Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Long overdue: FAQs

My post last week about reconciling Islam & Homosexuality led to a lot of questions and a lot of accusations. You already know I'm an ex-Muslim...but what else am I? Am I an Islam-apologist? Am I an Islamophobe? Am I a Satan-Worshipper?  Here's your chance to find out!

Anti-Muslim Bigot FAQs

  • Why do you support reform for a religion as violent and literal as Islam? It is recognized as the perfect, infallible word of god - making it much harder to reform than say Christianity. It's unchangeable, therefore unsupportable. 
I recognize that Islam is different from many other religions in the fact that it leaves very little room for change. It is meant to be the literal word of god, the final word of god. How then, can it be changed? Well....I've always believed that humans are more moral than the religions they follow. Ancient scriptures may not change, we cannot rewrite the past...but our morality is constantly evolving. Slavery was acceptable once upon a time and it's recorded in the holy books - a clear indication of just how much they got wrong, and just how untrustworthy holy books should be as a moral guide. 

Despite it being permissible in the Quran, most Muslims you encounter today will oppose the Quran by saying slavery is no longer acceptable. They may not admit to the fallibility of the book and make excuses for it (out of context, relevant to the times, etc) - which is problematic, but it's a step up from accepting slavery. Something like this indicates that we can create a shift in the collective mindset of Muslims, or anyone for that matter. We now have gay-friendly mosques, a gay Imam, etc. These are all positive signs of change. And if hypothetically, we didn't support reform...what alternative would there be? Convincing over a billion people to apostatize? Forced deconversion? Something way worse? What options are there? None that seem to be ethical or practical... so we can either support reform, or sit back and watch Islam become more and more intolerant. 

  • Why do you claim someone can be a Muslim even if they don’t follow the religion properly?
Defining who is Muslim and who isn't is a slippery slope. One that ISIS uses to declare people infidels before they burn them in a cage, one that the govt of Pakistan uses to officially discriminate against the Ahmedi Muslim population by declaring them 'imposters'. Defining a 'real' Muslim is also a convenient tactic used by apologists for the religion. Anyone doing anything positive is by default a *real* Muslim, anyone doing something negative is not a real Muslim. The fact is that the Quran, like any holy book is full of contradictions, and people can cherry pick their way to a path of violence, discrimination, bigotry or one can cherry pick a more peaceful path...ignoring all the violent uncomfortable verses. The second you start defining a 'real' Muslim you not only legitimize the extremist narrative that literal fundamentalists are the only 'true' Muslims, but you also legitimize the apologist narrative that ISIS has 'nothing to do with Islam'. So, the way I see it...it's not really for us to decide who is a 'true' Muslim or not. If someone self-identifies, and draws inspiration from Islam, they are Muslim enough for me. That's not to say you can't question the hypocrisies of someone doing the opposite of what their faith tells them, while still claiming piety. I've known hijabis who drink, have one-night stands, etc. I am happy to point out their hypocrisies, but I don't really challenge their 'Muslim'-status. If we started doing that we'd never encourage those who are straying and rejecting parts of the religion anyway. Instead we'd keep holding them back by saying, you must adhere to EVERYTHING to qualify as Muslim. 

See also: No True Scotsman

  • I don’t think moderate Muslims are representative of Islam, why do you? 
Please see my response above. I think all kinds of Muslims represent Islam. It's unfair to those progressive voices that do exist within the faith to not even acknowledge them. They are weak enough as it is, and rarely acknowledged by the Ummah. It is them we should empower so the fundamentalist voices begin to shrink. If you insist on pushing the narrative that only extremist Muslims represent the religion then you're weakening the forces that oppose it. Do not confuse this with an acceptance that *only* moderate/palatable versions of the faith are indeed 'true'. The raw material undoubtedly exists for people to interpret in terrible oppressive and violent ways, Islam is responsible for that.

Look up: 'Muslim Drag Queens', Maajid Nawaz as examples of truly progressive Muslims challenging the faith.  

  • There aren’t different ‘interpretations' of Islam - surveys show that an alarming number of Muslims support regressive, dangerous ideas such as death for apostasy. So if you say that ‘moderate' Islam is a valid interpretation, aren’t you just being like Reza Aslan?
No. Reza and people like him...look to absolve religion of any blame for the horrors enacted in it's name. I would really like the words on the paper to be held accountable for the atrocities they inspire. But I would also like the progressive voices within the faith, who challenge it... to be acknowledged. 

