As most readers of my blog know, I am an atheist. All atheists differ, of course, and one of the ways I differ from almost all of my fellow atheists is that I have a very different view of Islam and Muslims.
I haven’t always been this way. 25 years ago, as an undergraduate, I had unconsciously allowed myself to be heavily influenced by media coverage of the Middle East. I’m embarrassed to admit now that, then, I concluded, simply and uncritically, that this entire region is chock-full of crazy people. I openly speculated that there must be some mind-affecting drug in the water there, to cause such madness as I saw on the TV news.
As I now know, TV networks are very selective about what they show. Burning American flags make the news, to the exclusion of coverage of the millions of sane, kind people in the Muslim world, for they are not viewed as newsworthy.
I will always be grateful to my Muslim friends for helping me make this transformation. They key was getting to know them, one at a time — not as Muslims, per se, but simply as people. After getting to know them, and calling them friends, falling into the type of thinking which is dominated by stereotypes quickly became impossible, for the stereotypes did not match the behavior of any of my friends. I was given a choice between believing TV, or the evidence gathered with my own eyes and ears, and that’s always an easy choice.
It is a shame, but it is true: bigotries are only lost one at a time. I am delighted to be free of my former Islamophobia.
I now have dozens of Muslim friends, all over the world. If it bothers them that I am not a believer, they politely keep that to themselves. They’re always willing to answer my questions about Islamic practices and beliefs, but never use such questions as an opportunity to try to convert me.
The contrast with Christianity, in my experience, is vivid. Of course, I do not experience Islam as one might in, say, Iran. I also do not experience Christianity as everyone else in the world, for I live in the American South, the part of the USA with the highest rates of religiosity, and a form of Christianity in ascendance which is often intolerant of others, in the extreme. Here, I have had many (but not all, of course) Christians react to my atheism quite negatively. I have to remind myself, often, that Christianity here is unusual when viewed through a world-wide lens. For example, consider evolution. Around much of the Christian world, believers have, long ago, “grown up” on the subject of evolution. Pope John Paul II himself said that he viewed it as valid. This in not the case here in the South, where Christianity often goes hand-in-hand with Creationism, a pseodoscience to which I have a quite negative reaction, due to my strong and life-long fascination with, and respect for, real science.
There is also my personal history in play here. I have suffered horrible abuse (I’ll spare you the details) at the hands of Christians, often with the abuse having specifically religious elements. By contrast, no Muslim has ever even tried to harm me, in any way.
Most Americans, of course, think “terrorist” when they hear the word Muslim. The cure for this is simple: make friends with Muslims, and discuss this with them. You’ll learn that most Muslims detest organizations such as Al-Qaeda, and are quick to disavow them. The fact is, the Christian world has its share of such people as well; they’re the types of Christian who shoot doctors and bomb women’s health clinics. Extremists can be found everywhere, and the only reason extremists are of a particular type is almost always the same: a simple accident of birth.
Pick one hundred Christians at random, and its almost certain that you won’t find one fitting this description. Repeat this with one hundred random Muslims, and the odds against you finding a terrorist in your sample are also almost-certain.
Sometimes, people learn that I have a generally favorable view of mainstream Islam, and wonder why I don’t convert. That’s simple: I am unconvinced that any deity or deities exist, due simply to a lack of evidence, and one cannot be a Muslim without honestly believing that a single deity exists. However, I don’t need to be a Muslim to treat Muslims as actual people, and to fight the scourge of Islamophobia wherever I find it.
Unfortunately, there’s a LOT of Islamophobia out there — and it is, sadly, very strong in the loosely-knit community of atheists. I get asked, for example, to participate in “Everyone Draw Muhummad Day” on Facebook, every year. I always refuse. Is this censorship? No, it’s simply my choosing not to offend my friends for no good reason at all.
Throughout the years I have encountered many people who rabidly hate Islam, and they are usually either Christians or atheists. I try to reason with them. It usually doesn’t work, but sometimes it does, so I generally try it anyway. Hate doesn’t help anyone, and the more of it we can rid ourselves of, the better off all of us will be.
[Later edit: part II of this post may be found right here — https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/my-unusual-view-of-islam-part-ii/]
Well said! I’ve had the experience of both religions and I have found that Muslims are more accepting in some cases of a persons doubt, unlike some Christians ! Islam encourages an individual to seek knowledge!
You mentioned viewing them “not as Muslims, per se, but at people”.
The whole point is that these are people who stubbornly insist that their prophet is right in instructing them (regarding homosexuality) “Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to.”
Either the people are ignorant and deserve rebuke or are they defend this crap and are despicable human beings.
Your description does not match the Muslims I know.
Yes, similarly in most major religions, the public rarely is educated to justify the religion’s positions, regardless of its lack of merit. It is easy to make friends without identifying the ugly truths behind the religion’s teachings.
You seem a decent fellow, By your argument you would be friendly to Nazis, and speak to their character, as long as you don’t ask them to explain their positions. My point is that if you refuse to ask the tough questions, truth will not be uncovered.
Pretending that everybody is sweet and thinks independently is not true. If it were, the world would look much different. Perhaps your friends are not true believers, in which case, again, your opinion is baseless.
With respect, thx for the response.
Finally, we must refrain from ad hominum arguments, like the reasons you support Islamic practices is because you have met some nice people who call themselves Muslim. You are ignoring the complaints of the religion itself, not the practice of the religion by your friends. To that point, the religion is very clear that the Quran was dictated by Allah. My three biggest issues are:
(For each of these there are passages believed to be directly from Allah himself, I can provide later if necessary, but they are all over the Internet.)
1) the treatment of women (and their feeble minds!)
2) the implicit acceptance of slavery
3) the poorly thought out ban on interest payments (god should have some foresight here)
4) the many grievances punishable by death, including homosexuality
I have worked in Yemen, and met some beautiful people who I still consider friends. But their friendliness doesn’t justify logically inconsistent views based on commonly accepted ethical standards.
I don’t blame individuals for their ignorance, but I urge you to address the topic of your article, which is supposed to be your opinion of Islam, not just of your friends.
I find that reasonably educated Muslims will work very hard to defend each of the seemingly unethical rules by creative logic games… Elucidating the true intention: refusing independent thought for, well, Islam.
Btw, I only have a beef with Islam because it damages my potentially fruitful relationships with self proclaimed Muslims, and of course, “holy” wars, also encouraged by Allah. I think Christians are making similar mistakes, at least the crusades are over, now America does the killing for the Christians and Jews. So we haven’t come all that far.
You might be interested in the sequel to this post. Here’s a link: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/my-unusual-view-of-islam-part-ii/
Pingback: My Unusual View of Islam, Part II | RobertLovesPi
Perhaps the biggest thing going for my religion is the fact that it was never intended to be a book of rules to be copied word-for-word, without questioning. That is why no matter how bizarre one part seems to be, when read as whole, and the gist of the message understood, things that seem strange at first start making sense.
When speaking on the subject of homosexuality for example, the Quran refers to men who engage in sexual acts with other men, despite their relationship with their wives. Meaning, it refers not to people who are born being attracted to men cause they do not have a choice, but of men who DO have a choice, but chose the latter.
This was a very refreshing read. Thank you so much for putting so much thought into these articles. I hope more people will choose to read both parts. With ignorance blossoms fear and hate, none of which helps anyone.