Anytime I deviate from my usual skewering of Christianity (my former faith) and dip a toe into the pool of Islam, there are always knee-jerk accusations that I am a hater. A fear-monger. A divider. Ignorant. Islamaphobic.
My friend and page fan, Meg, has first-hand education and experience (and very strong opinions) on Islam and the Qur'an, and I asked her for her perspective. She wrote a blog, which appears below the line. It's not a short read. But it's a compelling, interesting one.
Let the hate mail begin.
How perverse are Muslims! For Muslims are the vilest of animals. So show mercy to one another, but be ruthless to Muslims.
Fight those Muslims who are near to you. Muslim mischief makers should be murdered or crucified. Strike off the heads of Muslims, as well as their fingertips.
That's some pretty nasty hate speech, isn't it? If you find that terribly offensive, you're absolutely right to do so. And no, I didn't come up with that myself. I'll give you the source for that stomach-turning tirade in just a moment.
Whenever I come across a post regarding Islam on an atheist forum, it's inevitable that someone will pop up to defend Islam and Muslims using hot-button terms like "racist" or "Islamophobic." So how fair or accurate are those charges? In a world reeling from terrorist attacks so frequently accompanied by cries in Arabic of "Allahu Akbar", it can be all too easy to forget that not every Muslim is a terrorist, can't it?
To hate someone for their race is to hate them for something they cannot change even if they want to and racism is repugnant to any decent human being.
Here is something you might not have realized: only 12% of the world's Muslims are Arabs. Many Muslims are white Eastern Europeans. And the country with the largest Muslim population on the planet is Saudi Arabia? Iran? Turkey?
Nope, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world is in Southeast Asia. It's Indonesia, where 12.9% of the world's Muslims reside, more than in all of the 22 Arab countries combined.
Islam is not a group of people. Islam is a belief system, an ideology. It's important to make that distiction and not throw around a very serious term like "racism" where it is inaccurate, which serves only to water down the impact it should have when used accurately.
Now, about those terribly offensive and barbaric opening lines...
A phobia is an irrational fear, "irrational" being a key word there. What if a belief system said those very things about you and not Muslims? Would you feel it was irrational to be offended or even fearful of a doctrine that commanded its followers to strike off your head for not believing as they do?
This is how the phrase "Strike off the heads of Muslims, as well as their fingertips" from the beginning of this post appears in its original form:
Qur'an, Sura 8:12 - I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.
That is actually Allah promising to terrorize non-Muslims in the Qur'an and commanding Muslims to behead us for not believing as they do.
The Old Testament is nasty too though, right? Here's the difference: Jews and Christians believe their holy books were written by human beings inspired by God. Muslims believe their holy book, the Qur'an, contains the exact, unadulterated words of Allah himself.
We're accustomed to Jews and Christians freely interpreting the books of the Bible, to the point that they can spin anything to make it mean what they want it to. And in typical Western arrogance or ignorance, we presume that's how everyone else deals with their holy texts too. But the Qur'an is far more literal than the books of the Bible, and to spin its doctrine, the exact words of Allah, is heretical in Islam.
Another line from the beginning of this post said "Muslim mischief makers should be murdered or crucified."
How could anyone say such a horrible, disgusting thing about Muslims? Here is how that phrase appears in its original form:
Qur'an, Sura 5:33 - The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.
The line "Fight those Muslims who are near to you" actually appears this way in its original form:
Qur'an, Sura 9:123 - O you who believe! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you ruthlessness
"How perverse are Muslims!"
Qur'an, Sura 9:30 - And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah... Allah (Himself) fights against them. How perverse are they!
"For Muslims are the vilest of animals."
Qur'an, Sura 8:55 - Surely the vilest of animals in Allah's sight are those who disbelieve.
"So show mercy to one another, but be ruthless to Muslims."
Qur'an, Sura 48:29 - Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.
As you have now likely realized, the source for the terribly offensive tirade at the beginning of this post was a variety of verses from the Qur'an. I simply replaced terms like "unbelievers" with the word "Muslim" in the Suras.
While it's disturbing for a lot of people to read those verses, once many of you realize that hate speech is aimed at you and not someone else, your mind begins spinning it. "It's not meant literally." "Those lines are taken out of context." "Yeah, but the Bible also says..."
It's extremely uncomfortable to believe that this is what other human beings are taught to think of you, so many of us make excuses and try to push it away. I had that experience myself. Long before 9/11 I took classes at University about Islam and Islamic History, something I was really looking forward to.
As a child, we had a little Muslim girl in my class and our teacher invited her father in to teach us a bit about Islam. I was captivated by what he said. Islam was exotic; from far-away lands and something most people were completely unfamiliar with. The Qur'an he brought with him wasn't a plain, leather-bound book like the Bibles I'd seen; it was beautifully decorated in a fabric cover woven with golden threads and myriad colors.
