Islamism vs. Muslim reformers and moderates: Response to “The Apostate”

April 25, 2008

I’ve been having a very interesting discussion with “The Apostate,” who is “a Pakistani woman, raised as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, and an atheist since the age of 17,” now 25 and living in San Francisco.

In a post of hers titled Why I Criticize Islam and Muslims, she wrote:

Nevertheless, I don’t wish to ‘demonize’ Muslims, nor to paint a monochromatic picture of them. There are Muslims who have commented on this blog who represent a kinder gentler Islam. I know they exist – I also know they are, at this point in time, few and far between. I can also differentiate between truly enlightened Muslims and those who are primitive in their religious interpretations but who have good hearts.

In a comment here, I replied:

I’m glad to see you say this. Your blog otherwise conveys the impression that you think all Muslims are regressive and backward, or that you think the reformers are stupid for continuing to think of themselves as Muslims.

Yes, the regressive and backward forms of Islam are all too commonplace. But, to oppose them, it seems to me that it would behoove you to help the reformers by giving them publicity, at least by listing some of the reformers on your blogroll if nothing else, and better yet by also discussing what the reformers are doing.

For a list of some Muslim reformers’ websites, see the post Islam and religion-based bigotry on my blog. You’re probably already aware of others, I would imagine. For more of my thoughts on this matter, see also my post More about Islam & Islamism: Response to “Islamoscope”.

Im my comment, I didn’t really explain why I think it would behoove her to help the reformers. Nor was I entirely clear about what kinds of help I think it would behoove her to consider giving them. More about these issues later, below.

Anyhow, “The Apostate” replied to me here. Below is my further response.

“The Apostate” wrote:

I don’t wish to see reform in Islam. I wish to see liberal-minded people leave Islam.

I too would like to see more people leave Islam. However, the historical reality is that people who leave their religion altogether are relatively rare. Look at the history of Christianity in the West, especially here in the U.S.A.

I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t try to convince Muslims to leave their religion. However, if you also want to counteract Islamism as a repressive institution and as a worldwide political threat, then it seems to me that, as far as Islam is concerned, you should consider broadening your focus beyond just trying to convince people to leave it.

You wrote:

There is also another reason: As long as they choose to be loyal to Islam, they are choosing to leave me — one of the few outspoken apostates, but doubtless one of many silent ones — out in the cold.

I don’t see them supporting me or the truth, so they don’t get support from me.

Many of the more vocal reformers do support you, at least politically if not personally or intellectually. As far as I am aware, all of the more outspoken reformers oppose the persecution of apostates. They might not be supporting what you think of as “the truth,” but they do support your survival and your freedom, do they not? Thus they are your natural allies in terms of opposing Islamism and its dangers. Are you aware of Secular Islam, which aims to build an alliance between Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims?

See also Supporting Islam’s apostates by Ali Eteraz. I would be interested in your opinion of that article – in terms of pragmatic politics, as distinct from pure philosophy.

You wrote:

I also think their efforts are futile because most of them are not accepted as Muslims by mainstream Muslims like my parents.

In other words, many of them are seen as apostates, correct? Thus they are in essentially the same boat as you, politically and socially. All the more reason to see them as natural allies, it seems to me.

In any case, you wrote that “most” of the reformers are not accepted as Muslims by mainstream Muslims like your parents. But, apparently, at least a few of them are accepted as Muslim by mainstream Muslims? If so, that’s good news, because it puts them in a better position to make arguments of the kind suggested by Ali Eteraz. To the extent that they do so, they’re your natural allies too, it seems to me.

But you wrote:

My main reason for not supporting them is that I have absolutist views on religion. I consider religion harmful. I believe that, as long as people go on legitimizing the scriptures on which religions are based, we won’t get rid of the harmful side-effects of religion.

Perhaps that’s true. But, given a choice of the following two hypothetical scenarios, which would you prefer?

  1. A world in which 20% of all Muslims leave Islam, but none become more liberal within Islam, resulting in a society in which the 20% must hide or be killed.
  2. A world in which only 10% of all Muslims leave Islam, but 60% become more liberal within Islam and create a society in which the 10% have full human rights.

You wrote:

I also simply have no respect, on a purely intellectual/philosophical level, for people who can look the reality of Islam in the face (such as barbaric punishments, women’s inferiority, etc.) and say, well, it’s still Eternal Truth.

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that you’re seeing this issue primarily in “intellectual/philosophical” terms, whereas I’m seeing it primarily in practical political and social terms. To me, the important questions are: (1) How can we best resist the dangers that militant Islamism poses to the entire world? (2) How can Islamist societies become more secular and more tolerant?

Do you believe that your absolutist approach is the most effective way to oppose Islamism? If so, why?

You wrote:

I am like the radical feminist political lesbians of yore who gave no quarter.

These radical feminist political lesbians isolated themselves into insignificance. The more moderate N.O.W. was the organization that got things done.

I myself was active in the feminist movement for a while back around 1980. Alas, I wasn’t a very productive feminist, because I was too caught up in one particular form of radical feminist ideology.

I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be a radical feminist. Perhaps radical feminism might be more productive for women of your background than it ever was for American-born women. I don’t really know, one way or the other, on this matter. Have you found that a lot of ex-Muslim women from Muslim countries agree with you on this?

