Mainstream Islam is not moderate

As I write this thousands of Muslims are marching through London to “Defend the Honour of the Holy Prophet” and denounce the “insulting depictions of our Holy Prophet” by Charlie Hebdo.

They have every right to do so, of course. They have every right to voice their views, even though they would deny that right to others, if they could. It is also entirely within their rights to regard this issue as a more urgent reason for taking to the streets than, for example, the activities of ISIS. Does burning people to death, beheading children, and selling girls as sex slaves — when done in the name of Islam by the Islamic State — not demean the honour of the Prophet of Islam?

The media are quick to label ISIS and their fellow Jihadi Islamists as extremists, which they certainly are. But the implication is that mainstream Islam is moderate. Let’s consider some basic principles of any “moderate” worldview in the West nowadays.

Muslim Action Forum demo flyer

Among such principles are: democracy, with multi-party pluralism and free elections; freedom of religion and the right to apostasy; freedom of speech and the right to openly criticise and reject any religion; the equal status of women, and indeed the equal status of all citizens, with a secular court system that treats everyone equally regardless of their religion; and the acceptance in society of minorities such as gay people.

No Westerner who rejected such doctrines would be regarded as a “moderate” by the Western media. That’s not to say there are no such people, but they would be regarded as fringe players, often ridiculed by the media, rather than as mainstream moderates.

We should not be so culturist as to expect lesser standards of anyone else. Thus, any moderates within the Islamic communities, either in Western nations or in Islamic nations, should be expected to uphold that list of ideals. Indeed there are many such people, the impressive Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation being notable examples.

But, we should ask, is mainstream Islam moderate?

First, Islamic nations are rarely stable democracies with multi-party free elections. Turkey is close to that ideal, though there are increasing tensions between the secular state, as founded by Ataturk, and growing pressure for Islamisation. Further, many Islamic nations are dysfunctional (Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, to name a few) while others (Egypt and Pakistan, for example) are more stable only through authoritarianism.

It is routine for Islamic nations to have draconian laws against apostasy and blasphemy, with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan having the death penalty for such “crimes”.

The death penalty for apostasy is supported by a majority of the population across Islamic nations in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly 90% in those regions say that it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. Acceptance of homosexuality is typically below 10%. In Bangladesh, 47% of people think that suicide bombing against civilian targets is sometimes justified in order to “defend Islam from its enemies”.

islam_demo

In many countries, such as Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia, there is typically 70–90% support for imposing Sharia Law, which grants women a far lower status than men. Similar majorities want the court system to be religious and led by clerics taking decisions on religious grounds.

Back in Britain today, thousands are marching against Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The Muslim Action Forum, who organised the march, have collected 106,000 signatures (and counting) on a petition denouncing all those connected with Mohammed cartoons, which they believe “are an affront to the norms of civilised society”.

Bizarrely, spokesman Shaykh Tauqir Ishaq labelled the cartoonists as “extremists” and equated drawing cartoons to violence, saying:

Perpetual mistakes by extremists, either by cold-blooded killers or uncivilised expressionists, cannot be the way forward for a civilised society. The peace-loving majority of people must become vociferous in promoting global civility and responsible debate.

In 2006, 78% of British Muslims said that the publishers of the Danish cartoons should be prosecuted. I’ve been looking for updated reports of the attitudes of British Muslims but, after a spate of such polls in 2006–2009, there seem to be few recent ones. Has even asking the question become too sensitive?

islam_demo2

Surely an acceptance of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons — which are utterly innocuous by any normal standard — is a litmus test for being moderate? Any moderate would accept that Islamic religious rules can only be voluntary and self-imposed, and that wider society has as much right to criticise and satirise Islam as it does any other influential political or religious opinion.

Such cartoons are not about “hatred” of Muslims, they are about criticism of Islam. The difference there is crucial. Recently Government minister Eric Pickles sent a letter to British Muslim leaders which went overboard in trying to claim that “British values are Muslim values”. Well, British values include free speech and the right to criticise ideas by drawing satirical cartoons.

