Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sam Harris is wrong about Islam


The debate between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show generated a lot of controversy.

Harris said Islam is the mother load of bad ideas and Ben Affleck retorted it is an ugly thing to say, it is racist. Of course Islam is not a race, but it helps to shout “racist” if you run out of arguments.

Islam is an idea and no idea, whether good or bad is above criticism. Good ideas welcome criticism. Bad ideas want to silence them because they have no defense against them.

Affleck is wrong. That does not mean Harris is right.

Harris contended, “Hundreds of millions of Muslims are nominal Muslims, who don’t take their faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS [Islamic State] and we need to defend these people, prop them up and let them reform their faith.”

Reforming Islam the way he envisions it, is an illusion.

His error drives from the fact that he equates Islam to Christianity, and concludes that since Christianity was once upon a time a violent religion and then reformed, Islam can do the same.

Even though at one time the religion associated with Jesus had become violent and intolerant, there is nothing violent and intolerant in his teachings. The Crusades were the response of Christendom to jihad, and the Inquisition was the copycat of mihnah, a practice started by Caliph Ma’mun, which means “inquisition.” They have no basis in the teaching of Christ.

The Christian Reformation aimed to get rid of un-Christian practices. They suggested that the Bible should be read literally and its allegorical interpretations should be rejected.

An analogous reformation also took place in Islam. It is called Salafism.

The Prophet Muhammad reiterated repeatedly that he is the best salaf, the best example to follow and after him, his companions are the best model for Muslims to emulate.

He raided villages and towns, massacred unarmed men, beheaded his captives, raped their women and sold them as slaves. His successors, the so-called “rightly guided Caliphs” and their successors did the same. These are the very things the Wahhabis advocate and Islamic State is doing.

Islamic State is the true embodiment of the Islamic Reformation.

Is this what Sam Harris has in mind? No, he is talking about people like Maajid Nawaaz, Irshad Manji and Zuhdi Yasser.

These people are not suggesting that Muslims should go back to the original teachings of Muhammad, as the Christian reformers did. They want to get rid of them while somehow acknowledge the legitimacy of Muhammad as a prophet of God.

How is that possible? How can we tell people Muhammad was a true prophet, but don’t believe him – that his message was from God, but don’t follow it? Furthermore, isn’t it what the majority of Muslims already doing? Most Muslims don’t practice the violent parts of the Koran. As long as Islam is accepted as a true religion there will always be a minority who will want to practice it fully and honestly.

Yusra Hussein, a 15-year-old British Muslim of Somali origin, suddenly disappeared – and it transpires that she has gone to join Islamic State to become a “jihadi bride.” Her family is distraught.

“If it can happen to Yusra it can happen to anyone,” her aunt said. “She was just a normal, young girl. She was a home girl. There was no anger, no frustration. We had no idea,” she opined.

One does not have to be a neuroscientist to figure that out. Yusra’s family call themselves Muslim. At the same time they lived a comfortable westernized life, which is contrary to Islam. The young Yusra felt the cognitive dissonance and saw the hypocrisy of her family. If Islam is from God, why should she dilute it with the decadent ungodly ways of the unbelievers? Thousands of young Muslims join Islamic State. The great majority come from moderate Muslim families. It is easy to radicalize them. You ask them whether they believe in the Koran and they respond “yes.” Then you read it to them and show them that God enjoins jihad, that their parents who prefer this world to the next are hypocrites, and the Koran orders true believers to neither associate with the hypocrites nor take them as friends and guardians, even if they are fathers and brothers.

Kids understand this. It is a no-brainer. Their parents also understand it. But they want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to live in comfort and at the same time enter the Islamic paradise. What is Sam Harris’s excuse for not understanding it? He is a neuroscientist.

In an article published on his blog Harris announced he is conducting a debate with Nawaaz, which will be published as a book in a few months, where he expressed his support for “reformers” like him. I wrote to him and explained that reforming Islam is only a deeper layer of Islamic deception.

Islam is already undergoing its Reformation, and Islamic State is it. He did not reply.

I wrote a second letter cautioning him that Nawaaz is using him, that this sleek snake oil salesman is selling false hope, that what he proposes is the transformation of Islam, something any Muslim knows is not possible. The Koran warns against believing in parts of it and rejecting other parts. He ignored my second letter too.

Does Harris expect Muslims to disregard the Koran and follow Nawaaz and Manji, who is a lesbian? Harris is aware of the absurdity of such a proposition. He admits that the majority of Muslims would kill these self-styled reformers.

Why then, does he support something he knows is not going to work? The Islamic Reformation is in full swing and transforming it is an illusion. But it will become convincing when people like Harris support it. If someone else advocated a harebrained idea like this I would have called him a useful idiot. But Harris is no idiot, which makes his defense of an absurd proposition like this incomprehensible. How can a smart man not see something so elemental? Islam is what is. It can’t be molded. It can’t be reformed. It is rigid like fossil. You can’t reshape it, but you can break it. I have shattered the faith of thousands of Muslims. If I could reach all Muslims I could destroy this faith. Truth liberates.

There is a way. We need a biopic of Muhammad that depicts his savory life, tastefully, that can then be downloaded, even in Mecca, and can be seen by hundreds of millions of people. A truthful movie about Muhammad can change the course of history.

Islam is either from God or it isn’t. If it is then we have to accept it because that is what the Koran says. If we don’t, we should not complain when Muslims kill us. They are following the religion we acknowledged to be true. If Islam is not true, we better tell it fearlessly. Stop tiptoeing around lest you offend Muslims’ sensitivity. Take sides. Be either hot or cold, never tepid, because it achieves naught.

Truth hurts the delicate sensitivity of Muslims, but lies kill. Thousands are killed every day to uphold a lie. If this is not insanity what is?

The writer is Canadian-Iranian former Muslim and the author of Understanding Muhammad and Muslims. He is also looking for a publisher for his newest book The Life of Muhammad, a complete biography and backers for his biopic of Muhammad. He can be reached at faithfreedom.org and on Twitter @AliSinaOrg.

America, have you forgotten history?

Budget Hero