long history, not religious doctrine.

It will require courage to claim oneself a ‘proud Muslim ally.’ First, some strands of traditional Islam will hate us, vilify us and write nasty blogs about us, claiming we are neocons in the service of the so-called ‘good Muslim’ as promoted by and described in the Rand Corporation Agenda. On the other side, professional Islamophobes will rebuke us for accepting pluralism and promoting tolerance. They will call us ‘naÔve,’ ‘fools’ and ‘traitors’ of Western civilization’s values. A third source of vilification will come from people who hate religion – all religions – on principle.

Ijtihad: Feminism and Reform is an educational documentary about diaspora Muslims who have progressive values. It’s a good place to start.

Watch it, learn from it, discuss it with your friends, and then send your comments.


Related Stories:

What the Boston Bombings Can Teach Muslims

You Canít Cure Sexism With Islamophobia

Muslim Americans Bridging Communities Through Art and Music



Frank Hanline
Frank Hanline3 years ago

@ Bill: You know, I'm an atheist, but my wife, mom, sister and at least one of the kids are christian. To say I hate christians would be a lie

But I do despise liars and you are a big liar. I would gladly tell you that to your face

The US is NOT a christian nation, we are secular with a higher percentage of christians in the nation

Post that nonsense about the US Supreme Court in 1892 declaring we're a christian nation. Flies in the face of the Separation as "There shall be no religious test for office" don't you think? Oh, maybe you don't

As for private institutions, does that mean if one is Muslim owned and they say "Praise Allah" that makes the US Islamic?

Who put the metal plate on the Washington Monument? It wasn't put there by the original builders

As for President Obama, I'm sure if he cured cancer you'd bitch and moan about "Putting people out of a job" or if he walked on water, "He can't swim"

As to what he didn't do, well he didn't did he? Sens McCain and Graham felt he could attack without approval. I'm glad he didn't and went to congress. Still that has been done by Presidents since the Mexican-American War

Your grasp of history is abysmal

Bill Reese
Bill Reese3 years ago

Teresa, I said more Churches than non-churches as many churches are sending people into those countries and giving them the support to try and make a difference. I am sure you also see our present government supporting the Islamic religion in the US. It is the Islamic religion that is the main instigator of FGM.

Sorry that upset you, but from what I have read and heard from a very good female Kenyan friend that is true. She came to America about 10 years ago and is fearful for the life of her niece in Nairobi. I am not sure about the spelling of Nairobi.

Teresa B.
Teresa B3 years ago

Ahhh, I see now....revert back to your bigoted hate speech. Your last post implies that ALL churches are conservative, ALL non-Christian organizations are liberal, and our government is trying to push Islam on us. Got it??

I don't think there's any more for you and me to discuss here.

Teresa B.
Teresa B3 years ago


I definitely KNOW that FGM is not a liberal or conservative issue, but a human rights one. I only mentioned your go-to RW websites, as they may not be very concerned about "problems" in Africa.

Nevertheless, it doesn't stop you from researching, more and more, till you've come up with what YOU think may end FGM, and then contact your Representatives and the UN.

BTW, believe me, the UN is also definitely aware of this horrible practice.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese3 years ago

To answer your question about conservative ideas to stop FGM, you will find more Churches fighting FGM than non-Christian organizations today. This includes our present government that is pushing the Islamist religion which is one if not the main offender of FGM.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese3 years ago

Teresa you may not believe this as you are so deep into liberal views, but this is not a liberal or conservative view, it is from an American view that very few would agree with FGM. In fact there are many churches in Africa today that are taking actions against FGM, but any idea from a thoughtful person might be better that some of the tried and old ideas that do not seem to be working.
I am also looking for something that might get the attention of my two Democratic senators that today have very little interest in doing anything to slow down FGM in Africa or elsewhere.

Teresa B.
Teresa B3 years ago

Hi again, Bill,

Why do you need Linda's ideas of how to end this mutilation? Why not do some research and come up with YOUR OWN ideas?

I know you won't find pertinent info on the extremely conservative RW sites you frequent, but you should keep an open mind and search many different sites.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese3 years ago

Linda, I agree with you, but how do we begin to put a stop to this practice? It seems every time some one does say something they are called Racist or bigot.

If you have some ideas I will be pleased to pass them on to our senators and representatives. I would even try to get the idea into the UN Health Organization. I just need
something to work with that makes sense. Kenya may be the leader in reducing the FGM.

Linda F.
.3 years ago

30 million muslim girls are in danger of FGM right now. 125-140 million women are living with mutilation from this cutting practice.

Bill Reese
Bill Reese3 years ago

◦In 1892, the Supreme Court of the United States declared, "This is a Christian nation."
◦During the War for Independence, Congress resolved to import 20,000 volumes of the Bible because "the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great."
◦The New England Confederation stated that the purpose of the colonies was "to advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the gospel in purity with peace."

◦Harvard College required that each student believe that "the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life."
◦John Adams wrote, "The Christian religion is...the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity."
◦Engraved on the metal cap on the top of the Washington Monument are the words "Praise be to God."