I wrote the following article several months ago, and thought about not publishing it for several reasons. First and foremost, I didn’t want to be labeled Islamophobic – to be miscategorized as an ignorant, white, western bigot. I didn’t want to be misunderstood and mislabeled before Holy Koolaid could even get off the ground. I even worried about violent repercussions. Perhaps I can avoid some backlash, and create a nuanced conversation by first providing a little background about myself. I grew up a Christian in the Muslim world. I’ve lived in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, spent a month in Afghanistan, traveled to Dubai, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan and visited Kazan, Russia. I’m now both liberal and an atheist, but I’m constantly frustrated by both the liberal and conservative media’s perspective on Islam. The Left is terrified about being politically incorrect, and is so inclusive that they’re blinded to the difference between race and ideology to the point where they’re paralyzed to criticize a bad idea for fear of offending its constituents. The Right, on the other hand, is so bigoted that they want to exclude anyone from a Muslim country from entering the US (I’m looking at you Fox News and Donald Trump), and they forget the first amendment altogether.
I’ve seen both sides of the story. I grew up hanging out with Muslim kids, playing football (soccer) with them, having their families to dinner, having sleepovers together etc. I also visited Afghanistan where I stayed with a sweet, elderly, Christian lady from Finland, and helped teach English to Afghan students. Shortly after I left, she was dragged from a taxi cab and shot by the Taliban in a religious bloodlust. I realize most Muslims are moderates, but it’s the ideas at the core of Islam that trouble me. A perfect book would provide perfect clarity, and could not be distorted to incite such violent acts as the Boston Marathon bombings or the Charlie Hebdo shootings. A perfect book would withstand all scrutiny and would not require its followers to slaughter Bangladeshi secular bloggers in its defense. I’m tired of the pro-Islam hijacking of the conversation by loudmouths like Mehdi Hasan and Ben Affleck who are unable or unwilling to distinguish the difference between anti-Muslim and anti-Islam. It is with immense frustration about the state of affairs that I’m posting this in a desperate, yet hopeful attempt to clear away some of the confusion and mess created by the mainstream media.
Will a Peaceful Muslim Kill Me for Writing This?
If you look at the liberal, secular Muslims of Kazan, Russia where an Orthodox church and a Muslim mosque stand side by side in the city’s Kremlin, you would see a culture of peaceful coexistence. That’s part of their culture and they pride themselves on it. Just a few miles away, there’s a temple to all religions. If you look at secular, Muslim countries like Azerbaijan, where 93% of the country claims to be Muslim, you would see girls in Bikinis on the beach, people drinking, smoking, and eating pork, and you might assume that this religion is fairly easy-going and progressive. But this is their culture, not their religion, that allows this.
Azerbaijan, with almost a 100% literacy rate, is situated 1300 miles from Mecca, does not speak Arabic, has been influenced by Zoroastrianism and Marxism, and was under Soviet control for the greater part of the last century. Mosques broadcast the call to prayer which no one heeds. The school system there is secular, the country practices democracy (although incredibly corrupt), and the culture strongly values family and community, hospitality, and wealth/economic advancement.
Compare this to Afghanistan. Like Azerbaijan, it is proximally distant from Mecca and doesn’t speak Arabic either. It too broadcasts the call to prayer, and almost everyone claims to be Muslim, but this is where the similarities end. Nearly everyone heeds the call to prayer, and Afghanistan additionally blares the teachings of the Quran throughout its cities every Friday. The religious leaders in this predominantly Sunni country hold immense power, women are forced to cover their heads and submit to their husbands, and as of 2015, Afghanistan had a literacy rate of 38% (24% for females). The schools are religious, and the primary textbook is the Quran. This too is their culture, but their culture stems from their religion.
