Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Am Finished Blogging...

I have been blogging for just over ten years. Other than my long solo blogging career, within that time I have also had the privilege to write with the many great writers and scholars at Skeptic Ink for the last few years.

I remember when I first began blogging sometime in 2005-2006. I had a dinky little blog at a yahoo.com domain where I mostly wrote about the very little I knew the Bible and the snake-oil salesmen Ray Comfort. Over the years I read more books about Christianity and other religions, and I decided to dedicate myself to exposing other Christian apologists. I did so to both inform others of their logical and factual errors, but also to gain knowledge for myself so I could know the truth.

I used my blogs as a kind of sounding board to get feedback about my ideas and it's been very helpful. At this point, I feel like I still have much to learn, but that the biggest questions I had have already been answered, and that it's only the minor details I have to figure out now. For that I don't believe blogging is necessary. I just plan on continuing my self-education and reading more books.

The posts on this blog I am leaving up as an archive of some of my favorite posts (like this one) and to ensure my extensive book reviews and some notable responses to critics remain available.

In the meantime I can still be reached .

Thank you for reading and for all of your support. Take care.

Ken (“Arizona Atheist”)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Islam: Combating Misunderstanding, Bigotry, and Ignorance


Ever since the September 11, 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center in New York there has been an enormous backlash against the religion of Islam in general and against the Muslim population in particular. This is unfortunate because the vast majority of Muslims are not extremists who desire to utilize violence to carry out political and/or religiously motivated attacks. Unfortunately, it is these very persons who are often the targets of anti-Muslim rhetoric and most unfortunate of all, US and European allied wars and hate crimes. This is tragic since I believe loss of innocent life should be avoided whenever possible, and that those not responsible for religious and/or political violence should be seen more as allies rather than as enemies, and be spared from the march of anti-Muslim rhetoric, hate-speech, and violence that emanates from many on both sides of the political and religious spectrum these days. Due to these heightened tensions many people rely more on generalizations, rhetoric, and state propaganda than facts.

When I have tried to speak up for that majority of Muslims and explain to many of these critics the errors in their beliefs, I too have come under fire, and I have also been placed in an ideological box with my views continually misrepresented. It is for this reason that a number of people have it completely wrong about my views on Islamic extremism, including a few “skeptics.”

What brought about these discussions and heated debates were my responses to a few “skeptics'” series of posts about the drone wars currently taking place in the Middle East and other parts of the world, of which they wholeheartedly support. I was bothered by this so I crafted a response hoping to set the record straight and inform them that many innocents are being needlessly murdered in these attacks. During these debates I also continually stressed the political nature of the terrorist attacks because of the fact that these drone wars are fueling the very extremism and terrorism they are meant to help put an end to. My goal was to debunk this horribly wrong-headed belief that drones would help stop acts of terrorism, along with the mistaken view that they aid in saving the lives of innocent civilians. In fact, the drone wars have had the complete opposite effect. I also wanted to debunk the idea that religion was the motivating factor in this specific instance because if supporters did not understand the true nature of the drone wars this would (and is having) disastrous consequences for the fight against extremism. This is the context in which the debates I had with a few “skeptics” took place. It was not my intention to discuss Islam or Muslim extremism in any comprehensive way. The only subject my posts focused on were the effects of the drone wars on the Middle Eastern populations. Now, later on I did address more thoroughly the role US foreign policy has had throughout history, but I did so to better help readers understand the historical background about why there is so much hostility towards the US in the Middle East, of which the drone wars are merely a modern extension.

It was never my intention to make a case against Muslim extremism as a whole, which is often grounded in religion. This is something I have never denied and I have even made statements to that effect to these “skeptics” in several instances but apparently they ignored them. It has been my view for many years that both political reasons and religious reasons are a driving force for Muslim extremism (“I'd actually agree that religion wasn't the only cause of Sept. 11th but to say that it wasn't a feature at all is obviously false”).

Before I begin with the main discussion I must first get some preliminaries out of the way, namely how I am defining a few words throughout this piece.

In their book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed define extremist Muslims as “politically radicalized,” in contrast with those who they define as “moderate Muslims,” or those who denounce violence. I agree with these definitions, though in the past I have used a different word to describe the “politically radicalized.”

Whenever I have written of Islamic extremism I have tended to describe those Muslims who commit extremist acts, or who support extremist acts, as “fundamentalists,” and “extremists.” While Muslims who denounce violence I tend to describe as “moderate.” For the sake of clarity I will continue with this trend using these same definitions throughout this piece.

The book Who Speaks for Islam cites an approximate number of extremist, or “politically radicalized” Muslims in the world at 91 million. While this is certainly a great number of potentially dangerous individuals, to provide some context this number only amounts to about seven percent (7%) of the total Muslim population worldwide. (the total population currently stands at approximately 1.3 billion) [1] This number ought to concern anyone since this is indeed a large number of potentially dangerous individuals. However, this number ultimately only amounts to a minuscule percentage of potentially dangerous Muslims when compared to the worldwide Muslim population as a whole. After looking at the whole picture these numbers look quite a bit different. It is for this reason that I tend to view these numbers somewhat positively. This gives me hope that the remaining 93% of moderate Muslims can aid in containing and ultimately taming the extremist minority. However, in order to do this it means we must look at the facts and cease our relentless attacks (both militarily and rhetorically) upon the majority of moderate Muslims and begin viewing them more as potential allies rather than as enemies. Only in this way will we stop the increasingly radicalized Muslim population from committing more attacks, and at the same time we will also gain many millions of allies in the process to aid in suppressing the extremist minority.

Another important point that should be too obvious to mention, but I will for many of the anti-Muslim bigots out there, is that just because a person holds extreme or conservative religious views does not automatically imply that they will commit acts of violence. There are shades of gray and it is not possible to place everyone into a single category, but it is often done as a form of short hand, so as to make it easier to discuss certain subjects. For example, look at many of the fundamentalist Christian groups and individuals like Pat Robertson and the Westboro Baptist Church. They are about as fanatical, or conservative as they come but they do not carry out acts of violence. The same applies to Anwar al-Awlaki. While over time his rhetoric became much more violent there is no evidence that he plotted or even carried out any acts of violence, unlike what many horribly uninformed persons like to argue. Logically speaking, the number of truly dangerous individuals is most likely much less than even the 91 million cited earlier.

I will divide this post into two parts. The first part will dispel some misconceptions about my views while the second part will provide the facts I've used to come to my conclusions about Muslims, Islam, and the fight against extremism.

Note: All Qur'anic verses are from Abdullah Yusuf Ali's The Qur'an: A Translation and all Biblical verses are from The New English Bible. All web links are active at the time of publication.


Am I a Supporter of Terrorism?

First things first, let's get one of the most egregious slanders out of the way. I was completely shocked when a fellow “skeptic” actually had the balls to accuse those who criticize the critics of Islam, such as Noam Chomsky, of being a “terrorist supporter.” Since I have made a number of the same observations as Chomsky, I reasoned that he is also calling anyone who uses these arguments a “terrorist supporter,” myself included. I have also seen other slanders against such critics, for example charges of anti-Semitism and accusations of being an “Islam supporter.” In another instance I was outright accused of believing that the “gang rape against infidel women throughout Europe by Muslims are okay,” and even that “murdering people for cartooning Islam’s prophet is A-OK because Muslims feel all hurt and upset.” This post by another “skeptic” was written in late 2014. I confronted my accuser and because he was unable to back up a single one of these outrageous slanders he eventually took down the post (I still have the draft of the response I had briefly posted saved in my blog archive. I took my response down when he took his down. The picture featured is a screen capture of the "Preview" of the post in my blog's editor.)

These accusations are ludicrous on all counts. I have never once argued that any member of any terrorist organization was justified in attacking civilians or anyone else. These ignorant critics are badly confusing objective analysis with the justification of violence. What I have done, in fact, is attempt to explain the motivations of certain terrorists. I did this because, as I've argued elsewhere, for any solution to work, one must get at the root of the issue and if you ignore many of these facts about this anger and these grievances towards the US in the Middle East your solution will likely fail. The other reason I chose this strategy is to disprove the ridiculous notion that the drone wars are doing anything to actually stop terrorism, rather than exacerbating the situation by fueling the very extremism these drones were meant to put a stop to. It had nothing to do with attempting to prove that religion has absolutely nothing to do with certain terrorist attacks (which is absurd anyway). It also does not imply that I simply want to hand the Middle East to extremists and allow them to kill, maim, and force their religion on others (to which I have stated explicitly my views on possible solutions to this problem a number of times, so for someone to accuse me of such a thing is completely crazy).

Finally, I find it incredibly odd that just because I feel sympathy for moderate Muslims, and Muslims who have been caught in the cross-fire of the drone wars and other military assaults upon Muslim countries I am accused of being a “terrorist supporter.” What “terrorists” am I supposed to be supporting here? ISIS? The Taliban? Al Shabaab? If that is so, why hasn't any of my irrational accusers been able to produce any quotes from me stating this? It is a fact that I condemn all forms of terrorism, including that which is conducted by the United States military and other supporting forces. However, perhaps this is the source of their hostility towards me? It's not that I allegedly support terrorists, it's that I don't support the right terrorists. Could the reason be that because I don't support the US military campaigns of mass slaughter, like a good and servile little patriot, that I am constantly maligned in this way? Or could it be that these “skeptics” are merely unwitting pawns of the American and European media and propaganda campaigns? If so, why are these “skeptics” following the crowd rather than thinking for themselves? Either way, this is concrete poof that just because someone calls themselves a “skeptic” or “freethinker” it does not make it so. I really don't know why they are so hostile; I am merely speculating here, but I find it absolutely despicable that as of late, rather than debate me with facts, I am attacked with vile and untrue slanders. My, that sounds so very familiar! It's a real shame that some “skeptics” feel the need to sink to the depths of pathetic Christian apologists.

As for the charge of anti-Semitism, this is also completely false. Just because I criticize the brutality of the state of Israel against the largely defenseless Palestinian population does not imply anti-Semitism. This is nothing more than an underhanded smear at the hands of pro-Israel sock-puppets in an attempt to distract from the real issue, which is the genocide and war crimes against the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. It is also a form of ad hominem, and a quite nasty one too. To quote Noam Chomsky:

Throughout, the argument is that Israel's interests – understood implicitly as the interests of a rejectionist Greater Israel that denies Palestinian rights – are the “Jewish interests,” so that anyone who recognizes Palestinian rights or in other ways advocates policies that threaten “Israel's interests” as the authors conceive them is, to paraphrase Stalinist rhetoric of earlier years, “objectively” anti-Semitic. […] It might be noted that the resort to charges of “anti-Semitism” (or in the case of Jews, “Jewish self-hatred”) to silence critics of Israel has been quite a general and often effective device. […] It is since 1967 that questioning of Israel policies has largely been silenced, with effective use of the moral weapons of anti-Semitism and “Jewish self-hatred.” Topics that were widely discussed and debated in Europe or in Israel itself were effectively removed from the agenda here, [in the U.S.] and a picture was established of Israel, its enemies and victims, and the U.S. role in the region, that bore only a limited resemblance to reality. [2]

The fact is I do not hate Jews. What I hate are the policies of the state of Israel, which is vastly different than disliking those who are Jews just because they are Jewish, which is what anti-Semitism is. Even the Anti-Defamation League defines anti-Semitism merely as: “The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.” There's nothing in this definition about disliking the state of Israel due to its brutal and immoral policies towards the Palestinians.

Do I Believe That Religion Plays No Part in Muslim Extremism/Terrorism?

No, of course not! And I am hard pressed to see how anyone could possibly come to that conclusion if they had read even a small portion of what I've said on the subject. For example:

Having laid out my case (a very strong one I believe) that the root cause of Arab hostilities is US foreign policy in the Middle East I cannot forget the role that religion does indeed play. One of the greatest roles is the fact that US forces have occupied Muslim lands and they see this as an insult to their religion. A poll from 2007 highlights these political and religious reasons. [...] [3]

A second example:

The Prussian and I have disagreed over the role of religion in Islamist attacks, with him believing their motives are entirely religious, with my view being more nuanced, believing that US foreign policy is largely to blame, and admitting that religion does play its role, but it is not as large as policy issues in many cases. To reiterate, I do acknowledge the fact that religion does play a role in many attacks. In addition, there is a lot of sectarian strife taking place in the Middle East. However, what The Prussian does not seem able to grasp is the fact that many attacks have nothing to do with religion, or with sectarian violence. [4] (emphasis in original)

A third example:

It's not just all about religion. I do not see how this fact can be denied, and I do not know how many times it will take to get it through so many peoples' thick skulls. It's not just about religion.

Yes, religion certainly is a factor, but many of the most common reasons are purely political, having to do with the US's foreign policy. I suppose I could return his volley about my lack of reading and argue that he clearly is ignoring many of the stated reasons for the attacks even in his very own sources (ie. The Al Qaeda Reader). […] I've never denied that there is a religious element to this conflict, but the majority of the Arab world's stated grievances are over US foreign policy. If The Prussian were being honest with himself he would see that this is not just about religion. The Arabs do have several legitimate grievances that must be dealt with if this conflict -between east and west- is to have an end. [5] (emphasis in original)

Having said this, I will now more fully elaborate my views on this issue.

While my political views are certainly liberal my thoughts on the matter cannot be placed strictly within a “liberal” framework. Many of my views are very similar but they also diverge at certain points, particularly when it comes to religion and social organization. Unlike most liberal commentators I do not deny the religious underpinnings of numerous acts of violence, be it Christian, Israeli, or Islamic. I allow the facts to speak for themselves and I try to avoid as much as possible any particular ideology, because ideology, if left unchecked, can swerve wildly off the path of reality. Because of certain facts that I will lay out below (facts I have also addressed elsewhere) I believe a middle path best represents the facts, and avoids either extreme, seen by many atheists, liberal and right-wing commentators alike. This is not an either/or question of religious vs. political violence, but both play their role depending on which groups we are discussing and each individual act of violence. With this said, my views on Islamic extremism specifically is this: There are a number of groups and individual actors who commit violent acts because they have religious and/or political motivations.

Take for example, the disgraceful militant group calling itself Boko Haram. This violent group has committed several horrendous acts of brutality, including the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Nigeria because they did not want them to have any form of education, due to their extremist Wahhabi inspired ideology which forbids Western-style education. This appears to be an example of a group entirely inspired by their religious beliefs.

Al-Shabaab appears to commit atrocities for both political and religious reasons. For instance, the justification for the 2013 Westgate mall attack (see first link for the video) was largely political. This is a partial transcript of a statement by the leader of the attack:

The attack at [the mall] was to torment the Kenyan leaders who have impulsively invaded the Islamic [could not understand the word used]. It was also a retribution against the Western states that supported the Kenyan invasion and are spilling the blood of innocent Muslims in order to pave the way for the mineral [most likely means oil] companies. So make your choice today and withdraw all your forces from the Islamic [could not understand the word used], otherwise be prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilled in your country, economic downfall, and displacement.” (This statement takes place at approx. 1:57)

Let's look at another example. In 2004 the Washington Post posted a transcript of a speech by Osama bin Laden aired on the al-Jazeera television network explaining his reasons for the 9/11 attacks. He said:

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. The bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorized and displaced I couldn’t forget those moving scenes, blood, and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high-rises demolished over their residents rockets raining down on our homes without mercy the situations was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn’t include a weapon? And the whole world saw and heard but didn’t respond. In those difficult moments, many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul, but in the end they produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors. And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children. (emphasis mine)

These are very clearly political motives on the part of Osama bin Laden. It must be noted, also, that religion did play a significant role in his hatred for the West as well because of US military forces who occupy “sacred” Muslim lands (but in this 2001 interview translated by CNN also note his mention of non-religious motivations):

America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is an unwarranted description.

