Dear fellow Muslims,
You've likely heard the old saying, "You can't wake up someone pretending to be asleep." This thoughtful proverb crossed my mind as I read new atheist Ali Rizvi's letter, which I can only assume is addressed to you and I. I can only assume as much because Rizvi has previously flip-flopped on whether a moderate Islam even exists. To him, ISIS, Taliban, and Al Qaeda represent "real" Islam, and all others are impostors. Hopefully he can clarify his position.
So ignoring his obvious contradiction and confusion for the moment -- here is an honest open letter to, my fellow Muslims, with eight points to consider.
1. The First Straw Man Argument - ISIS Are Not "Real" Muslims
Rizvi begins with a straw man argument, which indicates his level of willingness to engage in an actual honest debate. He states, "Does this sound familiar to you? A moderate Muslim states that ISIS is wrong, they aren't "true" Muslims, and Islam is a religion of peace."
Well, no, it doesn't sound familiar. The first part is correct about ISIS being wrong -- a point Rizvi admits Muslims have clearly stated. That second part about them not being "true" Muslims is the straw man. As much as Rizvi wants to pull us into the "No True Scotsman" argument -- he's wrong. In fact, an atheist asked me this precise question earlier this year and I respond thoroughly here. ISIS is wrong because Islamic teachings don't support their actions. This is a question of factual observation, not private faith. Rizvi is welcome to provide a counter-argument to the link provided. And yes, Islam is a religion of peace and submission to the will of God.
2. The Allegedly Violent Verses
Rizvi continues, "Are allegedly "violent" verses just metaphorical or mistranslated? [citing] 4:89, 8:12-13, 5:33, and 47:4."
Notwithstanding that this year my book EXTREMIST addresses these verses in detail, notwithstanding that 60 years ago Murder in the Name of Allah demolished the Maududian ideology that inspires ISIS, notwithstanding that 110 years ago The British Government and Jihad explained the true meaning of Jihad with logic -- Rizvi instead pretends Muslims are fumbling around to provide a rational explanation to these allegedly violent verses.
Objective seekers of knowledge will pick up the aforementioned books (the latter of two which are free) but I provide here the cliffs notes version. Every single time the Qur'an permits or even commands using violence -- it is as a means of self-defense. The Qur'an is an entire, comprehensive, law. Extremists like ISIS and anti-theists like Rizvi may hate each other but sadly share the same myopic view of how to read the Qur'an -- in a vacuum and without regard to the rest of the book.
For example, Rizvi doesn't cite 22:40-41 which states:
Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged... Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, 'Our Lord is Allah' -- And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated.
Thus here are five elements to fighting Rizvi ignores: 1) Fighting is a reactive permission; 2) Given to those who are preemptively attacked; 3) For their faith; 4) And driven from their homes for their faith; 5) And thus permission is granted to ensure protection of not only mosques (which is mentioned last), but also of cloisters, churches, synagogues -- i.e. universal freedom of conscience. Add to this Prophet Muhammad's unmatched humanitarian rules of war and you'll begin to understand that ISIS terrorists and critics like Rizvi simply haven't bothered to read basic Islamic jurisprudence before forming their opinions.
Yes, when defending oneself or Christians, Jews, or people of other beliefs against aggressive attackers -- Islam permits fighting in self-defense. This is why I have written extensively in my first book The Wrong Kind of Muslim and in multiple articles and interviews since to champion the right to non-belief even for someone like Rizvi -- Islam commands it. Moreover, in the verses Rizvi cites, simply reading on or before you'll find commandments that oblige Muslims to reconcile on the single condition that the attackers stop, "[Do not fight] those who are connected with a people between whom and you there is a pact, or those who come to you, while their hearts shrink from fighting you or fighting their own people... So, if they keep aloof from you and fight you not, and make you an offer of peace, then remember that Allah has allowed you no way of aggression against them." (4:91). This is literally on the same page as the verse Rizvi cites as allegedly violent -- yet he censors this from his readers.
As is clear, the alleged violence in these verses isn't metaphorical, mistranslated, misinterpreted, or 'taken out of context,' -- it deliberately permits self-defense to protect universal freedom of conscience for all people. This is in perfect harmony with the Qur'an's powerful declaration that "There shall be no compulsion in religion." The only people who miss this obvious fact are those ignorant terrorists like ISIS and those new atheists with an agenda like Rizvi. The Qur'an calls out such hypocrites, "He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning -- they are the basis of the Book -- and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking wrong interpretation of it." (3:8).
