[Update: This post was slightly edited after publication to correct the erroneous impression that all German students would be taught Islamic theology. The bishop’s proposal pertains to Muslim students only.]

I don’t have the answers, but I sure have a lot of questions.

Should Muslim pupils in Germany’s state schools get educated in the tenets of Islam? If so, what version of Islam is the correct one that schoolchildren must internalize? Sunni Islam? Shiite Islam? Salafi Islam? Wahhabi Islam? Ahmadiyya Islam? Sunni Islam alone has five main sub-sects (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbalites, and Ẓāhirī), and all those f(r)actions have splinters. Who will decide, for the purposes of German schools, what the proper theology is?


Via Religion News Service:

The head of the Protestant Church in Germany has called for Islam to be taught in state schools across the country as a way to make young Muslims impervious to the “temptation of fundamentalists.”

May pupils who want no part of it simply opt out?

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper that teaching Islam in schools nationwide would give Muslim pupils a chance to take a critical approach to their own religion. … Germany has about four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population.

And who does Bedford-Strohm suggest to set the Islamic curriculum?

He said Islamic associations in Germany should be responsible for these courses and hoped they would organize themselves to be a “clear partner” for the German state.

So are the kids going to be taught that Allah is the way, the truth, and the light, and that Islam is the religion of peace? Or will they hear what is actually in the Qur’an, unfiltered, including the exhortations to smite unbelievers at their necks, to use violence in the service of piety, to sever the hands and feet of mischief-makers?

Unfortunately, the groups who are to be tasked with the Islamic education are known for theological and political battles:

[T]here have been recent rivalries and disputes among Islamic associations, which have complicated efforts to manage religious instruction for Muslims in some areas.

Does this plan have any chance to achieve its goal of reducing the appeal of violent jihad? Or is the bishop unwittingly constructing a Trojan horse, to be unleashed on all Germans?

(Image via Shutterstock)

Conservative Islam is even more intolerant of homosexuality than conservative Christianity. LGBT Muslims tend to stay in the closet, lest they are assaulted, imprisoned, or killed.

Australian imam Nur Warsame, who hails from Somalia, is no longer a closet dweller.


For decades he has lived for his religion, all the while holding on to a deadly secret, a secret he reveals intimately for the first time, a secret that could cost him his life: Nur is now Australia’s first openly gay Imam.

“Reconciling spirituality with sexuality is a very difficult journey,” he says. “There’s the name of the family you have to protect, the name of the community you come from… The reason it’s difficult for people to come out in the Muslim world or Islamic communities is because the losses are too high, the risks are too great, I mean there is even a risk to your life because the conservative school of thought in Islam to counter homosexuality is to be killed.”

Warsame now runs a support group for other gay Muslims.

“The idea is to make avenues and paths for other young queer Muslims to live their lives to the fullest and to hold on to their spirituality. My intentions are to try to make a difference in Muslim homes.”

He knows that makes him a target for violence.

“I can’t see the future or what’s going to happen however there is that element of extremism in our community so I am very cautious and I’m not one who’s easily intimidated,” says Nur. “And I have resources in place for safety and protection so I don’t walk into a storm unless I know which direction the wind is traveling.”

I hope he stays safe.

SBS, Australia’s public broadcaster, did a TV segment on Warsame that you can see here.

(Screenshot via SBS)

“They accuse me of atheism!
Oh you people, I see God in the flowers,
And you see Him in the graveyards,
That is the difference between me and you.”

That was one of the Facebook messages posted  by Omar Mohammad Bataweel, a young citizen of Yemen. It was brave, and very very risky.


On Sunday, according to al-Bab and al-Araby, local vigilantes, following their prophet’s pronouncement “Whosoever changes his religion, kill him,” abducted Bataweel and shot him in the head.

A young man in the southern Yemeni city of Aden has reportedly been shot dead by religious extremists. Omar Mohammad Bataweel had been accused of being an atheist due to several Facebook posts deemed by some Yemenis to be “critical of Islam”. He was abducted outside his home in the Crater district of Aden on Sunday evening, al-Bab reported. The next day his body was found in the Sheikh Othman district by local residents.

A source close to Bataweel told local media the young man had received death threats from extremists because of comments on social media that some viewed as critical or against Islam. Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman condemned the brutal murder saying it was carried out by extremist vigilantes.

“The crime of Omar’s murder in Aden for apostasy is a heinous act of terrorism that will happen again if takfiri ideology is not combated. The local authorities and government must find the killers and put them on trial,” she said on Facebook.

Renouncing Islam or apostasy is a crime punishable by death in Yemen as well as Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, but not commonly implemented by authorities.

Ain’t Islam grand?