We never heard in our lives a court decision to convict someone based on a “secret” proof it has. The logical thing to do is to present proof to a court of law. What many leaders have said so far is that America has an indication only, and not tangible proof. They describe those brave guys who took the battle to the heart of America and destroyed its most famous economic and military landmarks.

They did this, as we understand it, and this is something we have agitated for before, as a matter of self-defense, in defense of our brothers and sons in Palestine, and to liberate our sacred religious sites/things. If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists. (emphasis mine) [6]

And finally, let's take a look at the group currently wreaking havoc in Iraq at the moment: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes referred to as ISIS, ISIL, and IS. Their stated goal is to create a new caliphate, “a person accepted to be a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.” These are clearly religious goals. However, it does appear to me that ISIS also has a political message as well, and their rise was largely born out of the political chaos in Iraq after the US invasion of 2003. In short, when the US overthrew Saddam Hussein's brutal secular regime they replaced it with the “Shia-dominated” Nouri al-Maliki government. This minority Islamic sect used its newfound power to violently oppress the majority Sunni Muslim population, which in turn caused much sectarian strife in the country. The Sunni oppression eventually resulted in armed struggle and born out of that struggle was the Islamic State. The International Crisis Group reported that the Sunni in Iraq were continually “belittled, demonized, and increasingly subject to a central [Shia] government crackdown […] Many Sunni Arabs have concluded that their only realistic option is a violent conflict increasingly framed in confessional terms.” [7]

With each of the grotesque murders of journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and others, these victims can be seen wearing orange jumpsuits, which are identical to the ones worn by the inmates at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. I believe this may partially be a message by ISIS to the US condemning the torture of Muslims that took place there, a number of them innocent of any wrong-doing, captured in the wide bounty cast by the US.

Even al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penensula's (AQAP) motivations are mixed and are not purely political nor religious, but are a mixture of both. An example of religious inspired violence is the recent attack on the Charlie Hebdo office (“We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo!”). It is “very likely AQAP played a role” in these attacks, though that role has yet to be completely determined. Their political motivations also cannot be ignored. In fact, within AQAP's very own Inspire magazine there are clear statements demonstrating political motives for many of their actions. In their Spring of 2014 issue they write,

Americans, through their foolish policies, are adding kerosene to the fire, every day. The recurring crimes committed in Palestine, Afghanistan, and the tribal regions of Pakistan and Yemen, and the continuous plundering of Muslim riches – which Sheikh Usama bin Laden (may Allah have mercy on him) called the biggest theft in man's history, the blasphemy against Muslim sanctity and the honor of the Prophet, the massive armies occupying Muslim lands, the crusader military bases spreading and besieging the Muslim world and America's support to the corrupted tyrannical regimes in the Gulf and the Islamic and Arab world; all these crimes increase the Muslims' urge to confront American imperialism. (p. 11) [emphasis mine in bold]

“This isn’t the real Islam” / “Islam is a religion of peace”

Some critics of my views have also accused me of arguing that Islam “is a religion of peace.” Once again, I insist these critics point to a single quote where I've said anything remotely like this.

The fact is, I view Islam like I do all other religions. All contain the seeds for both peaceful and violent actions. Just as Jesus can be found in the Bible vowing “to come back to exact revenge upon those that do not follow him,” (Matthew 25:31-46) [8] he can also be found pleading for non-violent action. (Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”) Islam's prophet Muhammad has also been recorded as saying some deplorable things. For instance, in the hadith Muhammad is told to have said, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” (Sunan an-Nasa'i: Book 37, Hadith 97) He also reportedly said, speaking of charity and patience: “Whatever wealth I have, I will not withhold from you. Whosoever would be chaste and modest; Allah will keep him chaste and modest and whosoever would seek self-sufficiency, Allah will make him self-sufficient; and whosoever would be patient, Allah will give him patience, and no one is granted a gift better and more comprehensive than patience.” (Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri: Book 1, Hadith 26) A common criticism of Muhammad and the Qur'an is that they condone the abuse of women, but there are conflicting narratives even on this subject. Muhammad has said, “He should give her the appropriate beating according to Allah’s Book, but not Hurl reproaches at her. He said a fourth time: If she does it again, he should give her the appropriate beating according to Allah’s Book, and then should sell her even if only for a rope of hair.” (Sunan Abi Dawud: Book 40, Hadith 121) In contrast, it is also reported in the Hadith that “The Messenger of Allah never beat any of his servants, or wives, and his hand never hit anything.” (Sunan Ibn Majah: Book 9, Hadith 2060) Muhammad is also to have said, “Be content, and you will be the most grateful of people to Allah. Love for people what you love for yourself, and you will be a (true) believer. Be a good neighbor to your neighbors, and you will be a (true) Muslim. And laugh little, for laughing a lot deadens the heart.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Zuhd: Book 37, Hadith 4357) Finally, he said (contradicting the above message), “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error.” (Sunan Abi Dawud: Book 15, Hadith 206) [9]

Just as with the Bible, there are peaceful, tolerant and kind, and violent and intolerant passages Christians or Muslims can find in their chosen texts to justify any number of peaceful or violent acts.

Erecting Strawmen and Clarifying Criticism

Throughout debates I've had with some “skeptics” my views have been continually misrepresented, often to the point of madness. A few “skeptics” in particular continually argue that I want to “give them what they want,” meaning giving Islamic terrorists precisely what they want, which is a license to murder, rape, and plunder by pulling all US military forces out of the Middle East. This argument is levied against me because of comments I've made elsewhere about how I believe the US military should take all of their bases out of the Middle East, stop invading Middle Eastern countries, stop propping up corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East, and stop killing countless innocent people. I've tried to clarify my position but allow me to try again.

As I will demonstrate later, a majority of those in the Middle East are not a threat to the US or anyone else. The threat comes only from a minority of scattered groups around the Middle East, such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda. Do I really want to see these groups harm innocent people? No! Definitely not. I have been very clear about this, but it seems it has all been in vain. As early as 2013 I wrote:

It must be remembered that religious extremists have a minority of support. The best way to handle this group of fundamentalists is to isolate them. Don't bomb entire villages, killing many innocents. That only makes the surrounding population feel sympathy for the extremists and it often leads to new recruits who want revenge. If you aid the majority of people out of poverty, show them true democratic reform, and they will aid in isolating the extremists. Bombing and drones will not accomplish this. There is not a military solution to this problem. Not if you want to see a possible end to the conflict. Violence only begets violence.

I do not condemn all violence, since I do believe in some situations violence is necessary, but that violence must be truly targeted and focused only at the actual threat:

War will not work. Hate will not work. Ignorance of the facts will not work. Diplomacy and smart, targeted, and limited actions to suppress aggressors, and bring genuine help to the majority of the population, are the best tools to fight extremists.

My view is not to remove every single US military presence out of the Middle East. My opinion is that the US military should not be setting up shop, with permanent bases stationed in the Middle East. Should Middle Eastern governments and the majority moderate Muslim population need aid in suppressing extremist violence I see no problem with small deployments of US military forces to protect innocent people. However, I do not believe it is moral for these forces to use tactics (such as drones and heavy artillery dropped from aircraft) that are almost guaranteed to kill or main innocent people and destroy the civilian infrastructure (their homes, places of business, etc.). It should also be pointed out that the United Nations are also capable of dealing with situations via negotiations, sending international monitors, and even soldiers to help protect the populace from extremists. The US does not always need to resort to playing “Globocop” every chance it gets. Of course, these interventions are much more about their own military, economic, and political desires than any actual humanitarian aid, and is the reason why they feel the need to intervene all of the time, but that topic is well beyond the scope of this paper.

On the flip side, I have been accused of erecting strawmen of my own, however, I in fact have not. One of my main criticisms of a few “skeptics” has to do with their support of drone warfare, which is responsible for countless deaths of innocents, the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure, and perpetuation of the “war on terror” by angering previously “moderate” Muslims and causing them to align with extremist groups, not for any ideological reasons, but purely because they desire to carry out revenge attacks because of the murder of their loved ones and other innocents.

I have expressed my immense exasperation over a few so-called “skeptics'” refusal to look at the facts and have a change of heart, because isn't that what “skeptics” are supposed to do when faced with overwhelming evidence that contradict their views? I have argued that some of these “skeptics” who advocate for more war and more drone strikes are horribly immoral because they are supporting policies that are responsible for murdering hundreds of innocents. I have further argued that despite being made aware of these facts, they continue to call for more war and more drone strikes. For what reasons is this done? Do they want to see innocent Muslims killed? Do they not care? My reasoning broken down is as follows: 1) “Skeptics” wholeheartedly support drone strikes. 2) “Skeptics” are informed about how inaccurate the strikes actually are and how the policies that manage how drones are used is a recipe for ensuring loss of innocent life. 3) Despite this information, “skeptics” continue to beat the drum for more war and more killings by drone, even though they are well aware how many innocents are likely to be killed as a result. 4) Therefore, they do not care if innocents are killed.

Some may still protest my interpretation of their intentions. But I would ask you to consider this: If someone is advocating the use of methods that are guaranteed to cause, and in fact have caused, numerous innocents to be killed what other conclusion can one possibly come to? Another response may be that drones may in fact cause needless deaths, but that does not imply an intention to murder innocent people by the advocates of drone warfare. Perhaps they are unaware or are unconvinced of the many reports on the numerous civilian casualties? Once again, I respond. The “skeptics” in question have made statements acknowledging the fact of civilian casualties and have also been informed of the many human rights organizations that have warned about the large civilian casualties taking place. Finally, the “skeptics” in question have also been made aware of the very policies in place that govern how drone strikes are carried out. These policies are a recipe for disaster and innocents being targeted. (Every “military-aged male” in a strike zone is automatically considered an “enemy combatant,” even if they have no clue who they are.) All of these facts I believe would cause any rational and non-biased observer to conclude that drone strikes are not a safe, moral, nor legal method of warfare.

Ironically, one of these “skeptics” looks to have proven my point for me by admitting that he would support the murder of hundreds of innocent people in order to kill just a single man. Further irony is on display because this “strongest argument ever” is based upon an enormous example of fallacious reasoning. The argument is that in 1998 former President Bill Clinton claimed he could have killed Osama bin Laden, thus possibly preventing 9/11 from ever occurring. This “skeptic” supports this sloppy reasoning, despite the fact that it is incredibly wrong-headed for one simple reason: hindsight can often distort our perceptions. When looking at the past we can see clearly our mistakes and the signs we could have -should have - seen, and yet our past selves could only act with the knowledge we had at that moment. This is commonly called the Historian's fallacy.

Despite this fact being pointed out to this “skeptic” he blindly defends the murder of the innocent, claiming that the post-9/11 “mindset is very different these days.” Meaning what exactly? That it is morally OK to shoot to kill first and ask questions later, regardless of how many innocents are killed in the process, on the off chance that you might stop a tragedy from taking place? That is an enormously immoral position to take. If even so-called “liberals” are defending the murder of the innocent, as they say, the terrorists have truly won.


Do a Majority of Muslims Support Terrorism?

Judging by the hateful and often bigoted speech emanating from many anti-Muslim advocates, one has to wonder if many of these people believe that the vast majority of Muslims in the world would love nothing better than to either convert you, and if that's not possible, to kill you. Without having to think about this too hard, it should not be difficult to see how ludicrous this belief is. Just as in the religion of Christianity there are a minority of extremists who hate those who do not believe as they do, and who would not hesitate to carry out acts of violence against those they consider immoral or non-believers, so too with the religion of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims in the world would no more wish you harm than your Christian neighbor. And many objective polls support this purely logical conclusion. In the book Who Speaks for Islam the authors cite poll data that shows that the vast majority of Muslims around the world categorically oppose acts of terrorism. “According to the Gallup Poll, 7% of respondents think that the 9/11 attacks were 'completely' justified and view the United States unfavorably.” [10] As for attacks upon civilians specifically, vast majorities of Muslims polled believe that attacks on civilians are “never justified.” The percentage of those who hold this view in Indonesia is 74%. In Pakistan 86% oppose attacks upon civilians, in Bangladesh, 81%, and in Iran, 80%. In contrast, according to a World Public Opinion poll, only 46% of Americans believe that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified.” [11]

A more recent study conducted in 2013 regarding the use of drones asked those polled if they had any concerns over potential civilian casualties. Only 53% of Americans polled said that they were “very concerned” about “endangering civilian lives.”

According to a 2009 Pew Research survey, majorities in most of the Muslim countries surveyed believe that “suicide bombing” is “never” justified. Examples include: Turkey, 74% believe that suicide attacks are “never” justified. Pakistan, 87%, Indonesia, 65%, and Jordan 56%. The only exception to this is in the Palestinian territories where only 11% in Gaza and 19% in the West Bank believe suicide attacks are “never” justified. Many people will likely look at the Palestinian figures and argue that this pretty much contradicts the above data, but one must not forget to look at the facts on the ground that might be influencing such answers. For decades, the Palestinians have been terrorized in an “open air prison”, accompanied by consistent Israeli military assaults, murdering women, children, and other innocent civilians. Their homes have been destroyed and they are routinely abused by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), with children often being shot and killed. For a litany of abuses by the Israeli state and military I would recommend Noam Chomsky's book Fateful Triangle. If a group is continually slaughtering you, would you not try to find some way to fight back? And that way usually takes the shape of suicide attacks. This obviously does not justify these suicide attacks. Rather, my point is the fact that it is not religious fanaticism that drives these attacks, but desperation in the face of Israeli occupation and horrendous military bombardments. [12] One of the founders of Hamas, Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi, confirms this explanation when he said to Mark Juergensmeyer during an interview that in the beginning of the movement Hamas discouraged targeting civilians. “[T]he military operations of Hamas targeted only soldiers.” But after two brutal Israeli attacks upon peaceful demonstrators and the “massacre in Hebron by Dr. Baruch Goldstein in 1994” Hamas decided to change its tactics due to these, and other horrific acts of violence against the Palestinians. “[The suicide bombings] were a way of making innocent Israelis feel the pain that innocent Palestinians had felt. 'We want to do the same to Israel as they have done to us,'” says Dr. Rantisi. [13]

Another Pew poll, this time from 2010, shows a similar pattern. When asked whether or not “suicide bombing” was “often justified” only 15% of those polled in Lebanon said they were justified. In Pakistan, only 4% said “suicide bombing” was “often justified.” In Egypt, only 8%; Jordan, 8%; and in Nigeria, 10%.

The question of suicide bombing was again asked in 2011. When asked whether or not “suicide bombing” was “often” justified, the majority of Muslim nations polled said they were not. In Pakistan, only 3% said that “suicide bombing” was “often” justified. In Lebanon, only 12%; in Jordan, only 4%; and in the Palestinian Territories, 31%, a clear minority, given their dire situation.

It has often been said that Muslim leaders (not to mention Muslims in general) have failed to condemn terrorist attacks. One of the most notable is Sam Harris who asks, in his 2004 book The End of Faith, if Muslims condemn suicide attacks (and I'm assuming other forms of terrorism as well) “where are these jurists” who allegedly condemn such attacks? [14] Well, these polls demonstrate that the vast majority of the Muslim community condemns suicide attacks, but Muslim leaders, jurists, etc. have also spoken out against terrorism. A few examples are the following (and other websites can be easily found showcasing many other examples):

Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi, Qatar; Tariq Bishri, Egypt; Muhammad S. Awwa, Egypt; Fahmi Huwaydi, Egypt; Haytham Khayyat, Syria; Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani, U.S.:

“All Muslims ought to be united against all those who terrorize the innocents, and those who permit the killing of non-combatants without a justifiable reason. Islam has declared the spilling of blood and the destruction of property as absolute prohibitions until the Day of Judgment. … [It is] necessary to apprehend the true perpetrators of these crimes, as well as those who aid and abet them through incitement, financing or other support. They must be brought to justice in an impartial court of law and [punished] appropriately. … [It is] a duty of Muslims to participate in this effort with all possible means.”

