With Ayaan Hirsi Ali in an uproar over her unvitation from Brandeis University, and Richard Dawkins beginning his American tour, what better time to invite them to work together to promote pluralism and tolerance? And just for kicks, my invite includes Sam Harris — who is likewise no stranger to demonizing Islam.
The ongoing debate stems from these new atheists’ audacious claim that they have educated opinions about Islam. Evidence demonstrates otherwise.
In 2011 I wrote a Washington Post op-ed titled, “Do Critics Actually Read the Koran?” — appropriately enough questioning whether critics actually take the time to read the Qur’an before launching their assault.
Last year Richard Dawkins answered my question, tweeting, “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.”
Responding to Dawkins’ tweet, I wrote, “[The] shred of dignity [Dawkins] had was lost when he admitted to demonizing Islam w/o ever reading Quran.”
Rather than admit to his double standard, Dawkins dug himself a deeper hole and responded to me directly, “I have never read Mein Kampf, yet am happy to condemn nazism. How about you?”
For a man who claims to hate straw man arguments, Dawkins is very good at making them.
I know several atheists — many whom I consider trusted friends. But if I were to condemn an entire ideology based on the acts of minority extremists, then you could describe me with many words, but educated would not be among them.
Likewise, Ali is on record in calling for the destruction of Islam. Not “radical” Islam mind you — but Islam as a whole. I’m unsure how she expects to appeal to Muslims as one who wants peace herself when she doesn’t believe peaceful Islam exists, believes Islam in all forms must be destroyed, and is surprised that terrorist Anders Breivik praised her extremist views. Considering that she openly admits to lying about her persecution, it is difficult to comprehend her actual motives, making her un-vitation from Brandeis the obviously correct decision.
Harris is no better, since he incessantly promotes at least two equally baseless arguments about Islam.
First, Harris claims that European liberals hide behind multiculturalism to avoid condemning Islamic extremism, thus, “The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”
Whether or not Harris is directly “endorsing” fascists is a different issue that others have addressed elsewhere. The fact is, the claim that fascists have “[spoken] most sensibly” about the (alleged) Islamic threat is simply not true. Implicit in this claim is Harris’ censorship of over a century of vociferous condemnations of extremism from one of the World’s and Europe’s oldest, largest, and most organized Muslim organizations — the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Harris is not ignorant of Ahmadi Muslims; he wrote about them in March 2012. While the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has repeatedly advocated for a separation of mosque and state, universal freedom of conscience, women’s rights, and has uncompromisingly condemned all forms of religious violence for 125 years, Harris plays dumb and gives the nod to fascists instead. And while acknowledging that Ahmadis practice a moderate Islam, Harris justifies, “But the Ahmadis are by no means the “true” face of Islam, and their mosques are regularly bombed in Pakistan.” Even after recognizing that despite the bombings, Ahmadis have never responded to or instigated violence, Harris avoids any praise and instead defames Ahmadis, “I’m not sure I would want to put these assertions [of peace] to the test by venturing into an Ahmadi mosque with a fresh batch of cartoons of the Prophet.”
Ahmadi Muslims responded peacefully when the Taliban brutally murdered 86 members in broad daylight, but Sam thinks his crayon drawing will send them over the edge. Harris ignores the unmatched example of peace that Ahmadi Muslims demonstrate daily. Moreover, while defaming Ahmadis with his “cartoons” claim, Harris also declines to mention that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was among the first to categorically condemn the ensuing violence after the Danish cartoon controversy.
Harris objects to the Islamophobe label, but his irrational phobia of a Muslim community with an unprecedented history of peace is by definition… well, I don’t need to draw Harris a fresh batch of cartoons to get my point across.
And thus the second manner in which empirical evidence demonstrates Harris’ woefully unqualified opinion on Islam. This is an opinion Dawkins and Ali both perpetuate with equally unqualified support. While Harris claims to have studied “the doctrine of Islam,” he instead baselessly claims that, “Interestingly, [the penalty for apostasy] isn’t spelled out in the Koran…but it is made painfully clear in the hadith [as death].”
Both claims are false. And if Harris insists that Muslim majority nations who enforce death for blasphemy represent Islam, then he must also concede that genocidal atheist China represents atheism.
Harris, like Dawkins and Ali, only proves his lack of Qur’anic education. He ignores the fact that despite addressing apostasy 19 times, the Qur’an clearly states that no worldly punishment exists for those who leave Islam. Likewise, basic Islamic jurisprudence holds the Qur’an as premier authority over any hadith. And because the Qur’an is clear that no punishment for apostasy exists, no other authority can reverse this declaration. Qur’an aside, the fact is that no hadith validates Harris’ claim that the punishment for apostasy is “painfully clear.” And yes, the undisputed evidence to substantiate these facts about both the Qur’an and the hadith is painfully clear here and here.
In a past interview on Islam and atheism the host asked me if an alliance could exist between Muslims who reject extremism and [atheists] who reject religion altogether. The answer is yes — in fact I even co-authored a piece to demonstrate this alliance with atheist and Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, Chris Stedman.
But the ball is in the new atheists’ court.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has spread to 204 nations through dialogue, civility, service to humanity, and education. We have opened hundreds of schools worldwide to offer free or subsidized secular education to all children — regardless of color, caste, or creed. The same is true for our hundreds of philanthropic hospitals. Many Muslim organizations exist that likewise condemn extremism and promote service and pluralism. Indeed, the new congressional “Ahmadiyya Muslim caucus” was created to promote universal freedom of conscience for all people — believers and atheists.
But Dawkins cannot continue to prefer willful ignorance to actually reading the Qur’an. Ali cannot continue to insist on destroying Islam and lie about her past. Harris cannot continue to factually misrepresent the Qur’an and unwarrantedly dismiss and censor a 125-year worldwide example of moderation, pluralism, service, and freedom of conscience to his preconceived notions that “only” fascists have condemned extremism. Such acts suffocate any potential alliance.
If, however, Dawkins, Ali, and Harris choose to follow the Islamic teaching of education over ignorance and blind faith — then we welcome them aboard in the fight against intolerance.
Qasim Rashid, Esq. is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance. His upcoming book, Extremist: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere, will be released in April, 2014. Follow him @MuslimIQ.