Is Islam a country or a religion? How can we tell the difference?

By Heena Haiderali, Programs Associate

This opinion appeared at the ING blog.

After 6 months of working at Islamic Networks Group, a nonprofit aimed at improving religious literacy across the country while combatting Islamophobia, I finally feel moved to write about my religion — Islam.

Because, seriously? We’ve got some issues with how Islam is perceived in America.

Despite the unconstitutional Muslim Ban, bullying rates among Muslim students doubling since the 2016 national election, and anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise, I choose to stand tall and speak loudly in my pursuit of dispelling the notion that Islam is backwards, barbaric, or foreign.

As a native Floridian (cue Florida jokes here), who grew up speaking Spanish, I came of age in a culturally diverse environment while still keeping my faith close to me throughout my life. How can I do such a thing?

Doesn’t supporting the Miami Heat and following Sharia law conflict?

The short and long answers are both no. Islam is not a country or a single culture.

Islam is a religion like any other and people act based on how they view Islam, not how Islam views them.

A religion usually has books, while countries have land. And it’s important to note that there are over 50 Muslim-majority countries in the world, each of them representing different aspects of their respective cultures, geographies, and Islam(s).

There are over 1.8 billion Muslims in the world; a single, small section of that cannot be said to represent Islam entirely.

Muslims are diverse, with different interpretations and adherents, each following their personal path to God.

Simply put, Islam is normal, with people coming in and out of the faith, critically analyzing their beliefs, or saying prayers during the Miami Heat’s Game 5 of the Playoffs.

They lost, and no, I do not want to talk about it.

Thankfully, many Muslim groups today are educating others about this diversity. At Islamic Networks Group, one of our most popular presentations is “Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith,” which explores the religious practices, history, and contributions of millions of American Muslims to the United States and the world.

In fact, one notable Muslim contribution to civilization was coffee, without which this editorial could not have been written.​