Sam Harris Might Be Changing His Tune on Islam

In conversations regarding Sam Harris on a recent post, it was brought to my attention that Harris is collaborating with a noted Muslim reformer, Maajid Nawaz, on a forthcoming e-book. This, along with Harris’s statements that he does not think all Muslims are terrorists, was used to claim that I was misrepresenting Harris’s views.

When I said that “Maher and Harris would have you believe that violent “jihadists” à la ISIS / ISIL / IS / [insert other initialism permutation of your choice here] represent all Muslims”, I was referring back, in the case of Harris, to his paper trail regarding Islam. All the protesting that he doesn’t think all Muslims are like that doesn’t eliminate his history of writing about Muslims and Islam.


He said this recently:

Whatever the prospects are for moving Islam out of the Middle Ages, hope lies not with obscurantists like Reza Aslan but with reformers like Maajid Nawaz. The litmus test for intellectual honesty on this point—which so many liberals fail—is to admit that one can draw a straight line from specific doctrines in Islam to the intolerance and violence we see in the Muslim world. Nawaz admits this. I don’t want to give the impression that he and I view Islam exactly the same. In fact, we are now having a written exchange that we will publish as an ebook in the coming months—and I am learning a lot from it. But Nawaz admits that the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community is an enormous problem. Unlike Aslan, he insists that his fellow Muslims must find some way to reinterpret and reform the faith. He believes that Islam has the intellectual resources to do this. I certainly hope he’s right. One thing is clear, however: Muslims must be obliged to do the work of reinterpretation—and for this we need honest conversation.

Sam Harris, Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?

I can’t agree enough with that particular statement.  We need reinterpretation and honest conversation from Muslims, something we don’t get from Reza Aslan types. I cannot agree with the things that Harris has said before, which seem to contradict that openness and willingness to engage with reformers (all emphasis is mine).

From Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon (interesting use of a Biblical term, there).

I would not want to create the impression that most Muslims support ISIS, nor would I want to give any shelter or inspiration to the hatred of Muslims as people. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.

Yes, many Muslims happily ignore the apostasy and blasphemy of their neighbors, view women as the moral equals of men, and consider anti-Semitism contemptible. But there are also Muslims who drink alcohol and eat bacon. All of these persuasions run counter to the explicit teachings of Islam to one or another degree.

How exactly does it help reformers of Islam and Muslim liberal progressives to say that they aren’t True Muslims™ who don’t follow True Islam™? I’d argue that saying so harms their cause. No one wants to be a called a fake.

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces.

The civilized world being the non-Muslim world. Remember what I said about racialized language? This is it.

But the task isn’t as simple as discrediting the false doctrines of Muslim “extremists,” because most of their views are not false by the light of scripture. A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran.

Again, Harris is pushing the “True Muslims™ hate non-Muslims” angle, which I do not believe is helpful in the slightest in aiding those attempting to change Islam. Indeed, I believe he’s lending the violent types credence by doing so. Why? How does that help anyone?

To insist over and over that True Muslims™ are violent terrorists is to say that they are the true representatives of the True Islam™. My statement stands.

It may be that Harris is starting to recognize why it’s important to emphasize and support the work of Muslim reformers and progressives rather than calling them not Real Muslims™. It may be that Maajid Nawaz will help him to see the importance of ceasing his labeling of less violent and inhumane forms of Islam as not True Islam™. It may be that Harris does not and has never intended to be racialized in his criticism of Islam. Even given all that, I hardly misrepresented him. I, for one, am looking forward to that e-book.

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Sam Harris Might Be Changing His Tune on Islam
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44 thoughts on “Sam Harris Might Be Changing His Tune on Islam

  1. 1

    This is EXACTLY the conversation I had recently with my brother. I’m so glad to see this in writing, thank you.

