Common Misunderstandings About Muslims

ABC News sorts out myths from the facts.

Feb. 26, 2008— -- Muslim culture often isn't very well understood in America. To help sort out fact from fiction, ABC News addresses several common ways Muslims are misunderstood.

Misconception: The terms "Muslim" and "Arab" are synonymous.


Only between 18 and 20 percent of Muslims worldwide are Arab (source: the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

The largest Muslim population in the world is in Indonesia (source: the CIA World Factbook).

Most American Arabs are Christian, not Muslim (source: U.S. census figures).

"Arab" is a geographic/cultural term. "Muslim" refers to an adherent of Islam.

Misconception: Muslim women are oppressed and forced to wear the hijab.


Women often see it as empowering because they are not viewed as sexual objects but judged by their character.

Muslim advocacy groups point out that four out of the five countries with the largest Muslim populations — Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey — have had female heads of state, something the United States cannot claim.

Misconception: Islam promotes violence and terrorism.


According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, prominent Muslims, Islamic organizations and Islamic scholars have repeatedly denounced the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and terrorism in general. One letter sent to President George W. Bush was signed by leaders from nine American-Muslim organizations, which together represent most of the seven million Muslims in the United States.

Jihad is a term that is often misunderstood and associated with violent radical militants. However, according to Muslim advocates, the word jihad means to "strive, struggle and exert effort." It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle by military forces in the battlefield for self-defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression (source: the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Misconception: Nearly all American Arabs are recent immigrants.


Many American Arabs immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s and their families are now third- or fourth-generation American. (source: Tony Kutallyi of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of New Jersey).

More than a third of U.S. Muslims are born in the United States. (source: the Council on American Islamic Relations).