When the Qur'an clearly declares permission to fight is only in self-defense, and that universal religious freedom must remain free, it is perverse and wrong to claim otherwise.
3. A Second Straw Man Argument - Muslims Convince Only Ourselves
Still unable to engage in an honest debate, Rizvi then patronizes moderate Muslims by saying "I know your explanations are very convincing to fellow believers."
Unfortunately for him, this isn't a "Muslim only" argument. For example, Christian scholar and renowned academic Dr. Philip Jenkins arrives at this exact conclusion when comparing the Qur'an and Bible in his outstanding work, "Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses." Dr. Jenkins condemns the claim that the Qur'an permits fighting for any reason other than self-defense. The limitless praise Prophet Muhammad has received from countless non-Muslim scholars, academics, Nobel laureates, feminists, and historians attests to this fact as well.
Moreover, America saw a dramatic increase in non-Muslims reverting to Islam after 9/11. By actually reading the Qur'an, people were drawn to the faith, and is a significant reason why Islam is the world's fastest growing faith. So apparently and much to Rizvi's dismay, these explanations are "very convincing" to non-believers as well as believers.
It bears repeating -- the only people who see Islam as violent are ignorant extremists like ISIS and ignorant anti-theists like Rizvi.
4. FGM and Moderate Muslim Credibility
Rizvi brings up FGM and claims it is has a connection to Islam, but ignores the fact that even the ahadith he cited do not substantiate his claim. Nor does he divulge that Muslim scholars of all sects have overwhelmingly condemned FGM. It is wholly accurate to say that FGM has nothing to do with Islam. Rizvi makes a passing critique of Islam's view of hand-cutting, which has already been addressed many times including here and here.
Rizvi alleges moderate Muslims are losing credibility, forgetting that atheists only have a 30 percent retention rate. Muslims, meanwhile, retain 76 percent into adulthood. A Pew survey spanning over 35,000 individuals found only 30 percent of children who grow up in atheist homes identify as atheists after adulthood. This is but one example of how Rizvi should spend a bit more time self-reflecting before accusing others of credibility issues. Of note, the 30% percent retention rate for atheists is the lowest out of any belief tested (which was conducted well after the Internet came about).
5. Finally Some Honesty From Rizvi
I brought up the Internet because Rizvi next claims the Internet left "nothing hidden" about the Qur'an. Good, because nothing should be hidden about the Qur'an. In fact here's a free e-copy with English translation. The Qur'an itself commands numerous times to reflect, ponder, investigate, and seek knowledge. Prophet Muhammad taught that "The cure for ignorance is to question." Rizvi presents his newfound discovery of the Qur'an as something unprecedented -- ignoring the fact that the Qur'an makes investigation and research obligatory on all Muslims.
Although, finally Rizvi is honest about his knowledge of Islam, or lack thereof. Any intellectual should find it telling and frankly offensive that despite his alleged claims to deep insight into Islamic teachings, Rizvi has had no formal training on Islam, that those who taught him his menial knowledge hadn't actually studied the Qur'an themselves, and that his "best" knowledge comes from Google. To illustrate how dangerous Rizvi's platform is, consider that Mullah Abul Ala Maududi -- the father of terrorism who inspired the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS -- also had zero training on Islam. Despite having an alleged PhD on Islamic studies, ISIS leader al-Baghdadi extensively cites Maududi as validation for establishing an "Islamic State."
In other words, that al-Bhagdadi had to resort to citing an uneducated extremist, as opposed to the plethora of Islamic scholars throughout history as his primary argument, is clear that his own scholarship is nonexistent. In trying to ignorantly enforce the Qur'an, Maududi's nonexistent "scholarship" has unleashed devastating terrorism. Why should we expose ourselves to the equally unqualified Rizvi who draws us to the opposite extreme conclusion?
No sane person would trust the judgment of a doctor, lawyer, or architect who claimed "Google scholarship" as their learning base. Yet, on a topic as complex as Islamic jurisprudence, Qur'anic hermeneutics, hadith interpretation and authenticity, and Arabic lexicon -- we are to rely on Rizvi's ability to do a mean google search?
6. A Third Straw Man - The Scared Silent Liberal
You see, evidently only us peaceful Muslims bear the responsibility to academically and logically explain why we are peaceful. Ignorant terrorists like ISIS get a free pass as whatever they do is automatically Islam. Never mind that Rizvi makes no demand of terrorists to justify their actions or explain their worldview. Perhaps this is because Rizvi knows they cannot substantiate anything they do with logic -- as if they could they wouldn't need to resort to force. Instead he claims "[Muslims would] be surprised how many liberals won't tell us [Muslims] what they really think due to fear of political correctness."
