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Shattering Ten common Misconceptions about Islam

Written by: by MSA :: (View All Articles by: MSA)

Written by The Muslim Students Association (MSA) at USC

Article Outline (Links to within this document): -

1) Islam is `the religion of peace'
2) In Islam, denial of human rights is OK
3) In Islam, women are inferior to men
4) Islam is well-suited only to the Arabs
5) Islam rejects Jesus
6) Islam orders the worship of Muhammad (pbuh)
7) Islam tolerates the killing of innocents
8) Islam is intolerant of other religions
9) Islam is a racist, afro-centric cult (Nation of Islam)
10) Islam produces a lazy, uneducated society

In this article, we will try to clear up many of the misconceptions that are prevalent about Islam. Before jumping into the list of misconceptions directly, it is important to give a little interesting background about the source of Islam.

Islam is the name of a way of life which the Creator wants us to follow. We avoid the word religion because in many non-Islamic societies, there is a separation of "religion and state." This separation is not recognized at all in Islam: the Creator is very much concerned with all that we do, including the political, social, economic, and other aspects of our society. Hence, Islam is a complete way of life.

The source of Islam is Allah, the Creator of everything known and unknown to us. He is One, and He is Unique. Allah has taught us about Islam via two mediums: the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Both the Qur'an and Sunnah were transmitted to us, humanity, via the Messenger of Allah: Muhammad bin Abdullah, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him (saas). The Messenger of Allah was nothing more and nothing less than a mortal messenger of the immortal Creator.

The Qur'an is a book containing the literal Word of Allah. It was transmitted from Allah to an angel of His (Gabriel), and from the angel to the Messenger of Allah who delivered it to us. The Qur'an covers a wide variety of topics, including evidence to support its claim of being the Word of the Creator, stories of earlier generations, rules which humanity is asked to obey, and information about the Hereafter. The Qur'an claims that it is protected from change by other than Allah, and this is confirmed by its 1400 year history. The earliest copies and the latest copies are the same.

The Sunnah is the term used to describe how the Messenger of Allah (saws) lived his life. The Messenger's life is an example for all Muslims, or those who accept Islam, to follow. Whatever the Messenger (saws) did, said, or approved of is a source of Islam just as much as the Qur'an. The Messenger's role is not overemphasized: his life was dictated by what the Creator desired, and the Messenger did not add or subtract to Islam according to his own personal whim. His life was such that his wife called him "a walking Qur'an."

The Qur'an and Sunnah are the only two mediums by which Allah has directly taught us about Islam. This leads us to the following simple but critical principle:

If any man or woman engages in a belief or action which clearly contradicts the Qur'an or Sunnah, then that belief or action cannot be thought of as "Islamic".

This rule applies whether the man or woman is Muslim or non-Muslim. Hence, we cannot equate Islam and the Muslims. Islam is the way of life; Muslims are people who claim to follow that way of life. A Muslim may claim to follow Islam, but be wrong. In the context of misconceptions, we can restate the above principle in a slightly different way:

Some misconceptions about Islam are due to the wrong beliefs and actions of Muslims, and others are due to a significant lack of understanding and false stereotyping by non-Muslims. Several misconceptions are listed below. Instead of simply stating the misconception by itself, we have also included some reasons why people might adopt that misconception. Therefore, each entry in the list is given in the following form:

<Statement of misconception> because:
<reason 1>

<reason 2>


After each misconception and its possible reasons, we show briefly why the misconception is false by showing one or more of three possibilities:

a reason is false

the reason does not logically lead to the misconception

a key piece of information is being ignored

Our answers to the misconceptions are drawn from the Qur'an and Sunnah. All other approaches are insufficient: Islam is a way of life which is very firmly based on a scholarly approach, an approach which is based on knowledge.

Misconception 1

Islam is "the religion of peace" because:
the Arabic word Islam is derived from the Arabic word "Al-Salaam" which means peace.

It might seem strange to think of this as a misconception, but in fact it is. The root word of Islam is "al-silm" which means "submission" or "surrender." It is understood to mean "submission to Allah." In spite of whatever noble intention has caused many a Muslim to claim that Islam is derived primarily from peace, this is not true. Allah says in the Qur'an (translated):

(136) قُولُواْ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالأسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَى وَعِيسَى وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
(136) Say ye: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)."

