Are all Muslims evil, immoral, or satanic? No religion is above criticism, but people have been displaying an irrational disapproval and hatred towards Islam that has lead to prejudice and intolerance towards Muslims. I will discuss the following:
- An Introduction to Bigotry
- Evidence of Anti-Islamic Bigotry
- Myths about Islam
First, I will discuss respect and bigotry. I will argue that we should not highly disapprove of Muslims nor should we be intolerant of them. Second, I will argue that people have been displaying irrational prejudice and intolerance towards Muslims. Third, I will argue that Muslims are not particularly dangerous or irrational as many people seem to think.
An Introduction to Bigotry
Bigotry is irrational beliefs and actions against a group of people. Moderate bigotry is merely disapproval of a group—or unwarranted negative beliefs about a group. Extreme bigotry is when horrific violence or oppression is taken against people of a group due to hatred or fear of that group.
Rather than being bigoted we should accord appropriate levels of respect. Disagreement, disapproval, and tolerance are three major categories of respect:
- Disagreement with a group – It is always appropriate to criticize a group for having irrational beliefs or inappropriate behavior. It is perfectly respectful of a person to disagree with them, even though we might not say we fully “respect” beliefs we disagree with). Islam could very well require people to have irrational beliefs that encourage inappropriate behavior. Islam is not above criticism.
- Rational disapproval towards a group – Some groups deserve more approval than others. Islam deserves some amount of approval, but many people have an inappropriate disapproval of it based on prejudice and over-generalizations.
- Rational tolerance of a group – We should be tolerant of people and their right to have false beliefs even when those beliefs can be dangerous. It would be oppressive to use force to try to make people believe what you want.
I will discuss each of these levels of respect in more detail.
Disagreement with a group.
To criticize a group of people is not necessarily bigotry or prejudice. The Ku Klux Klan and terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda, have many irrational intolerant beliefs that we should criticize. Many religions also have irrational beliefs and criticizing such beliefs is perfectly respectful. We can hope to use arguments to persuade other people to accept the truth because we assume that they are rational enough to be reasonable and learn from their mistakes.
We should not agree with dangerous irrational beliefs, such as those held by the KKK or Al-Qaeda. That means that we should criticize such beliefs by the use of reason and argumentation. It doesn’t mean that we should use violence against people within these groups (unless done in self-defense).
We can disagree with religions and groups without being disrespectful of the human beings within these groups. Even criminals deserve some degree of respect and certain rights—such as the right to freedom of speech or the right to marry.
Rational disapproval towards a group.
To disapprove of the Ku Klux Klan and Al-Qaeda is not irrational. Perhaps we should even despise these groups. However, to disapprove of all black people is irrational because there is no reason to think all black people are dangerous or immoral. Some black people are good and others are not. Being black does not make someone evil.
Many people despise Islam and all Muslims, which is irrational bigotry. Islam does not deserve such strong levels of disapproval. Some Muslims are good people even though not all Muslims are good people.
In reality Islam in general seems to deserve neither strong approval nor disapproval because it has not been scientifically proven to be highly beneficial nor dangerous. Muslims are individuals who can be good or bad, so they shouldn’t be despised based merely on the fact that they are Muslims. Of course, there are fanatical groups of Islam, such as Al-Qaeda, that have been proven to be dangerous enough to warrant strong disapproval. This is no different than Christianity—The Christian Identity Movement is a fanatical Christian group that deserves disapproval.
Rational tolerance of a group.
We should not be tolerant of violence. We might have to use force to suppress violence. We should also be intolerant of irrational oppression or violence. If people want to make homosexuality, atheism, or Islam illegal, we might have to take action and use political pressure to stop it. There are religious people who are intolerant of other religions, homosexuals, and atheists; but we can’t allow these religions to oppress or harm these people.
Should we be tolerant of irrational disapproval? Yes. We have to protect people’s rights to have their own beliefs no matter how horrific. That doesn’t mean that we have to approve of irrational disapproval (such as racism). We can despise the Ku Klux Klan’s beliefs and argue against them. We can’t force people to be rational, but we can try to help them be more rational by the use of argumentation and education.
We should be tolerant of people who have harmful beliefs because it is wrong to try to make people believe what you want. The Ku Klux Klan is legal even though the beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan are irrational and dangerous. Of course, there are limits to free speech. Members of the Ku Klux Klan can’t request or advise the use of violence against the people they hate. It is legal to have harmful beliefs, but it isn’t legal to request or advise illegal behavior.1
Evidence of Anti-Islamic Bigotry
I will discuss three sources of evidence of anti-Islamic bigotry. One, statistics. Two, bigoted speech. Three, hate crimes.