- Statement of September 27, 2001.

There was an interesting poll conducted in 2011 about people's views about attacks upon civilians. This poll separated each respondent by their religious affiliation. Overall, Muslim Americans were more likely to reject attacks upon civilians, more than any other religious group, including atheists. When asked whether or not the military is justified in killing civilians 78% of Muslims said attacks on civilian are “never” justified, compared to only 56% of atheists.

Another question was asked, this time about by attacks upon civilians by lone individuals. A total of 89% of Muslims said that it is “never” justified for lone actors to attack civilians, in contrast to 76% of atheists.

Another myth that needs to be dealt with is this mistaken view that Muslims are the most prevalent threat when it comes to suicide attacks. The fact is that the Marxist-Leninist group called the Tamil Tigers is responsible for many more attacks than Hamas or any other Islamist group. Terrorism expert Robert A. Pape calls them the “world's leading suicide terrorist organization.” [15]


One of the most perplexing – not to mention the most frustrating and intolerant-sounding – accusations I've seen thrown about by not only conservative talking heads, but even so-called liberals and “skeptics,” is that of the “Eurabia” conspiracy theory. The thing that makes this so frightening to me is the fact that this idea originated with European extremist and populist right movements. Why are “liberals” screaming at the top of their lungs about an alleged take-over of Europe by Muslims? I believe it is part of what has popularly been referred to as “Islamophobia,” a term referring to the “prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim.” What else could explain this nonsensical idea when all of the facts contradict the basic theory of “Eurabia?” This theory “marries fears of Muslim's political intentions to parallel accounts of European's weakened 'will' to reproduce and Muslim women's fertility rates” resulting in an eventual (and according to these conspiracy theorists, a quickly approaching) “majority Muslim” country where they will implement Sharia law and other paranoid delusions of oppression at the hands of Muslims. [16]

The only problem with this theory? All polls show this belief to be hugely overblown. For example, a Pew Research poll conducted in 2010 shows that the current Muslim population stands at approximately 6% and notes that by 2030 “Muslims are projected to make up 8% of Europe’s population.” A more recent poll continues to show a large minority of Muslims in European countries, with a percentage of approximately 36% of Muslims in all European countries combined (I combined the percentages in each country listed on the graph). In Britain alone, where there is much discrimination against Muslims, they only represent a total 5% of the population. Clearly, this belief is incredibly out of touch with reality, yet even so-called “skeptics” have been taken in by it.

Of course, does this stop these conspiracy theorists? Of course not, but that's why they are called conspiracy theorists. They go on to cite anecdotal evidence (which is one of the least reliable form of evidence available, particularly when there are long term reports that can be examined) of this minority Muslim population forcing Blasphemy laws on European countries, abuse of women, terrorism, and other crimes. The main problem is that these individual examples are not sufficient to determine the threat of an entire group of people. I believe that is a very racial type of argument that borders on outright bigotry. When one looks at the data these accusations quickly turn out to be severely overblown (the accusation that there is an epidemic of rape of European women by Muslim men), if not entirely delusional (the so-called “threat” of “creeping” Sharia law). The most recent data from the EU demonstrate that “religiously motivated” acts of violence make up only 2% of crimes. Similarly, in the US a number of other studies have confirmed similar findings. According to multiple studies, the percentage of terrorism-related violence committed in the name of religion or by Muslim perpetrators is approximately 7% and 2.5%, respectively. To put this number in perspective, it has been recently reported that according to police department data across the US “74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.” The article goes on to say,

Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.

In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.

Despite the impression that the media gives, the facts tell us that you are much more likely to be killed by a right-wing anti-government extremist than a Muslim radical.

The only credible threat in Europe that I can see are the Blasphemy laws, which are anti-democratic, but Muslims aren't the actual problem when it comes to these laws. They were not put in place by Muslims, they are longstanding parts of European law due to Europe's Christian heritage. All Muslims are asking for is equality under the law, a law they had no place in crafting. They feel it is unfair for Christians to have a law protecting their religious beliefs but Muslims do not. [17]

Woman and Islam

The issue of women and Islam is one of the most contentious issues surrounding the religion. Many critics of Islam and Muslims ridicule and accuse majorities of Muslims of forcing women to wear heavy, cumbersome burqas, and other restrictions on the rights of women. Many of these are legitimate criticisms and I agree with them, but many of these views are not as wide spread in the Muslim world as is commonly believed. According to a Pew Research poll conducted in 2014 the majority of Muslim countries do not desire women to wear burqas at all. In fact, the most restrictive Muslim country polled was Saudi Arabia, with a total of 63% who desire to see a woman wear a niqab. The vast majority of Muslim countries polled wanted to see women wear only a hijab, which is a scarf that covers the head and hair, but leaves the face completely open. Surprisingly, a majority in Lebanon and Turkey feel at ease if a woman doesn't wear a head scarf at all. Many people mistakenly believe that the Qur'an mandates that a woman cover her entire body, but in fact, it only proscribes that a woman “guard” her “modesty” and “draw veils over their bosoms.” (24:31)

Other than the issue of dress, the fact is that women in most Muslim majority countries do not have much freedom and this I think is a large problem. How to deal with it, however, is problematic. While I and others would love nothing more than to help them attain their freedom, many Muslim woman polled “do not yearn to become more like their Western counterparts.” They would much rather gain gender equality “on their own terms and within their own cultural context.” A mere “12% of Indonesian women, 20% of Iranian women, and 18% of Turkish women” believe that “adopting Western values will help them in their progress” towards gender equality. [18] The reason for this appears to be because throughout history imperialist invasions have often been justified in part by attempts by another power to free women from oppression, and so many Muslim women view this pro-women rhetoric “suspiciously.” [19]

Another fact appears to be that a majority of Muslim women “say that Sharia should at least be a source of legislation” and “Muslim women do not regard Islam as an obstacle to their progress.” [20]

An interesting view among Muslim women is that Western “concerns for Muslim women is limited to the abuse they might suffer at the hands of Muslim men, while the suffering that women endure at the hands of Western powers appears to be ignored.” [21] I believe this finding hits the nail on the head. This heartless view is common in the US and is common among even “skeptics.” Many atheists rail against the abuse of women by Muslims but don't appear to give two shits when those same women are blown to pieces by drones. This is a serious and important disconnect. If you're in favor of women's rights shouldn't you be in favor of their being able to live in peace and security? Then why support US government policies that deny them exactly that? Finally, rather than women's issues being on the forefront of Muslim womens' minds, economic and political change were the most common issues: “They repeatedly announced that their highest priorities were peace and development. They noted that they could not very well worry about other matters when their children were dying of thirst, hunger, or war.” [22] As I have noted numerous times, rather than making war, the US should aid the Muslims countries' economies and help rebuild their infrastructure that has been destroyed by decades of Western intervention and sectarian strife (often brought on by those very interventions!). This meshes well with what the majority of Muslims actually want.

In a nut shell my own views on this subject are that not only should groups seek the betterment of Muslim womens' lives, but at the same time Western ideas should not be forced upon unwilling women. This should also include the freedom for all women to wear whatever she wants. She should have the complete freedom to walk naked down the street if she so chose or even to wear a burqa, so long as it was her choice.

Shari'a Law

Shari'a is officially defined as “Islamic law as established in the Qur'an and hadith.” [23] It is often misunderstood to apply only to the brutal punishments and the oppression of women, but it is much broader than that. Shari'a also determines other areas of life such as marriage, divorce, religious worship, sex, hygiene, daily etiquette, and even “Islamic economics.” In sum, it manages every aspect of daily life.

While the religious texts (Qur'an and hadith) do not change, the reasoning and judicial arguments that serve to interpret them do change and can vary dramatically. This process of legal reasoning is called usul al-fiqh and it is an indispensable part of Shari'a law. In a nut shell, Shari'a law is a highly individualistic legal system subject to varying opinions handed down by individual jurists. The “four sources” of methodology used by each jurist to determine the most correct ruling (in line with what it is believed God would want) are the Qur'an and Sunna (Muhammad and his companions' example), juristic consensus, and qiyas, or the deductive reasoning employed in searching through the Qur'an and hadith and attempting to find a case within similar to the current one being decided by the jurists. Essentially, according to Imam al-Shafi, it is just an “opinion.” [24] Even “sunan [Sunna] were not legally binding narratives, but rather subjective notions of justice that were put to various uses and discursive strategies.” [25]

While researching this topic, I became very frustrated because none of my sources would outline any specific methodology. The only methodology that seemed to be used was essentially a jurist's, or group of jurists', opinion, based upon their own judgment and understanding of these religious texts. I find this to be a wholly inadequate method of determining law. Unlike other forms of law that are (in theory anyway) constrained by a certain number of agreed upon principles, like the Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are no universal principles with which to make judgments on what the law should be. This is even more problematic since these texts are very contradictory as I've outlined already. Another problem in my opinion is that Shari'a “does not distinguish between law and morality.” [26] Certainly some actions lie within the sphere of both domains, like stealing and murder, but other examples like infidelity or alcohol or drug use are actions that I do not believe should be handled by the law. They are separate issues that must be dealt with in a different manner. Problems arise when plainly moral failings are considered by legal bodies and harsh punishments or death can result from merely having a beer, for example. That is not conducive to a healthy society in my opinion.

In 2013 a large majority of Muslims expressed their desire to see Shari'a the “official” law of their country. This is often considered a dire situation by many because it is assumed (without any evidence) that Muslims wish to impose Shari'a law on all non-Muslims. This is wildly false, however. Throughout most of the Muslim nations polled, a majority did not want to impose Shari'a on non-Muslims.

Even when you break down the results of those who favor imposing Shari'a on non-Muslims, there is only a minority of support. Only five out of the 21 majority Muslim countries surveyed have majorities who believe non-Muslims should be subject to Shari'a law.

Other important findings from the same 2013 study contains a grim statistic showing that half of the Muslims surveyed, who believe Shari'a should be "the law of the land," believe that "corporal punishments" should be applied to certain crimes, such as theft: 10 out of the 20 countries surveyed.

Finally, mirroring the above study 10 out of the 20 countries surveyed believe stoning is a just punishment for adultery.

Clearly, these results are highly troubling. I agree steps must be taken to work to change the minds of these Muslims, but as I've said multiple times, killing them is not going to work. In fact, it only radicalizes more of the population. I do not believe violence and war are the answer here, not in this particular situation, if your goal is to change minds.

Turning to the US and Canada, I could find very little in the way of studies dealing specifically with Muslims' views of Sharia law in the US. I did, however, find reports of a 2012 study of Muslims in the US and Canada conducted by University of Windsor law professor Judy Macfarlane for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. This study interviewed a total of 212 Muslims throughout the US (with a quarter of interviewees hailing from Canada). “When asked whether they thought American courts should apply Shariah to non-Muslims in the legal system, all of the respondents answered no. Just three of the 41 imams said they wanted parallel Shariah tribunals where Muslims could handle civil issues like marriage, divorce, and inheritance.”

In many of the commentaries I have read about the "war on terror" oftentimes these facts about Muslims' views on punishment and Shari'a law appear to be used largely as justifications for the use of drone strikes and other violence, seemingly dehumanizing the Muslims whom the US targets with its drones, no matter if it's a grandmother tending to her garden with her grandchildren, or a group of children playing, or family and friends attending a wedding. These people are human beings. Innocent human beings. Unless you ask them directly, you do not know their views about their religion or terrorism. Maybe they are pro-US, like Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin, a pro-government Afghan police commander who was murdered by US Special Forces in 2010. If you ask me, many of the anti-Muslim bigots do not sound much better than many of the extremist Muslims they often quote, especially when they call for brutal military action or outright death squads (such as JSOC) or drones to hunt Muslims down and kill them (whether they are innocent or not does not seem to matter to these Islamophobes). This is highly disturbing, particularly when those calling for the murder of others are so-called "skeptics." What happened to the Humanist aspect of Atheism? I wish more reasonable and less biased atheists would work to counteract these hateful war mongers because their violent and intolerant rhetoric appears to be having a negative effect upon innocent people. Two examples should suffice. Many others can be found. Three Muslims students - 23-year-old Deah Barakat; his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad; and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha – were murdered in cold blood by an anti-Muslim atheist activist in North Carolina, in February of 2015. Anders Breivik is another example. He is the Norwegian man who murdered 69 people on Ut√łya island in 2011 because he believed violence was necessary to help stop the “ongoing Islamic Colonization of Europe.” Robert Spencer, one of the main proponents of highly misleading anti-Muslim propaganda, was cited 162 times in the manifesto Breivik posted online. [27]

These cases do not even include the hundreds - if not thousands - of innocent Muslims being continually murdered by the US in various drone operations across the Middle East.

If we want to understand how to best accomplish changing the minds of Muslims regarding their extremist interpretations of their religion, we must think of another way that does not use needless violence. But, as always, self-defense is always an applicable reason for violence, that violence, however, must be proportionate to the actions being taken against us.

Do a Majority of Muslims Wish Death Upon Apostates?

All of the polls I have consulted say yes, the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East, and some parts of Asian and African countries, favor the death penalty for apostasy. This is a shame, especially since their very own Qur'an does not even advocate the death penalty for leaving Islam, only an unspecified “penalty.” (9:66: “You do not make any excuses: you have rejected Faith after you had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin.”; 16:106: “Anyone who, after accepting Faith in Allah, utters Unbelief, - except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, - on them is Wrath from Allah, and their will be a dreadful Penalty.”) Despite these grim numbers, there is some positive news since the majority of Muslims in large parts of Europe and Asia do not favor such a punishment for apostasy. Despite this lack of support by many Muslims, several countries currently have laws outlawing apostasy. According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center,

Apostasy laws are less common worldwide – found in 21 countries, in only three regions of the world. Including Sudan, anti-apostasy measures were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region as of 2012.

Five of the 50 countries (10%) in the Asia-Pacific region had apostasy laws. For instance, in the Maldives, all citizens are required to be Muslim, and those who convert may lose their citizenship. In sub-Saharan Africa, just four of the 48 countries (8%) have laws prohibiting apostasy. There were no laws against apostasy in any countries in Europe or the Americas in 2012.

According to a 2013 Pew poll, out of the 20 countries that are predominately Muslim only in six do a majority desire to see apostates put to death. This poll helps to see the support for laws prohibiting apostasy in its wider context and the facts are clear. The majority of Muslims in the world do not want to put apostates to death. Unfortunately, those millions who do must be convinced otherwise. Luckily, there are a number of well-respected Muslim legal scholars who have fought to change the minds of their fellow religionists. One such person is Taha J. Alalwani, author of Apostasy in Islam. In this book he makes essentially three main arguments. First, he argues that the Qur'an does not mandate the death penalty for apostasy. Second, he argues that because there is not a single example of Muhammad putting an apostate to death, the actions of Muhammad should be followed. [28] Third, he argues that the quote cited earlier from the hadith of Muhammad saying, “Whoever changes his religion, kill him,” is a poorly sourced passage, arguing that it “has been narrated with an incomplete chain of transmission,” making it unreliable. [29] Finally, he argues that the best practice is to place the authority of the Qur'an before the Sunnah, and since the Qur'an does not demand death for apostates this penalty is not justified. Now, if only these individuals could reach a wider audience things might be different.

Personally, I believe laws outlawing apostasy should be struck down everywhere. If the majority of Muslims desire democracy as the polls continually show then they must learn to tolerate differing views and to see that their Qur'an does not have all the answers, no matter how hard that might be to hear.

The Qur'an and the Bible

I am not sure how many atheists have read the entire Qur'an, but I have, along with a number of commentaries and about its history. There appears to be a lot of confusion about this book, more so than with the Bible. It seems as if many atheists have taken the time to properly study the Bible, but when it comes to the Qur'an this due diligence is sorely lacking. It is for this reason that I believe most atheists do not have much knowledge about the Qur'an and do not understand it like they do the Bible.