(Image via Facebook)

[Note from Hemant: There was an overwhelming response to a recent post on this site about a tweet made by Richard Dawkins, including strong disagreements within our writing team. For that reason, we’re posting some additional thoughts on the matter so the conversation can go beyond the comment threads.]

I’ve disagreed with Richard Dawkins before on his insensitivity to women, feminism, and majority privilege. Some of it he’s apologized for, so I’d like to think we’re starting to be heard. I know all too well from environmental campaigns the importance of acknowledging our successes.

And thus, I part with my fellow Friendly Atheist contributor Lauren Nelson in her recent post, which struck out scathingly at Dawkins for the following single tweet:


There is nothing wrong with those words.  The question deserves answers, not attacks.

Lauren wrote:

It’s not unusual for renowned atheist Richard Dawkins to rub people of faith the wrong way. It’s not unheard of for him to get on the bad side of feminists. But it’s not every day that he pisses off the intersection of the two groups. But this week, with a series of tweets, that’s exactly what Dawkins did.

He started the hullabaloo off with this humdinger:  “Islam needs a feminist revolution. It will be hard. What can we do to help?”

When I first saw her headline — “Richard Dawkins Fails Spectacularly on Feminism and Islam” — I sighed and thought “Oh dear, what has he said now?” But when I arrived at his tweet, I kept scanning, looking for the bad part. I couldn’t believe it when I realized that was it. The entire article was a critique on those 15 words, and, in my opinion, it didn’t advance feminist goals, progressive goals, or Humanist goals.

Let’s work through her tally of problems with it.

For starters, Dawkins is a wealthy white Western male dictating what just under a billion women — and overwhelmingly, women of color — around the world “need” to do…

But Dawkins’ message was to the religion of Islam, not to women. That’s nearly all that needs to be said right there, but let’s continue:

He’s relying primarily on mainstream media accounts of what it’s like to be a woman living in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is prevalent.

How does she happen to know what information Dawkins uses to form his opinions?  We shouldn’t be in the business here of trying to read minds. That’s a basic courtesy we want for ourselves and should extend to others. If anything, Lauren’s assumption is contradicted by the fact that Dawkins begged his followers to read feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now — hardly a “mainstream media account” — calling it “the most important book I’ve read for years” and describing Hirsi Ali as a “hero of rationalism & feminism.”

Before I go any further, let me say as a feminist that I’m not particularly concerned about defending Dawkins, whose record on feminism is such a mixed bag.  What concerns me is the chilling message this article sends to our potential allies — that they risk their very reputation at our hands by merely asking if they can help.  Not just allies in feminism, but in atheism, Humanism, and progressivism in general.

Let’s return to Lauren’s next point:

… what Dawkins, and many critics of Islam’s relationship with women, forget is that this is only part of the picture. There are many more lived female experiences within this far-from-homogeneous culture of faith, and not all of them are ugly or oppressed. Much like most practicing Western Christian women are not sold to future husbands by their fathers for a couple of goats, many Muslim women embrace a very different interpretation of Islam than what we see in the headlines or read verbatim in the Qur’an.

… the arrogance of assuming all women experience Muslim life the same way…

Where in that 15-word tweet is any of this?  And is her point that because not all Muslim women are oppressed, atheists are to turn a blind eye to the systematic oppression of the many who are?

Next on her list:

… the ignorance of assuming that Muslim feminism doesn’t already exist.

Where is this assumption expressed in Dawkins’ tweet? It’s extremely improbable that Dawkins has not learned, at least from reading Hirsi Ali’s book, about the existence of Muslim feminism. How in the world does expressing the desire to see feminism succeed as a genuine Islamic revolution deny the existence of Muslim feminism?

The next problem Lauren has with those few words is:

… the implication being that these poor non-Western women of color could not possibly have figured this out before now and without his help.

Hate to be repetitious, but where is this in the tweet?  For heaven’s sake (pun not intended), all the man did was ask how he could help. Isn’t that exactly what we feminists have long told men we want them to do? Not tell us what we need to do, but instead ask us how they can help? There is no mansplaining here. Dawkins asked a genuine question that deserves genuine responses.

Lauren goes on:

But Dawkins’ biggest offense rests elsewhere: ego.

After sending out his initial tweet, he was hit with an onslaught of messages from Twitter users calling him out on the first two problems with his message.

Instead of hearing their words and correcting course, he defensively doubled down, rattling off passages from religious texts and referencing practices associated with fundamentalism. He pretended not to hear those informing him of the existing feminist movement.

When you offer someone “help” and they decline, it’s hardly productive to berate them for turning you down.