    Harris completely undercuts the moderate Muslims he claims to support by dismissing them as not being “real” Muslims. He implicitly identifies the fundamentalists as the standard and then judges everyone else as being un-serious or un-devout compared to them. I’ve had discussions with many religious and serious Muslims who take the Qur’an very literally and yet deplore violence and support more freedom and independence for women. They dismiss the violent verses in the Qur’an as only applying to the events of the 7th century and not universally applicable. Which is a perfectly plausible and wholly-welcome interpretation that every reformer should get behind. His whole “concentric circles” explanation of the Muslim world also implicitly identifies the Jihadists and Islamists as core, “true” believers and everyone else on the outside.

    There is no one Islam. There are multiple Islam(s) with a wide range of beliefs among Muslims. When Sam characterize Islam by it’s worst adherents and then basically says everyone else is “doing it wrong” then he slips right into the same fundamentalist view of the world he claims to oppose .

    Harris is so sure he’s got it all figure out, he never stops to evaluate his position and consider his critics views. Often time his critics are just doing a knee-jerk, “you’re a racist”, “you’re islamophobic” so I get why he dismisses those retorts. But your article is right on the money. Hope Sam reads it.

    1. 2.1

      Would you agree these are people who “don’t take their religion very seriously”? I’d say so — and that’s a very good thing.

      Christianity is less harmful than in past centuries in large part because the majority of people who call themselves Christian take the fundamental Christian tenets much less seriously these days.

      My understanding of Harris’s words is that reform results in taking fundamental tenets of barbaric intolerant violent religious texts less seriously, and to that extent is a good thing.

      It did a power of good for civilisation when Christianity was forced to reform because Christians en mass took its core texts less seriously and reinterpreted their religion to pretty much ignore most of it most of the time. Civilisation will again be greatly advanced when Muslims en mass repudiate the core texts of Islam and reinterpret their religion to conform to scientific facts and humanist morals.

    2. 2.2

      I often say that the Westboro Baptist Church are more truly Christian than other groups. Most notable atheists refer to the “homicidal, genocidal, misogynist, homophobic God of the Old Testament”, and mince no words in suggesting that progressive Christians are “cherry picking” and not “really reading their bible”. So the suggestion that moderate, progressive Christians are not “true Christians” is actually a standard part of the New Atheist rhetoric. Sometimes I feel like refusing to acknowledge the good that might arise from religions like Christianity or Islam. And it’s not that I actually believe that religion has no good in it. It does. But its goodness is sold out by its perversity in so many forms. I want to refuse to acknowledge the good because I refuse to excuse the perversity. Of course, I do see the value in those Christian denominations who attempt to interpret the bible so that it may be more friendly towards homosexuals, women, and non-believers than it has been in the past. However, for a multitude of reasons, my primary desire would be to see the disappearance of Christianity altogether, rather than it continuing in a more innocuous form. The latter is a compromise I’d be more than willing to make, but not the ideal.

      Harris, when he made those comments, was not being responsible with regard to the cause of Islamic reformers, which I’m sure he must prefer over Islamic extremists. Of course, Harris is one of the four horsemen of the “New Atheism” movement, which seeks to attack all religion at its foundations. In that sense, it might behoove his mission to equate “true Islam” with its most violent manifestations, and to demonstrate the link thereby. This tactic, with regards to Christianity, can be a good one on many levels. It arises from a very recent time wherein the mere idea of criticizing religion was unspeakable and indefensible. The flip and inflammatory nature of these criticisms did shake the foundations of many teetering adherents of various faiths, and, as an atheist, I can only think of that as a good thing. But there are differences, you’ll agree, between Christianity and Islam.

      For one, if we’re dealing with the Western World, we know that Christianity is the majority faith, and, therefore, criticisms of Islam can easily be co-opted by religious or racist bigots. By contrast, criticisms of Christianity in the Western World are hardly in danger of subjecting Christians to fear for their practicing rights or social standing.

      For two, if we’re dealing with the Muslim World, I think we might agree that there is an almost purer and more reverent adherence to Islam than we see in, for example, many Christians in the United States, who can be accurately described as “not taking their religion very seriously”. In the case of the former, it would be inaccurate to say that moderate and progressive Muslims who find it difficult to reconcile their sense of morality with some of the teachings of Islam are “not taking their religion very seriously”, so I agree that Harris was being irresponsible in saying as much. Again, however, it does suit and fall in line with his unapologetic attitude towards all religions, and probably speaks to his indignation with the idea that one religion should deserve more consideration than another.