“Domestic violence is alarmingly common in Afghanistan: a 2006 study by Global Rights, an international nongovernmental organization, found 85 percent of Afghan women reporting that they had experienced physical, sexual, or psychological violence or forced marriage. An estimated 2,000 Afghan women and girls attempt suicide by setting themselves on fire each year, which is linked to domestic violence and early or forced marriages.”¹ – Human Rights Watch 2013
Mistreatment of women is not exclusive to Afghanistan, In much of the Muslim world, to say that women are not second-class citizens would be either entirely delusional or a flat-out lie. In 2012 Amina Filali, a 16 year old Moroccan girl, killed herself by eating rat poison after a judge forced her to marry her rapist.² In fifteen Muslim countries, women are considered half a witness in some or all court cases, if their testimony is even allowed in court (in Yemen they’re prohibited from even testifying in retribution or adultery cases).³ In other words, even though the punishment for adultery is death in Yemen,4 women are not allowed to testify, and in other countries and cases where they can, their testimony has only half the weight of a man’s.
Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen all have laws declaring the death penalty as the proper punishment for apostasy.5 While it is rarely carried out by the state, relatives, acquaintances, or religious leaders have been known to beat, disown, or even kill apostates (even in countries where it is not legal).6
All of these laws are based not in culture, reason, or rational discourse, but upon the teachings of the Quran itself.
Quran 4:89 – Death to infidels
Quran 5:33 – Death to infidels
Quran 9:29 – Death to infidels
Quran 4:34 – Justification for the abuse of women
Quran 4:3 – A Muslim can have four wives
Quran 65:4 – A Muslim can have pre-pubescent children as wives
Quran 2:282 – A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s
Quran 4:11 – A woman’s inheritance is half that of a man’s
A look into the beliefs of Islam would not be complete without mentioning the Hadith (collections of sayings and accounts of the life of Muhammad). While there are a small subset of Muslims who reject the Hadith altogether, know as Quranists, most Muslims accept one Hadith or the other with varying degrees of weight, and use them as a means to better interpret and understand the Quran. Sunnis, who make up 87-90% of the global Muslim population, regard Sahih al-Bukhari as a canonical Hadith of authentic status – a Hadith which condemns apostasy and commands the death penalty to all who leave the faith:
Bukhari (52:260) – “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ “
Sahih al-Bukhari not only encourages the execution of an apostate, it offers a reward:
Bukhari (84:64-65) – “…So wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”
While the actions of extremist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, or Boko Haram are abhorrent to the vast majority of Muslims, there’s no denying that these fundamentalists get their fundamentals directly from the Quran and the Hadith. Yes, the same verses can and are interpreted in different ways by different sects, but the fact that they leave the door wide open to such easy interpretation towards violence speaks volumes for the imperfection of the text.
And yet highly educated Muslim apologists, arguing for the peaceful nature of Islam, often avoid the Hadith, avoid violent verses from the Quran, and jump through hoops to try to interpret “beat them,” “slay them,” or “If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.” in a peaceful way. But how on earth do they expect a billion Muslims (many in highly illiterate regions) to all interpret them as anything other than literal? Fundamentalists can back up there violence with the Quran and the Hadith, and for this reason alone, these texts are imperfect, and subsequently, so is Islam.
Nominal and progressive Muslims may cringe every time they hear of a suicide bombing in the news. Just as there are many different denominations in Christianity, there are many different groups and categories within Islam (far more than just the Sunni-Shiite split), and there isn’t just one Sharia law either. Most moderates would not identify as Islamists and cringe at the extreme, orthodox teachings of Wahhabism. But Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca – the heart of Islam – teaches state-sponsored Wahhabism and practices this ultra-conservative form of Sunnism.
Sam Harris after famously labeling Islam as “the mother-load of bad ideas,”7 drew upon a comparison to Jainism – a religion whose fundamentals lie in nonviolence and pacifism:
“The problem is not religious extremism. Because religious extremism is not a problem if your core beliefs are non-violent. The problem isn’t fundamentalism. The only problem with Islamic fundamentalism is the fundamentals of Islam.” – Sam Harris
In this rational criticism of Islam he has been labeled an Islamophobe. But Islam is not a people group. It is not a race. Islam is a belief system. It is an idea. And if we can’t criticize an idea, then free speech is truly dead. In writing this, I too will likely be labeled an Islamophobe. The ending “phobia” implies an irrational fear. But reading the Quran, traveling to and living in the Muslim world, and watching fundamentalists execute innocent people (including several of my friends) have allowed me a extremely rational reasons to fear the widespread acceptance of Islam.
