The first time I posted about Islam on the Internet, it was, oddly enough, on a Star Wars messageboard. One of the responses was PM that informed me of certain "facts" about Islam that were more than slightly off the mark. Things haven't changed so much in the ensuing decade, really, and perhaps have even gotten worse. Those opposed to religion want to include Islam in their criticism, but often fail to understand even the basics about it. Given that most online sources are either very much in favor or totally against Islam, who can really blame them?
I aim to provide an alternative, starting with the definition of the words "Islam" and "Muslim."
Western Muslims seeking acceptance of Islam lean towards defining Islam as "peace." However, there is more to the definition than that. Linguistically speaking, it makes about as much sense to overhype the word "Islam"'s shared root with the Arabic word for "peace" as it is to do so with its link to the word for "tanning leather."
Still, it is hard to argue with the many Muslims worldwide who insist that Islam means "peace." Even in their views, however, it is important to note that said peace is supposed to be attained through the submission of one's will to that of Allah.
A Muslim, then, is one who submits his or her will to that of Allah. Proving that someone is a Muslim is a tall order, to say the least. How does Islam assess whether or not someone has done so, then?
It's quite simple, despite all the talk of submitting one's will. All someone has to do is "take shahada," or pronounce the declaration of faith, "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger," in Arabic, as well as in whatever is his or her native tongue, and he or she would be henceforth considered a Muslim. Even those who do not practice Islam are considered to be Muslims as long as they have said those words at some point in their respective lives.
Although Muslims do love to accuse other Muslim of not being actual Muslims for various reasons, according to Islamic law, the only way for a Muslim to leave the faith is for him or her to denounce the declaration of faith without later recanting. I'm pretty sure that declaring one's apostasy via Facebook, laying low for a while so as not to shame the family, and then dishing about it as an atheist feminist skeptic qualifies, but then again, the Quran didn't predict the Internet.
In terms of Western Islam, the relative ease of conversion as well as the prohibition on declaring self-identified Muslims to be not actually Muslims, combined with Islam's prohibition of inter-religious marriage for Muslim women, has led to the curious phenomenon of "Cupid's Muslims," or men who take shahada so that they can marry their Muslim girlfriends. Many of these men just say the words and never follow up on the whole "Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life" thing about which most Muslims are quite adamant, but as is human nature, denial and valuing appearances over reality takes precedent over the truth.
Main image via.