I suggest that the media use this test when interviewing “community leaders” and other voices from the Islamic communities. The moderates are the ones who can and do accept Mohammed cartoons as a legitimate aspect of free speech in a free society. If, by asking this question, the media were to discover that much of mainstream British Islam is not actually moderate, then they need to acknowledge and report that fact.

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18 thoughts on “Mainstream Islam is not moderate

  1. Michael R

    Islam is defined as the worship of Allah, and the imitation of Mohammed. There are 90 verses in the Koran which implore Muslims to imitate Mohammed (“a beautiful pattern of conduct”). Jesus largely defines Christianity, along with his early followers. Likewise, Mohammed and his early followers define Islam.

    Alas, when you study the life of Mohammed, it becomes crystal clear why so many Muslims turn violent – because Mohammed spend half his prophet tenure steeped in blood.

    Here’s a crash course in the life of Mohammed and early Islam:

    The biography of Mohammed reads like a war documentary:
    https://archive.org/stream/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume/The_Life_Of_Mohammed_Guillaume#page/n3/mode/1up

    Mohammed beheaded 600-900 Jews on one day.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Banu_Qurayza

    Mohammed ordered or supported 43 assassinations.
    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Killings_Ordered_or_Supported_by_Muhammad

    The prophet Mohammed commanded 65 military campaigns, and fought in 27 of them. He averaged an event of violence every 6 weeks for the last 9 years of his life.

    The prophet Mohammed sanctioned the killing of about 10 poets who criticised him.
    http://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Arlandson/dead_poets.htm

    The prophet Mohammed took a Jewish girl (Safiyah) to bed on the night of torturing her husband to death.
    http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina/safiyah.htm

    Mohammed sanctioned sex slaves as the spoils of war.

    In early Islam, the biography of Mohammed was known as Maghazi (literally, stories of military expeditions).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirat_Rasul_Allah

    Mohammed nicknamed his swords “Pluck Out” and “Death”, and himself had a nickname from early Muslim historian Tabari of “The Obliterator”.
    http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2015/01/12/islam-and-violent-extremism/

    The Islamic holy books (Koran, Hadith, Sira) contain more Jew hatred (9%) than Mein Kampf (7%).

    The Islamic calendar begins when Mohammed stopped being a peaceful preacher in Mecca and became a violent warlord in Medina.

    The prophet Mohammed was poisoned by a Jewish women, following his attack on the Jewish settlement of Khaibar. He died three years later as a result.
    http://www.answering-islam.org/Silas/mo-death.htm

    Three of the first four Caliphs (Muslim rulers after the death of Mohammed) were also so well loved, they too met with violent death.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliphate#Rashidun_Caliphs

    A core precept of the major religions is the imitation of their archetypal prophets. Alas, when you compare the biography of Mohammed with the lives of Jesus and the Buddha, it’s plainly obvious that Mohammed is a far more violent role model.

    The key reason why turmoil persists in the Muslim world is that moderate Muslims sweep the violent example of Mohammed under the carpet, and hope that it goes away. But it doesn’t go away. Now, the tendency in the West is to likewise sweep Mohammed under the carpet. But this is the precise reason why turmoil persists in the Muslim world, and if we sweep Mohammed under the carpet here, we are guaranteed that turmoil will follow Muslims here to the West – indeed it has obviously already has begun.

    The bottom line is: a devout Muslim, in an ardent search for the right way to follow his religion, inevitably turns to the biography of Mohammed, a man who spent half his prophet tenure steeped in blood. The bloody life of Mohammed is what makes Islam unique when compared to, say, Jesus and the Buddha. (Along with the promise of direct entry into heaven, with virgins, for those who die fighting in the cause of Allah).

    The root cause of Islamic violence is the prophet Mohammed. This makes it incredibly difficult to moderate Islam. But if there is any solution, it begins by acknowledging the violent example of the prophet Mohammed, who is held up to be the perfect role model for all Muslims, for all time.