There are thousands dead and millions suffering worldwide, and yet some people are still concerned that we shouldn’t challenge a belief system for fear of offending? If terror attacks shake the beliefs of Muslims worldwide and lead them to question the violent nature at the core of their ideology, then they are not the ideological victims of these attacks, they are the beneficiaries! If holders of an idea are painted in a bad light for holding a bad idea, maybe the idea itself should be abandoned. In the spirit of classical liberalism, it must be emphasized that beliefs do not deserve respect – people do! But so long as a person holds to an abhorrent despicable belief, they lose the right to be respected for that choice alone.
The sheer number of immigrants fleeing the Islamic State to secular, western nations speaks volumes for the peacefully nature of this religion. I welcome any and all refugees seeking freedom and opportunity, but I neither support nor respect any religious dogma that allows for violence, discrimination, or inequality.
As children of the enlightenment, we have a moral obligation to question everything! I don’t care if there are 99 good ideas for every horrific call to violence, torture, or abuse in the Quran. Because the book claims to be the perfect, infallible, unchangeable, final revelation from Allah, it must be discarded in its entirety! Then, and only then, can we salvage through the 99 good ideas and selectively adopt them with rational skepticism. The verdict is in and Islam is guilty. We must speak out. It must be criticized without relent! For dogma, inequality, unwarranted violence, and sexism have no place in the evolution and future of mankind. Fear not, for while Islam may be violent, the pen is still mightier than the sword!
Justification for the abuse of women:
Quran 4:34 – “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
Death to the infidels who oppose Islam:
Quran 4:89– “They [infidels] wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of God; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
Quran 5:33 – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.”
Quran 9:29 “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.”
A Muslim man can have four wives:
Quran 4:3 – “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 be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”
A Muslim can have pre-pubescent children as wives:
Quran 65:4 – “And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women – if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him of his matter ease.”
A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s:
Quran 2:282 – “And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.”
A woman’s inheritance is half that of a man’s:
Quran 4:11 – “Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.”
Violence in the Hadith (Sahih al-Bukhari):
Bukhari 52:260 – “…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ”
Bukhari 83:37 – “Allah’s Apostle never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: (1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) (2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and (3) a man who fought against Allah and His Apostle and deserted Islam and became an apostate.”
Bukhari 84:57 – [In the words of] “Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”
Bukhari 89:271 – A man who embraces Islam, then reverts to Judaism is to be killed according to “the verdict of Allah and his apostle.”
Bukhari 84:58 – “There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu’adh asked, ‘Who is this (man)?’ Abu Muisa said, ‘He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.’ Then Abu Muisa requested Mu’adh to sit down but Mu’adh said, ‘I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice.’ Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, ‘Then we discussed the night prayers'”
Bukhari 84:64-65 – “Allah’s Apostle: ‘During the last days there will appear some young foolish people who will say the best words but their faith will not go beyond their throats (i.e. they will have no faith) and will go out from (leave) their religion as an arrow goes out of the game. So, wherever you find them, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.'”
Bukhari 11:626 – “The Prophet said, ‘No prayer is harder for the hypocrites than the Fajr and the ‘Isha’ prayers and if they knew the reward for these prayers at their respective times, they would certainly present themselves (in the mosques) even if they had to crawl.’ The Prophet added, ‘Certainly I decided to order the Mu’adh-dhin (call-maker) to pronounce Iqama and order a man to lead the prayer and then take a fire flame to burn all those who had not left their houses so far for the prayer along with their houses’.”
3 http://www.unicef.org/gender/ (determined from reports for Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen).
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