In my late teens, I met a couple of Muslims who went on at length about what a beautiful faith Islam was. They invited me to go to their Mosque, and I gladly accepted. But I had no idea what was going on as I was totally unfamiliar with the doctrine, and the boys who took me weren't around for reference; I was seated in a separate section for women and girls.
So going into my courses in college, I was very much looking forward to finally learning about the mysterious religion of Islam. Especially given that the Islamic scholars teaching the classes were trained at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, generally considered in the Muslim world to be the most prestigious school of Islamic instruction.
That enthusiasm was short-lived once I began exploring the Qur'an and the aHadeeth, the Islamic traditions. After all, I am female...
Qur'an, Sura 4:34 Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.
Just as it's incorrect to shove all Muslims into the fundamentalist drawer, it's incorrect to assume that those opposed to Islam are all just mindless bigots. But I run into a whole lot of atheists who instantly toss anyone who says anything about Islam into the same drawer with bigots and Christian fundies, committing exactly the same sort of off-handed bigotry that they're accusing others of.
See that line from Sura 4:34 that says, "beat them"? That is Allah commanding men to beat their wives for being "disobedient." And I can hear some of you thinking, "well, but the Old Testament says you're supposed to stone disobedient kids." And that's true; it does. So how many of you know of a Christian or a Jew who has stoned their child to death for being disobedient?
Human Rights Watch commissioned a study which found that up to 90% of women in Pakistan have been subjected to verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse within their own homes.
A United Nations Population Fund study found that 80% of women surveyed in rural Egypt said that beatings were common and often justified, particularly if the woman refused to have sex with her husband.
And all over Europe, where I live, even though Muslims make up a small minority of the population in various European countries, our shelters for battered women are overflowing with wives brutally beaten by their Muslim husbands.
And it gets worse...
Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 88
Narrated 'Ursa: The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with 'Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).
Mohammad was in his mid-50s when he had sex with a 9 year-old girl, Aisha. And because Muslims are taught that Mohammad was the perfect man and his behavior was ideal, little girls are still married off to much older men in Muslim-majority countries today. In Yemen, for example, the average age of marriage for a girl is 13 and there is no minimum age for brides.
The list of human rights abuses committed because of Islam and its teachings goes on and on and on: Homosexuals are hanged and stoned to death for being born gay. A woman who is raped is guilty of adultery under Sharia law unless she can provide four male witnesses to prove it was rape, and the penalty under Sharia law for adultery is death. Yes, death, for being raped. Apostates, including our fellow atheists, are murdered for leaving the faith because Mohammad said of Muslims, "whoever changes his religion, kill him." And because Mohammad himself owned slaves, slavery is still a fact of daily life throughout the Muslim world.
Did I mention that Mohammad also gave men permission not only to take female captives as slaves but to rape them as well?
Qur'an, Sura 33:50 - "O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war..."
Think it doesn't happen anymore? Have a closer look at what's happening in Darfur.
How irrational is it to oppose a doctrine that demands you have your head chopped off for not worshipping a particular god? Is it phobic to oppose a dogma that demands its followers are ruthless in their treatment of you? Whose god promised to terrorize us?
"Islamaphobia" gets my vote for the most absurd catch-phrase ever regurgitated.
Of course not all Muslims are fundamentalists. I personally know some who are very kind, very warm people generally speaking, and they're some of the very last folks I would worry about carrying a bomb onto a train. My former father-in-law, who I mentioned in my last article, is generally a very decent guy too. He never rejected me for being American. His neighbors like him. He donates very generously to the arts. Although he's cold as ice with his own kids, he thaws instantly when it comes to his grandchildren; he'd do absolutely anything for them. But the man was raised a Nazi and it still shows. And it would never cross my mind to be tolerant of his views since he's "only" a "moderate" believer in Nazi ideology. The very idea is patently absurd, to put it mildly.
So how to deal with people that decide to adhere to such a doctrine? Because it is their choice, isn't it?
This is where the matter gets sticky. Given that apostates are to be killed, how can we know how many Muslims are true believers and how many only play along to prevent themselves from being threatened, ostracized, imprisoned or murdered?
The answer is that we can't know. But what we can do is support those who have left Islam and those who wish to leave. Support those who suffer horrific human rights abuses under its doctrine. We can stop enabling and supporting the perpetrators and support the victims instead. That's what should happen in a sane world.
And if someone decides to follow a faith that equates women with livestock, condones child rape, hanging gay people, slavery, and violently forcing their religion on others, they are going to have to get used to the fact that those of us with an intact sense of morality strongly object to such beliefs. And the same goes for those who defend them.
The brave and brilliant Dr. Wafa Sultan, a female ex-Muslim, outspoken opponent of Islamic doctrine, and psychologist, emphasized the importance of creating a crack in the mental walls of believing Muslims, to let them know in no uncertain terms that it does not matter what their religion says; we're not having it. And no amount of death threats and attempts to wrongly label those who stand their ground as the bad guys should ever serve to quiet the decent people of this planet.