A Split of Opinion
There’s enormous controversy surrounding Islamism – about the Qur’an, about the religion’s prophet, Muhammad … there’s a huge split of opinion, and there’s an enormous animosity between the two sides of this split.
On the one hand, there is a significant group of people – Muslim and non-Muslim – who describe the life of Muhammad as that of a true religious prophet. They promote him as a pacifist, a messenger of peace, and a good, noble leader. Their opinion of those who blame the Qur’an/Islam for the global terrorist phenomenon is that they are bigoted and at least mildly racist. There is certainly some justification for those opinions, too, as there have been a number of racially-driven acts of violence against Muslims.
On the other hand, you have a group of people who deeply criticise Islamism, and make some very serious (although often out of context) accusations. They describe Muhammad as a warlord, which it seems there is at least some truth behind. They also accuse him of paedophilia, which could technically be interpreted as accurate, given that he potentially took a 6 year old wife while himself being older than 40. But it is important to remember the historical context there, because (culturally speaking) having a wife of that age was not uncommon in that time of history. The criticism of Islam which is difficult to argue with, though, is that certain passages from the Qur’an can be – and have been – interpreted as justification of the actions of terrorist organisations, particularly ISIS.
So who is right, and who is wrong?
I’m afraid to say there isn’t a straightforward answer to that question, as much as I wish there was. There are enough quotes from the Qur’an and from the Hadith (a record of the words and actions of Muhammad) that could be easily interpreted in the way ISIS interpreted them.
That is not to say that this interpretation is correct, nor is it to say the Qur’an is a book which actively and inherently promotes terrorism. But to dismiss that interpretation as plain wrong, and to defend Islam as nothing more than a “religion of peace,” ignores a far more complicated reality.
A balanced view
There’s a fantastic essay by Ali A. Rizvi which poses the following question: if verses from the Qur’an were written about Muslims instead of ‘non-believers’, what would the reaction be? I will present the example Rizvi gave:
Version 1 (taken from the Qur’an):
“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not [ever] believe –
The ones with whom you made a treaty but then they break their pledge every time, and they do not fear Allah.” Qur’an, verses 8:55-56.
Version 2 (taken from Rizvi’s essay):
“The worst of beasts, in our view, are the followers of Allah—those who believe in Islam. They’re the ones you make treaties with, but they break those treaties every time because they have no fear of the law.”
If Version 2 was published in an anti-Muslim book, it would instantly (and rightly) be branded racist, hateful, and unacceptable. But, because the Qur’an is a significant historical book which leads a huge religious following, it is protected from the kind of criticism that it arguably deserves.
Out of context?
Rizvi even counters the argument (successfully, in my opinion) that violent quotes are taken out of the context of the book as a whole. While that argument is valid, dismissing the interpretation of the Qur’an as a violent book lacks some substance.
That isn’t to say that Rizvi’s criticism is limited to Islam, though; it is a criticism of many religious texts. The Bible, after all, must shoulder some of the blame for the justification of the many years of slavery. In this day and age, though, the Bible is not protected from criticism in nearly the same way that the Qur’an is. Nor does the Bible influence the same levels of violence.
But is criticism of Islam still harmful?
It might be true that an article such as this one I am writing could be used as a stick for racist, “alt-right” types to beat peaceful Muslims with. But that is not the intention of this article – at all. I think that violence against someone for being Muslim is stupid to the extreme. The intention of this is to add to a dialogue on a difficult topic which possesses an underlying degree of fear. And it also intends to add some clarity/reason to the ignorance on both sides of the debate.
In truth, though, no amount of logic or reasoning will convince future movements akin to ISIS to change their ways. That organisation arose in response to the violence of the West on their homelands (from air-strikes and military invasions). If that violence continues, we can’t expect their violence to stop, either. In either case though, a movement like ISIS would not listen to reason. If we were to stop attacking them, it’s highly unlikely that their violence would stop.
The ideology that drives them targets world domination, not revenge. That ideology can probably only be stopped (or halted) by more violence. Sadly, that only adds to the seemingly never-ending cycle of war which has been set in motion for hundreds, if not thousands of years (and is not limited to humans, it should be pointed out). Moreover, even though ISIS has been defeated, you can bet your last penny that their ideology will rear its head again.
What do we do now?
There is no easy solution to this problem. Still, I think it is of great importance that the right to free speech is protected. I understand how controversial criticism of Islam is, and the connotations of criticising it are, indeed, racist and bigoted (thanks in no small part to the violent/hateful acts associated with that). But how can this problem be solved without looking at the bigger picture? Criticising Islam is necessary when it comes to an objective review of the situation.
While there are a huge number of misinformed people out there, it is still important to try and include them in the dialogue. If they can’t be convinced of a more balanced perception of Islam, how could groups such as ISIS possibly be convinced? In any case, if we are going to protect the right of people to read and worship a book with violent, and genuinely dangerous passages, then it would be hypocrisy not to defend the right of people to criticise it.
There are many Muslims throughout history who have inspired generations of great people – Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Zinedine Zidane, and many more, no doubt. But we can’t ignore the devil in the details: there are two sides of every coin. Sadly, the other side of the Islam coin (so to speak) is a genuine problem. Denying this is equally as ignorant as viewing all Muslims as evil.