    Reply
    1. PeterJ

      Oh for goodness sake, The Sufis call themselves the ‘true followers of Mohammed’. How violent are they? Your approach to this as a daft as that of those you criticise. Look at the doctrine – does it make sense or not? Imagine Mohammed never lived and then make the judgement. All this gossip is a distraction. The root cause of Islamic violence is, in my opinion, the treatment of Islam by its opponents. I’m no genius but successfully predicted a century of global terrorism when I heard that those fools were going to destroy Iraq. Yet another crusade and yet another reason for fighting back. Were I a Muslim I’d be dead easy to radicalise. It would seem the only sane response.

      I rather dislike the Quran, as it happens, but we should be looking at the cosmology and philosophy not the historical clutter, much of which is of debatable origin and has nothing to do with any judgement of the teachings. Let’s hear an argument against the doctrine, not the contingent stuff that has no philosophical or scientific significance.

      As for Islam being about the worship of Mohammed, this could not be much further from the truth.

      .

      .

    2. Michael R

      PeterJ, nobody said American foreign policy has nothing to do with it. But if you’re saying that there’s nothing uniquely violent about Islam, you’re in la la land. Just read the writings of Al Qaeda or ISIS or Boko Haram. Sure they talk about foreign policy sometimes but the core writing references the example of Mohammed, and the Koranic injunctions to fight non-believers until they submit to Islamic rule (not fight until America backs off), and the promises of heaven for martyrs. To ignore these plainly obvious religious motivations is bizarro world.

      I conclude that you don’t have a counter argument but rather, as is common, you just don’t like the implications of dealing with a religious ideology that is a clear and present danger to us non-Muslims. You want reality to be easy, you want everyone to get along. But in this case reality does not fit your precondition. Devout Muslims see the world in terms of Dar Al-Harb vs. Dar Al-Islam (House of War vs. House of Islam) i.e. they are commanded to fight until all the world submits to Islamic rule. That’s what the word Islam means: submission.

    3. PeterJ

      Submission would not mean the submission of other people to Islam but of oneself to ones higher nature. It is not so much submission as the overcoming of the ego.

      But yes, I agree that Muslims can be a bloodthirsty lot. It’s there in the culture in which it grew up.

      My point here is that the problem is not Islam but the naivety of some Muslims. Likewise there would be a problem with the naivety of some Christians. We have to distinguish between an exoteric reading of the scriptures, which is what leads to all the trouble, and an esoteric reading, which would have nothing to do with violence and hatred but would be entirely focused on love, joy, compassion, knowledge and soteriology.

      My problem with essays such as the one here is not that the criticisms are always underserved, but that they throw the baby out with the bathwater by not seeing what lies behind all the superficial social and moral stuff.

    4. Coel Post author

      Hi Peter,

      We have to distinguish between an exoteric reading of the scriptures, which is what leads to all the trouble, and an esoteric reading, which would have nothing to do with violence and hatred but would be entirely focused on love, joy, compassion, knowledge and soteriology.

      It is fairly common for people to try to excuse all the bad in religion this way, by saying that you should only pick the good bits and ignore the rest. Maybe it would be better to start from a better starting point?

    5. PeterJ

      Yeah. True enough. It is much more difficult for religion to deal with pseudo-religion than it is for science to deal with pseudo-science.

      The point for me here is not to show that my theory is true but just to suggest that you don’t know it is false, so cannot make such bold claims about morality.

      Actually it is not very difficult to spot the difference between ‘true’ religion, as is exponents term it, and superstition or empty custom, the doctrine of what the Rig Veda disparagingly calls ‘the hymn-reciters’. But it certainly not immediately obvious how to do it. To discuss morality it would be necessary to do this, however, or we would be ignoring one entire solution for the problem. This was my objection, being forgotten.

