Interview: Qasim Rashid author of ‘Extremist’


Originally published in The Examiner


Qasim Rashid is an author, lawyer, member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and an outspoken critic of Muslim extremists. His new book, Extremist: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere, attempts to call out both extremist Muslims and extremist anti-Muslims. The following is an e-mail interview I did with Rashid about his book.

Greetings Qasim, I wanted to start out by thanking you for doing this interview. Prominent atheists like Sam Harris have often criticized moderate Muslims for not speaking out against Muslim extremists. Is this book a response to such criticisms?

“Greetings my friend. It is my pleasure to continue our dialogue. Thank you for conducting this interview.

Yes my book responds to critics who claim moderate Muslims don’t speak out, but not primarily. Primarily EXTREMIST is a response to anti-Islam extremists and Taliban extremists who both present a skewed and wholly incorrect narrative of what they claim is Islam. Those, like Harris, who claim moderate Muslims haven’t spoken out against Muslim extremists, are simply ignorant to reality and avoid the obvious that we have, for well over a century.

My book instead strives to present an intellectual response to both extremist views, and does so in an easy to understand manner. So, layman or scholar, EXTREMIST is not a difficult read.”

Your book focuses on a relatively obscure Dutch politician that very few Americans have ever heard of. I am curious, why did you choose to focus on Geert Wilders when there are so many American politicians who probably share the similar anti-Muslim views?

“Yes, Wilders is obscure, no argument there. I focused on Wilders for a number of reasons. First, he targeted his book to the American audience and unfortunately the far right gobbled it up. Thus, I felt a response was needed. Second, his publisher is a far right US based company that panders to far-right anti-Islam extremists. Thus, for the same reason as my first, I felt a response was needed. Third, I agree that several American politicians have advocated strong anti-Islam sentiments, and my colleagues and I have responded to them in the public forum as well. And, we will continue to do so. Wilders went one step further than most of these politicians with his original 15 minute film “Fitna” and now his anti-Islam polemic. Thus, I felt a most significant response was merited.”

On a related note, do you see a difference between legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamophobia?

“Glad you asked. In a recent Op Ed on the Huffington Post addressing Islamophobia I wrote verbatim, “No, Islam is not above criticism — it never was and never will be.” In this piece I also acknowledge that some cry Islamophobia when in fact it isn’t Islamophobia, that blasphemy laws need to go, and that we need more civility in our dialogue. Questioning or criticizing Islamic teachings is not Islamophobia—not by a long shot. Indeed the Qur’an itself commands Muslims to reflect, question, investigate, and ponder—not to believe blindly. Banning the Qur’an, seeking to “destroy Islam,” and stopping all Muslim immigration, is Islamophobia—and that needs to stop for the benefit of all involved.”

In the past you and I have had some interesting online discussions about Islam. One criticism I have with your position is your claim that so many Muslim extremists aren’t interpreting Islam correctly. Why is this not a case of the “No True Scotsman Fallacy?”

“There are two significant reasons why this is not a case of the No True Scotsman Fallacy. First, just in case someone is not familiar with this argument, here’s what the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” asserts (taken fromWikipedia)

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge.”
Person A: “Well, no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

Replacing this with Muslim it might look like this:

Person A: “No Muslim practices honor killing.”
Person B: “I am Muslim, and I practice honor killing.”
Person A: “Well, no true Muslim practices honor killing.”

The first reason why the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” doesn’t apply here is because it conflates Islam and Muslims. Islam is a religion, Muslims are people. I elaborate on this further below but let me start with an obvious admission—yes, some Muslims practice the barbaric act of honor killing. Some Muslims perform the barbaric act of death for blasphemy and apostasy. Some Muslims commit the barbaric act of suicide bombing.

Thus, the second reason why the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” doesn’t apply here is because you’ll notice I’m not denying that the people committing those horrible acts are Muslim. I’ll touch on this in a moment too.

Getting back to conflating Islam with Muslims, the question is not, therefore, what a true or untrue Muslim would do. The question is—can such acts be substantiated by the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Hadith—in that order? In other words, can such acts be substantiated by Islamic teaching? If so, then surely Islam is not the peaceful faith I profess it is. If not, then the acts of such Muslims can be dismissed as their delusional acts—not Islam’s teaching.

This is where intellectual dialogue and discourse comes in to play. Islamic teaching specifically forbids honor killing, forbids any worldly punishment for apostasy or blasphemy, and forbids suicide and terrorism. Therefore, should a Muslim engage in those acts and claim to follow Islam—shouldn’t the logical question be to see if the Muslim committing those acts can back it up with Islamic teaching? If he can, let him try. If he cannot, then why give that Muslim any credence in his representation of Islam? How can Islam suddenly be called violent—despite specifically condemning those violent acts—if some violent imbecile disregards clear Islamic injunction and commits those violent acts?

This is one of the difficulties I have with critics of Islam. When a terrorist commits an act of terror, virtually zero academic research or insight goes into how such a terrorist justified his claim from Islamic jurisprudence. A random verse excerpt is cited and suddenly every critic is a scholar. In fact, in responding to Geert Wilders’s book I was floored with the shameless disregard for even the most fundamental academic practices. He barely cites any of his work, and when he does, it is generally a fellow anti-Islam personality who likewise hasn’t a shred of academic credentials on Islam. When Wilders cites a legitimate Islamic reference, it is wholly irrelevant to what his assertion is in the first place, or he infuses a meaning simply not in the verse or hadith.

