The “Islam” in scare quotes gave the game away before I had read it, but read it I did. I try to not isolate myself from views that differ from those of my past self as well as those I hold in the present. The views presented by the author, Sidra Mahmood, could not be more divergent from my beliefs when I was a Muslim. To wit:
It is unfortunate that when people hear the word “Islam” they assume all the atrocities that come along with the package like stoning etc. As a Qalam Seminary student, I now understand that all those corporal punishments don’t even apply in this day and age. Hope I can write more about the deeper nuances I learn at the Seminary and share them with everyone because no wonder, the more I learn, the more I fall in love with Islam.
No punishment? Not even the Quran-sanctioned ones? What Islam is this? Not one recognized by the vast and staggering majority of Muslims all over the world, as per Pew-conducted research. As Soran Tarkhani put it, Sidra Mahmood “doesn’t offer any compelling arguments that apostasy is merely a social issue as a result of misunderstanding of Islam.” She assumes we will believe her and take her at her word that her Islam is the true one.
Liberal and progressive Muslims and their allies demand that non-Muslims, especially those of us of the apostate-of-Islam variety, agree that their personal views and interpretations, often so new and so in the minority that they don’t even warrant a sect name, be taken as the “true Islam”, as opposed to the majority view, which they carefully punctuate as quote-unquote “Islam”. Established, widely-believed aspects and beliefs of Islam, cherished and revered by millions of Muslims worldwide, become un-Islamic in the mouths of these people.
Then, coming from the more conservative end but still far from Islamism, the less-ijtihad inclined Muslims claim Islam is something quite different, often with more of a canonical basis. These Muslims dance around their problematic beliefs by downplaying certain aspects of Islam or claiming they only apply to willing Muslims, but do not attempt to pretend as though those beliefs are un-Islamic.
Both of these groups will resort to outright lies about Islam and Muslims or even anti-black racism when it suits them, as in the case of Reza Aslan, that man so much adored by self-styled progressive atheists. Neither of these groups have as much to say to actual Muslims believing in the Islam they so condescendingly decided isn’t the “real” version.
And there is the problem. Intra-Muslim quibbling about what True Islam might be, especially when an anomalous viewpoint is being pushed as The One True Islam, is a distraction and an insult when brought up in discussions about the abuses perpetuated by Muslims in the name of Islam. What purpose does repeating “This is not True Islam” serve in a conversation about an apostate fleeing persecution? None, other than performative #NotAllMuslim-ing for the benefit of never-Muslims. It says “I am not like that”, a distraction at the expense of the person being persecuted.
I mean, what was Sidra Mahmood thinking when she declared her wish to hug apostates and ‘splain us that what we have gone and were going through, perpetuated by Muslims and justified by Islamic textual citations, is not the real Islam? How does that help us? Why isn’t she going to Muslims who believe these things and hashing it out with them? Why would we want to hug someone who uses our pain to make a point to an audience that actually doesn’t stand to benefit from it?
She is not the only Muslim who does this. I had the same thing happen at a panel I was on about Islam. A Muslim in the audience declared how bad she felt for me and how much she didn’t want to kill me, in such a way that framed me as an asshole for bringing up how irrelevant her personal feelings are in light of the systemic problem at hand (though I did so anyway). Her “well, I am a nice person and not like that” performance did absolutely nothing to help the overall situation and curried sympathy for Muslims at the expense of the validation of the lived experience of former Muslims. It is similar to #NotAllMen: a derail and a distraction.
Muslims love to tell me that I cannot talk about Islam since I am no longer a believer, yet each of them expects me to believe that their own personal version of Islam is the correct one. As a non-Muslim, I cannot determine what is or isn’t true Islam. Accordingly, I take the anthropological stance and go by self-identification. If someone says they are a Muslim, I believe them. If someone says they are doing something for Allah, I do not dispute that. When it comes to what Islam is, I go by the extant reality rather than fringe, abstract views presented by progressive Muslims more invested in making Islam and Muslims look good than in the stark reality, which must be acknowledged fully before it can be changed.
Main image by timparkinson