    6. Ron Mortimer

      What you write is pretty much the way I see it too. I don’t think Islam has a problem. I think Islam is the problem. It is true that ‘not all Muslims are terrorists’; however it is equally true that ‘all Muslims are deceived’. If Satan came to earth and started his own religion to oppose and displace Christianity by challenging and destroying every foundation upon which it is built (the son ship of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross, forgiveness of sin through His shed blood, promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him, the concept of the trinity, etc, etc) and subject the whole earth to himself by forcing all peoples to bow down to him, he would create Islam. And he would choose Muhammad as his prophet. And that’s exactly what happened isn’t it?

  2. Pingback: Yes Mehdi Hasan, I Condem Those Atheists Texts Calling for Lashes, Stoning, Death | Ramblings

  3. Phil

    The meaningful divide is not between theists and atheists, but between the reasonable people and unreasonable people on all sides.

    It’s reasonable to make calm reasoned arguments for or against any ideology. This is the free speech we should defend with great enthusiasm.

    It’s not reasonable to publish magazines whose only purpose is to further inflame an already troubled world, nor is it reasonable to kill the cartoonists or fuel further anger with rioting etc.

    We should turn our backs on both the Paris cartoonists and their killers, instead of picking a side in the extremist exchange between them. By endlessly discussing the extremists on all sides we are giving them more prominence than they deserve.

    One band of extremists attacked another band of extremists. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      It’s not reasonable to publish magazines whose only purpose is to further inflame an already troubled world, …

      That is not the “only purpose” of Mohammed cartoons. The main purpose is to uphold the principle that people should not be subject to the rules of the Islamic religion (unless they voluntarily choose to be for themselves) , and that anyone should be free to criticise Islam.

      The whole basis of the free world is being able to speak out and criticise powerful idea systems. Would the world in the 20th Century have been a better place if it had been accepted that no-one should ever criticise communism because the communists might get offended and inflamed?

      This is not about the cartoons themselves, which are pretty innocuous, it is about the totalitarian nature of mainstream Islam. The people who suffer most from the totalitarian nature of mainstream Islam, and from not being able to criticise and improve Islam, are the people in Islamic nations. We owe it to the world to uphold the principle that Islam should be subject to critical scrutiny just as every Western idea-system is criticised in the modern, free world.

      We should turn our backs on both the Paris cartoonists and their killers, instead of picking a side in the extremist exchange between them.

      Really? So you think there is an equivalence here? You think that satirical cartoons are in any way “extreme”? I’m not sure which country you are from, but do you say the same about political cartoons satirising political leaders in your country?

      If you don’t, then why does Islam get special protection and treatment? If it is because some followers of Islam go freaking beserk if their religion is criticised and disrespected, then surely the problem is with that religion and those followers? Satirical cartoons are not “extreme” in this context or in any other context, the extremists are those who want to protect their ideology from criticism and disrespect through violence.

      Live by the sword, die by the sword.

      Which rather overlooks the difference between speech and violence.

  4. Phil

    Coel, as it has often been wisely said, the pen is mightier than the sword. If we didn’t believe in the power of ideas, we wouldn’t be here on this blog together.

    Again, I don’t object to a thoughtful challenge to Islam or any other ideology. I really don’t. I do quite a bit of challenging in all directions myself.

    I object to the cartoons for the same reason you would object if I started calling our fellow members a bunch of rude names.

    We are attempting to offer reason as an alternative to religion. Relentlessly poking people in the eye with cartoons in order to sell magazines is not reason, but just a form of commercial extremism posing as intellectualism.

    I totally agree the killers are far more wrong than the cartoonists. I should have made that more clear. That said, I respectfully decline to applaud the cartoonists as heros standing up for civilization etc.

    I would like to say “I am NOT Charlie Hebdo”, except that oops, sometimes I am. Darn. Work in progress….

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,

      Coel, as it has often been wisely said, the pen is mightier than the sword.

      Agreed, but in the modern world, the pen is a legitimate way of advancing one’s views whereas the sword is not. That is the whole basis of a free, pluralistic and democratic society. It is ludicrous to imply some sort of moral equivalence between the two approaches, and to say that both are “extremist”.