Al-Qur'an, 2.136 (Al-Baqara [The Cow])

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A secondary root of Islam may be "Al-Salaam" (peace), however the text of the Qur'an makes it clear that Allah has clearly intended the focus of this way of life to be submission to Him. This entails submission to Him at all times, in times of peace, war, ease, or difficulty.

Misconception 2

In Islam, denial of human rights is OK because:

Islam is against pure democracy
Islam tolerates slavery

The misconception does not follow from the reasons given, and the reasons ignore a great deal of information.

As stated earlier, Islam is a complete way of life. Given this, it is not surprising that the Creator is concerned with the method which we choose to govern ourselves. The preeminent rule which the Islamic state must observe is stated in the Qur'an (translation follows):

(59) يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلاً
(59) O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination.

Al-Qur'an, 4.59 (An-Nisa [Women])

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From this verse, it is clear that the state's obligation of obedience to the Creator is as important as the obedience of the individual. Hence, the Islamic state must derive its law from the Qur'an and Sunnah. This principle excludes certain choices from the Islamic state's options for political and economic systems, such as a pure democracy, unrestricted capitalism, communism, socialism, etc. For example, a pure democracy places the people above the Qur'an and Sunnah, and this is disobedience to the Creator. However, the best alternative to a pure democracy is a democracy that implements and enforces the Shari'ah (Islamic Law).

The Creator also states in the Qur'an (English Translation): -

(36) فَمَا أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَيْءٍ فَمَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا عِندَ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَلَى رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
(37) وَالَّذِينَ يَجْتَنِبُونَ كَبَائِرَ الْإِثْمِ وَالْفَوَاحِشَ وَإِذَا مَا غَضِبُوا هُمْ يَغْفِرُونَ
(38) وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
(36) Whatever ye are given (here) is (but) a convenience of this life: but that which is with Allah is better and more lasting: (it is) for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord:
(37) Those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive;
(38) Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance;

Al-Qur'an, 42.36-38 (Ash-Shura [Council, Consultation])

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Allah orders us in this verse to conduct our matters by taking counsel among ourselves, or by consulting each other. This is the methodology of the Islamic state, to consult one another, but to always keep the Qur'an and Sunnah paramount. Any law which contradicts the Qur'an or Sunnah is unlawful. This broad principle of consultation is certainly wide enough to encompass a form of government where all are heard - in fact, encouraged to be heard. The early Islamic states were of this form. The petty governments of many `Muslim countries' today do not apply this principle and in fact commit many crimes against the people.

As for slavery, Islam is unique among the `religions' in its close attention to the peaceful removal of this practice. Before the advent of Islam, slavery was widespread all over the world. The Messenger of Islam taught us that freeing slaves was a great deed in the sight of Allah. From the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find:

[3:46:693] Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the (Hell) Fire as he has freed the body-parts of the slave." Said bin Marjana said that he narrated that Hadith to `Ali bin Al-Husain and he freed his slave for whom `Abdullah bin Ja'far had offered him ten thousand Dirhams or one-thousand Dinars.

Also from the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Malik's Muwatta, we find:

[38:9:15] Narrated Aisha Ummul Mu'minin: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was asked what was the most excellent kind of slave to free. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, answered, "The most expensive and the most valuable to his master."

The Creator has also made it easy for slaves to gain their freedom. From the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find:

[3:46:704] Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Whoever frees his portion of a common slave should free the slave completely by paying the rest of his price from his money if he has enough money; otherwise the price of the slave is to be estimated and the slave is to be helped to work without hardship till he pays the rest of his price."

The condition of slavery is very different in Islam than the harsh conditions imposed by non-Muslims or disobedient Muslims. From the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sunan Abu-Dawud, we find:

[41:4957] Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet (saw) said: None of you must say: "My slave" (abdi) and "My slave-woman" (amati), and a slave must not say: "My lord" (rabbi or rabbati). The master (of a slave) should say: "My young man" (fataya) and "My young woman" (fatati), and a slave should say "My master" (sayyidi) and "My mistress" (sayyidati), for you are all (Allah's) slave and the Lord is Allah, Most High.

