Ayaan Hirsi Ali has an op/ed up in the Times about “Islam’s silent moderates,” arguing that if Islam is really a religion of goodness then moderates should be pushing that vision, and simultaneously insisting that Islam can’t be a good religion and so there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. I have a lot of respect for Hirsi Ali — she’s a smart, brave woman, and she certainly has valid personal reasons for disliking Islam. But what bothers me about this op/ed, and other op/eds like it, is that the argument is circular and unfair, and it holds Islam and Muslims to a standard that other mainstream religious groups are exempt from. For example, she starts the op/ed out with this passage from the Quran:
The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)
and eventually uses it to make the point that:
If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
Selecting one section from a centuries-old religious text and then drawing the conclusion that most followers of that religion follow that text to the word is ridiculous. There are certainly a lot of religious people who do claim to follow the exact word of their religious text, but they’re usually either lying or ignorant. Religion may be the province of God, but how we live religion every day is entirely man-made. Men recorded the word of God onto paper. Even way back then, human beings selected which sections of religious law they wanted to live by; today, we still pick and choose. Notions of human rights and justice have evolved, and along with it, so has our religious understanding. To claim that every single passage in the Quran or the Bible is somehow “proof” of its moderate followers’ mindset is incredibly dishonest. You’d be better suited to see which passages the followers pick and choose themselves — that’s a whole lot more telling. And I guarantee that just as Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee would pick very different Bible verses than I would to explain my faith, Muslim extremists would pick very different Quranic verses than your average, moderate Muslim person.
Hirsi Ali focuses on the horrendous rape punishment leveled at “the Qatif girl” in Saudi Arabia to make the point that moderate Muslims aren’t actually moderate. She writes:
It is often said that Islam has been “hijacked” by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.
But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?
She comes to the conclusion that Muslims are silent about this. Which is kind of a funny conclusion — who does she think raised the issue in the first place? The New York Times?
The girl’s lawyer is a Saudi Muslim. She has been helped by human rights activists across the Middle East. Her story was promoted by Arab journalists. The case has outraged people around the world, including in Saudi Arabia. If moderate Muslims were actually silent, we would have never heard about this case to begin with.
I’m in the middle of finals and so I don’t have time to do an extensive research project on this either, but here’s what a quick google search turned up:
Ruling Jolts Even Saudis: 200 Lashes for Rape Victim
Arab View — Rape: Who Gets Punished And Who Does Not?
Saudi Jeans blog — The Qatif Girl, Again and Justice and Common Sense
Saudi Gazette – The Agony of Qatif Girl
Progressive Muslima News
Arab News: How Culture is Defined in a Global World
Hafeez Anwar’s Website: Lashing Out at the Media Over the Qatif Girl Case
Khaleej Times Online: Saudi Women Furious at Gang-Rape Ruling
Arab News: Violence Against Women is Still a Problem
That just took me all of 10 minutes. And there are dozens of articles and blog posts that I’ve read this week — including posts from very conservative Muslim writers who often make me want to throw something — that have all expressed disgust and outrage over this verdict. Further, the verdict has started a conversation about reforming the Saudi justice system — and the conversation is happening within Saudi Arabia.
There are a whole lot of problems with the way religion is exercised and carried out on all levels. But it’s the most dangerous when people in power use it to uphold their bigotries and to keep themselves at the top of the food chain. That’s what’s happening here — and moderate people of faith are speaking out against it, and against that power structure. This is not a phenomenon that’s inherent to Islam.
Finally, if we actually want moderate Muslims to feel safe speaking out, we have to can the “Islam is horrible” line. Because the more we say that things like female genital surgeries or punishing rape victims are Islam, the more that violent vision of Islam becomes emboldened and strengthened, and the more difficult it becomes for Muslim people to argue, “Wait a minute, that isn’t Islam as I’ve lived it.” And it’s really not the responsibility of Muslim people to be on the constant defensive in the first place — criticize the radicals, but don’t pin their actions on the millions of people who are horrified by them. And certainly don’t draw hasty conclusions about who is and isn’t speaking out when you haven’t even bothered to listen.