      Again, I don’t object to a thoughtful challenge to Islam or any other ideology. I really don’t.

      Now suppose that the Islamists say, well we are offended by any “thoughtful challenge to Islam”, or indeed any and all challenges to Islam, and we are going to react violently.

      Do you then say, ok, sorry, I’ll keep quiet, only an extremist would offer a thoughtful challenge to Islam?

      Relentlessly poking people in the eye with cartoons in order to sell magazines is not reason …

      Again, you’re missing the broader picture. The point of the cartoons is to reject Islam’s claim to totalitarian censorship and to maintain the principle that Islam is subject to criticism.

      That said, I respectfully decline to applaud the cartoonists as heros standing up for civilization etc.

      How about Raif Badawi, who had the courage to offer a “thoughtful challenge to Islam” from inside Saudi Arabia, and has been imprisoned and flogged for it. Is he a “hero” for wanting to reform Islam, or is he a dangerous “extremist” for offending Muslims?

      Are you really saying that all Muslims need do is claim to be offended by any criticism of their religion, and then all criticism of their religion must stop?

    2. Phil

      You said…

      “Agreed, but in the modern world, the pen is a legitimate way of advancing one’s views whereas the sword is not.”

      I agree with this, and am perhaps a victim of my own rhetorical excess. I know this could be true, because it happened once before. 🙂

      That said, you still don’t want me yelling at people on your blog, right? Assuming that’s true, then I am just applying your own very sensible regulations to the planet as a whole, for the same reasons.

      I am saying calm thoughtful challenging is entirely appropriate, and if somebody can’t handle that, oh well, too bad.

      I’m not against challenges, but against challenges that are aimed primarily at emotions, not reason.

      And I am giving this lecture to myself as much as anyone else, because I too have things to learn in this regard.

    3. Coel Post author

      That said, you still don’t want me yelling at people on your blog, right?

      But there is a big difference between what someone chooses to allow in their own place, versus what is legitimate in the public arena. I would not support the right of people to enter a Mosque or the home of a Muslim, and start drawing Mohammed cartoons on the walls as graffiti. That’s because those are their spaces. I would, though, support anyone’s right to draw Mohammed cartoons in newspapers or webpages. Similarly, you’d be entirely free to spout off and insult atheists (with cartoons if you wish!) on your own blog, and atheists would support your right to do so.

      I am saying calm thoughtful challenging is entirely appropriate, and if somebody can’t handle that, oh well, too bad.

      So who gets to decide what it is or isn’t “calm thoughtful challenging”? Islamists would say that Islam is the essential bedrock of their society and that any criticism or even just non-acceptance of Islam is akin to hooliganism that threatens society and thus needs to be heavily punished. Yes, that is really what they believe! That’s why they have laws against apostasy.

      I’m not against challenges, but against challenges that are aimed primarily at emotions, not reason.

      I don’t see that one can make any clear distinction there. Certainly all political campaigning involves both. Yes, it might be nice if people arrived at opinions purely rationally, but that’s not human nature.

  5. Phil

    Coel, good debate! It’s a pleasure to find a person of your intelligence, and some of the links on your site are opening new realms to me.

    Not wanting to beat this to death, my closing summary is that my suggestion of how the theist/atheist conversation might proceed is no different than how you expect visitors to behave on your blog.

    You are clearly open to challenge, and a durable debater, for which I salute you. I’m guessing you’re not open to me calling you names and posting insulting cartoons of your likeness.

    I’ve had my say on this issue, thanks.

    Reply
    1. Coel Post author

      Hi Phil,
      Thanks for the discussion — it has been part of the inspiration (along with a Guardian editorial) for the post I’m about to publish. 🙂

  6. Phil

    And now that I’ve given my glorious sermon, I’m terrified that somebody is going to dig up some of the um, more enthusiastic comments I’ve posted on forums. Uh oh! Too scary! 🙂

    Reply

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