      I agree with Heina that it is good to see Harris accommodating more nuance in his approach to Islam, taking “half a loaf”, as it were, to correct the problems within Islam even if it means “allowing” Islam to survive modernity, so to speak. For an arduous atheist like Harris, who undoubtedly would like to see all religion vanish from the face of the earth, it is easy to understand why he wasn’t exactly focused on reshaping a religion so that it might be more palatable and congruent with current secular ideals.

      My point here is that I don’t like seeing Harris attributed as a racist hatemonger. I understand his motivations and why he may have seen things the way he did. It was inconsiderate and lacking in nuance, and his seemingly newfound adoption of a reforming position is more appropriate to dealing with Islam than it is with Christianity, for various reasons (a “reformed Muslim” might be easier to transition into atheism, for example). While Heina is right in thinking that Harris is evolving towards a more nuanced and practical approach to Islam, I think we should be fair in trying to understand his core position all along, which I very much doubt was xenophobia, tribalism, or the desire to demonize Muslim people.

  2. sw
    3

    From what I’ve seen, I do feel that the “reinterpretting” that needs to be done is the same kind of “reinterpretting” that Christians needed to do with the Bible when we worked out slavery wasn’t cool after all. The thing is, when Christians used to point out that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible, they were right. The Christians who wanted to end slavery were, in my opinion, reading the Bible less honestly than the Christians that said it supported slavery. Likewise, the Muslims that try to pretend that the Koran tells us that we should treat men and women equally are being less honest than the Muslims that admit that it’s not a book in favour of equality.
    We need them to interpret their holy book dishonestly, because an honest interpretation clearly leads to bad outcomes and they are unwilling to give up their religion altogether. Pretending that the Koran actually says that we should treat homosexuals with compassion and give them the freedom to be themselves is the best option until they’re willing to give up the Koran in it’s entirety. But it’s still dishonest.

  3. 4

    I’m not convinced that Harris meant to suggest that moderate Muslims aren’t “True Muslims”, but he can certainly be read that way, and that’s a problem. I don’t think that’s what he means, but if so he needs to be a lot clearer.

  4. 5

    I’ve been arguing this point on various facebook threads as well. Harris puts extremists at the centre, the core of the Islam, which is at odds with a) the [insert preferred number] pillars and b) the word extremism.

    The holier-than-thou attitude that accompanies strictly orthodox communities leads to the horribly authoritarian idea that the more rules you follow, the more you are a devoutly True Believer. Harris seems to agree with this idea. It’s bullshit. The more rules there are, the more likely that one or more of those rules will occlude or contradict the basic tenets.

  5. 6

    How exactly does it help reformers of Islam and Muslim liberal progressives to say that they aren’t True Muslims™ who don’t follow True Islam™? I’d argue that saying so harms their cause.

    You don’t go so far as to say you disagree with what Harris *actually* wrote. He said:

    […] I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.

    This doesn’t imply, to my reading of the words, anything like “they aren’t True Muslims™”. Rather, it acknowledges these people *are* Muslims — but Muslims who don’t take Islam very seriously.

    You obviously don’t think that’s a helpful thing to say. Do you think it’s nevertheless a true statement?

    1. 6.1

      This doesn’t imply, to my reading of the words, anything like “they aren’t True Muslims™”. Rather, it acknowledges these people *are* Muslims — but Muslims who don’t take Islam very seriously.

      Can you please explain the difference? Saying someone doesn’t take their religious seriously is saying there is a serious way to practice their religion, and they aren’t doing it. It also implies the terrorists are the one who actually take their religion seriously. How would that not be interpreted as not being True Muslims™?

      1. Can you please explain the difference? Saying someone doesn’t take their religious seriously is saying there is a serious way to [take] their religion, and they aren’t doing it.

        I’m not sure if you meant to slip from “take the religion seriously” to “practice the religion seriously”. I mean the former: to “take Islam seriously”, in the context Harris is writing, means to take the claims of Islam seriously, and to seriously believe those claims.