These misunderstandings unfortunately lead to uninformed comments about how Muslims take verses out of context because they argue the verse is referring only to self-defense. For those who have not read the Qur'an many verses are referring explicitly about self-defense. Many are not, though, and this is true. But to say that most, or even all of these verses cited by Muslims are being taken out of context is ridiculous. For example: “...defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked.” (26:227); “But if the enemy incline toward peace, you also incline toward peace.” (8:112); “If it had been Allah's Plan, they would not have taken false gods: but We made you not one to watch over their doings, nor are you set over them to dispose of their affairs.” [emphasis mine] (6:107); “Allah does not forbid you, with regard to those who do not fight you for your Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just.” (60:8)

On the other hand, there also these kinds of verses: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah...” (9:29) “Those who reject Our Signs, We shall soon cast into the Fire: as often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the penalty.” (4:56)

I would like to point out a problem I have seen within atheist circles. Criticism of the Qur'an always seems to imply that it is worse than the Bible. I do not see how. Both books condone violence against non-believers, both contain unjust laws, and both contain laws that call for the subjugation of women. In many ways, the Bible is just as bad if not worse in some respects. For example: “Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you—in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you—who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant by serving other gods and worshiping them—the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing—that very man or woman—and you must stone that person to death.” (Deuteronomy 17:2-5); “Suppose your own full brother, your son, your daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend should seduce you secretly and encourage you to go and serve other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have previously known, the gods of the surrounding people (whether near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other). You must not give in to him or even listen to him; do not feel sympathy for him or spare him or cover up for him. Instead, you must kill him without fail! Your own hand must be the first to strike him, and then the hands of the whole community. You must stone him to death because he tried to entice you away from the Lord your God, who delivered you from the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); “Anyone who would not seek the Lord God of Israel would be executed, whether they were young or old, male or female.” (2 Chronicles 15:12); “O God, Break the teeth in their mouths. Break, O Lord, the jaws of the unbelievers. May they melt, may they vanish like water, may they wither like trodden grass, like an abortive birth which melts away or a still-born child which never sees the sun!” (Psalms 58:6-8); “The righteous shall rejoice that he has seen vengeance done and shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked, and men shall say, 'There is after all a reward for the righteous; after all, there is a God that judges on earth.” (Psalms 58:10-11)

It is commonly argued that the Qur'an contains “over a hundred verses” that “exhort believers to wage jihad against unbelievers.” [30] After reading the Qur'an this is horribly inaccurate. In fact, I calculated the number of verses that refer to killing or harming non-believers or others (not in self-defense) throughout the entire Qur'an and the total came to 43. [31] By contrast, the Bible contains a total of 107 acts of violence against non-believers and others. [32]

The specific criteria I used was any violent action conducted or advocated by a person in a text, or commanded by either Allah or the Christian God, against those considered enemies or because the victim did not worship in the correct manner or at all. I did not include examples of threats of hell fire and other such punishments inflicted in the afterlife. This was done since logically speaking, these threats are levied by God against non-believers in the fantasy called the afterlife. They are not commands or examples of behavior taking place in the real world.

A common charge leveled at those who point to the more tolerant passages in the Qur'an argue that these passages are canceled out by other verses (implying all Muslims are duty bound to follow and carry out the instructions in these so-called “sword” verses and make war upon believers). Robert Spencer writes,

[T]he Qur'an's last word on jihad is not defensive, but offensive. The suras of the Qur'an are not arranged chronologically, but according to length. However, Islamic theology divides the Qur'an into “Meccan” and “Medinan” suras. The Meccan ones come from the first segment of Muhammad's career as a prophet, when he simply called the Meccans to Islam. Later, after he had fled to Medina, his positions hardened. […] The relatively tolerant verses quoted above and others like them generally date from the Meccan period, whole those with a more violent and intolerant edge are mostly from Medina. [33]

Spencer goes on to argue that the “Islamic doctrine of abrogation” allows Allah to “change or cancel what he tells Muslims.” He continues to say that “the violent verses of the ninth sura […] abrogate the peaceful verses, because they were revealed later in Muhammad's prophetic career.” [34] He continues to argue that a number of Islamic theologians believe the ninth sura was the last set of verses to be revealed to Muhammad. [35]

There are a number of problems with this argument, but it must first be understood that abrogation has a very complex history. The doctrine of abrogation was unknown “to the first generation of Muslims.” [36] It was developed by later Islamic scholars in the second or third centuries, likely for the purpose of “explain[ing] away intrinsic contradictions within the Qur'an.” [37] This demonstrates that abrogation is not an original doctrine, but was added much later.

Second, the precise dating of the suras are in question and is much debated by scholars. [38] According to Neal Robinson “the problem of the chronology of the revelations is still far from solved,” [39] and the traditional order of the suras date from the 8th Century. These traditional lists appear to only “reflect the opinions of scholars who were active at that time.” [40] Scholars have also discovered Meccan suras inserted into Medinan and vice versa, creating enormous issues with being able to accurately date each passage. [41] While a handful of suras can be plausibility dated (only 2, 8, 3, 59, 33, 48, and 9) [42] the other 107 suras are much harder to pin down, leaving much speculation as to which verses were revealed last. Based upon these facts, I do not believe the evidence warrants such sweeping generalizations about the Qur'an and its supposed violent/non-violent trajectory. More research must be done to better determine the most likely trajectory.

The third issue is with the doctrine of abrogation itself. The verses often cited supporting this doctrine are problematic and do not justify this practice. They are as follows:

When We replace (baddalna) an ayah with another – and Allah knows best what He reveals – they say behold you are inventing! Most of them know not (16.101).

We never sent a messenger or a prophet before you without Satan intervening in his desires. But Allah abrogates (yansakhu) what Satan interposes. Then Allah confirms his ayahs. Allah is all- knowing, All-wise. (22.52).

Whatever ayah We abrogate (nansakhu) or cause to be forgotten (nunsihah) We bring one better; or the like thereof (2.106).

We shall cause thee to recite it, and thou wilt not forget it, except what Allah wills... (87.6f). [43]

Robinson comments on these verses, saying:

In the first place, the first three proof texts could, with equal plausibility, be interpreted very differently. It seems highly unlikely that 16.101 refers to abrogation, in the sense understood by the jurists, because Surah 16 is generally held to be Meccan, whereas all the alleged instances of abrogation are thought to have occurred in the Medinan period. Mawdudi suggests that it refers to the fact that ideas are often explained in different places in the Qur'an:

The same story is conveyed with one set of expressions and then later with another. At times a particular aspect of an issue is highlighted and at other times some other aspect of it is emphasized. To prove a point, sometimes recourse is made to one argument and sometimes to another. The same idea is presented briefly at one place and in greater detail at another.

There is no need to suppose that the word ayah in 2.106 means a 'verse' of the Qur'an. The context of this passage is the controversy with the Jews and Christians of al-Madinah. Thus, the passage probably refers to the Qur'anic abrogation of elements in the Jewish and Christian dispensations. In 22.52, the verb nasakha is used in the non-technical sense of 'to suppress'. If this ayah is read in context, and without any presuppositions about the 'Satanic verses', it would appear that Muhammad was under pressure to prove that he was a prophet by giving information about the final Hour (v.47). The Qur'an assures him that this is a diabolical temptation, to which previous prophets had been exposed: Satan tried to take advantage of their desire to please their hearers, but Allah always suppressed Satan's propositions and helped them to resist the temptation. [44]

Verse 87:6 is equally problematic. Louay Fatoohi argues, quite convincingly, that the phrase “except what Allah wills...” is not referring to forgetting parts of the Qur'an. Surahs 87:6-7 say: “We shall make you [O Muhammad!] read [the Qur'an] so that you do not forget except what Allah wills. He knows what is spoken aloud and what is hidden.” (Fatoohi's translation) In actuality it is referring to the fact that Allah revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad in such a way that he will never forget it, and that this “protection” against forgetting any of the revelations comes from a “divine source.” [45] Fatoohi cites another passage, using linguistic analysis to prove his point:

As for 87.7, it does not make an exemption from the confirmation set in 87.6. It is rather a reminder that this protection against forgetting any of the Qur'an is a divine gift and that God can withdraw it should He decide to do so. This interpretation is confirmed by a set of verses that uses an almost identical conditional phrase:

As for the wretched, they shall be in the Fire, in which there shall be for them moaning and sighing, (11.106) staying therein so long as the heaven and earth endure, except what your Lord wills. Your Lord does what He wants. (11.107) As for the happy, they shall be in paradise, staying therein so long as the heaven and earth endure, except what your Lord wills - an endless gift. (11.108)

[…] All of the other many verses about this subject confirm that the life in paradise and hell will be eternal. The Qur'an repeatedly and unequivocally stresses this. So the phrases “except what your Lord wills” and “except what Allah wills” in those […] verses do not represent an exception from this fact. They are rather, a reminder of God's unlimited power and that He can do whatever He wishes. [46]

Fatoohi cites other similar passages that make the same point. He also cites Islamic scholars who agree with this interpretation, such as Tabataba'i, who argued that “had the exception represented by the phrase 'except what Allah wills' been intended to confirm that the Prophet experienced forgetting, then the earlier statement 'so that you do not forget' would be meaningless.” [47]

Finally, the very practice of abrogation is applied inconsistently. There “has never been a consensus among the jurists about which Qur'anic passages it affects,” which causes this practice to be wholly arbitrary, therefore unreliable. [48] Throughout history the number of abrogated verses have fluctuated wildly, from as few as five to as many as 248 verses. [49]

Sura 9:5 is commonly argued to abrogate all of the tolerant verses, however, this verse is not referring to a general command to “fight and slay” your enemies “wherever you find them.” This verse specifically refers to the two preceding verses where the Qur'an is discussing those who had “broken their treaty obligations.” [50] Louay Fatoohi, author of Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law, agrees. He argues that verse 9:5 has been “taken completely out of context.” [51] He continues to say how this verse “commanded” Muslims “to live peacefully with the non-Muslims who were willing to live in peace with them” and that verse “9.5 talks about a certain group of disbelievers, not all non-Muslims, who would not accept peace with the Muslims.” [52] Fatoohi sums up his findings on the issue of abrogation by arguing that “there is not a single verse in the Qur'an or even a hadith that confirms explicitly and unequivocally that a particular verse has been abrogated by another or by a sunnah! All instances of abrogation in the Qur'an are concluded indirectly from certain Qur'anic verses or sunnas.” Given this fact, “is it really logical to believe that abrogation was left without any explicit mention in the Qur'an or the Hadith? […] The attempt to find a basis for abrogation in the Qur'an has always looked like an exercise to force this concept on the Qur'an rather than conclude it from the Book of Allah.” [53] After looking at all of the arguments for and against abrogation I would have to agree.

These are not the only arguments used to argue for the doctrine of abrogation, but I will not cover all of them here. For a very good overview of these arguments and the problems with them I would suggest you look at my Bibliography, particularly the book Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of “Naskh” and its Impact.

There has been much talk of the Qur'an within anti-Muslim circles, but much of it is of questionable reliability. It is not worse than the Bible, the number of violent verses have apparently been massively inflated, and the concept of abrogation is an unreliable method of creating doctrine and, while it is in fact supported by a majority of Muslims, it has no evidential support in the Qur'an or Hadith.

Moderate vs. Extremist

A point I have tried to emphasize with multiple studies is the fact that it is the extremist minority who is a potential threat, not the Muslim community as a whole. This fact appears to be completely lost upon most commentators on this issue. There is another issue that is often ignored (assuming these anti-Muslim commentators are even aware of it) and that is the extremist branch of Islam called the Wahhabi movement. This is a “revivalist” movement born in the Eighteenth Century by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92). He was heavily influenced by the Hanbali school of Islamic thought, which was “the strictest of the Sunni law schools.” Like Christian fundamentalists in our modern era, Abd al-Wahhab looked at the society in which he lived and believed that it was awash in sin, “idolatry,” and believed the society was “little better than that of pre-Islamic Arabia, the jahiliyya or period of ignorance, with which he compared it.” [54] He believed that in order to cure society's ills it needed to return to the “straight path” of Islam. “Many of [Wahhabism's] preachers and followers tend to be literalist, rigid, puritanical, and intolerant, believing that they are right and all others (Muslims as well as people of other faiths) are wrong.” [55]

The Wahhabi branch of Islam is actually the threat that these anti-Muslim commentators should be paying attention to, not the Muslim community as a whole. It is specifically this branch of Islam that has influenced every single extremist group from the Taliban, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and yes, even ISIS. This is the branch of Islam that must be combated, not the Muslim communities as a whole, many of whom reject the fundamentalist bent and the atrocities carried out by groups like this.

Ironically, many of these atheists and “skeptics” who cheer on the US and European military might against defenseless, innocent Muslims are likely not aware of the enormous influence Saudi Arabia, a long time US ally, has upon this fundamentalist branch of Islam (which happens to be the official doctrine of Saudi Arabia). The Saudis for years have poured millions in support of the spread of Wahhabism around the globe. This has even been acknowledged by members of the US government, and yet they do very little to put a stop to it. In 2009 for example, Hillary Clinton, in a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, “complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” [56] Despite this acknowledgment, the US has thus far refused to put any significant pressure on their Middle Eastern ally in any way. The reason appears to be because Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the US and who is also the largest buyer of “American arms,” thus upsetting them would hurt the bottom line of the US. In addition, Saudi money is responsible for influencing many members of the “American political establishment” to look the other way. Not only Saudi Arabia, but Pakistan has also been implicated in fostering Wahhabist ideology, and is another US ally. Pakistan is a “nuclear power” who has a “military with close links to the Pentagon.” [57]

I find it despicable that rather than fight Islamic extremism at its source in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia because of money and politics, the US instead employs its military around the globe fighting these Wahhabi-inspired and Saudi funded groups, often killing many innocent people in the process and thus often providing more support for these groups from the general population. It's akin to having a horrible and disastrous fire in a building that is spreading smaller fires to neighboring buildings, and rather than stopping the fire at its source the US government wastes its resources, man power, and sacrifices innocent lives trying to put out these other fires, when going at the original source would go a long way in stopping all of the other fires. It's absolutely insane. It's counterproductive. It's immoral. And this fact is probably the single most misunderstood piece of information missing from many atheistic critiques against Islam. These critics literally can't see the forest for the trees in their support for the same bat-shit crazy policies that the US government endorses in its so-called fight against extremism.

Muslims cannot be regarded as a monolith. Even among so-called “secular” Muslims many continue to hold abhorrent views. While reading Reese Erlich's Inside Syria, he discusses conversations with members of the “secular opposition” who were in the midst of organizing and demonstrating against the Bashar al-Assad regime. One he talked to said his view of homosexuality was ultimately a “private matter” but that “Syrian society” as a whole would not tolerate homosexuals living openly among them. Another member of the “secular opposition” held vastly differing views, more in line with many conservative Muslims. He said, “If I was in charge, I would enforce tougher laws against homosexuals. If someone said homosexuals should be stoned to death as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, I would not object.” [58] This small example demonstrates that Muslims as a people are as varied in their views as other religious individuals. It is illogical to pigeonhole an entire community as many anti-Muslim commentators currently do.

