October 6, 2014 5 Comments
A few days ago, Reza Aslan (an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions), gave a fitting rebuttal to Bill Maher on his views about Islam. Reza rightly pointed out the ‘phobia’ which has taken it’s roots among ‘westerners’ (apparently after 9/11) to justify their hatred towards Islam. Reza is of the view that religion in itself isn’t violent, it is the violent nature of a certain follower which is covered up in in religious veil that gets the religion denounced. He quotes the example of the Buddhists, who claim to be the followers of the most peaceful teachings (of Buddha), yet they are involved in the brutal massacre of Rohangya Muslims in Myanmar (former Burma).
Video clip of the interview follows:
It’s a strong argument, if you take into account the fact that every religion in the world have had some sort of violent history in the past (Islam is still young compared to others). The infamous Spanish inquisition marks the darkest history of Christianity, the persecution of Christians in their early days by the Jewish depicts a period of ignorance on the part of Jews. Hindus persecuted Muslims for over a century in the undivided sub-continent and the Buddhists’ current drive of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar are accounts of violence in the name of religion.
What Reza’s interview did is reduce (if not eliminate) the negativity in the viewpoint of those who don’t fully understand religion, specially Islam. But, as usual some criticism was due. I came across this post, which is circulating the internet and is written by two ex-Muslims (I am guessing they are atheists now since the blogs are more about atheism). They go as far as to state that everything Aslan said is completely false. So let’s take a look at the argument they are trying to sell:
Shariah Law & Gender equality
Indonesia has increasingly become more conservative. (Notoriously anti-women) Sharia courts that were “optional” have risen to equal status with regular courts in family matters. The conservative Aceh province even legislates criminal matters via Sharia courts, which has been said to violate fundamental human rights.
Let me make it clear, Islam does not have a church (a governing body that interprets the holy scriptures and is the final authority on it), which means every individual or community have their own interpretation of the Holy text. That is why we see so many sections sprung out of it in the very early ages (The Shia Sunni conflict took roots as soon as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) died). True Islam keeps religion and state as affairs separate. We have examples of governing from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where verdicts were carried out according to the religious interpretation of the conflicting parties (Jews and Christians lived in those states governed by the Muslims). Justice system within Islamic states was heavily overhauled, eliminating conflict of interests, equality of justice for the peasant and the Calph were some of the features of early Muslim rule. Another example we see during the rule of the last ‘Rashid’ Caliph Ali (may blessing of Allah be upon him). Muaviya created an independent state and became it’s (self appointed) governor within what is now Syria (which became the center of the Umaiyyads later on) and Caliph Ali did not pose any challenge towards him.
Now the Shariah law in modern times is a separate issue altogether. These days, it has become a mean of strengthening one’s rule on the ‘throne’. Religion specific state laws were first implemented during the Abbasid Caliphate, prior to which we see little or no reference towards such laws. For example, the punishment for apostasy is no where to be found in the holy scriptures, but some how a Hadith (which isn’t even attributed to the Prophet) circulates regarding the punishment of an apostate. Regarding the issue of gender equality, Islam was the first religion to truly talk about women rights.
While talking on the issue, one must certainly keep in mind the time when Quran was revealed. It was a dark era, especially for women. Girls were buried alive upon birth in pre-Islamic Arabia. People of every religion or cast were accustomed to this ignorant practice. It will be worth while mentioning that many atheists of pre-Islamic Arabia were following these practices.
Women were denied heritage and were traded freely. With the arrival of Islam, the Arab society (of those times) saw a gradual change in their attitude towards women. The change was not abrupt, rather it eased into people over time. Muslim women fought with men at times leading them in battles, they were working on their own and traveling across the world without any man chaperoning them. Things were changing for the better until the in-fighting began once again and Muslims were forced back into dark ages.
It was then everyone started making up laws, defining them ‘religious’ and using them against rebellions and enemies of the state.
Religion promotes violence
On the contrary, take any religious scripture, you will always find messages of peace and compassion towards fellow humans, even plants and animals. The notion that religion promotes violence is truly baseless, and here’s why. All fatalities committed in the name of religion are still less than the fatalities committed otherwise. The wars fought in Europe during the dark ages, the massacre of innocent people by the Mongols, the atrocities of Alexander (apparently titled ‘the great’) and the persecution of Jews at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar are all but trailers to the crimes against humanity committed by the ‘non-religious’ states. Both the world wars are recent examples of ‘non-religious’ wars. So for all these killings, should the atheists be held responsible?
Female heads of states
The article states that famous leader’s like Benazir Bhutto and Sheikh Haseena Wajid had little to do to achieve their greatness, which is utterly preposterous. Mrs. Bhutto, even though she was the daughter of the former Pakistani Prime minister had to face tough circumstances in her country. Her father was hanged and she fought her way through a dictatorship to become the Prime minister of Pakistan. Surely, the Ex-Muslims of North America can tell us when was the last time a female head of state was chosen for America? In Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, women are free to work and have all the rights (at least in the constitution). The practice of these rights is a separate issue altogether. Pakistan is plagued with illiteracy and people are very narrow minded, it is important to note that these people still have ‘cultural’ (not religious) practices of sheer ignorance they are accustomed to in this era. Blaming religion for it is ridiculous.
You can clearly feel the ignorance of the author when he puts forth a Hadith (saying of a Prophet) to prove that FGM is supported by Islam. The Hadith of Abu Dawood clearly indicates that FGM was already a practice (within non-Muslims of that area), but the Prophet requested them to be more gentle towards the women who come with the desire for it. The article claims that ‘two major’ Sunni factions support FGM. They don’t quote their sources but let’s say even if they do support it, they will be around 25 to 30 percent of the total Muslim population. To suggest that Islam supports it is absurd.
Towards, the conclusion the author attempts to further malign Islam by articulating the age old ‘myths’ and ‘allegations’ on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I have written about them extensively in my previous posts which I hope will catch the authors’ eye.