Concepts such as death for apostasy, killing homosexuals are indeed commanded by the faith. These beliefs are not fringe beliefs either as Reza would like you to believe. Reza says 'don't blame god if you're a bigot'. He thinks people bring their own tendencies to the faith, rendering the faith itself not responsible for its own commands. Which is as ridiculous as it sounds! If words mean 'nothing' why are so many people trying to adhere to them? And if they mean nothing, shouldn't we bin them anyway instead of keeping them around as revered moral guides? Sure people have different tendencies, some violent and some not, obviously those with violent tendencies will look to find justification - and find it they will. 

Why can't we highlight the danger of such divine justifications, and also accept people who ignore these commands? This would be the first step in dismantling the power of religious Islamic orthodoxy.

  • Why are you supportive of criticism of Islam but not supportive of criticism of Muslims? 
Because there are plenty of Muslims who don't believe in the truly problematic stuff contained within the 'religion of peace'. These Muslims are a minority sadly - I would like them to be supported, propped up and have them lead the way to change, rather than the soft Islamists that are usually given importance in the media. It is niqab defenders, gender segregation defenders, Sharia supporting cultural relativists we must focus on in our critique. They slip under the extremist radar because they are non-violent extremists, while progressive Muslim voices who oppose these things are seen as 'native informants', 'house Arabas' or 'not Muslim enough'. We need to flip this way of thinking in the general population, look upon those defending oppressive practises as the bigots/apologists for bigots they truly are...

  • My faith doesn't create jihadis, My faith isn't violent like the Abrahamic faiths - so it's technically better, right? Since your issues lie primarily with Abrahamic faiths, why not give my religion a try? 
Being better than Islam or any of the Abrahamic faiths shouldn't make you smug. Being better than the worst isn't something to be proud of. Please read my post about the dangers of non-Abrahamic complacency

And thanks, but I won't be giving your religion or any religion a try. It's nothing personal. 

Muslim Bigot/Apologist FAQs

  • Are you an Islamophobe?
The term 'Islamophobia' is flawed to begin with as it focuses on 'Islam' ... the Idea. All ideas are open to scrutiny, and ideas simply don't have rights, feelings, families. The issue should be with anti-Muslim bigotry. Which is a huge problem (something I speak up against constantly), one that only adds confusion to valid critique of an archaic idea like Islam. If the problem lies with generalizing and stereotyping *Muslims*, why is the term based on *Islam* and not Muslims? It doesn't accurately reflect the concern at all. Muslim-phobia may be more relevant. 

As far as Islamophobia goes...as an apostate who's death is commanded by the ideology why wouldn't I fear/loathe Islam? Is my fear irrational though? I don't think so. 

  • How can you be against anti-semitism but *for* the criticism of Islam, and for horribly offensive drawings of the prophet? You wouldn't be ok with racist drawings of 'evil Jews' would you? Doesn't this make you a hypocrite?   
No. You are conflating Ideas with people again. I am against bigotry towards all people...I am against anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism in the same way. I am against derogatory depictions of Muslims and people of other faiths too (However, specific people who say/support indefensible things are fair game imo). My issue is with the *ideology* not it's adherents who are diverse. You fail to see that depictions of a prophet many find troubling is not an attack on Muslims (people), it's a questioning of one of the primary stars of Islam (Idea). Mo is not someone any Muslim has ever met or known or can even prove the existence of. Drawing him is as personal as drawing a unicorn really. Not only is it a right to question bad ideas, it is a duty...especially when some of them are so 'unquestionable' they result in death. Once upon a time Galileo was imprisoned for discoveries that contradicted the church's teachings. This kind of thing doesn't happen anymore precisely because of constant questioning...I'd like that to happen for Islam too. 

  • Islam is perfect and infallible, it is the literal word of god. How can you reform something that's already perfect? 
If Islam was so perfect, it wouldn't inspire so much hatred...It wouldn't inspire so much bigotry and murder....It wouldn't be so easy to 'misinterpret'. 