Even so-called “radical” Islamists hold some surprising views. According to the authors of the book Who Speaks for Islam, those who condoned the the September 11, 2001 attacks largely justified their responses with political reasons. “For example, one Indonesian respondent [said], “The U.S. government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing.” [59] Additionally, there does not appear to be any difference in religiosity between radicals and moderates. “Large majorities of those with radical views and moderate views (94% and 90%, respectively) say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. And no significant difference exists between radicals and moderates in mosque attendance.” [60]

Many anti-Muslim commentators argue that Muslims, particularly the extremist variety, are completely opposed to democracy. However, studies show that a significant percentage of “extremists” “say that 'moving toward greater governmental democracy' will foster progress in the Arab/Muslim world.” [61] Furthermore, studies demonstrate that “the politically radicalized are more likely than moderates to associate Arab/Muslim nations with an eagerness to have better relationships with the West: 58% of the politically radicalized (versus 44% of the moderates) express this.” [62] Unfortunately, as it was for the Bush administration in the mid-2000's who said in response to questions about negotiations with Iran, “We don't speak to evil,” so too do many anti-Muslim bigots who essentially use a similar refrain when discussing possible political solutions with Muslim extremists. [63] However, the data shows that even extremists desire a better dialogue with the West, so why not give it to them? It would likely solve many problems and it would spare many innocent lives.

Islamic extremism is a large concern for large blocks of the Muslim populations around the world. In 2009 for instance, majorities were “somewhat concerned” about extremism “in the world” in Pakistan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories.

In 2014 these numbers spiked exponentially. Rather than being conspirators or supportive of terrorist groups, the vast majority of Muslims are as concerned about Islamic extremism as many Americans are.

Ultimately, we must marginalize the extremists, greatly reduce the proliferation of Wahhabism, and eventually marginalize it completely, much like society has largely done with Christian fundamentalists in the US. Yes, they still exist, but they are not very effective politically.

Jihad: A Personal Struggle or Global War?

Jihad to many people means only one thing: Holy War. This is a major oversimplification of the term. I agree with Islam's critics who argue that jihad is defined as a “war against non-Muslims,” [64] however, this is only half of the story.

According to John Esposito, jihad is defined as “struggle” or “exertion.” [65] David Cook concurs with this definition, who says that in its original Arabic form jihad literally means “striving” or “exerting oneself.” [66] But “striving” for what exactly?

If you read Esposito on the issue he argues that jihad has two meanings. On the one hand there is the “lesser jihad of armed struggle in the defense of Islam.” On the other, there is the “greater jihad” which is “carried out by devoting oneself completely to fulfilling God's will, studying and meditating on the Qur'an and the Sunnah (the example of Muhammad), performing religious duties, especially prayer and fasting, focusing on the centrality of God and the Last Judgment, denying material desires that could distract one from God, and carrying out good works.” [67] This dual meaning is said to come from “a well-known Prophetic tradition” where it is said that “when Muhammad returned from battle he told his followers, 'We return from the lesser jihad [warfare] to the greater jihad.'” This “greater jihad is the more difficult and more important struggle against one's ego, selfishness, greed, and evil.” Esposito continues with his description, writing, “In its most general meaning, jihad refers to the obligation incumbent on all Muslims, individuals and the community, to follow and realize God's will: to lead a virtuous life and to extend the Islamic community through preaching, education, example, writing, etc.” Ultimately, “[d]espite the fact that jihad is not supposed to be used for aggressive warfare, it has been and continues to be so used by some rulers, governments, and individuals […].” [68] Essentially, according to Esposito, jihad is a form of spiritual “warfare” that is undertaken in order to strive to live a good and wholesome life, based upon Islamic principles. He downplays its combative aspects, which some authors have criticized him for. But Esposito continues to argue that “Muslims throughout the ages have discussed and debated and disagreed about the meaning of jihad, its defensive and expansionist, legitimate and illegitimate forms. Terrorists can attempt to hijack Islam and the doctrine of jihad, but that is no more legitimate than Christian and Jewish extremists committing their acts of terrorism in their own unholy wars in the name of Christianity and Judaism.” [69]

Despite Muhammad's comments that the “greater jihad” is not about warfare, and despite the fact that even the extremist Sayyid Qutb rejected the expansionist doctrine of jihad when he wrote that “It is not the intention of Islam to force its beliefs on people,” [70] and despite the fact that this “greater jihad,” this spiritual struggle, is declared even in the Qur'an (22:78, for example) Religious Studies scholar David Cook disagrees with Esposito's description of jihad.

In his very popular book Understanding Jihad Cook's thesis is that this spiritual struggle, the so-called “greater jihad,” is a later invention used to “overcome resistance to the acceptance and legitimacy of jihad.” He calls it an “apologetic device designed to promote a doctrine that has little historical depth in Islam, is not well attested in the hadith literature, [and] has few practical examples to illustrate precisely how it was practiced[.]” [71] Cook argues that the statement by Muhammad about the “greater” jihad was “an attempt to radically reinterpret the originally aggressive intent of the Qur'an and the hadith literature in order to focus on the waging of spiritual warfare” and “can be dated to the first half of the ninth century, when the ascetic movement in Islam was beginning to coalesce into Sufism, the mystical interpretation of Islam,” which is where most of the references to spiritual warfare can be found, according to Cook. [72]

Cook also singles out Esposito, arguing that his definition of jihad “has virtually no validity in Islam and is derived almost entirely from apologetic works of nineteenth-and twentieth-century Muslim modernists. […] In all the literature concerning jihad – whether militant or internal jihad – the fundamental idea is to disconnect oneself from the world, to die to the world, whether bodily (in battle) or spiritually (as in the internal jihad). The priorities of jihad in Islam here are exactly reversed [in contrast to Esposito's argument] from the historical and religious realities: the armed struggle – aggressive conquest – came first, and then additional meanings became attached to the term.” Cook goes on to argue that due to the many passages advocating offensive jihad extremists “have extensive support in the central texts and doctrines of Islam.” [73] In conclusion, Cook writes that while certain scholars of Islam have attempted to downplay the role of violent jihad in both Islamic history and in the textual tradition, “these writers have offered no evidence as to whether the spiritual jihad was actually the primary expression of jihad. It is incumbent upon them, therefore, first to prove that this doctrine had some type of reality outside of the Sufi textbooks and second to demonstrate that either a substantial minority or a majority of Muslims historically believed and acted upon it or that the spiritual jihad actually superseded the militant jihad. Thus far, no scholar has accomplished this.” [74]

Despite this harsh criticism, Cook acknowledges that “the motives of the Western scholars and (in some cases) of the Muslim apologists who make these claims are good ones.” They would like to see a time when “Islam transform[s] itself from a religion rooted in and emphasizing domination and violence to the more peaceful and tolerant style of the internal jihad.” He acknowledges that both Christianity and Judaism “have violent pasts” but have “reinterpreted or repudiated” those many problematic texts, but stresses that this “has yet to be accomplished in Islam.” [75]

David Cook, throughout Understanding Jihad, appears only to use legal texts as his main sources, even citing the definition of jihad “as it has been defined by the classical Muslim jurists and legal scholars” as “Warfare with spiritual significance.” [76] This methodology is flawed, however. A number of scholars have come to the conclusion that rather than relying purely on the legal texts for information about the views of jihad, one should consult a variety of sources, and when you do the picture becomes much more complex, and in fact, even contracts Cook's entire thesis.

According to Asma Afsaruddin, the peaceful interpretation of jihad came first and only centuries later did it evolve into the more militaristic form it now takes. In her book Striving in the Path of God, Afsaruddin provides numerous early Muslim sources who interpret jihad mainly as an inner struggle of sorts and only in a defensive manner. She demonstrates this by citing many examples of “the exegeses of a wide selection of critical Qur'anic verses” thereby tracing the “changing repertoire of meanings assigned to this term” over a few centuries. [77] She goes on to show how the same pattern evolved in the hadith literature as well. To give a brief example, in relation to the Qur'anic verse 2:190-194 (“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does not love transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they case, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression. The prohibited month for the prohibited month - and so for all things prohibited – there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress you likewise against him. But fear Allah , and know that Allah is with those who retrain themselves.”) Mujahid b. Jabr (d. ca. 104/722) “comments that, according to this verse, one should not fight until the other side commences fighting.” Maqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150/767) also believes that “[p]ermission to engage the pagan Meccans in fighting was clearly contingent […] upon their having initiated hostilities.” [78] In later time periods, however, wide disagreements are noted in commentaries by Tafsir of al-Tabari (d. 310/923), who recorded “a wide variety of interpretive positions, some at odds with others,” about the meaning of verse 2:190-194. Most still maintained it was purely a defensive passage, but a minority began to interpret it differently, by arguing that the word fitna in verse 2:193 does not mean “polytheism,” but the more general term of “unbelief.” Thus, with this change, and through the process of abrogation to dismiss the defensive nature of the verse, Qur'anic interpreters began to argue that this verse provides a general command to engage in military campaigns against kufr not because of acts of prior aggression, but merely because they were non-believers. [79] Throughout her book Striving in the Path of God Afsaruddin cites many other Qur'anic passages and demonstrates similar trajectories in interpretation with each, with the non-violent, defensive jihad superseding the militant jihad.

Why did this change take place? Afsaruddin argues that it was because “Muslims were increasingly fearful and on the defensive against non-Mulsims” and that these “circumstances clearly affected Muslim sensibilities, causing at least some influential Muslim scholars to re-imagine their relationships with other religious communities in less tolerant ways and find sanctions for them in readings of their holiest text.” [80]

Afsaruddin is not alone in her views on jihad. Michael Bonner, for instance, says that “we can argue that elements of the internal jihad were already present at the beginning, including in the Quran itself.” [81] As to David Cook's argument that no scholar has successfully demonstrated that the “spiritual jihad superseded the militant jihad,” it appears that the “militant jihad” was indeed a later development.

Now that these facts have been established, where do we go from here? We know that jihad was originally not offensive in nature, but that in later centuries it transformed into a more aggressive doctrine. I would agree with Cook that militants do have Qur'anic justifications for the violence they carry out, but so do the millions of peaceful Muslims throughout the world who have their own peaceful Qur'anic passages they can point to, as well as the original interpretations of jihad, which were later distorted. It is no different in Christianity. There is both a non-violent and a violent history, and there are non-violent and violent Biblical passages that Christian peace activists and terrorists can cite to justify their particular actions. With this complex history, why condemn an entire religion and especially an entire group of people who do not even share these minority violent views? It makes no sense.

Christianity vs. Islam

Some anti-Islam advocates argue that Islam's doctrines are much worse than that of Christianity's. Following from this line of argument they further argue that Islam is a much more dangerous threat to civilization and that the entire religion of Islam must be combated and defeated.

What many of these critics don't seem to understand is that there is not a singular form of Islam. There are so-called “fundamentalists” and “radicals” and there are those who are much more liberal and secular. As I argued in an earlier section it is naive to pigeonhole an entire religious group as many currently do. I would argue that fundamentalist Islam is a problem, not the entire religion of Islam. It is similar to the religion of Christianity. Are the majority of Christians a threat to society? No. Are the fundamentalist Christians (who for decades have tried hard to capture influential places within government in order to implement and force their religious morality on others) a threat to society? Absolutely, but you do not see these same critics calling for an all out war on Christianity and hate speech and hate crimes being directed towards all Christians. I believe this is a double standard, born out of bigotry and ignorance.

These same critics continue to justify this argument by citing the Qur'an's many harsh and violent verses and argue that the Qur'an is many magnitudes worse than the Bible (some of these critics have even admitted that they have not even read the entire Qur'an, yet they make these judgments. I believe that is extremely ignorant.) I have addressed this issue in an earlier section but I will expand on my argument here. As I noted before, there are both good and bad verses in the Qur'an and the Bible, but many of these critics never seem to acknowledge this fact (or they are unaware of it due to their ignorance about what the Qur'an actually says). Throughout the entire Bible there is justification after justification for outright slaughter and conquest against many, and even all, non-believers. (Deut. 7:1-3: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you are entering to occupy and drives out many nations before you - Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you – when the Lord your God delivers them into your power and you defeat them, you must put them to death. You must not make a treaty with them or spare them.”; the book of Revelation is all about Jesus' return and his reign on earth and his war against all non-believers, eventually erecting a Godly empire on earth in the book of Revelation. See also Avalos' Bad Jesus, pgs. 151-178)

While the Qur'an also contains a very similar theme, it also contains many passages calling for tolerance regarding non-Muslims (meaning other theists). It contains many passages calling for defensive wars only and advocating peace. For example: “Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, and who believe in Allah and in the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with the Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62); “Except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace), or those who approach you with hearts retraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people. If Allah had pleased, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you: therefore (instead) send you (guarantees) of peace, then Allah has opened no way for you (to war against them).” (4:90); “But if the enemy incline toward peace, you (also) incline toward peace, and trust in Allah: for He is the One that hears and knows (all things).” (8:61); “If it had been your Lord's will, they would all have believed, - all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? No soul can believe, except by the Will of Allah, and He will place Doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.” (10:99-100); “Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance. And if you do catch them out, catch them out no worse than they catch you out: but if you show patience, that is indeed the best (course) for those who are patient.” (16:125-126)

With these verses, you can see that the Qur'an commands believers to make peace with non-believers and merely to peacefully preach their message and not to force belief upon them. While the Qur'an does indeed have numerous intolerant verses, there are also tolerant, peaceful, and defensive passages present in the Qur'an and these provide Muslims with religious reasons to be peaceful towards non-Muslims. Muslims have just as much, if not more, justification than Christians to act peacefully towards non-believers in their texts.

It may be argued that Sura 2:62 is referring to Christians and Jews who convert to Islam because the Qur'an says to “believe in Allah,” however this would be a misreading of the text. It explicitly says that those who believe in the Christian and Jewish scriptures and those who “believe (in the Qur'an)” “and who believe in Allah” will be safe from punishment in the after life. It appears that the text is including those “People of the Book” who lived in peace with Muslims. It leaves out atheists, but again, this is much more inclusive than the Bible by far.

Just as with the Bible, the Qur'an includes numerous passages that can be cited by moderate Muslims in support of peace and tolerance. The doctrines of Islam are not all about war and violence, just as Christianity is not all about war and violence, and both sets of believers have justifications for peaceful and violent behavior.

