My concern is to make it clear that what we in the United States know about the Islamic faith is not only distorted by our own sensationalist media, but has also been perverted through its cultural captivity by the various tribal societies that have adopted it. It is high time that we U.S. citizens who know better speak up.

By now we should be familiar with the way individual cultures can take any religious faith captive and thereby perpetrate vicious atrocities in its name. The Christian faith was largely taken captive by the Roman Empire, and the Holy Crusades of the Middle Ages stand as the classic example of this type of captivity. As well, there are reasons to consider our own invasion of Iraq something of a Holy Crusade against ultimately nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction.”

Buddhism, too, was taken captive by some of the cultures that adopted it. It was not long before Buddha was turned into a god-figure, even though he himself never claimed to be God nor did he actually teach about God. Also, the latest word from Southeast Asia is that self-proclaimed Buddhists are waging war against the local Muslims in Myanmar.

So it is that the Muslim faith, too, has often been taken captive by the various nation states that over the centuries have adopted it as their religion. Thus, it is that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida have perpetrated their attacks on Western countries in the name of Allah. In like manner, the tribal peoples in Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan actually believe that they are acting out their Muslim faith when they not only attack and murder their own countrymen, but their fellow Muslims as well.

The Quran is quite clear in stating that the quickest way to ensure one’s fate in hell is by committing suicide. This clearly points up the conflict between the use of suicide bombings and the teachings of Islam. Moreover, the term “jihad” occurs only four times in the Quran, and in each case it is clear that it refers to any sort of “struggle” that a Muslim believer may be going through. On only one occasion does it imply the notion of self-defense.

Finally, even the female dress required by many Islamic cultures is, in fact, just that — a question of culture. All the Quran says on the topic is “dress modestly.” Different Islamic cultures apply this in different ways, some hardly at all. Also, the Quran’s insistence on women’s right to education is interpreted differently around the world, often in very a progressive manner.

It is time that we Americans began to discern the difference between the actual Muslim faith and the different cultural “captivities” by which it has often been taken captive. In seeking to fulfill the religious freedom on which our country was founded, we should ask nothing less of ourselves.

Jerry H. Gill teaches philosophy of religion, intercultural perspectives, and religion in popular culture at Pima Community College. Email him at