First, a Newsweek poll from 2007 found that 45% of Americans would not vote for a qualified Muslim for a political position.2 Second, a study published in 2003 from the University of Minnesota found that 33.5% of Americans would disapprove if their child wanted to marry a Muslim.3
First, there has been a lot of anti-Islamic statements made in the media, in books, and on websites.
Some books against Islam include the following:
- Islam: Evil in the Name of God (2009), which supposedly tells us “[w]hy the slaughter of 2,973 on 9/11 meant no more to Muslims then stepping on 2,973 ants.”
- Religion of Peace?: Islam’s War Against the World (2006), which supposedly reveals Islam to be a totalitarian force that wants to conquer the world.
- Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t (2007), which supposedly proves that Christianity embraces reason and Islam rejects it.
Websites against Islam include the following:
- Ten Myths About Islam Exposing Lies, which supposedly proves that Islam is inherently intolerant and violent.
- Ban Islam Petition asks us to make Islam illegal.
- Islam Exposed, which asserts that Islam is based on pagan moon worship.
Second, the “ground zero” mosque is being used to rouse hatred to gain votes. Consider this television advertisement for a republican candidate who suggests that the mosques are trophies erected by our terrorist enemies to celebrate their victories against America. The fact that people don’t want a mosque near ground zero has less to do with being offensive and more to do with the fact that mosques are associated with terrorists. People are now protesting mosques all over America. “At a July rally near Nashville, angry protestors spoke against a proposed 15-acre site that some fear could be turned into a militant training ground. The mosque leader says he’s been there for 12 years and congregants are just enlarging their religious facility.”4
There have been quite a few hate crimes against Muslims. “Recently, a Muslim cab driver in New York was stabbed and another man entered a mosque and accused the worshipers of being terrorists and then urinated on prayer rugs. And over the weekend there was an arson attack against an Islamic community center building site in a Nashville suburb.”5
Myths about Islam
I will discuss some common myths about Islam that is often used as propaganda against Muslims and such beliefs often cause irrational disapproval of them. Anyone who realizes that racism is wrong will have to admit that there are irrational forms of prejudice. We shouldn’t despise or highly disapprove a person merely because he or she is part of a group unless we have very good reason for doing so. To highly disapprove of all Muslims is wrong just like prejudice against all women, atheists, homosexuals, or Christians.
I will discuss the following three myths about Islam:
- Islam is the Qur’an.
- The Qur’an isn’t open to interpretation.
- There are no moderate Muslims.
Islam is the Qur’an.
Many people think that Muslims must believe that the Qur’an is infallible, so and if a single passage found in the Qur’an is false, then the entire Islamic faith is disproven. It might be true that many Muslims believe that the Qur’an is infallible, but finding a single error in the book would not disprove the entire religion.
Many people find quotations within the Qur’an to prove the religion to be intolerant or to advocate violence. Consider how Andew McCarthy argues that there are no moderate Muslims:
As Islam is a comprehensive system of worship (Ibadah) and legislation (Shari’ah), the acceptance of secularism means abandonment of Shari’ah, a denial of the divine guidance and a rejection of Allah’s injunctions. It is indeed a false claim that Shari’ah is not proper to the requirements of the present age. The acceptance of a legislation formulated by humans means a preference of the humans’ limited knowledge and experiences to the divine guidance: “Say! Do you know better than Allah?” (Qur’an, 2:140) For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of Shari’ah is downright apostasy.6
McCarthy’s argument is little more than a single quote from the Qur’an that says that we don’t know better than Allah, and the actual existence of actual moderate Muslims seems to disprove his argument in two seconds.
Islam is not the Qur’an for the following reasons:
One, disproving a single passage in the Qur’an would not disprove the entire book. Theoretically, the Qur’an could have a single error in it and everything else could be true. If that was the case, we would have a good reason to be Muslims.
Two, a single well-established error found within the Qur’an would not persuade Muslims to give up the Islamic faith. They would merely have to admit that the Qur’an wasn’t infallible after all.
Three, to know what Muslims believe, we should study actual Muslims. We can’t rely on some arbitrary definition, such as, “All Muslims must believe that the Qur’an is infallible.” A scientific study would have to show that all Muslims actually believe that the Qur’an is infallible, but just the opposite has been proven. Arash Naraghi, who has PhD in philosophy (and a specialization in religious philosophy) asserts that “being Muslim requires one’s commitment only to the heart of the message, and not to the accidental elements of the holy text.”7
Some people would argue that the fact that not all “Muslims” believe the Qur’an is infallible merely requires us to reject that such people should be called “Muslims.” However, it is possible that very few people believe that the Qur’an is infallible and it would be absurd to say that only the most fanatical or dogmatic “Muslims” are real Muslims.
The Qur’an isn’t open to interpretation.