Yes, I would be surprised. Apparently Rizvi has some secret poll with "surprising" data that no one has access to except him.The only thing such unverifiable claims do is strengthen the straw man argument of the person making them. Such propaganda does nothing to advance an actual argument or resolve an actual problem. They simply create more confusion, as Rizvi does here.
Liberals everywhere should be offended that Rizvi disregards their ability to think independently and instead relegates them to scared, ignorant, shallow individuals who simply smile and nod like muppets. The truth is his speculation of what he thinks liberals think feeds into his uninformed preconceived notions about Islam. This, combined with his prolific study of Islam from the world's "greatest" institution -- Google University -- adds to yet another straw man argument of utter irrelevance.
It bears repeating -- yet again -- the only people who see Islam as violent are ignorant extremists like ISIS and ignorant critics like Rizvi. Each of whom have no training on Islamic jurisprudence.
So much for credibility.
7. Muslims, not Islam, Need Reform
Rizvi concludes by imploring a call for reform -- a topic I've written about years prior. Rizvi also ignores the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an international revivalist community of tens of millions of Muslims who have spread to 206 nations worldwide, have existed for 125 years, are relentless in their service to humanity -- and despite facing persecution have never resorted to a single act of violence. This is the world's single largest community of Muslims who are united under one leader, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. His Holiness, while adhering to every Qur'anic verse, likewise champions separation of mosque and state, universal human rights, and absolute justice. If it is a revolution Rizvi wants, he should read The Real Revolution by the second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community on how Islam can only ever succeed through peace and pluralism, and by Muslims engaging in personal reform.
Rizvi dismisses Ahmadi Muslims because extremist regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do. Of course they do -- they're extremists in need of reform. Rizvi should be raising our platform from the mountain tops but instead he and his new atheist friends refuse to. This begs the question, is Rizvi sincere about supporting Muslim reformist groups when he insists they're not "real" Muslims unless extremists endorse us? The double standard is glaring.
Moreover, I've interacted in person with Muslims in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa -- of numerous different sects and ideologies. In the name of Islam and pluralism, I have and regularly work with scholars of various backgrounds such as Pakistani scholars Dr. Akbar Ahmed and Professor Tayyab Mahmud, Lebanese scholar Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, and Turkish Imam Abdullah Antepli. The vast majority of the Muslim world of all sects champion peace, pluralism, and respect for all humanity. No doubt that blasphemy laws in Pakistan and death for apostasy laws in Saudi Arabia (among others) are an abomination and I am among those who have published peer-reviewed work to condemn them without exception.
From an Islamic perspective, such laws find no refuge -- but the Muslims who support them need reform. This is a point thoroughly established in the aforementioned linked books. Of course, these are books neither ISIS nor Rizvi has bothered to read (even though they're on Google). So again, Rizvi demands reformers and revolutions, but ignores those reforms and revolutions right in front of him.
8. Waking Up Someone Pretending To Sleep
And this brings me back to the start of this honest letter. Rizvi repeatedly demands honesty from Muslims, but absolves himself of any such responsibility. Rizvi claims we need an explanation to violent verses -- I've written a bestselling book on it and link two other books written decades and over a century ago. (And there's plenty more where that came from). Rizvi claims FGM is Islamic -- it's a debunked myth. Rizvi claims we need more reform -- it's an issue addressed in detail. Rizvi claims that a person questioning Islam risks being called an Islamophobe. Again, not only does the Qur'an champion free inquiry and investigation, I've specifically addressed to Rizvi before -- Islam is not above criticism. Instead of elevating such statements as he claims to want to, he repeats the same baseless claims without bothering to read or respond to the answers provided. The revolution Rizvi calls for has thrived for over a century in peace, pluralism, and progress. The answers stare Rizvi in the face with stunning clarity -- but Rizvi doesn't see them. Like Harris, Maher, Hirsi Ali, Dawkins, and other new atheists of the like who haven't studied Islam and refuse to listen to the answers provided, Rizvi's own intolerance of others prevents him from remaining honest.
And thus my fellow Muslims, this is why it is so difficult to wake up someone pretending to be asleep. No matter what you do, no matter what you write, no matter how much sense you make, they seal their own eyelids shut and blame you that light can't get through.
So open your eyes Rizvi, be honest for once.