Challenging the ISIS and Islamophobe Narrative on Islam

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Originally Published in The Huffington Post

In the wake of the recent Paris attacks, new atheist writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali is screaming out at her loudest again. “Islam needs reform,” she insists.

But is she right?

We must understand that Muslims are not a monolith. They come in all colors and sects. I, for instance, identify with the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the single largest community of Muslims worldwide, with tens of millions of members in over 200 countries; all united under one leader — His Holiness, the Khalifa of Islam.

Islam, which is academically defined by the Quran and the established teachings of Prophet Muhammad, is seen differently by the different Muslim sects. So which Islam needs reform? The one that ISIS proclaims, or that of its biggest victims — peaceful Muslims of all sects? If it is the ideology flaunted by ISIS, yes it does need reform — and badly. But if it is the faith that I devoutly hold on to — and that is currently thefastest growing Muslim reform across the world — then I am afraid not.

Hirsi Ali will tell you that true Islam is that followed by ISIS and I am a ‘nominal Muslim.’ Other new atheists use similar terminology for the vast majority of Muslims who do not agree with the ISIS narrative. Just like extremist Muslims, leading new atheists have referred to me as a “bad Muslim,” “cafeteria Muslim,” and even a non-Muslim. Their interest is in brandishing the ISIS narrative as the only legitimate position on Islam. Everything else is heretical.

In other words, when the new atheists say Islam needs reform, they are actually describing the ideology of ISIS.

This tainting of the faith of 1.6 billion people as an “nihilistic cult of death,” as Hirsi Ali calls it, directly contributes to the rapid rise in Islamophobia we are seeing today. It is similar bigotry that confuses extremist Zionism for Judaism, the acts of KKK andLRA for Christianity, the likes of the League of Militant Atheists for atheism, and the aggression of the US military for the American people.

So when Hirsi Ali agrees with ISIS as the sole true representative of the Islamic faith, its is not surprising that the rest of the Muslim world — the biggest victims of the ISIS narrative — fights their combined attempts at hijacking our faith.

But what is this reform she wants Islam to undergo anyway?

Hirsi Ali will tell you Muslims must reject violence in the name of Jihad, reject apostasy and blasphemy laws, vouch for separation of Church and State, endorse secular governance, and stand up for free speech etc.

I agree. They must. And here’s the news. Most do.

Established in 1889, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, for instance, has a 126-year history of demonstrating that Islam promotes universal justice, freedom of speech and free exchange and criticism of ideas. We promote peace through dialogue and support universal freedom of conscience for people of all faiths — and of no faith.

We are also at the forefront of humanitarian service throughout the world. In the United States alone, we collected 30,000 bags of blood to commemorate 9/11 victims in the last three years. In my city of Boston, we have carried out numerous blood drives to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

On theological grounds, we condemn violent Jihad, reject apostasy and blasphemy laws as un-Islamic and champion the separation of Church and State. We lead national and international campaigns — like #StopTheCrISIS — that provide for a robust counter-extremism narrative to youth everywhere.

And the inspiration for all our work — and the basis for our beliefs — is Islam. We believe in what we do, not in spite of, but because of the teachings of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad.

But far from considering us reformers, Hirsi Ali fights our narrative vehemently,declaring war on us. Far from rallying behind us — as our bodies pile up defending ourselves from the extremists — she opens another front against us. Why? Because she isn’t interested in reforming as much as stigmatizing — like ISIS does — the Islamic faith. Her obsession is not with Muslims being reformed, but in somehow admitting the existence of teachings in the Quran that she and ISIS ascribe to it.

But unlike what Hirsi Ali would want you to believe, evils like apostasy and blasphemy laws and the ISIS narrative on Jihad are non-existent in the Quran. Regarding the apostasy laws, for instance, even her comrade Sam Harris admits to this when he says, “Interestingly, [the penalty for apostasy] isn’t spelled out in the Koran.”

For obvious reasons, I cannot have a debate with ISIS on what the Quran actually teaches. So I settled for the next best option — the new atheists.

I had a debate with a new atheist blogger on Islam and apostasy laws and there was nothing he could point out to in the Quran that proved his — and ISIS’s — point-of-view. I followed this with a challenge for him to defend the ISIS narrative on blasphemy laws. He has since avoided all contact. So, Hirsi Ali, maybe you can do better and come out in defense of the ISIS narrative as the sole legitimate position on Islam?

I do not deny that there are interpretations — as in every other ideology — of text by extremist clerics and terrorists that promote an ideology of hatred and bigotry. But if these interpretations are what irk Ali, why does she not stand with me in fighting them? Why does she instead doggedly insist I provide legitimacy to these interpretations? Why does she fight my reformist narrative that is practically changing hearts in the millions across the Muslim world?

We must understand that the only way to defeat the ISIS narrative is by providing a reformist counter-narrative that is based on intellectual honesty and truth. Such a narrative exists. Let us support it, not fight it.

 

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