Just to give you one example:  Islam, like Christianity got the ethics on slavery so wrong. Even humans figured it out eventually...but 'god' couldn't? If you say the book was written at a time when slavery was acceptable, I ask - why is your god's morality dependant upon the time the Quran was written? If his word is perfect and infallible shouldn't it be applicable to *all* time? Either he is fallible or either you think slavery is ok. Both ways, Islam doesn't look good.

  • How can you say that someone's a Muslim if they don’t follow the religion properly?
See my response to the same question above. And: if you believe in an almighty creator, why not leave it up to them to decide who's doing a good job and who isn't? 

  • Don't you think all your criticism of Islam is giving cover to bigots? 
This can be said about pretty much anything. Don't you think your criticism of atheism is giving cover to anti-atheist bigots? Don't you think your feminist criticism is giving cover to man-hating bigots? Sure, bigots exist..it's an unfortunate fact of life, we shouldn't let that get it the way of legitimate criticism and fights for equality which aim for an increase in human rights. You can usually tell a bigot by their desire to generalize and attack people not ideas. It's important for all of us to recognize who the bigots are amongst us. 

  • How can you blame Islam alone for religious violence, what about the crusades? 
It's an undeniable fact that the majority of religious violence today is associated with Islam. Do other religions inspire violence? Absolutely...I don't think any rational critic of Islam would deny that. Religion is generally terrible, religions are terrible in some similar ways to one another...and some differing ways as well. Christianity's darkest days are seemingly behind it, and for the most part it's been watered down and holds much less power over it's adherents than Islam. When people talk about Islam today....they are discussing the violence and horror in *current* times. This doesn't mean anyone is denying the horrors committed in the name of Christianity. Islam is a younger religion, yes - but it doesn't have the same excuse of ignorance that Christianity did during the crusades. When some of the most violent jihadists are tech savvy enough to use google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube...they clearly have access to more information at the touch of a fingertip than anyone did during the crusades. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for such barbarity...and yes that does make it worse....much worse...that people with today's morality can channel morality from another century, that they can justify raping children and keeping sex slaves via divine texts. It's not that Christianity doesn't justify slavery....it's that it's been disempowered enough that people do not take it seriously. 
  • Why is it that you only point to Muslim women as being oppressed, why is it not ok when they cover their heads, yet you don't seem to be bothered by nuns? 
Ah the nun comparison! One of my favourites...Nuns are not some fine example of female empowerment ffs. I'd call them pretty oppressed by religion as well. However, even they are allowed to leave their homes and appear in public without their habit. The modesty codes prescribed to Muslim women in general don't allow for women to be seen by non relatives of the opposite sex without their head covered (and depending on your interpretation it could mean you aren't allowed to show your face in public either). And that's how burqas, hijabs, niqabs differ from nun habits. I also don't see many nuns punished for not wearing a habit, no morality police to cane them...no state-enforced wearing of nun habits either. 

Rational FAQs

  • How can you “moderately" believe in something that is clearly violent, misogynistic, homophobic? 
I don't understand either. Believe me...I have plenty of issues with 'moderates' myself. How can they endorse something that clearly preaches violence, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny *and* call themselves liberal or progressive? I don't get it. It's either out of pure ignorance or some sort of cognitive dissonance....many Muslims I speak to aren't even aware of the horrible verses present in the scriptures. They've only been exposed to the positive parts, and so are rightfully confused when people talk about Islam being violent and intolerant. BUT - we have google now...it doesn't take much to look up the things you're confused about and inform yourself (especially when it's something you pledge allegiance to through identifying as an adherent). Some people prefer to be scripturally ignorant though, because increased knowledge would mean increased questions....and then possibly a long and painful unraveling of the entire way they understood the world. This is too much work for some people. I can understand how one might fear opening a pandora's box of sorts, with questioning a religion that one feels safe in. I also don't think that telling every moderate they are an idiot for still believing is effective. Sometimes it's useful to give people some space to let their magical beliefs unravel at their own pace.

  • If Islam was a religion of peace, wouldn’t that become apparent the more closely it was followed, the more peaceful it’s followers would be?
Absolutely! Don't buy that BS for a second, because It's not a religion of peace...no religion of peace would endorse killing someone who wanted to leave the faith or endorse wife beating. And if you have to keep telling people it's peaceful because all the evidence is to the contrary...well that's your answer right there. The level of insecurity amongst Muslims is there for a reason...their faith doesn't stand the test of time, no faith does. It's time for Western liberals especially to stop treating Islam like a fragile little baby. Let Islam have your mockery and scrutiny the same way Christianity gets it...please.

