Dismantling an open letter from an American Muslim to Bill Maher

Opinion piece: Dismantling an open letter from an American Muslim to Bill Maher


It is no longer a surprise that after a horrible act is committed by violent Muslims, Muslim apologists and their friends on the left deny any link between Islam and the people who hold extremist or violent ideas and who justify their beliefs and actions by quoting Islam and Koran. Even some progressive Muslims are sick of it. Even after almost two decades of global terrorism by Islamic terrorists, we are still arguing whether the cause has anything to do with Islam or not! I came across one such piece in TIME magazine, written by an American Muslim who is addressing Bill Maher and his so called recent "Islamophobic rant" against Islam.

Frankly, Rabia Chaudry's letter to Bill Maher is so absurd that I decided to dismantle it completely. So here goes.

"Hey there, Bill. You hate religion. You particularly hate Islam. We get it. Your liberal bigotry against Muslims and Islam is no secret. For a while now I’ve just avoided watching your show, which kind of stinks because for many years I was a great fan and really loved it. I wasn’t even bothered when you called out Muslims doing stupid, criminal or horrific things. You do that with a lot of groups, and it’s important to do. But I stopped watching when it became clear that you loathed a faith I was devoted to."

Hang on right there. So the author was once a great fan of Bill Maher. Note: Not just a fan, but a GREAT fan. Now, I am not American but I've watched Bill Maher and he has ALWAYS been brutal towards religion, particularly Christianity. So we must assume that the author was COMPLETELY okay whenever Bill Maher bashed Catholicism, Mormonism, etc. In fact, as the author says, she LOVED it. She also says that calling out groups when they do illogical and stupid things is important. We can all agree with this. Then suddenly, the author realized that Bill absolutely hates religion, particularly Islam. (The Koran tells us that we disbelievers will burn in hell for all eternity (Quran 2:39) so it's very reasonable for disbelievers to despise such a book.) And because of this revelation that Bill Maher loathes Islam, she simply stopped watching Bill's show because criticism of Islam made his show 'stink'. Note that the author was fine with Bill's criticism of various other groups but it was ultimately the criticism of Islam that chased her away.

I am an ex-Muslim who is currently living in a Muslim majority country and I can say this (and pretty much everyone knows this) that Muslims can't take criticism of their religion, their holy book the Koran, or their Prophet Muhammad. I have been physically attacked multiple times by ‘peaceful Muslims’ in Pakistan for criticizing Islam and Koran. Ayaan Hirsi Ali still travels with armed security after her good friend Theo Van Gogh was stabbed by a ‘peaceful Muslim’. In Pakistan, criticism of Islam can get you in trouble with militant Muslims AND the law which criminalizes 'blasphemy'; meanwhile if you're in the West and you're a critic of Islam, you have just qualified to receive the title of Islamophobe. You won't hear the term "Islamophobia" in any Muslim majority country in mainstream media or by any Muslim precisely because Muslim majority countries have blasphemy laws that bring the penalty of death but because there are no such barbaric laws in the West and the West is sensitive towards racism so Muslims came up with the term 'Islamophobia' knowing all too well that the guilt-ridden soft liberals will fall for it like a chubby kid falls for pie. Western Muslims who criticize Pakistan's blasphemy laws yet label every critic of Islam an Islamophobe are doing exactly what they pretend to be against. Anyway, back to the article:

"On your show you recently discussed the kidnapping of hundreds of girls by Boko Haram, followed by the new sharia laws in Brunei, and rounded out the segment with a nod to your buddy Ayaan Hirsi Ali—quite the trifecta of examples to support your conclusion that Islam itself is, as you said, “the problem.” Your reasoning is essentially that Muslims are doing many horrible things around the world, and they all believe in Islam, so naturally Islam is the nonnegotiable culprit. Let’s ignore for now the numerous logical fallacies in your premise and instead follow your exact line of reasoning. If we are to accept your rationale, we have to also accept that, if many Muslims are doing good things around the world, and they all believe in Islam, then Islam is responsible for the good that they do. We also accept, given that Ali’s criticism of Islam is based on her personal experience, that the positive personal experience of other Muslims, including converts, are just as valid reflections on the faith."