Meanwhile, when a Muslim claims that Islam teaches, for example, universal freedom of conscience, until and unless he can substantiate that claim with extensive argumentation and factual support, critics refuse to believe him. But for the record, it isn’t this critique I have a problem with. Yes, by all means hold Muslims accountable to verifying their beliefs and Islam’s teachings. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My only request—and it is a fair one—is to apply the same in depth scrutiny to extremists claiming Islam teaches violence. That is called objectivity and fairness.

Let us have a free exchange of ideas and let the best idea win. I’m reminded of a quote by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. He discussed the violent acts of extremists and rebuked them, declaring way back in 1902, “There is a lesson in this story for the pro-Jihad Mullahs. The growth of such horrible doctrines among the Muslims, has done lasting injury to the cause of Islam and created an abhorrence for it in the hearts of other nations. They have no confidence in their sympathy so long as the dangerous doctrine of Jihad finds favor with them. … The true religion is that which on account of its inherent property and power and its convincing arguments is more powerful than the keenest sword, not that which depends upon steel for its existence.”

So in short, the No True Scotsman Fallacy doesn’t apply here first because we are discussing what Islam teaches, not what Muslims do. Second, it does not apply because I am not denying that some Muslims commit acts of violence. My proposition, however, is fair. Instead of relying on such violent criminals, let us instead resort to intellectual dialogue and debate to determine what Islam—or any ideology—teaches. And let us hold terrorists to the same intellectual standard to which we hold moderates. Otherwise it is a double standard unbefitting of a fair and objective discussion.”

Do you worry about credible death threats from your fellow Muslims because of this book? And if so, doesn’t that refute the premise that Islam is a religion of peace?

“No, I don’t worry. Let them come. The worst they can do is to kill me.

Of note, I also receive threats of death and violence from non-Muslims. To them I give the same answer as above.

And no, it doesn’t refute my premise that Islam is a peaceful faith. As I make clear in EXTREMIST, Islam is to be judged by the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad, and his companions—i.e. its core. My book debunks those extremists who profess Islam teaches violence, and does so with logic and intellect. If such extremists can refute me on intellectual grounds, let them try. Until then, I leave them with another one of my favorite quotes by the Messiah Ahmad—also from way back in 1902:

  • “There is not the least truth in the assertion that it is time for resorting to the sword and gun for spreading the true religion and righteousness. The sword, far from revealing the beauties and excellence of truth, makes them dubious and throws them into background. Those who hold such views are not the friends of Islam but its deadly foes. They have low motives, mean natures, poor spirits, narrow minds, dull brains and short sight. It is they who open the way to an objection against Islam, the validity of which cannot questioned. They hold that Islam needs the sword for their advancement, thus brand its purity and cast a slur upon its holy name. The religion that can easily establish its truth and superiority by sound intellectual arguments, heavenly signs or other reliable testimony, does not need the sword to threaten men and force a confession of its truth from them. Religion is worth the name only so long as it is in consonance with reason. If it fails to satisfy that requisite, if it has to make up for its weakness in argument by handling the sword, it needs no other argument for its falsification. The sword it wields cuts its own throat before reaching others.”

What do you think atheists would be surprised to learn about your book, EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere?

“So far I’ve received nothing but glowing reviews from atheists who have read the book. Perhaps this is because I aggressively argue for atheists’ right to non-belief or perhaps it is because I do not use the book as an excuse to evangelize Islam. I think ultimately it is because I demonstrate with logic and facts that Islam is in fact a religion of moderation, tolerance, freedom of thought, pluralism, and compassion. I demonstrate that Prophet Muhammad was a servant to all humanity, taught racial harmony, gender equity, and interfaith accord.

Unfortunately due to contemporary Muslim majority political regimes like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, many don’t realize that Islam actively champions secular governance. In fact, I don’t believe any religion or ideology champions secular governance as clearly and vociferously as Islam. This is a point I argue in EXTREMIST, and I think that’s one big reason atheists have responded favorably. Therefore, I also think this is one thing atheists will in fact be surprised to learn when they read EXTREMIST.

Thanks again for the interview and I hope your readers found it worthwhile. If they feel so inclined, your network can find me on Twitter @MuslimIQ. They can pick up EXTREMIST on AmazonKindle, and soon on iTunes and Nook.

Thank you again for being interviewed by an atheist about your book despite our obvious differences on religious matters. This is a good example of inter-values dialog that I hope more Muslims and atheists experience.

About the author

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Qasim Rashid

Qasim Rashid is a best-selling and critically acclaimed author, practicing attorney, visiting fellow at Harvard University's Prince AlWaleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies, and national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

Qasim’s new book #TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education is due out in December 2015. #TalkToMe is a non-fiction memoir on how the power of dialogue can overcome racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and violence.

Previously, Qasim published EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere (2014), which became an Amazon #1 Best Seller on Islam.

Qasim’s first solo-authored work is the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance (2013).

Qasim regularly publishes on TIME, The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Daily Caller, and CNN. His work has additionally appeared in USA Today, The Daily Beast, National Public Radio, Virginia Pilot, among various other national and international outlets. He also regularly speaks at a variety of universities and houses of worship, and interviews in a variety of media including the New York Times, FOX News, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, Huff Post Live, Al Jazeera, NBC, CBS, Voice of America, among several other national and international outlets.

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