However, it doesn’t seem to me that a political strategy analogous to lesbian separatism would be productive for ex-Muslim “apostates” as a way of winning freedom of religion. If you think I’m wrong about this, I would be interested to hear why.

Politically, I do think it’s important for ex-Muslim “apostates” (especially atheists) to create their own organizations and networks, apart from the reformers. But, if they are to accomplish anything in terms of winning rights, they’ll need allies too, in addition to their own separate groups.

Anyhow, when I said it would behoove you to help the reformers, I didn’t mean that you should agree with them, or even that you should refrain from criticizing them. The main way you could help them is simply by acknowledging their existence more, preferably by name, thereby aiding their visibility, and thereby helping to counter the impresssion that all Muslims are regressive Islamists.

Likewise, it seems to me that it would be helpful (to the cause of fighting Islamism) if you could give more acknowledgement to the existence of the more mainstream moderate Muslims too. I would also suggest that you try, in your own way, to convince these moderate folks to support your rights and to oppose the persecution of “apostates.” It might be easier to convince them of that than to convince them to give up their religion altogether.

As I said earlier, I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t try to convince Muslims to leave their religion, too. I just mean to suggest that it might be in your own best interests to (1) broaden your focus and (2) make a more consistent effort to avoid stereotyping all Muslims as regressive Islamists.

7 Responses to “Islamism vs. Muslim reformers and moderates: Response to “The Apostate””

  1. samaha Says:

    It’s not just in regards to people who are ex-Muslims but on a larger scale that there seems to be this push from the agnostic side (by no means all agnostics) to eliminate Islam altogether. Some insist that this would just happen through “educating” Muslims and others would even resort to military intervention. However, when I’ve had these discussions in the past and ask “well, what about Christianity or Judaism or any other faith,” I always get a comment that goes something like “well, those faiths evolved and pose no threat” but that’s exactly the point as it would be simpler to “secularize” Muslims than to get Muslims to leave Islam altogether. Unfortunately the arguments always end up to be circular and quite honestly, it’s getting to the point where I can’t see the difference between an “Islamist” and those that would like to eliminate Islam.

    Anyway – bravo on this post!

  2. apostate Says:

    Diane, lots of points! I don’t have time right now to do this justice, but I will later.

  3. apostate Says:

    I’m writing a longer response to this at my blog, but wanted to challenge this point here, since it’s not one of the main points we’re discussing.

    I too would like to see more people leave Islam. However, the historical reality is that people who leave their religion altogether are relatively rare. Look at the history of Christianity in the West, especially here in the U.S.A.

    If you look at Europe, you find something else — people have left religion in majority numbers. The majority in many European countries is atheistic.

  4. Diane Vera Says:

    It’s true that many European countries have an atheistic (or at least nonreligious) majority. But this occurred gradually, over a period of a few centuries. It didn’t happen all at once.

  5. tarikur Says:

    I strongly support keeping Islam and here is why I support keeping Islam. If all Muslims leave Islam, those Muslims will lose their identity and pride. Islam is a culture and a community. Those ex-muslims will have no hliday to celebrate and if they do celebrate a holiday, it would be considered a foreign holiday. Europeans that left Christianity do celebrate Chrismas and every other Christian culture and tradition and therefore, they still have an identity. Without proper identity, people tend to develop inferior mentality complex.

    If all Muslims leave Islam, then most of them will become atheist. Most people can’t live without a befief system. After sometime most of the former Muslims will become Christians since it will be the dominant religion. For example, look at China, after Chinese left Buddhism due to communism and now so many Chinese is flocking to Christianity in high numbers. It is estimated that there are 100 million Christian in China today.

    By adopting foreign religion and culture like Western Christianity, those people will shamed off their ancestors and forefathers, who are now Muslims. They will never understand their own history, culture and always have an inferior mentality since none of the culture that they are practising is their own. They will view Wsterners unconsciously as superior. These have a lot of social dilemma such marriage. People from inferior comlex menatity will tend to marry foreign people that they tend to see as superior. Look what happening to Philippines and Korean, who adopted Christianity. I don’t mean to be racist but Philippines and Korean women tend to marry White men way more than say Indian women, who has an identity. Look up some statistics on this.

  6. Diane Vera Says:

    I don’t see the above as being, in itself, a good reason for people to hold on to Islam. There are other alternatives. People could, for example, try to reconstruct the cultures of their remote ancestors before the arrival of Islam.

    My point here is not to condemn those who do choose to hold on to a moderate form of Islam, just that the above is not, by itself, a good argument for doing so, in my opinion. As far as I am concerned, it should be up to the individual to decide what one’s religion will be, if any.

  7. tarikur Says:

    What I said is very complex and deep and what I said is the reality. It almost impossible to re-constuct any of the dead culture. There isn’t any group that successfully re-constucted their dead culture. Yes, there are few people in a group to follow successfully their dead culture but it doesn’t penetrate through the general population. Do you think Egyptian can re-constuct and live like and follow Ancient Egyptian’s culture or Iraqis can follow ancient mesopotomia’s culture? The answer is no. If the all the Egyptian left Islam today, they will probably adopt Western culture and after some time, they will adopt Christianity as their religion.

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