Also from the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find:

[3:46:721] Narrated Al-Ma'rur bin Suwaid: I saw Abu Dhar Al-Ghifari wearing a cloak, and his slave, too, was wearing a cloak. We asked him about that (i.e. how both were wearing similar cloaks). He replied, "Once I abused a man and he complained of me to the Prophet. The Prophet asked me, `Did you abuse him by slighting his mother?' He added, `Your slaves are your brethren upon whom Allah has given you authority. So, if one has one's brethren under one's control, one should feed them with the like of what one eats and clothe them with the like of what one wears. You should not overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help them (in their hard job)."

As a result of the teachings of Islam, slavery was almost completely eradicated from many areas of the Muslim world, peacefully and without bloodshed.

Misconception 3

In Islam, women are inferior to men because:

a man can marry up to 4 wives, a woman can marry only one man
a man's share of inheritance is bigger than a woman's
a man can marry a non-Muslim, a woman cannot
women must wear the veil

This widely held misconception does not remotely follow from the reasons given. The first and most important observation to make about the popular question "Are men and women equal?" is that it is a badly-formed, unanswerable question. The problem which many people conveniently ignore is that "equal" is not defined. This is a very critical point: the equality must be specified with respect to some measurable property. For example, women on average are superior to men if we ask who is shorter in height than the other ("Growth and Development", Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1992). Women are also superior on average if we ask whom do children bond to deeper, mothers or fathers. Women are also superior on average if we ask who has a tendency to socialize more. On the other hand, men are superior on average if we ask who is taller in height than the other. And so on: every question can be turned around, and more importantly these are properties which are irrelevant.

What then, is the really important property which we are worried about in terms of gender equality? Naturally, from the point of view of the Qur'an and Sunnah, the obvious important property is who is dearer to Allah, men or women? This question is emphatically answered in the Qur'an (translation),

(124) وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِنَ الصَّالِحَاتَ مِن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلاَ يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا
(124) If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them.

Al-Qur'an, 4.124 (An-Nisa [Women])

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(35) إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيراً وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
(35) For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.

Al-Qur'an, 33.35 (Al-Ahzab [The Coalition, The Combined Forces])

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The Qur'an and Sunnah repeat over and over again that Allah only favors one person over another based on that person's awareness, consciousness, fear, love, and hope of Allah (the Arabic word is difficult to translate: Taqwa). All other criteria are excluded: gender, ethnic group, country, ancestry, etc.

Given that Allah does not favor one gender over the other in His attention to us (and it helps to remember that Allah is neither male nor female), we can now address the differences between the genders in Islam. First, men and women are not the same as we know. The Creator states in the Qur'an (translation),

...and the male is not like the female...[Al-Qur'an 3:36]

Men and women are different in their composition, and in their responsibilities under Islam. However, both are bound by obligations to one another, especially the following important one which must be understood in any discussion on men and women. From the Qur'an (translation),

(32) وَأَنكِحُوا الْأَيَامَى مِنكُمْ وَالصَّالِحِينَ مِنْ عِبَادِكُمْ وَإِمَائِكُمْ إِن يَكُونُوا فُقَرَاء يُغْنِهِمُ اللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِ وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ
(32) Marry those among you who are single, or the virtuous ones among yourselves, male or female: if they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah encompasseth all, and he knoweth all things.

Al-Qur'an, 24.32 (An-Noor [The Light])

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In this verse, the Creator emphasizes that marriage is to be vigorously pursued by the Muslims: the state of being single is not to be maintained. With this in mind, we can begin to understand the four reasons cited above for the nonetheless erroneous conclusion.

Men and women are different in their responsibilities towards the families that they are strongly encouraged to set up. Women are not obligated to work, whereas men are obligated. The man must provide for the family, but the woman does not have to spend out of her money for it, though she gets a reward for doing so. Allah says in the Qur'an (translation),

(34) الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاء بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُواْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّهُ وَاللاَّتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلاَ تَبْغُواْ عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلاً إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا
(34) Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

Al-Qur'an, 4.34 (An-Nisa [Women])

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From the Sunnah, specifically in the study of the Sunnah called Sahih Bukhari, we find:

[2:24:545] Narrated `Amr bin Al-Harith: Zainab, the wife of `Abdullah said, "I was in the Mosque and saw the Prophet (p.b.u.h) saying, `O women ! Give alms even from your ornaments.' " Zainab used to provide for `Abdullah and those orphans who were under her protection. So she said to `Abdullah, "Will you ask Allah's Apostle whether it will be sufficient for me to spend part of the Zakat on you and the orphans who are under my protection?" He replied "Will you yourself ask Allah's Apostle ?" (Zainab added): So I went to the Prophet and I saw there an Ansari woman who was standing at the door (of the Prophet ) with a similar problem as mine. Bilal passed by us and we asked him, `Ask the Prophet whether it is permissible for me to spend (the Zakat) on my husband and the orphans under my protection.' And we requested Bilal not to inform the Prophet about us. So Bilal went inside and asked the Prophet regarding our problem. The Prophet (p.b.u.h) asked, "Who are those two?" Bilal replied that she was Zainab. The Prophet said, "Which Zainab?" Bilal said, "The wife of `Adullah (bin Masud)." The Prophet said, "Yes, (it is sufficient for her) and she will receive a double rewards (for that): One for helping relatives, and the other for giving Zakat."

Given that husbands are obligated to provide for wives, and that marriage is a highly recommended goal of Islam, it is easy to see why women's inheritance share is half that of men. We note also that men are obligated to provide a suitable dowry to women on marriage. In fact, it is preferable at this point to speak in terms of husbands and wives instead of men and women. Allah says in the Qur'an (translation),

(4) وَآتُواْ النَّسَاء صَدُقَاتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً فَإِن طِبْنَ لَكُمْ عَن شَيْءٍ مِّنْهُ نَفْسًا فَكُلُوهُ هَنِيئًا مَّرِيئًا
(4) And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, Take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.

Al-Qur'an, 4.4 (An-Nisa [Women])

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Allah says in the Qur'an (translation),

(228) وَالْمُطَلَّقَاتُ يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ ثَلاَثَةَ قُرُوَءٍ وَلاَ يَحِلُّ لَهُنَّ أَن يَكْتُمْنَ مَا خَلَقَ اللّهُ فِي أَرْحَامِهِنَّ إِن كُنَّ يُؤْمِنَّ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَبُعُولَتُهُنَّ أَحَقُّ بِرَدِّهِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ إِنْ أَرَادُواْ إِصْلاَحًا وَلَهُنَّ مِثْلُ الَّذِي عَلَيْهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَلِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ وَاللّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكُيمٌ
(229) الطَّلاَقُ مَرَّتَانِ فَإِمْسَاكٌ بِمَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ تَسْرِيحٌ بِإِحْسَانٍ وَلاَ يَحِلُّ لَكُمْ أَن تَأْخُذُواْ مِمَّا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ شَيْئًا إِلاَّ أَن يَخَافَا أَلاَّ يُقِيمَا حُدُودَ اللّهِ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ يُقِيمَا حُدُودَ اللّهِ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا فِيمَا افْتَدَتْ بِهِ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللّهِ فَلاَ تَعْتَدُوهَا وَمَن يَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَ اللّهِ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
(228) Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.
(229) A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold Together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, (Men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. If ye (judges) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah; so do not transgress them if any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong (Themselves as well as others).

Al-Qur'an, 2.228-229 (Al-Baqara [The Cow])

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This one degree in no way affects the position of the Creator in which He has stated that He does not hold women dearer to him than men, or vice versa. Rather it is simply a way of partitioning responsibilities in a household of two adults: someone must make the final decision on daily matters. As will be shown below in a section on a different misconception, though the final decision rests with the husband, it is through mutual consultation that decisions are best reached at.

While men are allowed to marry up to four wives, they are also commanded to meet the preconditions of being able to financially support them. They must also deal with each wife justly and fairly with respect to marital and economic obligations. Allah says in the Qur'an (translation),

(3) وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُواْ فِي الْيَتَامَى فَانكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاء مَثْنَى وَثُلاَثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُواْ
(3) If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will

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Addition Date:Added on Oct,01,03 :: Last modified Nov,26,08
Title:Shattering Ten common Misconceptions about Islam  
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Description:In this article, we will try to clear up many of the misconceptions that are prevalent about Islam. Before jumping into the list of misconceptions directly, it is important to give a little interesting background about the source of Islam.
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