There's no polite way to say this but yes, Islam is the problem. Unlike other religions, Islam remains unreformed and still exists in its purest, medieval form. It is the only religion that makes the holy war a duty of every single one of its followers. Many of its followers follow it literally, even today in 2014. You see them in the form of Boko Haram, in the form of the Taliban, or al-Shabaab. But then again, if the Koran is really the word of God, why shouldn't people take it literally? The author says that Islam should be held responsible for the good things Muslims do but the point remains that Muslims or any other group don't need one book to tell them the difference between right and wrong when we have thousands of books. People who get their morality from one book are clearly doing it wrong. Progressive educated Muslims who do good things cherry-pick from their religion. They ignore the bad parts and pick the good parts. Similarly, Taliban and Boko Haram also cherry-pick, but they mostly pick the bad parts. But when extremist Muslims do the cherry-picking, they're wrong and misrepresenting Islam. When progressive Muslims do the cherry-picking, they're representing the 'true Islam'. This is absurd. Most of my American Muslim friends drink and go to nightclubs when Islam clearly forbids drinking and any physical interaction with a na-mahram. Let me be clear: There's nothing wrong with cherry-picking. Actually, if all theists would just cherry-pick all the nice parts from their religion, the world might become a much better place. My problem is the dismissal of extremist Muslims by progressive Muslims (like our American Muslim author here) saying the extremists have got it all wrong. Well, how do we know that progressives haven't got it all wrong? Taliban and Boko Haram are literalists. They follow Islam and the Koran literally. Boko Haram's leader repeatedly threatened to sell the Nigerian girls into slavery saying that Koran permits the seizing of slaves. How can it be said that they have nothing to do with Islam when Islam CLEARLY allows slavery? Following is a Hadith:

A man decided that a slave of his would be manumitted after his death and later on he was in need of money, so the Prophet took the slave and said, "Who will buy this slave from me?" Nu'aim bin 'Abdullah bought him for such and such price and the Prophet gave him the slave. — Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:34:351

Some Koranic verses:

And they who guard their private parts. Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed - Quran 23:5-6

And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess. [This is] the decree of Allah upon you. And lawful to you are [all others] beyond these, [provided] that you seek them [in marriage] with [gifts from] your property, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse. So for whatever you enjoy [of marriage] from them, give them their due compensation as an obligation. And there is no blame upon you for what you mutually agree to beyond the obligation... - Quran 4:24

The Koran and the Hadith see slavery as an acceptable thing that can be entered into under certain circumstances. Boko Haram has threatened to sell the kidnapped Nigerian girls into slavery unless Nigerian government releases their 'brethren'. So how exactly is Boko Haram misrepresenting Islam? (By the way this also means that they get to have sexual intercourse with the girls.) Back to the letter:

"For the sake of argument, and being as generous as possible, let’s say Islam has been a force of destruction for 50% of Muslims and a source of empowerment, peace and comfort for the other 50%. Where exactly does that leave us? Whose experience of Islam is legitimate? If Boko Haram is, in your estimation, an authentic expression of Islam, what do you make of the hundreds of Nigerian Muslim families who were sending their daughters to school? Why isn’t their dedication, like Malala Yousafzai’s dedication, to girls’ education an authentic expression of Islam? What do you deduct from the fact most Muslim women in the world are not circumcised? Are they just doing Islam wrong? Are all the good, peaceful Muslims doing Islam wrong?"

Now we are talking. Even if Islam had been the source of destruction for 1% of Muslims, it could not be ignored. The author also forgot to mention the treatment of non-Muslims, apostates and homosexuals but let's forget right now that Islam has ever caused harm to those three groups. A Muslim scientist doesn't quote Islam for his achievements, he quotes Einstein. When Boko Haram's leader kidnaps Nigerian girls, he makes the reference to Islam. And when we pick up the Koran, we see that he's not wrong, Koran does allow slavery. Muslims, or anyone else, doing something good means they have a conscience and they know what's right and what's wrong. If a Muslim isn't going around taking non-Muslim girls for slaves, it doesn't mean that Koran doesn't allow slavery. It simply means that he knows better and has chosen to ignore that part. The problem with taking your morality from a thousand-year-old book is if someone decides to take the 'bad parts' literally, the result is usually quite horrible. Boko Haram has much support in Nigeria where ordinary Nigerians support the group and many ordinary Nigerian men are ready to join the group if needed to fight against the government. The Taliban also has much support in Pakistan. In fact, recently Pakistan has seen a new rise in Talibanization where liberals and intellectuals are being mercilessly killed while others are fleeing the country. Is the author saying that all the Muslims who hold extremist views and support terrorist groups like Taliban, Boko Haram, Hamas and al-Qaeda are misrepresenting Islam? Because let's not forget that these fanatics are no doubt extremely religious people and quote Islam and the Koran at every step. Should we just ignore that? How exactly is Boko Haram not an authentic expression of Islam when the Koran clearly allows slavery while peaceful progressive Muslims in the West who drink and engage in pre-marital sex are the authentic expression of Islam when Koran clearly forbids both? What does the author deduct from the fact that most Muslim women have faced domestic abuse? Malala was shot by the Taliban for campaigning for education. But more precisely, campaigning for secular education. Following are the words of the Taliban spokesman:

“Tehrik-i-Taliban’s crime wasn’t that they banned education for girls. Instead, our crime was that we tried to bring education system for both boys and girls under Shariah. We are against co-education and secular education system, and Shariah orders us to be against it.”

Just like Boko Haram. Malala wouldn't have received a bullet in her head had she campaigned for Islamic education or a madrassah.

"You noted that women are treated at best like second-class citizens, but most often like property in Islam. The first Muslim woman, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, a successful businesswoman, boss-lady and wife to the Prophet Muhammad, and the other Muslim women of his time would have snickered at you. Women of the region were chattel before Islam, treated and traded as such, until the Quran freed them through revelations such as “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will.”

First of all, the author didn't write the complete verse. Here it is:

"O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality." - Quran 4:19

 The Koran goes on to say:

"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them...." - Quran 4:34

The author also forgot to mention that Aisha, Muhammad's favorite young wife, said: "He struck me on the chest which caused me pain” (Muslim, vol. 2, no. 2127). As I've said before, progressive Muslims like to cherry-pick only the nice parts. Sure, Islam gives women rights. It gives them the right to obey or be forsaken.

"I could tell you that Islam was the first system to establish women’s property rights, inheritance rights, the right to education, to marry and divorce of their free will, to be religious scholars, business owners, soldiers. I could tell you that while Christianity was debating the status of women’s souls and declaring them a source of sin, Islam had already established authoritatively the spiritual equality of men and women and absolved Eve, and womankind at large, of sin. I could tell you that the world and history is full of highly educated, successful Muslim women who are empowered by their faith, not debilitated by it. I could tell you terrorism is categorically forbidden in Islam, and that between 1970 and 2012, 97.5% of terror attacks in the U.S. were carried out by non-Muslims. I could tell you that female genital mutilation is never mentioned in the Quran; the only reference to it is found in a weak narration, and scholars find it objectionable to the point of being classified as impermissible."

I could tell the author that Islam gives women not even half the rights it gives to men. Women get half the share of what that is given to men. A testimony of two women counts as the testimony of one man. The author should also ask what if the husband of the woman doesn't allow her, say, education. What if he is a member of Boko Haram? Should she obey her husband, which Koran clearly tells her to, or should she risk being forsaken? I could also tell the author that no other religion (Scientology comes close but nowhere near Islam) treats apostates the way Islam does. In 2014 a Sudanese woman is being sentenced to death for apostasy because she married a Christian. Here some will raise the point that it's Sudan, a messed up country, and their criminal penal code isn't really Islamic because Islam says there is no compulsion in religion. But what many don't mention are The Ridda Wars (also known as The Apostasy Wars), which were fought right after Prophet Muhammad's death between the Caliph Abu Bakr (who was also Muhammad's father-in-law) and the rebel Arabian tribes between 632 and 633 AD. The position of the revolting tribes was that they had submitted to Muhammad only and they weren't ready to submit to Abu Bakr. The mission of this war was simple: make the tribes submit; spare those who submit, butcher those who don't until they do. Typical Taliban behavior. Not to mention Abu Bakr is one of the most 'holiest' of all Islamic personalities in Taliban circles. They literally name their kids after him.

The author rightly says that Christians spent a long time debating whether women are a source of sin yet she ignores what Koran and Hadith says about "immoral women".

