It Really Is Okay To Criticize Islam

It’s happened again. With the attacks on Paris by Islamic extremists, we are revisiting a problem that we have had for decades now. Islam and Muslims are drawn front and center into a spotlight most do not wish to be in.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric on the topic of Islam is generally polarized, without a rational, middle ground. While right-wing conservatives tend to go too far and too often take a bigoted approach to Muslims and declare that Islam is the most evil ideology ever, the liberal left goes too far in trying to defend Islam against any criticism. Neither approach is accurate, or constructive, and often works against the interests of liberal, reformist, or ex-Muslims.

This quest to say that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam and Islam is a religion of peace is a bit tiresome. It is just not true. It is equally untrue to say the ISIS represents Islam. It doesn’t. It doesn’t in the slightest. Nor do any of the other number of militant Islamic groups. There really isn’t an actual representative of the religion. It isn’t ISIS, but it also isn’t the person that says Islam is a religion of peace and ISIS is not Islamic. It’s all a part of Islam, and it’s important to be honest about this. ISIS doesn’t just pull their ideas out of a hat. Their roots are deeply rooted in the Quran and the life of Mohammad. Let’s stop pretending.

And this is what a former Islamic radical, Maajid Nawaz of the Quillium Foundation, a British organization that fights radicalism, points out nicely when it comes to ISIS.

“No. They are not Islam — of course they’re not. Nor am I, nor is anyone, really, because Islam is what Muslims make it. But they have something to do with Islam. If you’re going to argue with one of them — and I do all the time — you’re not discussing Mein Kampf. You’re discussing Islamic texts…”

And it is important to acknowledge this. Why? Well, how is one supposed to get to the root of the problem at hand if no one is willing to admit what part of the problem is. And part of the problem lies in the religion itself. Are there other factors? Sure, you bet. There are no shortages of factors that play a role in these events. Sure, one can argue that foreign policy of countries like the U.S. can be a factor in current world issues. But to automatically wish to eliminate one of the factors, the religion itself, is misleading and dangerous.

It is important to remember that a religion, like Islam, is a set of ideas. Muslims are people. People deserve to be protected. Promoting hate against people just because of their religion is wrong. Discriminating against Muslims just for being Muslim is wrong. Since the attacks in Paris happened, there have been some alarming incidents in Canada, one where a mosque was burned down in Peterborough, Ontario, another where a Muslim woman was attacked in Toronto, and another where a man dressed in a Joker mask made a YouTube video where he threatened to kill one Arab a week. This is unacceptable. This is wrong. This is not constructive, productive, or even humane.

However, discussing, criticizing, analyzing, and debating the Islam, looking at the holy texts and the life of the prophet Mohammed is good. It is important to do this. Ideas don’t deserve protection. They need to be scrutinized. And Islam is absolutely no different in this way. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Islam. Absolutely nothing. And it must not be treated as if it is wrong.

There is a term, Islamophobia, and it is a problematic word. It refers to hate towards both Muslims AND Islam. Well, there is nothing wrong with looking at a set of ideas and not liking it. There is, however, something wrong with looking at a whole group of people and saying you hate them merely because they belong to a certain group. And this is something that needs to be recognized and understood, according to Atheist Revolution.

“Some atheists seem to have a very difficult time reconciling the importance of criticizing Islam and their fear of “Islamophobia.” I do not find Islamophobia to be a helpful construct, as it seems designed to silence much needed criticism. On the other hand, I can and do recognize that anti-Muslim bigotry exists and can be a real problem.”

So, in the wake of the attacks in Paris associated with ISIS, we must keep the lines of communication open to be able to discuss the religion that is involved with what happened. We must protect free speech and the ability to criticize ideas like those that lie within Islam. On the other hand, we must also fight against hatred, bigotry, violence, discrimination, and torment of people just because they are Muslim. It’s pretty straightforward, really. Challenge ideas but don’t hurt people.

[Feature image Dan Kitwood / Getty Images]