A historian of Islam explains the greatest misconception people have about Muslims

Chase F. Robinson, an historian on Islam, author of “Islamic Civilisation in Thirty Lives,” and president of the CUNY Graduate Center, explains the greatest misconception that people, specifically in the West, have about Muslims.


I think there are a number of misconceptions about Islam. Maybe of all of the misconceptions, the greatest is that there’s a set of prescriptions, or a set of doctrines, even dogmas, that necessarily incline Muslims to take specific positions on politics.

So a good example would be sharia, or Islamic law. There’s an enormous diversity of views on the part of those 1.6 or 1.7 billion Muslims about sharia. Some hold that it must be imposed, many hold that it need not. A good example would be in Azerbaijan where only 1 out of 10 Muslims believe that sharia should be imposed, whereas in Afghanistan it’s 9 out of 10.

Muslims also disagree about the fundamentals of sharia. Is it about politics? Is it about ritual? Is it about personal law? Muslims also disagree, great diversity of views, about whether or not sharia applies to non-Muslims.

So of the many misconceptions that I think govern the West, especially, I think a certain assumption about fixed Muslim attitudes towards the law and towards politics, that’s perhaps the most important.

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