        So, one can call oneself a Muslim without taking the religion seriously — i.e. without taking seriously the claims made in the foundational texts. This might be because one hasn’t understood what those claims are, which for many is because they simply haven’t heard or read the claims and understood them.

        Many Muslims hear or speak the Qur’an primarily in the Arabic language without ever being fluent in that language. If these people never hear what the texts actually say in a language they understand well, they can’t be said to take the claims seriously because they don’t even know those claims are part of Islam’s teachings.

        Another way one can be a nominal Muslim and not take Islam seriously is by being a “cultural Muslim”; never thinking too deeply about the claims to the point of considering whether they are *true*, but behaving as though it is a cultural identity empty of truth claims, like a soccer team.

        I’m saying that those who take the religion of Islam seriously are those who understand the truth claims in Islam, understand the moral claims in Islam, and seriously consider the consequences of those claims. And I’m pretty sure that’s how Harris is meaning “take the religion seriously”.

        To the extent that’s what it means to take Islam seriously, I want everyone aware of Islam to take it very seriously and reject it as a serious danger to human society.

        1. to “take Islam seriously”, in the context Harris is writing, means to take the claims of Islam seriously, and to seriously believe those claims.

          Sorry, that’s needlessly confusing given the rest of what I wrote. Harris is referring to people who do or do not take the claims seriously.

          Only if one takes Islam seriously *and* calls oneself Muslim does the “and to seriously believe those claims” apply. It doesn’t apply to the disbelievers in the latter part of my comment. Sorry again for the confusingly-written paragraph.

        2. Nothing you said answered my question. Well, more specifically not the question you didn’t quote (I’m indifferent to the practice/take thing, it amounts to the same thing). You just expanded on “not taking religion seriously”. So I ask again:

          How would that not be interpreted as not being True Muslims™?

          Before you answer, consider that in your response above you said “nominal Muslim” and “culture Muslim” So… “Nominal Muslim” as opposed to what?

          Hint: True Muslims™

          You seem to be putting too much emphasis on them calling themselves Muslims. Think of the “no true scotsman” fallacy. Those not really scotsmen that did stuff that no true scotsmen would do still considered themselves scotsmen. But because they didn’t uhh scotsman the right way, they weren’t a true scotsman. They didn’t take their scotsmanning seriously.

          With the Scotsmen in mind, I’ll restate my point, Harris has decided what is required to “take your religion seriously” and those who don’t do that aren’t taking their religion seriously. And examples of “taking their religion seriously” would be not ignoring the apostasy and blasphemy of their neighbors, viewing women as the moral inferiors of men, and considering anti-Semitism awesome. And also not drinking alcohol or eating bacon.

          So please explain what is the substantive difference between telling someone “you aren’t a True Muslim™” and “you aren’t taking your religion seriously?” Both are claiming they are doing it wrong.

          1. You just expanded on “not taking religion seriously”.

            Right, because that’s the wording Harris used. This “True Muslim™” stuff originated here, and isn’t what Harris said at all.

            How would that not be interpreted as not being True Muslims™?

            Precisely because it lacks the quality you’re trying to impute: the arrogation of knowing who is and is not a true Muslim. Harris doesn’t make that claim.

            “Nominal Muslim” as opposed to what?

            As opposed to a Muslim who takes the content of the Islamic religious claims seriously.

            This is not making a judgement about who is “true” or not. They’re Muslim none the less.

            Harris has decided what is required to “take your religion seriously” and those who don’t do that aren’t taking their religion seriously.

            Harris has read the texts, has read the factual and moral claims in those texts, and is referring to those who take seriously the claims of those texts. The texts are vague in many ways, but on the matters of apostasy, blasphemy, moral inferiority of women and infidels, they are insistently ad unmistakably dgmatic.

            It shouldn’t be controversial to say that one can only discount those moral claims of Islam by not taking them seriously. Many people call themselves Muslim (hence are, at minimum, “nominally Muslim”) but want to behave as though those claims aren’t part of Islam. Hence, they don’t take those claims seriously.