Democracy and Islam

It is common to argue that the teachings of Islam are incompatible with democracy. It is further often argued that a majority of Muslims have a desire to subvert democratic governments and enshrine Sharia law in both the United States and in Europe. [82] Unfortunately for such Islamophobes, all of the data contradicts these fear-mongering tactics as I briefly discussed earlier. In addition, poll after poll demonstrates that a vast majority of Muslims around the world desire a democratic system of government. The problems emerge when the discussion turns to the precise make up of their system of government. Most polls show that along with a democratic form of government most Muslims around the world also want Islam to have a “large role” in politics, but exactly what role is up for debate since different groups and individuals emphasize different things. This sparks much controversy because of accusations of Islam's alleged goal of world domination and relegating all non-Muslims to second-class status, or dhimmis, which does not translate to “guilty,” (as Robert Spencer would have it) [83] only “protected persons.” [84]

Many anti-Islamists use this history of Islamic civilization to argue that even most modern Muslims want to subjugate all non-Muslims and they often tell of this history in the bleakest of terms. However, history is not nearly as simple as they argue. These situations were “complex” and are difficult to “general[ize],” writes Michael Bonner. [85] Certainly, non-Muslims were forbidden certain activities, such as riding on horses, being “prevented from dressing in the same style as the Muslims,” from owning firearms, and being forced to pay the jizya, or poll tax. [86] Despite these restrictions, “there was no forced conversion,” which was forbidden in the Qur'an, and all dhimmis “must be allowed to practice their religion.” [87] Of course, even these rules were sometimes violated, but these instances “remained exceptional.” [88] Bonner sums up these complex and shifting circumstances writing,

These sumptuary laws were taken seriously, but at the same time it is clear that they were often observed in the breach: we see this in the reforming zeal that accompanied their reintroduction from time to time. After all, it was difficult to maintain such distinctions in a world where patronage, business partnerships, scientific collaboration, and indeed friendship, often crossed confessional lines. Likewise, much ingenuity went into circumventing the prohibition against building new churches and synagogues and restoring old ones. The picture that emerges in thus endlessly variable, and serves to remind us that identity in the premodern world was itself often flexible. At the same time, this picture of the dhimma must also include shocking instances where it was flouted or abandoned, as in the massacre of the Jews of Granada in 1064, or the reign of the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, which lasted from 996 until 1021. [89]

This commonly used argument, that “for Muslims alone a remote past has defined, forever and without any possibility of evolution, the ways in which fundamental issues are perceived and addressed,” is problematic. This argument is brought forth without any supporting evidence and “is simply taken for granted” and is not backed with any “explanation” about why “the past has had such a far-reaching and pervasive effect in [Muslim] societies.” [90]

Given the fact that the vast majority of Muslims desire a democratic form of government, the question remains: why aren't there more democracies in the Middle East? I believe there are two main reasons. First, throughout much of the modern history of Muslim countries the populace has been ruled by authoritarian rulers and autocrats, who cement their rule and deny the people any choice over governance. Many of these regimes use a “divide and rule” strategy to hold onto power by fermenting strife between any political parties that may arise. And of course, being autocratic regimes, they often resort to violence to keep their hold on power. This breeds large amounts of “apathy” in Muslim societies, which is apparent from the dramatically low election turn outs. [91] Laith Kubba argues that a main reason many of these regimes have remained in power for so long, despite their oppressive measures, is because of the inherently “stable” nature of these regimes and their ability to provide “essential public services” to their populace, while at the same time managing to “adapt to a changing political environment without facing serious challenges from within.” Prior to the Arab Spring, much of the populace was simply overcome with apathy and “disillusionment” and chose to live under a stable dictatorship rather than being subject to military rule. The “people seemed to value national security and political stability more than civil and political liberties and feared that demanding reform would undermine stability without necessarily leading to better government.” [92]

Second, another reason for the stability of these regimes is due to the support many of them get from the US and European powers. The United States, for example, provided Egypt (where the dictator Hosni Mubarak reigned until the uprising of 2011) with “$2 billion a year in development and military aid,” along with other large payments, such as $10 billion “in loans and grants.” [93] It should be too obvious to mention but another source of revenue comes from the immense oil wealth a number of Middle Eastern countries have that the rulers often utilize to keep their rule in place and to bribe potential adversaries.

These are very large hurdles these Muslim countries must overcome, there is no doubt. But I believe, and Jason Brownlee also argues, that with the large amount of financial leverage the US has over Egypt and other Muslim countries, the US could force these governments to change and allow for freer and more democratic societies. Unfortunately, the US has little incentive to do so because of its personal interests in the oil reserves of the Middle East. [94]

A common retort is the argument that these Middle Eastern autocratic regimes must use force to suppress any Islamic groups from campaigning in general elections in order to stop them from gaining power within the government to keep them from oppressing the population and forcing their fundamentalist religious ideology upon them. This argument appears to be largely baseless, however. Looking at past election results show that Islamist political parties rarely manage to get enough seats within any government body, or at least fail to gain the needed majority for any real influence. For example, Islamists have failed to gain any more than “30 percent of the seats in the legislative elections that they have been allowed to contest – a feat achieved by Jordan's Islamic Action Front (IAF) in 1989.” Other groups have only managed to gain as many as 27 out of 128 parliamentary seats in Lebanon and only “a dozen seats in 1992 and ten in 1996” in the case of Hezbollah. [95] Proponents of this view also seem to forget that many of these regimes, after they suppress any Islamic movement, go on to also suppress any other potential challengers to its rule, even secular parties. This gives away their real intent. It is not to protect the people from some imaginary Islamic takeover. It is to further solidify their rule and their power and to limit the peoples' freedom of choice in governance. For example, “after winning a pass from the United States on democratization by waving the Islamist card, [the Egyptian government] attacked human rights groups and NGO's and used repression and fraud to increase the government-controlled share of parliamentary seats from 68 percent in 1987 to 88 percent [in the year 2000].” [96] In the Journal of Democracy Charles Kurtzman and Ijlal Naqvi cite dozens of election results and come to the conclusion that “in those Muslim-majority countries where elections were freest, Islamic parties performed worse.” [97]

Before I continue I think it's important that I define how I am using the term “Democracy.” The Dictionary defines democracy as “a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting,” and “an organization or situation in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights.” Paul Kubicek defines democracy as “a system of government in which holders of political authority as chosen through free and competitive election based on universal suffrage.” He goes on to say that his definition “assumes that citizens enjoy basic political and civil freedoms (e.g., freedom of speech and assembly, freedom to organize alternative political parties) so that elections are truly free and competitive. It also assumes that there are no significant unelected political actors such as the military or religious hierarchies that exercise political power.” [98]

Now that I have laid the ground work it is time to more directly answer the question of this section: Is Islam compatible with democracy? I think a truly honest and objective answer would be: It depends. It depends upon which form of Islam you're referring to. Puritanical and fundamentalist branches of Islam would not be compatible with a democratic form of government. However, the more modern, moderate, and liberal forms of Islam are and, most importantly, have been compatible with democracy. To only make one's case that Islam is incompatible with democracy by appealing to its fundamentalist branches is no different than arguing that Christianity is incompatible with democracy by harking back to its role in the Middle Ages and appealing to the fundamentalist branches of Christianity. As Abdou Filali-Ansary argues, “Once Islam has been defined in this way, [as an unchanging system] it can be used to assess whether other new or alien concepts can be accommodated within it and to decide the degree of their compatibility with its presumed and predefined content. This stance, however, reflects a particular attitude towards religion, not a particular feature of Islam. In fact, as Leonard Binder has observed, any of the monotheistic religions, if adopted in this manner, can lead to similar conclusions […].” [99] Most scholars knowledgeable of these issues agree. According to William Quandt, “[s]cholars now generally dismiss [the claim that Islam is incompatible with democracy] as a form of erroneous cultural essentialism.” [100]

With so many Islamophobes and anti-Muslim bigots screaming about the totalitarian nature of Islam (and the prevalence of Islamic extremists on the nightly news distorting perceptions) it can often be extremely difficult to discover the liberal voices of Islam, but they are there. You just have to listen.

Something incredible occurs when moderate, democracy-loving Muslims do manage to have their voices heard on mainstream media or acknowledged by anti-Muslim bigots: they are shouted down with taunts of “You don't represent the 'true' Islam!” “Why don't you denounce the violence of the extremists?!” “Yeah, well, the Qur'an also says [insert violent Qur'anic verse here]!” It seems to me that these bigots are talking out both sides of their mouths. They ask for moderate Muslim voices and when some finally manage to get some decent air time they denounce them! It's absolutely insane. Here is some good advice: Why don't you just shut up and hear them out for a change? You might just learn something.

These more liberal-minded scholars argue that there is within Islam passages and doctrines that can lend themselves in support of democratic ideas that Muslims today can embrace and use to justify a democratic system of government without sacrificing their religious beliefs.

What are some of these democratic principles allegedly within the teachings of Islam? Bernard Lewis writes that there are a number of hadith that proscribe a “duty” to disobey the unjust commands of rulers and “Islamic tradition strongly disapproves of arbitrary rule.” Lewis elaborates on some of these passages:

Many hadith prescribe obedience as an obligation of a subject, but some indicate exceptions. One, for example, says, “Do not obey a creature against his creator” - in other words, do not obey a human command to violate divine law. Another says, similarly, “There is no duty of obedience in sin.” That is to say, if the sovereign commands something that is sinful, the duty of obedience lapses. It is worth noting that Prophetic utterances like these point not merely to a right of disobedience (such as would be familiar from Western political thought), but to a divinely ordained duty of disobedience.

The final example provided is the Sunnah “traditionally ascribed to the Prophet:” “Difference of opinion within my community is a sign of God's mercy.” Lewis comments: “In other words, diversity is something to be welcomed, not something to be suppressed.” [101]

In a similar vein, scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl argues that certain Qur'anic passages provide justifications for certain democratic principles: “pursuing justice through social cooperation and mutual assistance (49:13, 11:119); establishing a nonautocratic, consultive method of governance; and institutionalizing mercy and compassion in social interactions (6:12, 6:54, 21:107, 27:77, 29:51, 45:20).” [102]

It should be noted that I do not agree with all of his interpretations of the Qur'an. For example, verse 11:119 says: “Except those on whom your Lord has bestowed His Mercy: and for this He created them: and the Word of your Lord shall be fulfilled: 'I will fill Hell with jinns and men altogether.'” Rather than preaching “social cooperation” or “mutual assistance,” this passage appears to say that those who follow the disbelievers (or Satan) will be gathered in hell, according to Yusuf Ali's The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary. (“If Satan and his evil spirits tempt men from the path of rectitude the responsibility of the tempted, who choose the path of evil, is no less than that of the tempters, and they will both be involved in punishment together.”) However, I can understand El Fadl's argument since on the surface the first half of the passage does seem to say that Allah created man for his mercy, but my source disagrees with this interpretation.

On the other hand, other passages appear to be interpreted more accurately. For example verse 49:13: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

As Tariq Ramadan has said, Muslims are not to seek a “modification of the sources, but a transformation of the mind and eyes that read them, which are indeed naturally influenced by the new social, political and scientific environment in which they live.” [103] In this way, it is true that many Muslims have in some cases reinterpreted their sacred texts in order to find passages that support their more liberal positions. But this is no different than the vast majority of Christians throughout the world who have for centuries reinterpreted their own sacred text to justify certain liberal and modern views of ethics. Again, why the hostility towards moderate Muslims who seek to reinterpret their own text? Many anti-Muslim proponents ask for moderate Muslims to speak up but they shout them down when they try to explain their point of view and their justifications for it.

I've briefly discussed the theoretical issue of whether or not Islam is in any way compatible with democracy and the evidence is compelling. However, theory is all well and good, but I am an empiricist and I want the facts. While Islam can, in theory, become compatible with democracy is there any hard evidence that this is even possible in reality? As a matter of fact, yes there is.

In his most recently published book, Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World, Paul Kubicek provides statistics from the Polity IV, World Bank's Voice and Accountability Index, and Freedom House data sets on the level of democracy within a number of Muslim-majority countries. [104] Out of the 24 Muslim-majority countries listed that have been democracies at some point in their histories, those that have managed to maintain certain levels of democracy for at least a period of ten years are the following: Albania, Bangladesh, Gambia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal and Turkey. It should be noted that at times a country's political climate changes and some of these countries may not currently be considered democracies, such as Bangladesh which held the status of a democracy from the years 1972-1973 and also from 1992-2006. [105] However, as of this writing Bangladesh is considered an “open anocracy” by Polity IV. According to Polity IV, out of the above listed countries, Albania, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Senegal and Turkey are currently considered democracies. Bangladesh, Gambia, and Mali are currently considered either “open” or “closed” anocracies, but at certain times in their histories had been democracies. [106] It should also be said that the above Muslim democracies were not given a perfect score on any data set. The sliding scale each set uses places many countries within the category of “democracy,” but not “full” democracies, which would garner perfect scores by these data sets. As Kubicek notes, “not all of these cases [of democracy] can be considered secure or fully consolidated.” [107]

Having said this, are these fits and starts of democracy due to Islam or other factors, or even a combination of the two? Since we are examining the claim that Islam and democracy are incompatible it won't do to just look at some graphs and declare something a democracy, especially democracies that have such tumultuous histories. What most people think of as a democracy is a stable democracy, one that is democratic from its inception, or at least develops into a democracy and maintains it over decades and over centuries. But the Middle East is largely not a stable place to begin with, and because of the autocratic and despotic leaders who stifle popular elections, it is no wonder that Middle Eastern populations have had such difficult times gaining any democratic form of government. A second factor is historical. What many critics of Islam do not seem to remember is that much of the Middle East has been shaped by Western countries, who created self-made states and arbitrary boundaries, “carved out by the now-departed European powers.” [108] This took place only several decades ago so it is absurd for many critics to demand that the entirety of the Muslim world gets itself organized and immediately create stable and effective societies (plus, it is a little difficult to do so when you have Western powers continually destroying and destabilizing much of the Middle East with its interventions). [109]

The West also has a comparable case. Christianity, another Middle Eastern religion, let's not forget, has only recently come into modernity. It has only been since the 1960's since the Vatican declared its desire to accept modernity after the second Vatican Council. [110] Islam is capable of this as well, the proof being that the vast majority of Muslims do not side with the fundamentalists and radicals and accept democracy and much of modernity. Despite this progress there is no doubt, however, that many adherents of Islam are lagging behind their co-religionists in certain respects. To solve this, I do not believe a military solution is possible. Quite frankly, I find it absurd and horribly sad that so many people believe that with enough US military fire power we can get them to change their ways.

The issue, I believe, is summed up best by Michael Cook, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Princeton. He makes the observation that a large reason for a prevalent lack of more liberal-mindedness within much of Islam is because, unlike Christianity in the West, it did not have the benefits of the “emergence of the 'higher criticism' of the Bible,” which brought the Bible's status down from revered Holy text to just another historical/religious, man-made document, and helped to encourage a more secular and scientific mind set among a majority of Christians. Thus, the Bible is now not seen as a mandatory law that must be enforced (thank goodness!), unfortunately the same process has yet to seep into the religion and doctrines of Islam in a large scale. [111]

Some have criticized this idea of an “Islamic Reformation,” but at the same time a number of scholars do recognize some parallels and I have to agree. Robin Wright, for instance, argues that the “stirrings of reform within Islam today should not be compared too closely with the Christian Reformation of almost five hundred years ago. The historical and institutional differences between the two faiths are vast. Nonetheless, many of the issues ultimately addressed by the respective movements are similar, particularly the inherent rights of the individual and the relationship between religion and political authority.” [112] With the many liberal-minded Islamists in the Western countries and within the greater Middle East, I agree with Wright when she says that the Reformation has already been set in motion, but that it still “has a very long way to go.” [113]

Yet another factor I believe that aids in the turmoil is the fact that nations are by definition bodies of conflicting individuals that are bound to disagree and who often try to force the leverages of power against one another in order to enforce their will. With many these fledgling democracies only decades old, it is no surprise that there are conflicts and a lack of stable and effective government. And, as I noted earlier, an issue with not just Muslim societies, but all societies throughout history and running right up to the present, is best epitomized by John Acton's famous quotation: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even Western powers have curtailed basic freedoms and this appears to me to be spreading to other nations around the world. Depending upon the country being examined, this trend has very little to nothing to do with Islam. [114] I will briefly discuss the recent political turmoil in Turkey as an example.

Turkey's democratic system of government was born near the beginning of the Republic of Turkey's creation in 1923. It was only 23 years later, in 1946, when the multi-party platform was established. Turkey was created with the intention of making it a purely secular state. It's Constitution enshrined freedom of religion for all and upholds a purely secular state. It demands that “Everyone is equal before the law without distinction as to language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect, or any such grounds.” (Article 10) Further, the document states that “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction” (Article 24) and “Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion.” (Article 25) Despite an approximate number of about 98% of the population who hold Islam has their religion of choice, a secular government exists side by side with Islam.

Throughout most of it's history it has remained a democratic state, with a few exceptions, and only when military rule took over the country during sporadic periods [115] A few elected governments gained power during the mid 1940's and 1950's and instituted some extremely harsh policies, including the “passing of laws to muzzle the media” and instituting even harsher “penal codes.” [116] Fast forward several years, as Turkey saw more governments come and go, along with a few more military interventions to restore order.