"Those who commit unlawful sexual intercourse of your women - bring against them four [witnesses] from among you. And if they testify, confine the guilty women to houses until death takes them or Allah ordains for them [another] way." - Quran 4:15-16

"The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse - lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment." - Quran 24:2

So it is really a very specific type of woman who has these so-called ‘rights’ in Islam. Certainly not a woman who chooses to dress in an "un-Islamic way", engage in adultery with a lover or dares to go against the will of her guardian. I could also tell the author that Christianity is over the phase of bloodshed while it seems that Islam is just getting started. I could also tell the author that in a poll held in Pakistan 34% of women said that husbands are justified in hitting wives if they argue back. You call this empowerment, I call it Stockholm Syndrome. I could also tell the author that Islam tells every Muslim that holy war (Jihad) is their duty. And sure, Muslim women served in the military in Muhammad's era, just like Taliban employ female suicide bombers in their war. I could also tell the author that globally more terror attacks have been carried out by Muslims since 2001 than in the name of any other religion or group. We also must not ignore Syria where Muslims are killing Muslims every day. If we include that number, the total figure will probably blow the roof off.

"Nothing I tell you would matter, though. The facts are irrelevant. That’s how bigotry operates. It’s both telling and troubling that you referred to these issues as “the Muslim question.” The reference didn’t escape me and it’s hard to believe it was anything but deliberate. Think for a second about what was unleashed by the “Jewish question” in Europe. Bigotry sometimes does that, too."

Here the author engages in the old, over-used tactic of labeling inquiry and criticism of Islam as bigotry. No, it is not. Bigotry against bigotry is not bigotry. Islam, like any other idea, should be open to criticism and questioning. Demonizing Muslims is wrong but necessary critique of Islam is important to keep the debate going. Accusations of racism and bigotry aim to do opposite of that: they aim to kill the debate.

Not that the author had the nerve to compare the holocaust with criticism of Islam. Firstly, Jews did not wage a bloody war against gentiles in the name of Judaism. Today’s Jews are often secular and don't take the Torah literally, neither do they commit horrible atrocities in the name of Judaism. Secondly, this is coming from the follower of a religion that is perhaps the most anti-Semitic, racist religion of all time. The Koran tells Muslims that Jews are ‘hypocrites’ as they don’t accept Muhammad as the last Prophet and a Muslim can never be friends with a Jew. This is no secret. On the other hand, the world has a very valid reason to be more worried about Islam than, say, Scientology.

Islam singles itself out. Islam sticks out like a sore thumb when put in line with other religions. Not all religions are equally insane. Some religions go one step forward. Islam falls in that category.

"So while I support you in continuing to expose Muslims and others who shock the conscience of decent people, who destroy lives, and who wreak havoc, I caution you on the anti-Islam rhetoric. You have a massive following and are successfully leading a movement to demonize Islam in the liberal left, a place many American Muslims call home. You are leading people into rocks and hard places when you posit that Islam is the problem. You are putting Muslims up against a wall and pushing those who fear us further into spaces where little choice is left. As the mother of two American-born daughters, and a Muslim who calls the U.S. her home, I worry deeply about the solutions your followers may propose to your “Muslim question.” You should too."

Notice how the author is encouraging Bill to expose Muslims who wreak havoc and engage in violence but at the same time she does not want the parts of Islam to be exposed that are used by those very Muslims to justify their acts. No, Bill Maher is not leading 'people into rocks and hard places'. Islam is. Muslims are being put against the wall by their co-religionists who target Muslim women and minorities within Islam. Muslims won't be put against the wall just because Bill Maher decided to take some time off from Christian-bashing and gave ten minutes to Islam. And I guarantee this won't lead to the holocaust either. The author, in reality, is afraid of the criticism of her religion, like many of her co-religionists. Muslims like her insist that we must not question Islam because it is the religion of over a billion Muslims. Nazis had millions and millions of followers too, both in Germany and in other countries. I'd still call the Nazi ideology a bad ideology even though there were good Nazis like Schindler. Similarly, there are many peaceful Muslims out there but there is simply no peaceful Islam. Islam might have been considered a liberal idea in the dark ages but that age is long gone.

As for the author's taunt about the "Muslim question" and what solutions Bill's followers might propose, here's one:

Reform Islam.