            So please explain what is the substantive difference between telling someone “you aren’t a True Muslim™” and “you aren’t taking your religion seriously?” Both are claiming they are doing it wrong.

            I don’t agree. Harris doesn’t get to tell someone they aren’t a true Muslim, and nor do I.

            But both of us can read a translation of the Islamic fundamental texts, see how consistently the texts make particular moral claims, and observe who takes those claims seriously. That doesn’t affect whether they get to call themselves Muslim.

          2. I don’t think it’s such a ludicrous stretch to say that if you tell a believer that they aren’t “taking religion seriously”, you’re basically telling them that they aren’t as good a believer as others.

            I, unlike you, can remember what it was like to be a Muslim, and knew lots of other Muslims as a Muslim, and yes, I was pissed when people said crap like that to me. I was a very serious believer and there was nothing in my faith that commanded me to “behead infidels” willy-nilly.

          3. Bob Finney:

            As opposed to a Muslim who takes the content of the Islamic religious claims seriously.

            This is not making a judgement about who is “true” or not. They’re Muslim none the less.

            The “True Muslims™” is spelled with the capitalization and TM to convey the idea that it’s the correct way. The official way to be a Muslim. They may call themselves a Muslim, but if they aren’t doing it this way, it’s not the proper serious way. It’s not meant to convey that they somehow cease to be an actual Muslim.

            Harris has read the texts, has read the factual and moral claims in those texts, and is referring to those who take seriously the claims of those texts. The texts are vague in many ways, but on the matters of apostasy, blasphemy, moral inferiority of women and infidels, they are insistently ad unmistakably dgmatic.

            It shouldn’t be controversial to say that one can only discount those moral claims of Islam by not taking them seriously. Many people call themselves Muslim (hence are, at minimum, “nominally Muslim”) but want to behave as though those claims aren’t part of Islam. Hence, they don’t take those claims seriously.

            Harris never said “factual and moral claims” or anything about claims. He said “their religion.” And different sects and groups practice their religion differently while taking it completely seriously. Just because they aren’t practicing the way Harris has decided is “taking their religion seriously” doesn’t mean they aren’t completely serious about it. And if you want to get people to accept moderate groups and help moderate groups to promote reform, making the statement that the only ones who take their religion seriously are the terrorists is not a good way to do it.

  6. 7

    undamental Christian tenets

    and what would those be? (and don’t say the 10 commandments. the RCC has happily edited those to their liking before) the whole point is that, as wholly socially constructed entities, there’s really no such thing as Real True Christianity or Real True Islam. It is anything and everything people make it to be, even if it’s sometimes absurdly contradictory and/or nonsensical when looking at it from the outside.

  7. 8

    or to put it differently: many liberal and cultural christians take their christianity quite seriously. many liberal muslims also take their islam seriously. in both cases, it’s just a completely different christianity/islam from that of fundies; and both of them are different than the christianity/islamasit existed around the time of their founding. (and fundies disregard the shit actually written in the bible at least as much as liberals. I mean, come on, the Rapture? “Supply-side Jesus”?)

  8. ROY
    9

    got a few thoughts in my mind:)
    who realy cares about changing the interpretation? its nice that its recogniced by the media, but how does reality look?
    do they think they reach out to the ~muslim whos in support of the sharia?
    and since Nawaz organisation ist still in support of Hijab and burqa, isnt it most likely just a PRstunt to rally against Islamophobia?
    and that race debatte: u can choose religion, u can choose in what u believe. thats called free will. if u get criticized for the things u believe in, its not racism, imo. that people still think- muslim=terrorist, thats racism. but not when u get criticized for the downside of ur religion.
    and a recent poll, http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/pew-report-on-muslim-world-paints-a-distressing-picture/, showed a overwhelming support for sharia in alot of muslim countrys. so is the support of a law, which supports discrimination of minoritys and woman, not an act of racism itself? u still cant choose being born as woman or gay.
    so am i allowed to call everyone supporting sharia a racist?

    1. 9.1

      who realy cares about changing the interpretation?