Even if Muslims must believe that the Qur’an is infallible, it is possible for them the interpret the Qur’an in a way that does not advocate violence, intolerance, or require excessively irrational beliefs. Interpreting the Qur’an is an important part of Islamic Tradition called Tafsir. However, an extremely popular youtube video, Three Things About Islam, attempts to prove that Islam is not open to interpretation.
Again, to know what Muslims actually believe what what beliefs Islam requires, we should take a look at actual Muslims rather than arbitrarily define Muslims in various ways. Actual Muslims encourage scholarly interpretations of the Qur’an. Consider how Arash Naraghi argues that Islam does not require disapproval of homosexuality. “’Is it possible to be a Muslim and at the same time consistently believe that homosexuality is morally permissible?’ I believe the answer is yes. To my understanding, the Quranic verses concerning homosexuality are open to new interpretations” (ibid.).
Interpretations of the Qur’an require us to know when the Qur’an is metaphorical or has a specific context that must be understood.
A general rule about religion is that the passages of the holy books often require proper interpretation or they must be rejected. It is often irrational to accept a hasty and literal interpretation of certain passages. This issue was discussed at some length in my post Intellectual Virtues, Dogmatism, Fanaticism, & Terrorism.
There are no moderate Muslims.
Accusations that there are no moderate Muslims range from beliefs that “all Muslims are terrorists” to “all Muslims are intolerant of other religions” to “all Muslims disapprove of homosexuality.” Again, these accusations are easily disproven by studying actual Muslims.
First, consider a Gallup Poll conducted from 2001 to 2007 has revealed that “About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews… [T]he study, which Gallup says surveyed a sample equivalent to 90 percent of the world’s Muslims, showed that widespread religiosity ‘does not translate into widespread support for terrorism,’ said Mogadeh, director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.”8
Second, consider that “a 2007 survey titled Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, the Pew Research Center found Muslim Americans to be largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”9
Third, consider that not all Muslims disapprove of homosexuality. The Al-Fatiha Foundation, “which advances the cause of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims” that “accepts and considers homosexuality as natural, either regarding Qur’anic verses as obsolete in the context of modern society, or pointing out that the Qu’ran speaks out against homosexual lust, and is silent on homosexual love.”10
Although we must be tolerant of irrational prejudice and disapproval, such prejudice and disapproval is dangerous and is often used to promote intolerance, so we should use arguments to reason and enlighten people. People who are prejudiced against Asians might think it is justified to harm Asians, people who are prejudice against homosexuals often want to make it illegal for homosexuals to get married, and and many people who are prejudice against Muslims want the government to stop the construction of mosques.
The hatred, fear, prejudice, extreme disapproval, and intolerance towards Muslims is irrational. Such attitudes reflect over-generalizations—the belief that all Muslims must be like the worst sort of Muslims. Moreover, actual scientific studies and actual Muslims are the best way to learn about Islam rather than relying on arbitrary definitions and quotes of the Qur’an.
Finally, there are religious groups within Islam (and Christianity) that do have dangerous beliefs and deserve disapproval. I oppose irrational intolerance wherever it comes from.
1 “First Amendment.” Cornell University. 3 September 2010. <http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/First_amendment>. Originally published August 19, 2010.
2 Braiker, Brian. “Poll: Americans are Mixed on U.S. Muslims.” MSNBC.com. 1 September 2010. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19874703/site/newsweek/print/1/displaymode/1098/>. Originally published July 20, 2007.
3 Cline, Austin. “University of Minnesota Study on American Attitudes Towards Atheists & Atheism.” About.com. 1 September 2010. <http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheitsHated.htm>.
4 Shawn, Eric. “Opposition Growing to New Mosques.” Liveshots. 1 September 2010. <http://liveshots.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/08/09/opposition-growing-to-new-mosques/>. Originally published August 9, 2010.
5 Bouarrouj, Khelil. “Republican Leaders Responsible for Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes?” 1 September 2010. <http://www.examiner.com/rnc-in-washington-dc/republican-leaders-responsible-for-anti-muslim-hate-crimes>. Originally published August 30, 2010.
6 McCarthy, Andrew. “Inventing Moderate Islam.” National Review Online. 3 September 2010. <http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/244545/inventing-moderate-islam-andrew-c-mccarthy?page=1>. Originally published August 24, 2010.
7 Naraghi, Arash. “Islam and the Moral Status of Homosexuality.” 3 September 2010. <http://www.arashnaraghi.org/articles/Islamandminorities.htm>. Originally published December 7th, 2005.
8 “Major Survey Challenges Western Perceptions of Islam.” 3 September 2010. <http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5i5ajtNJ0qTTRMBSFpYngMOjrmDbQ>. Originally published February 27, 2008.
9 “Islam in the United States.” Wikipedia.org. 3 September 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United_States>.
10 “LGBT Topics and Islam.” Wikipedia.org. 3 September 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_topics_and_Islam>.