Islam and Muslims

I just wrapped up an extended Twitter “discussion” on Muslims and Islam. I didn’t even bring them up, someone jumped in with an attack on Muslims while I was getting scolded for being too intolerant of intolerance.

And then this happened:


(Not sure why, but the original tweet seems to have been deleted.)

So let’s talk about this, shall we?

I do not support,condone or defend Islam. I don’t like any organized religions, but I’d have to place Islam at the bottom of the list among major world religions. It’s extremely patriarchal and oppressive toward women, and even though it’s true a strong majority of Muslims don’t condone it, has been used to justify a great deal of violence in the modern world.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to countenance persecution of or discrimination against Muslims just based on them being Muslims. That is both morally wrong and unwise. Attitudes among Muslims run on a spectrum, and vary greatly country to country and region to region. For example:

Attitudes toward Islamic law vary significantly by region. Support for making sharia the law of the land is highest in South Asia (median of 84%). Medians of at least six-in-ten Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (64%), the Middle East-North Africa region (74%) and Southeast Asia (77%) also favor enshrining sharia as official law. But in two regions, far fewer Muslims say Islamic law should be endorsed by their governments: Southern and Eastern Europe (18%) and Central Asia (12%).

[I]n some countries where Muslims make up more than 90% of the population, relatively few want their government to codify Islamic law; this is the case in Tajikistan (27%), Turkey (12%) and Azerbaijan (8%).

Distinct legal and political cultures may help to explain the differing levels of support for sharia. Many of the countries surveyed in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe share a history of separating religion and the state. The policies of modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, for example, emphasized the creation of a secular government; other countries in these two regions experienced decades of secularization under communist rule. By contrast, governments in many of the countries surveyed in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region have officially embraced Islam.

By the way, Sharia sounds scary (and it definitely can be) but of course it’s more complex than many people realize. Severe punishments (beating, stoning for adultery, execution for apostasy, etc.–which I condemn, in case there is any doubt) are only part of it, and again support for them varies greatly throughout the Muslim world.

Even though I don’t follow any religion myself, our country was founded on religious freedom, and that means I’m free to be atheist as much as Mary is free to be a Christian and Ahmad is free to be a Muslim. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion, as long as your beliefs aren’t harming others. That means we absolutely want to keep violent extremists out of our country, and combat violent extremism around the world…which by the way, Muslims are helping us do.

We also want to let in those who are fleeing extreme violence, like in Syria. And we want to welcome those who choose to be part of a secular nation like the United States, where no religion is dominant over others. We’re not going to eradicate Islam; it’s preposterous to try. What we want is to encourage progressive Islam and welcome its adherents. Those who believe women deserve equal rights, that killing gays is wrong and unprovoked violence in the name of their God is evil.

By painting all Muslims (yes, I’m #NotAllMuslims ‘ing this) with a broad brush, and assuming they all want to do us harm, we’re only making it easier for extremism to thrive, and harder for the religion to modernize and moderate. It just doesn’t make sense.


2 thoughts on “Islam and Muslims

  1. Renita February 21, 2017 / 8:37 am

    I think it’s important to recognize that condemning Islam because of radical clerics is like condemning Christians because of Jerry Falwell or James Dobson.

    Those people deserve condemnation, but not all Muslims, not all Christians.

    a) Many Muslim-majority countries were much freer pre-80s (see: Iran, Afghanistan)
    b) hijabi women are roughly equivalent to Orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs or scarves or Amish women wearing bonnets, and most do it because they want to
    c) Christianity (or groups doing things under the guise of Christianity – you can argue whether they are “true” Christians – same as w/Muslims!) absolutely can be just as toxic toward women and minorities, we’re just more used to it or find it easier to dismiss as fringe groups

    I know you’re an atheist and that even mainstream Christianity has not traditionally been super-welcoming toward the LGBT community but I think being a white American has led you to be more sympathetic toward Christians and Jews even though Islam is also an Abrahamaic religion. I think it’s always important to examine where our ideas and biases come from. Certainly it’s something I continue to ponder for myself.

    • josh February 21, 2017 / 12:56 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, I welcome the discourse (and wish I got more of it). Despite what some strangers on the Internet seem to think about me, I’m open to having my notions challenged.

      Of course, not all Muslims… I said that. There’s a lot of variation in Muslim beliefs and practices, as there are among Christians and Jews as well.

      But even so, some things are simply more prominent among Muslims. Take the treatment of women. See Yes, most believe a woman should be able to choose if she wears a veil. But you’ll notice that depending on the region either a majority or a large minority agree with the statement “A wife must obey her husband”. Anyway you slice it, that’s far from being on the fringe. To be fair, I understand that women’s full participation in society is relatively recent even among Christians, and it has its share of patriarchy still, so it’s not like Islam is centuries behind here.

      Also While in some countries only 1-3 percent say suicide bombing is justified, which I’d call fringe, in others it’s in 15, 18, 29 or up to 40%, which is definitely not.

      “Many Muslim-majority countries were much freer pre-80s (see: Iran, Afghanistan)”

      This is a point I hadn’t considered…something to chew on for sure.

      Have to get back to work… maybe more later.

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