      Those interested in causing less harm in the world do. Maybe you don’t?

      its nice that its recogniced by the media, but how does reality look?

      Actually, efforts for change are not recognized by the media.

      do they think they reach out to the ~muslim whos in support of the sharia?

      Who are “they”? You will need to be more specific.

      and since Nawaz organisation ist still in support of Hijab and burqa, isnt it most likely just a PRstunt to rally against Islamophobia?

      Who is rallying and making a stunt? Your questions need to convey better information in order to be answered.

      and that race debatte: u can choose religion, u can choose in what u believe. thats called free will. if u get criticized for

      the things u believe in, its not racism, imo. that people still think- muslim=terrorist, thats racism. but not when u get criticized for the downside of ur religion.

      We’re in perfect agreement there.

      and a recent poll, http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/pew-report-on-muslim-world-paints-a-distressing-picture/, showed a overwhelming support for sharia in alot of muslim countrys. so is the support of a law, which supports discrimination of minoritys and woman, not an act of racism itself? u still cant choose being born as woman or gay.

      It’s not racism to discriminate against women or gay people. It’s sexism and homophobia, respectively. There is more than one form of discrimination in the world.

      so am i allowed to call everyone supporting sharia a racist?

      Far be for me to tell you what you can and can’t do. I’m not any kind of authority figure to dictate such things.

  9. 10

    I note how particularly unscientific and facepalmingly alarmist it is to cite polls of Muslims who support Sharia law as evidence that Islam is particularly backwards and dangerous. Jerry Coyne is a scientist, and should know better than to draw a conclusion from a study without a control – or what is the percentage of Christians who believe that the laws of the land should reflect their own particular interpretation of their barbaric bronze age religion?

    1. 10.1

      There are two related syllogisms as I understand it:

      Islam is, among the religions with large numbers of present-day adherents, particularly backward and toxic in the content of its core teachings.
      Those backward and toxic doctrines are encoded as a law to be imposed on society, named Shari’a.
      Therefore, Islam is particularly backward.

      That doesn’t need any support from “polls show”; Islam is presently active, and its teachings are particularly backward. It would be unscientific to cite polls for that, but I don’t know that anyone does or needs to; the texts of the religion itself are sufficient.

      The second one is about the danger presented by Islam, which *does* get support from polls of Muslims:

      Polls of large numbers of Muslims from diverse areas of the globe show that large numbers of adherents to Islam support imposing Shari’a on some or all parts of society.
      With a large body of people supporting its imposition, the risk that Shari’a can persist and grow as an imposed law is high.
      Therefore, Islam is particularly dangerous among today’s religions.

      Since the danger posed by Islam is indeed determined in part by how many of its adherents hold the toxic beliefs of imposing Shari’a on some or all, I think it’s intellectually responsible for scientists to reference these polls when discussing the dangers of those beliefs.

  10. ROY
    11

    “who realy cares about changing the interpretation?”
    that term was used for the muslim/islamic world obv. poor writing skills here:)
    the question i have in mind is: islamic Schools around the world arent controlled by the goverment. religion is viewed as a private thing(atleast insecular states), so are these instituions . so the problem i see is, that u cant just change the way people should be educated about islam. a think tank in the UK has 0 impact on the middle east. i mean people study the quran for >1000 years. now Maajid Nawaz comes along and everything changes? pls:) thats not how religion works.
    and i do care about what happens in the world, i was in isaf, kfor and bosnia for the german goverment to rebuild structures down there for a couple years in total.

    “Who are “they”? You will need to be more specific.”
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/pew-report-on-muslim-world-paints-a-distressing-picture/
    thats the number who supports the sharia. if u realize that numbers in malaysia close to numbers in afgahnistan, dont u think that its very hard to welcome muslims in a secular community?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia_patrols
    isnt this against everything what people fought and died for esp in europe? thats obv not represent of the dominant majority in the muslimic community, but the impact guys like the sharia patroll has on troubled youth is from experience > Maajid Nawaz has by a large number.

