The word Islam – which translates to “surrender” – is closely correlated with Arabic salam, or peace. Pre-Islamic Arabia was wrought with destruction and tribal warfare. Personal vendettas led to counter-vendettas, leaving the region polarized and wildly unstable for multiple generations. In early 7th century A.D., Prophet Muhammad saved early Muslim communities from extermination by the powerful city of Mecca, according to scriptures. After ensuring security for his people, he introduced the Koran to promote a campaign of nonviolence. By 632, Muhammad single-handedly brought peace to war-torn Arabia.
Because the Koran was conceived and interpreted during a time of violent warfare, many of its scriptures relate to armed struggle. Indeed, wars of self-defense are permissible, and one is called to fight, like Muhammad, to avoid the kind of persecution that the Mecca inflicted upon early Muslim communities. However, extremists often quote these verses exclusively and completely disregard the Koran’s subsequent exhortations to peace. Muslims may not begin hostilities (2: 190). It is meritorious to forgo revenge in a spirit of charity (5: 45). Muslims must respect and remain emphatic toward Jews and Christians because God “formed [humans] into nations and tribes so that [they] may know one another” (49: 13). Muslims are told that “there must be no coercion in matters of faith” (2: 256) – something Christians can learn from, in my humble opinion – and that they must reach out to others with intelligence and understanding.
Islamaphobia has long plagued Western societies, and is further exacerbated by false assumptions that jihadist organizations somehow represent core values of Islam. Muslims in America have been subject to long-term discrimination and are forced to reclaim their faith in a xenophobic culture that deems them suspect, even after having lived there for multiple generations.
Boshia, a Muslimah from New Jersey, takes us through a visual journey depicting the beauty and dynamism of her faith. Not all Muslims wear niqabs that cover their bodies and faces. Not all Muslims are Islamists, or believe that the Koran endorses an Islamic government. And most importantly, not all Muslimahs are oppressed or disempowered, as Western feminists love to assume.