By Armin Navabi | 7 May 2013
Islamophobia is a term used by certain groups of Muslim apologists in order to protect Muslims from scrutiny. However, rather than protecting a group of people against bigotry, the term merely acts as a way to silence critics who raise valid points about the real and troubling aspects of Islam.
The Oxymoron of Islamophobia
The very term Islamophobia is itself misleading. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. In the case of Islam, however, it often makes practical sense to be afraid. As a former Muslim myself, I have genuine fears about a religion that advocates the murder of its apostates and victimizes its own members, especially innocent women and children.
Moreover, many people who have been labeled as “Islamophobes” do not exhibit signs of a phobia. Many are individuals who bring up relevant critiques against the institution of Islam. Having a well-reasoned and valid complaint is not the same as bigotry or fear, and labeling it as such is dismissive towards the greater discussion. By labeling its detractors as bigots and racists, Islam and its apologists are suggesting that Islam cannot stand up to scrutiny on its own.
Ideologies are Not People
Individuals have certain inherent rights. People have the right to be assessed as individuals rather than judged for their race, ethnicity or religion. The ideologies or religious beliefs that people hold, however, do not have these same rights. Put simply, ideologies are not synonymous with the people who have them. A Muslim may be innocent and well-meaning, and treating him badly because of his or her religion would be a serious case of discrimination. Criticizing the religion itself, however, is not discriminatory. No ideology is above reproach, be it Islam, fascism or democracy.
Criticizing Islam has nothing to do with supporting the United States or Israel
One argument that many Muslim apologists make is that Western society cannot seek fault in Islam when Israelis, Americans and other Westerners have committed atrocities against Muslims. However, this creates a false dichotomy. A critic of Islam need not be a supporter of military action against Muslim communities.
When approaching Islam as a social construct and ideology, it’s important to separate it from issues of race, culture and ethnicity. Of course, religion is a factor in all areas of some people’s lives, but that does not mean that it cannot be considered independently of other cultural factors.
A person’s choice of religions does not make him inherently good or bad. The religion may have troubling aspects, however, and criticizing those aspects is a step towards bringing about social change. This is not an activity that should be avoided in the name of political correctness; it should be celebrated as a basic skill of critical thinking.
At its core, Islam has Several Basic Tenets that are Reprehensible
— Women’s inequality. The Quran teaches that men are the “maintainers” of women and that women should be obedient to men. Women are seen as objects or property that can be used by men. Islam also teaches that men may beat their wives in certain situations.
— Criminalization of homosexuality. Under the teachings of Islam, homosexuality is not only a sin, but a crime. As a crime against God, it is permissible, according to many Muslim scholars, to punish the offender with death.
— Murder of apostates. Leaving the Muslim faith is a frightening proposition, as it can be punished by death. Apostates, or people who choose to reject the faith, are given a short time with which to revert; afterward, they can be condemned by Sharia law.
These are some of the human rights violations perpetrated by the institution of Islam as written in the Quran and Hadith. Keen observation of the religion unveils numerous other troubling aspects as well. These are not stereotypes or rumors meant to denigrate Muslim people; they are the facts of a religion.
It’s worthwhile to note that Islam is not the only religion whose holy book advocates social practices that are seen as monstrous today. The Bible, for example, is filled with conflicting messages and troubling, outdated laws. However, the laws written in the Quran are considered to be the exact words of Allah, placing them beyond all criticism. These laws are considered to be as timeless and valid today as they were when the words were first put to paper. Therefore, it is more difficult for Islam to grow and adapt the way that some other religions have attempted to.
I’m not Islamophobic. I’m IslamoConcerned and IslamoCritical
Many atheists criticize Islam, not because they are racist, but because they have issues with the religion itself. That does not mean that there are no racist atheists, but the term Islamophobia suggests that the ideology should be immune from criticism. It also promotes the narrative that all criticism of Islam is an act of bigotry, which is not true. My concern is targeted toward the promotion of hatred and violence by the Quran and the Hadith, not toward the majority of peaceful Muslims who think they are following the teachings of Islam. Yet it is their kind nature that will compel them to either ignore these teachings or attempt to interpret them in a peaceful manner.
My criticism and concern is not a phobia; it is based on observing the results of the undeniably violent teachings of Islam. These teachings are not practiced by most Muslims, but, unfortunately, they are used by many in power in the Islamic world. Many former Muslims like myself who have chosen to publicly voice their opinions about Islam would be executed by our former governments if we went back to our home countries.
Reasoned Discourse Should Never be Silenced
The notion of free speech is an inherently secular concept. The idea that a person’s religion should be separated from politics or education is not something that exists in Islamic societies. Indeed, it is actively frowned upon. Islam has no concept of relativism. Not only must the word of Allah be taken literally, but the laws of Islam also supersede the laws of men. In some cases, criticism of Islam is met with violence; Islamic law even dictates that blasphemy can be punished with death.
While the concept of Islamophobia seems socially responsible, it is, in fact, just a way to further silence people who seek to make valid points against an inherently troubling religion. Islam, like any other institution, must be able to stand on its own legs against criticism. Accusing those critics of bigotry and racism is only a way to derail the more important conversation about the real, observable flaws in Islam as an institution.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Armin Navabi is a former Muslim from Iran and the founder of Atheist Republic, a non-profit organization with over one million fans and followers worldwide that is dedicated to offering a safe community for atheists around the world to share their ideas and meet like-minded individuals. He is the author of Why There Is No God.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali on “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now”
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