    “It’s not racism to discriminate against women or gay people. It’s sexism and homophobia, respectively. There is more than one form of discrimination in the world.”
    so why do we have to view a religion as race? dont we have the term islamophobia for it? my guess is, when u label a person as racists, u need in todays society way less arguments on ur side to counter Critics.

    1. 11.1

      Obviously Nawaz alone can’t do this, but he’s hardly the only Muslim reformer/progressive. I believe that encouraging his efforts is a way to reduce harm. What’s the alternative? Forcing people to become Christians or atheists?

      The definition you give here for “they” makes no sense with regards to the particular question I was responding to.

      dont u think that its very hard to welcome muslims in a secular community?

      I never discussed the matter of welcoming Muslims to secular communities.

      so why do we have to view a religion as race? dont we have the term islamophobia for it?

      I don’t view religion as a race. I don’t think all criticism of Islam is racist. I am an ex-Muslim and I criticize Islam. It can be and often is, however, as I detail here: https://the-orbit.net/heinous/2014/10/07/racialized-criticism-islam/

      my guess is, when u label a person as racists, u need in todays society way less arguments on ur side to counter Critics.

      False. I criticize Islam. You can criticize Islam without being racist about it. See the other link I cite.

      1. False. I criticize Islam. You can criticize Islam without being racist about it.

        Thank you. Both for saying this in a straightforward clear way, and for acting on it so well. I love the ways you criticise Islam and your strength of purpose.

        Long may we have the benefit of your work, Heina!

  11. 12

    I agree with Sam that the likes of Reza Aslan are obstacle, and if at all, the likes of Maajid can be of help.

    What I recently noticed about Maajid is that in a discussion alongside Ayaan Hirsi and a New York Imam last year, Maajid acknowledged that there are texts in the Quran that are problematic. For me, this acknowledged is where the real change in Islam begins.

  12. 13

    Great analysis. I think the error is in arguing that moderate / liberal religious people pick and choose which teachings to follow, whereas fundamentalist / extreme religious people don’t. This is just wrong. The Bible has plenty of laudable sentiments in it, and the fundamentalist has to ignore all of these bits in exactly the same way that the moderate ignores the bits about slavery. There is no one True Religion™, they are all inconsistent because the holy books (and traditions) are all inconsistent.

    (Disclaimer: sweeping generalisations may not apply to every religion ever).

  13. 14

    This whole “Muslims who don’t violent are ignore what their book say” is true, but Harris shows his bias by always going after Islam. Practitioners of Judaism and Christianity have to ignore the exact same problems with their holy books. Yes, there aren’t nearly as many violent Jewish or Christian fundamentalists out there, but their books present the exact same message. Slavery, genocide, rape, violence against other religions – all encouraged by the Torah and the Bible.

    Why doesn’t Harris ever harp on Nigerian Christians who persecute “witches”, or South American Evangelists who all but openly encourage violence against syncretic religions like Santeria and Candomble? Why doesn’t he point out to Christians that do this that their holy books tell them to do this?

    Maybe he just likes perpetuating this “Outrage Culture” that he and Dawkins rail against.

  14. 15

    It is pretty obnoxious when you refers to Harris calling the Muslim world “uncivilized” as “racialized” language. What race is Islam? This is so tiresome.

  15. 16

    “Race”, as we all ought to know by now, has no scientific meaning. It’s a social construct, ad hoc and arbitrary.

    Islamophobia (or anti-Muslimism if you prefer) shows all the tropes of racism as we have come to know and loathe it. Only a pedant would insist we need an actual race for others to demonstrate racism against it – and pedants talk funny and smell bad anyhow, y’know?

  16. 17

    “Again, Harris is pushing the “True Muslims™ hate non-Muslims” angle, which I do not believe is helpful in the slightest in aiding those attempting to change Islam. Indeed, I believe he’s lending the violent types credence by doing so. Why? How does that help anyone?”

    Leaving aside what is helpful and what is not, do you disagree that hatred of infidels is the central message of the Koran? Or perhaps “a central message”?

    1. 19.1

      You’re interpreting his words far beyond what he literally said. He makes his living writing and speaking highly publicly. If he needs as much defense from his fans as I’ve witnessed, he needs to find a career better suited to his skill level.