  • Why would someone gay want to believe in and practise a faith that clearly rejects them?
I don't know. I wish they didn't want to, but in reality many people still find comfort in the faith they were born into, even if it clearly rejects them. Our efforts should be two pronged in this case, one to ridicule, mock and dispel the intolerant ideas within the faith... and two, to make sure we stand with those *within* the faith who challenge and oppose it (however bizarre that is).

  • Are there some people who are masquerading as moderates?
Yes! Most 'moderate Muslim' commentators on Islam are in fact not at all moderate. Ask them to condemn sharia or stoning of adulterers, gender segregation and you'll see their 'moderateness' melt away. We need to recognize truly progressive voices and stop promoting false moderates in the media. 

  • How is it that you're ok with supporting contradictory labels like 'gay Muslim' but not 'Muslim feminist' ?

 An excellent question. Basically, my criteria for supporting someone is honesty. I cannot support someone dishonest, whether its a gay Muslim or a feminist Muslim. I would support any Muslim that acknowledges the problems in Islam *and* acknowledges that we need to fix them, be that a gay Muslim or a feminist Muslim. 

But - if someone's coming from the view that they are gay Muslims because Islam is not homophobic and in fact gay friendly...I cannot support them fully because that narrative is harmful. It is also unjust to those who are killed, beaten, discriminated against because of what is contained within the ideology. You can't minimize the harm that the religion causes just because it would make you feel better about your beliefs. Similarly if someone is a Muslim feminist in that they identify as a Muslim but also recognize the misogyny within the faith and challenge it as a feminist - they have my full support. If they present lies in order to reconcile their 'feminism' with religion, they are ultimately causing more harm and downplaying the pain of millions of women who suffer because of Islam. In that case they have zero support from me, 

To deny is to stand in the way of progress. To challenge is to embrace progress. 


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  1. Thank you so much for this. I shall be sending links to people who I think could really do with reading this

  2. Criticism is something every faith has to face. It's always better to let reforms come from within.

  3. Hello, I like your blog very much, even though I am an European middle-class white male and therefore, in PC terms, totally guilty of every possible oppression in the world :-)
    Just wanted to say that I appreciate your work. I am an atheist too, by the way. As such, I admit that your views concerning moderates and reformers within Islam are sensible. An all or nothing approach is almost never practical and you have to reach compromises with the "less bad" for lack of "the best". At the same time, I think this is one of the most complicated issues for me to deal with, intellectually. Sam Harris, I believe, and other authors have sometimes said things about how moderates can be even worse to some extent than literalists or fanatics. With the latter, at least, you know what you stand against, while moderates can serve, even if unwittingly, as cover for the crazy ones. I'd say that there is a certain degree of self-deception and lack of intellectual honesty involved when it comes to gay believers or feminist believers (of any Abrahamic faith, not just muslims; I'm thinking of Andrew Sullivan, for instance). Admittedly, they are much much better than the fundamentalists...
    Well, I am maybe not making much sense and certainly not reaching any conclusion. I just wanted to say that your writings resonate with me and, in this particular case, they rise an issue with still confuses me a lot. It happens in every field: how to properly fight ideas and/or beliefs systems you consider wrong and nasty, while dealing also with the (sometimes nice) people who self-professedly adhere to them. Not easy line to walk.
    All my best wishes to you.

    1. I completely understand your frustration with 'moderates' as well as the charge of intellectual dishonesty involved in supporting opposing beliefs. But I feel we must support those who oppose/challenge those beliefs even in intellectually dishonest ways (blatant deniers I can't support as i've said above) in order to dismantle the power the beliefs hold. I also agree that in the sense of dishonesty, the 'moderates' can be evasive and slippery while fundamentalists are simple and straight to the point. But in ultimate actions, there is no doubt that fundamentalists are THE worst. So we must work to shift the mindset of moderates towards consistency and honesty, rather than write them off. What other way is there? We have to be wary of those posing as moderates however, and seek out true progressives.