Change did not truly come until the rise of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) which gained power in 2002. AKP was a more Islamic-oriented political group very much unlike the purely secular leaders within the previous administrations. Despite their more Islamic orientation, the AKP embraced secularism and “capitalism, was pro-European Union, and pro-globalization” and its party platform was that of a “champion for freedom and democratic reform[,] including women's rights.” [117] Once the AKP “gained power it did not immediately pursue an identifiable Islamic agenda. Furthermore, it presided over a period of solid economic growth” and oversaw numerous policies that strengthened democracy and greatly advanced Turkey's bid to join the EU. Over the years, the AKP's popularity soared, finally gathering “just shy of 50 percent” of the votes in 2011. [118]

Despite this success and their stated goals, rumors abounded about it's alleged Islamic agenda. It was sometimes argued that AKP feigned its support for democratic ideals and secularism, but once it gained power it's religiously-inspired plans would go into effect. [119] Years into the AKP's rule, however, a number of critics have seen some warning signs that cause them to accuse the AKP of creeping authoritarianism. [120] In 2004 the AKP attempted to “criminalize adultery” and in 2005 arrested the writer Orhan Pamuk on the basis that he insulted “Turkishness.” [121] I would agree that the first instance is a clear sign of religion invading into the laws of the country, but the second example, while completely illegal and immoral, does not appear to be driven by any religious agenda. In 2008 the AKP passed a Constitutional amendment that allows female students to wear headscarfs. The headscarf in Turkey was banned under the law that forbid any violations in the secular nature of the country. This was a very heated topic, with fears that this was an example of creeping Islamic law. [122] I think this goes to show just how liberal-minded many in Turkey are if they are complaining about laws merely allowing female students to wear the headscarf of they choose to.

As far as AKP's actual actions, I do not believe it was in violation of anyone's rights, nor a violation of any secular principle. Many women wanted to wear their headscarf's so the AKP decided to allow it. This is about freedom of religion, which every democracy ought to uphold, not religious repression or forcing religion on others.

The year 2011 saw more problems, however. Despite hailing further democratic reforms, the AKP began a crackdown upon journalists and freedom of expression. By the end of 2012 Turkey had 49 journalists in prison, more “than any other country in the world, and Reporters Without Borders ranked it 154 (out of 179 countries) in terms of press freedom.” [123] Of course, again, I am hard pressed to see how this could be related to Islam. Countries around the world are doing the same thing, including the United States. Are critics of Islam going to blame that on Islam too? Of course, in 2012 pianist Fazil Say was arrested for writing “blasphemous remarks” on Twitter about religion. In addition, bans on the sell of alcohol at music festivals, and requirements that prayer rooms be placed in schools and museums, are all surely religiously-inspired acts by the government, some worse than others. [124]

More problems plagued the AKP government. The Gezi Park protests were a “demonstration against development of green space in Istanbul but turned into a nationwide protest against what many perceived to be authoritarian tendencies in the government.” A corruption scandal also rocked the party in 2014, implicating Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, in bribery and money-laundering schemes. [125]

Kubicek on the plausibility of the compatibility of Islam and democracy noted how “the government's actions by and large have nothing to do with Islam; they are driven by the need for 'power for the sake of power.'” He argues that the AKP “might have used Islamic themes in opposition but, once in power, has captured the state and used the state machinery in ways similar to its secular, authoritarian predecessors.” Having said this, however, a number of policies were enacted seemingly because of religion. Kubicek writes,

[A]ctions to limit speech in the name of defending religion or morality; refusing to recognize Alevis as a distinct faith and efforts to portray the traditionally secular-oriented Alevis or Shiite minorities as enemies of the state; and a host of measures and statements that have attacked women's rights or pushed patriarchal programs, including efforts to ban abortions and Caesarean sections, laws requiring husbands or fathers to be notified if a wife or daughter is pregnant (which opens the door to violence against them), laws on domestic violence that are labeled “Protection of the Family” and require beaten women to participate in a reconciliation process, changes in the education law that, according to critics, have the potential to limit schooling of girls, and as noted, statements by Erdogan himself denying female equality and encouraging motherhood. (“Turkish women should have 'at least three, preferably five' children and [...] 'I don't believe in equality between men and women.'”) [126]

Some may argue that these facts destroy any hope of reconciling Islam and democracy. I am not so hasty, however. While a number of these laws were enormous violations of Turkish citizens' rights and many of them were blatant acts of mixing religion and government, I do not believe these few incidences are enough to declare Turkey non-democratic. Look at the bigger picture. The United States as well has many religiously-inspired laws and sometimes violates the rights of its citizens. A few examples: A number of Judges have forced people to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, a religious organization; students are forced to sing the Pledge of Allegiance which contains the phrase, “Under God,” and US currency has written on it “In God We Trust;” until the Supreme Court ruled that the banning of gay marriage was unconstitutional, gay marriage was banned in most states; atheists are banned in a number of states from holding public office, abortion rights of women are under attack in a number of states; in 2015 Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would allow business owners to discriminate against gay couples; and there are numerous other examples. Would any person argue that because of these failures to adhere strictly to secularism, the United States automatically becomes a theocracy, or at the very least undemocratic? I highly doubt it.

Despite these setbacks, Turkey is the longest running democratic state at this point in time and has not succumb to any overt “Islamization,” as in other states, such as Saudi Arabia. Of course, if Turkey is to uphold its supposed democratic values the leaders must do better to uphold the rights of all people, regardless of religion, and cease its implementation of religiously-inspired laws. Whether or not this was an example of the AKP showing its true colors, as I noted earlier, is very hard to determine. Most of its policies had nothing to do with religion, but of those that did, does that automatically imply that Islam is impossibly anti-democratic? I don't believe the evidence is sufficient to come to that conclusion. Turkey remains to be a democracy, despite its setbacks, according to all of the polling data we have available. Of course, things could change sometime in the future, but my hope would be that the liberal-minded Muslims in Turkey will fight back against these policies as they have been and will be able to elect a government who will not only respect the religious freedoms of all, but avoids passing any laws that force the government's religion views upon the public, and respects their other freedoms.


I had two goals in mind when I set down to write this piece. First, I wanted to respond to the numerous falsehoods and slanders about myself. Second, I wanted to take an objective look at what the evidence actually tells us about Islam and Muslims. That evidence appears to me to be conclusive, and from that evidence I think a number of facts must be acknowledged by anyone who would wish to write about Muslims and Islam if they want to remain objective and base their conclusions on the facts. 1) The majority of Muslims in the world are not terrorists, nor do they support terrorist actions. The majority also do not desire to force their religion upon unwilling persons. You are much more likely to be harmed by a right-wing anti-government activist than a Muslim extremist. 2) Eurabia is nothing more than a conspiracy theory concocted and disseminated by ignorant and bigoted dupes. 3) While women are more often than not oppressed in Muslim-majority countries, the oppression does not extend to all spheres and the conditions and freedom of women vary widely across the Muslim world. Regardless, the status and rights of women are an issue that must be addressed in large parts of the Muslim world. 4) Shari'a law does have much support within the Muslim world, but the majority of Muslims do not have a desire to force their religiously-inspired rules upon non-Muslims. Shari'a law does not appear to be the best objective standard for human rights and must be modified and/or updated. The harsh punishments derived from Shari'a are also a serious issue that must be addressed. 5) Another serious issue that needs addressing is apostasy, even though the Qur'an does not sanction such punishments and, according to a number of scholars, Muhammad never put any apostates to death. Despite this lack of support within the major Islamic sources, it is an issue that must be dealt with within the Islamic world. 6) Despite much ink spilled on the issue, the Qur'an does not appear to be more violent or intolerant than the Bible and abrogation is a exegetic exercise that does not appear to have any support within the major Islamic sources. It appears that only through tradition has the practice survived, and Muslim scholars' need to square away contradictions within the Qur'an and Hadith. 7) The most important threat that gets very little attention is the fundamentalist and oppressive Wahhabi-style of Islam that is greatly influenced by US partners Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 8) Jihad is not only a doctrine of “holy war” against non-believers. It originated as a mostly inner “struggle” and was utilized only in a defensive manner. Only in later centuries did it begin to change into a more intolerant and militaristic doctrine. Muslims have support for both violent and peaceful and tolerant beliefs and practices within their tradition, the same as in every other religion. 9) The religion of Islam is not necessarily a hindrance to democracy. It largely depends upon the strength of fundamentalist Islam within a society, and studies have shown that most extremist-orientated political parties are not as popular as the more moderate-minded ones. Muslims have found and utilized the more liberal and tolerant passages in their Scriptures to support their desire for more democratic forms of government, but the largely despotic and autocratic rulers in many Muslim-majority countries, as well as outside influences, are two of the largest barriers to democratization. 10) It was shocking to discover how often even self-proclaimed “skeptics” took at face value so many of these demonstrably false, misleading, and in some cases, quite delusional, beliefs. It is an excellent example that even often highly intelligent and in many cases well-read individuals can come under the spell of media hype and propaganda.

As I have demonstrated, most commentators on this issue know next to nothing about Islam or Muslims, but try to pass themselves off as experts anyway. Over the years, I have read several books and read many online postings saying very inaccurate and bigoted things about the millions of innocent Muslims, particularly in the United States and Europe. Even Canada has not been spared from the scourge of Islamophobia. I agree very much with Sherene Razack, professor in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education with the University of Toronto, who writes,

Muslims are stigmatized, put under surveillance, denied full citizenship rights, and detained in camps on the basis that they are pre-modern people located outside of reason, a people against whom a secular, modern people must protect themselves. Once confined outside modernity, evicted as it were to the uncivilized side of things, Muslims are also evicted from the law. The law, it has long been held, does not apply to barbarians, and the West has often denied the benefits of modernity to those it considers outside of it. My insistence on the racial underpinnings of empire offers, I believe, a direction to those of us seeking to dismantle it. If we consider the evictions from law described in this book as racial processes, we can begin to challenge the idea of the modern itself, and find the courage to imagine a better world. If, however, we miss how race structures modernity, we are likely to get caught up in the powerful fiction that what it principally wrong with the world is that some people have mysteriously failed to progress into modernity while others excel at it. As I noted in my introduction, this kind of thinking is only another way of saying that some groups are inherently more rational than others. [127]

I would like to add that I do acknowledge that minority of Muslims who are potentially dangerous, however, that does not justify the numerous policies that have been put in place since 9/11 that effects millions of innocent people. The mass surveillance, the continuous wars of aggression abroad, and the stigmatization and bigotry, and at times, the violence at home. All of these are unfortunate consequences of what Sherene Razack convincingly ties to abject racism, although I do not believe racism is the motivating factor in all cases. [128] [129]

These are the unfortunate and pernicious consequences of the post-911 mind set. A mind set that was so aptly demonstrated by a self-proclaimed “skeptic” in the first part of this paper. And a mind set that has had disastrous results for the concepts of domestic and international law and for the very foundation of morality itself. Lawlessness and immorality run rampant in many of the so-called liberal democracies around the world from the heads of state down to the citizens these governmental policies have influenced.

But it didn't need to be this way. The facts contradict this mantra of endless war, lawlessness and bigotry. For example, James Risen writes how the Bush administration “quickly threw out any notion of using the American legal system to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the attacks [of 9/11], despite the fact that the criminal case involving the biggest al Qaeda attack prior to 9/11, the 1998 bombings of two U.S embassies in East Africa, has been successfully prosecuted in federal court in New York a few months before September 11, with convictions and life sentences for four al Qaeda operatives.” Risen continues:

The U.S. legal system had put together a remarkably successful track record on terrorism – especially on cases involving al Qaeda. By the time of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI's New York office and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York had become the government's leading experts on targeting al Qaeda. They already had an indictment of Osama bin Laden waiting to be used if he were captured and brought to the United States for trial.

But for the Bush administration, using the courts was never an option. It smacked of the 1990's, of the Clinton administration, and of a new phrase - “pre-9/11” thinking. Bush brushed aside the FBI and Justice Department, and turned instead to the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency to launch a global war, both overt and covert, on terrorism. Bush reached for a national security answer to terrorism rather than a law enforcement solution. That would turn out to be the critical decision that would alter the history of the next decade. [130]

Facts are important. Without them, one would be unable to determine truth or falsehood. It is unfortunate that most who comment upon the alleged Islamic threat and the threat of Muslims in general commonly fail to get their facts right. In place of facts, they often utilize racist tropes against Muslims, or other negative stereotypes. I wanted to look at the facts as objectively as possible because this is something that I have rarely seen from anyone, even alleged “skeptics.” Not a single “skeptic” whom I have read has accounted for the above facts in their analyses. Certainly, a few have been more objective in their approach, while some have been wildly off the mark, but none have looked at the situation entirely without a certain level of bias. I hope this post aids as a corrective to the flood of misinformation.

I sincerely hope I have convinced you that the vast majority of Muslims are not dangerous and do not wish to deny you any of your rights, so why work so hard to deny them their own rights? Further, I hope that I have successfully scraped the scales from many eyes, and have made a convincing case why much of the rhetoric and violence are unnecessary. There are other ways to combat potential violence without placing the entirety of a group of people under constant suspicion and harassment. That is, by definition, bigotry and it should not be tolerated.

I'd like to make something perfectly clear. I do not believe atheists – or anyone for that matter – are wrong or “Islamophobic” for criticizing the religion of Islam or those Muslims who commit atrocities for whatever reason, be it for political and/or religious reasons. What I greatly dislike is the failure to discriminate between those minority of Muslims who carry out or call for horrendous violence and the majority of Muslims who are much more moderate in their views. This branding of all Muslims as potential terrorists and the fear mongering that results bothers me deeply. The profiling, the hate-filled rants by many atheists and other like minded extremists who seem to believe that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim are creating an atmosphere where violence against innocent Muslims is largely being conducted without a second thought. This is morally bankrupt on all levels, and as I demonstrated earlier, it is already having some disastrous results.

At it's core, I believe this debate is in much need of an overhaul. All sides take a black and white position on these matters (“Islam is the most violent religion in the world”; “Muslims are most likely to be terrorists”; Muslims hate liberal principles, democracy,” etc.) when in reality there are many shades of gray that are not easily defined or categorized. This is where I am operating: this gray zone, and yet everyone wants to place me in either the black or white category where they themselves reside and once that happens the discussion becomes derailed and we begin talking past one another. Atheists, critics of religion, liberals, free thinkers, etc. need to approach this issue from the gray zone because this subject is not black and white. I think they will find much truth in both views (the anti-religious critics of Islam, and the liberals who denounce Islamophobia and US foreign policy), and when they do, I believe they will be closer to seeing the reality of the situation. Of course, this also means many of these individuals first need to put aside their prejudices before they will allow themselves to be open to this point of view. I do hope they will join me. I firmly believe this vantage point allows for so much more clarity and understanding on these issues.

These facts matter, especially when millions of innocent peoples' lives are at risk, because those are the stakes if we ignore these facts and side with our more tribal natures. This is why I am defending the millions of innocent Muslims in the world. I am doing so because, despite my view that an atheistic world would be best, at this point in time it is important to remain objective, have compassion for the innocent, and to speak out against injustice wherever it may be found. Innocent people are losing their lives largely because of this misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate speech fueling these wars.

Innocent people are being caught up in the anti-Muslim hysteria. Wars are being fought where many innocents are being killed and most Americans, even “skeptical” ones, cheer it on while innocent Muslims are being needlessly murdered and profiled due to this anti-Muslim bigotry, and are even protested against when they are in dire need of help in war-torn areas and need asylum, among many other atrocities. The picture to the left depicts a number of Syrian refugees. Do these women and children look like terrorists to you? Then why deny them aid and asylum?

These terrible turn of events makes it an imperative that we all seek to look at this issue as objectively as possible so we do not end up losing our humanity. Although I fear some may have already done so.


1. Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup Press, 2007; 97

2. Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky, South End Press, 1999; 15; 29

3. Arizona Atheist: How to Really Stop Terrorism

4. Arizona Atheist: What is the Role of Religion vs. US Foreign Policy Around the World?

5. Arizona Atheist: Diplomacy, Not Imperialism: The Key to a More Peaceful Future

6. Transcript of Bin Laden's October interview; This interview took place in October of 2001 between Al-Jazeera television correspondent Tayseer Alouni and Osama Bin Laden. The transcript of the interview was originally done in Arabic and was translated into English by a translator hired by CNN.

7. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, by Patrick Cockburn, O/R Books, 2014; 55-56

8. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005; 78

9. All verses from the hadith come from Sunnah.com

10. Who Speaks for Islam; 69

11. Ibid.; 95

12. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by Robert A. Pape, Random House, 2006

13. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California Press, 2003; 74-75

14. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005; 123

15. Dying to Win; 139

16. The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, Yale University Press, 2009; 59-62

17. Ibid.; 132

18. Who Speaks for Islam; 107

19. Ibid.; 105-106; 133

20. Ibid.; 114

21. Ibid.; 126

22. Ibid.; 127

23. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, From One of America's Leading Experts, by John L. Esposito, Oxford Unviversity Press, 2002; 187

24. Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence: Usal al-Fiqh al-Islami, by Taha Jabir Alalwani, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2003; 9

25. Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations, by Wael B. Hallaq, Cambridge University Press, 2009; 40

26. Ibid.; 2

27. Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, by Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir, Center for American Progress, August 26, 2011; 1

28. Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis, by Taha Jabir Alalwani, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2011; 43

29. Ibid.; 75

30. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), by Robert Spencer, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005; 19

31. The specific passages I found in the Qur'an are as follows: 2:244; 3:56; 3:12; 4:56; 4:76; 5:115; 7:92; 8:12; 8:60; 8:65; 9:14; 9:29; 9:111; 9:123; 10:95; 19:44-46; 21:6; 21:15; 23:76; 25:37; 38:2-3; 42:34; 43:48; 43:54-55; 44:16; 44:37; 46:24-25; 47:4; 47:8; 50:26; 54:16-20; 54:31; 54:34; 54:37; 54:51; 58:5; 59:3; 69:4-7; 69:9-10; 77:15-18; 79:25; 89:13; 96:15-18.

32. The specific passages I found in the Bible are as follows: OT: Ex. 22:20; Num. 21:21-31; Num. 21:32-35; Num. 31:1-12; Num. 33:51-56; Deut. 2:31-37; Deut. 3:1-11; Deut. 7:1-3; Deut. 13:6-10; Deut. 13:13-18; Deut. 17:1-7; Deut. 20:16-18; Josh. 10:25-26; Josh. 10:40; Josh. 11:7-9; Josh. 11:10-12; Judg. 18:27-31; 1 Sam. 12:1-9; 1 Sam. 23:1-13; 2 Sam. 5:6-10; 2 Sam. 5:17-25; 2 Sam. 8:1-3; 2 Sam. 8:13-14; 2 Sam. 10:1-19; 2 Sam. 12:26-30; 2 Sam. 21:15-22; 1 Kgs. 18:40; 1 Kgs. 14:1-18; 2 Kgs. 3:21-27; 2 Kgs. 10:1-30; 2 Kgs. 11:17-18; 2 Kgs. 17:25; I Chron. 11:4-9; 1 Chron. 14:8-17; 1 Chron. 18:1-13; 1 Chron. 20:1-3; 1 Chron. 4-8; 2 Chron. 15:12-14; 2 Chron. 20:1-30; 2 Chron. 24:17-22; 2 Chron. 25:25-28; 2 Chron. 33:22-25; 2 Chron. 36:15-17; Ps. 9:5-6; Ps. 11:6; Ps. 50:22; Ps. 58:6-8; Ps. 59:10-13; Ps. 68:1-2; Ps. 68:21; Ps. 73:27; Isa. 1:28; Isa. 13:1-22; Isa. 24:1-5; Isa. 34:1-6; Isa. 37:36; Isa. 63:1-6; Isa. 65:11-12; Jer. 5:14-19; Jer. 8:16-17; Jer. 9:11-16; Jer. 9:25-26; Jer. 13:14; Jer. 14:12, 15-16; Jer. 15:3; Jer. 19:6-11; Jer. 21:3-7; Jer. 25:29-33; Jer. 38:2-3; Jer. 50:21; Jer. 51:1-5; Ezek. 3:18-21; Ezek. 5:11-13; Ezek. 9:3-6; Ezek. 14:6-8; Ezek. 14:12-13; Ezek. 21:3-6, 9-10; Ezek. 22:31; Hos. 2:13; Hos. 7:16; Hos. 9:13; Hos. 13:16; Am. 7:17; Am. 9:1; Am. 9:8; Am. 9:10; Mic. 6:13-14; Nah. 2:13; Nah. 3:10; Zeph. 1:2-6; Zeph. 1:18; Zeph. 2:5; Zeph. 2:12; Zeph. 3:6-7; Zech. 13:2-3; Mal. 2:1-4. NT: Matt. 10:34-37; Acts 9:1-9 (Jesus strikes Saul blind, an act of assault according to Hector Avalos. See The Bad Jesus, pgs. 126-128); Acts 13:6-12; 2 Thess. 2:3-12; Heb. 10:28-29; 2 Peter 2:10-12; Rev. 2:14-16; Rev. 2:20-23.

33. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades); 24

34. Ibid.; 24-25

35. Ibid.; 25

36. Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of “Naskh” and its Impact, by Louay Fatoohi, Routledge, 2013; 28

37. Ibid.; 3

38. Discovering the Qur'an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, by Neal Robinson, Georgetown University Press, 2003; 60-96

39. Ibid.; 95

40. Ibid.; 75

41. Ibid.; 74

42. Ibid.; 60

43. Ibid.; 65

44. Ibid.; 67

45. Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law; 129-130

46. Ibid.; 130

47. Ibid.; 131

48. Discovering the Qur'an; 67

49. Ibid.; 67

50. Ibid.; 65

51. Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law; 115

52. Ibid.; 117

53. Ibid.; 71

54. Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2005; 118

55. Ibid.; 261

56. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, by Patrick Cockburn, OR Books, 2014; 42. The relevant text from this State Department cable on this subject:

“Due in part to intense focus by the USG over the last several years, Saudi Arabia has begun to make important progress on this front and has responded to terrorist financing concerns raised by the United States through proactively investigating and detaining financial facilitators of concern. Still, donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. Continued senior-level USG engagement is needed to build on initial efforts and encourage the Saudi government to take more steps to stem the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia-based sources to terrorists and extremists worldwide […] Despite this presence, however, more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan.”

57. Ibid.; 44

58. Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, by Reese Erlich, Prometheus Books, 2014; 88

59. Who Speaks for Islam; 73

60. Ibid.; 73

61. Ibid.; 80

62. Ibid.; 81

63. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S., by Trita Parsi, Yale University Press, 2007; 248

64. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades); 40

65. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam; 184

66. Understanding Jihad, by David Cook, University of California Press, 2005; 1

67. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam; 57

68. Ibid.; 117-118

69. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2002; 65

70. Ibid.; 68

71. Understanding Jihad, 47

72. Ibid.; 35

73. Ibid.; 42

74. Ibid.; 166

75. Ibid.; 166

76. Ibid.; 2

77. Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought, by Asma Afsaruddin, Oxford University Press, 2013; 269

78. Ibid.; 43-44

79. Ibid.; 43-48

80. Ibid.; 43

81. Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice, by Michael Bonner, Princeton University Press, 2006; 14

82. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades); 189-190

83. Ibid; 49

84. Jihad in Islamic History; 87

85. Ibid.; 91

86. Ibid.; 87-90

87. Ibid.; 89-90

88. Ibid.; 91

89. Ibid.; 90

90. Filali-Ansary, Abdou. “Muslims and Democracy.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 194

91. Brumberg, Daniel. “The Trap of Liberalized Autocracy.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 43

92. Kubba, Laith. “The Awakening of Civil Society.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 28-31

93. Brownlee, Jason. “The Decline of Pluralism in Mubarak's Egypt.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 53-54

94. Deterring Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, Hill and Wang, 1992; 53-58

95. Langohr, Vickie. “An Exit from Arab Autocracy.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 279

96. Ibid.; 281

97. Kurzman, Charles; Naqvi, Ijlal. “Do Muslims Vote Islamic?” Journal of Democracy. 2010. 55

98. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World, by Paul Kubicek, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2015; 18

99. Filali-Ansary, Abdou. “Muslims and Democracy.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 197

100. Quandt, William B. “Algeria's Uneasy Peace.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 63

101. Lewis, Bernard. “A Historical Overview.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 211-212

102. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, edited by Khaled Abou El Fadl, Princeton University Press, 2004; 5

103. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World; 9

104. Ibid.; 4-7

105. Ibid.; 6

106. Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1946-2013

107. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World; 5

108. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, by John L. Esposito, Oxford University Press, 2002; 79

109. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, by Peter Van Buren, Metropolitan Books, 2011

110. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam; 124

111. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, by Michael Cook, Oxford University Press, 2000; 43-44

112. Wright, Robin. “Two Visions of Reformation.” Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, John Hopkins University Press, 2003. 222-223

113. Ibid.; 231

114. Informative books on the issue of the curtailment of rights and other abuses by those in power are: Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty, by James Bovard, Palgrave, 2000; Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America, by Matt Apuzzo & Adam Goldman, Touchstone, 2013; Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power, by Seth Rosenfeld, Farrar, Straus and Girous, 2012; and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, by James Bovard, Palgrave, 2003; Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, by Noam Chomsky, Metropolitan Books, 2003; Failed States: Abuse of Power and Assault on Democracy, by Noam Chomsky, Henry Holt and Co., 2006; The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I, by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman, South End Press, 1979; After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology: The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume II, by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman, South End Press, 1979. Other examples include the US Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the violent crackdown of peaceful protests such as Occupy Wall Street, the murder of individuals without due process (drone wars and police brutality), and endless international wars fought over oil resources and economic and political hegemony.

115. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World; 50

116. Ibid.; 41

117. Ibid.; 63

118. Ibid.; 65

119. Ibid.; 64

120. Ibid.; 65

121. Ibid.; 66-67

122. Ibid.; 69

123. Ibid.; 72

124. Ibid.; 73

125. Ibid.; 72-73

126. Ibid.; 75-76, 73

127. Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics, by Sherene H. Razack, University of Toronto Press, 2008; 174

128. Ibid.; 31. On the role race plays Razack writes:

“Race is crucial to pre-emptive punishment. Mirzoeff notes that pre-emptive punishment has depended heavily on the racial notion that 'they' are not like 'us' and owing to their natures/cultures are likely to erupt into violence against us. The logic is once again a colonial one, whereby states of exception [rule of law and due process applies to citizens, but not to anyone considered 'the Other.'] are justified because the colonized cannot be governed through the rule of law as can Europeans [or Americans]. Prevention based upon the irrationality and unpredictability of their natures and cultures [in this case, religion] justifies the camp [the forced separation from larger society] as well as the practices associated with it.”

129. Nathan Lean, in The Islamophobia Industry, argues quite convincingly that the prevalence of Islamophobia within right-wing circles is due to political and religious objectives. First, most members of the “Christian Right” hold Israel in high regard and its interests are their interests. The “Christian Right believe that God has an unconditional and eternal covenant with the state of Israel and as a result, Christians are obliged to protect its interests as well its enemies. [sic] [Perhaps he meant to say “... to protect [Israel's] interests as well as protect it from its enemies?”] The Christian Right, therefore, holds Palestinians in low regard, and heated, anti-Muslim rhetoric […] is often refracted through the lens of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” (83-84) The second reason appears to be religious in nature, namely, many right-wing Christians view Islam as a threat to Christianity's desired hegemony over man -and woman's – souls. In an interview from 2003 Robert Spencer explains his sudden interest in the subject of Islam: “I wrote this book [Inside Islam] in order to help Catholics become informed about Islam — to clear away common misunderstandings and distortions and to give Catholics an accurate and complete introduction to the Islamic faith and the challenges it poses to Christians. […] Islam increasingly poses a challenge to the Church and every Christian. By most accounts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Even if he or she never meets a Muslim, much less proclaims the Gospel to one, it is every Christian's duty to become informed about Islam since that faith is the Church's chief and most energetic present-day rival for souls.” (60) As far as many atheists' bigotry towards Muslims and the religion of Islam, I am less certain, but I believe it may just be a lack of due diligence to thoroughly research the facts in this case, which is ironic given that most skeptics are well, skeptical. But it appears the mass media and certain high-profile atheists have mislead their loyal followers, based upon their own misunderstandings and personal biases, whatever those may be.

130. Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014; 75-76


Abou El Fadl, Khaled, ed. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2004)

Afsaruddin, Asma. Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Alalwani, Taha Jabir. Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis (The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2011)

---- Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence: Usal al-Fiqh al-Islami (The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2003)

Ali, Wajahat, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir. Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America (Center for American Progress, August 26, 2011)

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf Ali. The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Kitab Bhavan, 2015)

---- The Qur'an: A Translation (Tahrike Tarsile Qua'an, Inc., 2007)

American Civil Liberties Union. Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System (American Civil Liberties Union, May, 2011)

Apuzzo, Matt, Adam Goldman. Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America (Touchstone, 2013)

Avalos, Hector. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (Prometheus Books, 2005)

---- The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015)

Bonner, Michael. Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice (Princeton University Press,

Cavallaro, James, Stephan Sonnenberg, and Sarah Knuckey. Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford, Calif.: International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, Stanford Law School; New York: NYU School of Law, Global Justice Clinic, September 25, 2012)

Chomsky, Noam. Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians (South End Press, 1999)

---- Deterring Democracy (Hill and Wang, 1992)

Cockburn, Patrick. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (OR Books, 2014)

Cook, David. Understanding Jihad (University of California Press, 2005)

Cook, Michael. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000)

Crick, Bernard. Democracy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Davis, Gregory M., Bryan Daly, directors. Islam: What the West Needs to Know. Quixotic Media. 2006. Documentary. (As of June 6, 2015 this film can be viewed on YouTube)

Diamond, Larry, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, eds. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East (John Hopkins University Press, 2003)

Duss, Matthew, Yasmine Taeb, Ken Gude, and Ken Sofer. Fear, Inc. 2.0 The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America. (Center for American Progress, February 11, 2015)

Erlich, Reese. Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect (Prometheus Books, 2014)

Esposito, John L., Dalia Mogahed. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Gallup Press, 2007)

Esposito, John L., John O. Voll. Islam and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 1996)

Esposito, John L. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2002)

---- Islam: The Straight Path (Oxford University Press, 2005)

---- What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, From One of America's Leading Experts (Oxford Unviversity Press, 2002)

Fatoohi, Louay. Abrogation in the Qur'an and Islamic Law: A Critical Study of the Concept of “Naskh” and its Impact (Routledge, 2013)

Hallaq, Wael B. Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005)

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press, 2003)

Klausen, Jytte. The Cartoons That Shook the World (Yale University Press, 2009)

Knowles, H. The New English Bible (Bible Society, 1972)

Kubicek, Paul. Political Islam and Democracy in the Muslim World (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2015)

Kurzman, Charles; Naqvi, Ijlal. “Do Muslims Vote Islamic?” Journal of Democracy 21.2 (2010): 50-63

Lean, Nathan. The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto Press, 2012)

Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (Inner Traditions, 2006)

Pape, Robert A. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2006)

Parsi, Trita. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (Yale University Press, 2007)

Razack, Sherene H. Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics (University of Toronto Press, 2008)

Risen, James. Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Roberts, J.M., Odd Arne Westad. The History of the World, 6th Ed. (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qur'an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text (Georgetown University Press, 2003)

Ruthven, Malise. Islam: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (Nation Books, 2013)

Schanzer, David, Charles Kurzman, and Ebrahim Moosa. Anti- Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans (January 6, 2010)

Spencer, Robert, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005)

Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (ECCO, 2004)

Van Buren, Peter. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (Metropolitan Books, 2011)

Warraq, Ibn. Why I Am Not a Muslim (Prometheus Books, 2003)