  17. 20

    Heina, thank you for answering my questions. You questioned before how Harris can think his methods help reformers? The reason I think the approach taken by Harris, Hitchens, Hirsi Ali and others does indeed help reformers is as follows. Extremists rely on a literal reading of the Koran and the Hadith and, in particular, specific versus and Hadith dealing with unpleasant topics (slavery, child marriage, killing infidels, etc). Moderate Muslims avoid those texts like the plague. They don’t want to talk about them. But ignoring them does not make them go away. Reform cannot be achieved simply by sweeping unpleasant texts under the rug. A prerequisite to reform is an honest discussion about problematic texts. Genuine reformers understand that (Tarek Fatah, for example). Apologists like Reza do not.

    1. 20.1

      I don’t think it’s good to sweep such verses under the rug, but why overemphasize them? Why tell Muslims they aren’t truly serious about their religion if they don’t fixate on them? That’s the opposite of encouraging reform.

      1. I don’t think it’s good to sweep such verses under the rug, but why overemphasize them?

        That’s just it, though: The message comes through loud and clear to any newcomer reading the Qur’an to see what the words actually say, without any need for “over-emphasis”. That’s a significant difference in the Qur’an versus the holy books of many (not all!) other religions, which is why it’s worth honestly observing.

        Why tell Muslims they aren’t truly serious about their religion if they don’t fixate on them?

        Because it is precisely the fact they don’t take their holy books as seriously as the literalists that makes the moderates praiseworthy. That difference needs to be faced honestly and squarely, as a praiseworthy act. It is that not-taking-the-scripture-so-seriously which is the hope of reform in a religion.

  18. 21

    Sorry but I remain in pessimism mode so far. Moderates have had a long history of silent acceptance of violent interpretations of islam and Nawaz is a very rare reformer type with no real clear plan on how to achieve this. I hope i’m spectacularly wrong, but seeing what is happening to several European countries by muslim religious politics and youth culture it’s hard to see any academic way out of the situation. Islam seems like a catalyst for making themselves and the kaffir culture miserable, either by burning cars or demanding privileges that no other faith system even dares to bring up. The situation is horrific and just speaking on extremism is not doing anything to the core problem, which is often a combination of arabic honour masculinity and islamic philosophy of excluding secular ideas outright as apostasy.

    I still think the problem is excessively in the semantics instead of the core problems. Hatemongers in islam can have doctorates (islamic PhD and ophthalmology seem to be popular ones) and they can have much more twitter followers than the Pope. The situation would be super comical, if it wasn’t so sad. Anti-extremism needs a reformation but it’s hurdles are giant ones.

    Harris has clearly made a point that whatever moderate teddy bear interpretations Koran and hadiths have can be easily be overriden by a system of abrogation, the glorified example of Muhammed as the most exemplary human being and the utter lack of central structure that really is needed for even a theoretical ‘purge’ of islamic hate discourse. Academic objections mean little, as the core of islam can easily be seen as a form of expansion and suppremacist attitude lacking self critique (see the core problem here?), which has culturally much stronger respect in core islamic countries, which are often seen as more islamic than moderate countries. If muslims were more literate, I’d put my money on that extremism would become more sophisticated and pronounced, instead of moderating itself to peace mode. It would definitely not go away, because wahhabism and core islamic fundamentalist movements would still consider themselves in higher regard and only less inclined to use military force. This may already happen in arab retorts against ISIS, but the core tenet of bombing them is not the main suppremacist message but the mains toward the end.

    Overcoming these hurdles is clearly extremely hard, which i think is one reason they are not often brought up either. Christianity had it’s philosophical struggles and a long intellectual history of discussion, but islamic theology seems to have been stuck into 11th century mode.

    Oh and viewing islam as a race can be used as an excuse to raise occidentalism as a ‘reason’ to mock critics, who happen to be white and happen to have bodyguards for speaking things the kaffirs were not meant to speak. Nawaz obviously can avoid the white man’s privilege by having a safety color and a personal history, but it does not make his arguments necessarily more truthful either.

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