Actually, he was responding to only a handful of critical tweets, amidst mostly supportive ones. How does it make sense that to satisfy three or four Twitter users he doesn’t know — people who made it clear they oppose any atheist criticism of Islam — Dawkins should have instantly withdrawn any longstanding solidarity with women he knows and respects who are concerned about Islam’s oppression of women? Why is Lauren so quick to trivialize these women’s concerns? The post breezily dismisses the well-documented oppression of women under Islam.

Very importantly, Islamic laws and teachings about women don’t just impact Muslim women, but all women living in Islamic cultures, including atheist women forced to feign religion out of fear for their safety. Nor is Islam confined to Islamic nations. British women in Muslim communities in Dawkins’ own country no doubt have a wide range of views about all this. I doubt Lauren polled all these populations to determine how represented they feel by these few people on Twitter who say Islam does not oppress women. So how exactly did she determine these few to be representative of all women impacted by Islamic teachings and in a position to decline Dawkins’ offer of support on behalf of them all?

Next is every religionist’s favorite criticism of Dawkins, which is by now like accusing the Pope of being Catholic:

He was derisive and belittling.

Lauren doesn’t present any of Dawkins’ tweets as evidence, but in reading through his responses to these critics, I did find a little derision… that was directed only at very specific ideas, not people. These tweets were certainly not derisive or belittling of women or feminism. Dawkins was derisive and belittling of the idea that Muslim women are all okay with oppression and that Islam has nothing to do with the oppression of women.

Criticizing an atheist for belittling religious ideas that belittle women? That’s the same rabbit hole Christians forever try to pull us into with their complaint that liberals are intolerant of their gay intolerance. At this point, it began to feel as if her post was less about feminism than a dispute with Dawkins’ criticism of Islam in general.

She concludes with her own advice on how to help Muslim women (which as far as I know was just as unsolicited by Muslim women as Dawkins’ tweet):

If Dawkins wants to help, here are some practical suggestions. He should educate himself on the rich history of Musawah. He should donate some of his wealth to the efforts of existing Muslim feminist organizations. He should use his wide network to signal-boost Muslim feminists advocating on Twitter. But most importantly, he should start by listening to the people he aims to assist.

Fine suggestions, all of which I would echo. But by surrounding them with attack for asking the question, the chance they’ll resonate are dramatically reduced. Also, is Lauren quite sure that Dawkins has never done any of these?

Lauren wrote another post for this site recently that I very much admired, and I think it’s worth highlighting to see how her own rules of conduct might apply. In the piece about author Ta-Nehisi Coates, she wrote:

To say there has historically been a stigma against non-believers in black communities might be an understatement; there are entire groups out there dedicated to combating such disdain.

For an atheist leader to rise to the prominence Coates currently enjoys, despite the church-oriented communities he advocates for, represents a growing frustration with the lack of progress in the battle for racial equality…

What Coates teaches us is that atheists need not run from their beliefs in order to gain traction with the public at large… It is possible to express oneself as an atheist without alienating a larger audience, and it is possible to do so with an audience that has historically been religiously oriented. With courage and conviction, the time is ripe for would-be atheist leaders to step out of the shadows and up to the challenges that face the country as a whole today.

Again, I agree with her thoughts on this matter. But if we were to boil her message down to a tweet or two, would they not look suspiciously similar to what Dawkins said?  Is she not saying:

Black communities should combat disdain toward black atheists.

I’m frustrated with the lack of progress toward racial equality.

There’s a real disconnect between a white person expressing frustration with the lack of racial equality progress, then condemning a man for expressing frustration with the lack of gender equality progress.

There’s a disconnect between expressing a wish to see black atheists treated with more respect, then condemning someone for expressing a wish to see women within Islam treated with more respect.

Is she saying blacks need her help? Is she saying in her more recent piece that Muslim women need her help? Of course not. This is the surreal place such logic would take us.

When Lauren says “the time is ripe for would-be atheist leaders to step out of the shadows and up to the challenges that face the country as a whole today,” it seems she has two caveats: 1) As long as they criticize Christianity and not Islam, and 2) As long as they call for racial equality, not gender equality.

Or are we to assume that we atheists must also refrain from discussing inequality of women in Christianity as well because we’re not Christian either?

If so, what criticisms might Lauren have of my own recent post on race and Christianity? After the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, you’ll recall that Christian leaders widely claimed their liberty had been stolen just as slaves’ liberty was once stolen. I wrote:

This racially offensive trope being pushed by the Chief Justice, prominent religious leaders, and candidates with their expensive pollsters, is clearly set to become a significant theme with America’s white conservative Christians. They should be ashamed…

It seems like Lauren would say to me that someone like me (who isn’t Christian, black, or LGBT) shouldn’t call on the Christian community to do better with minority relations when I know perfectly well that it includes those oppressed groups. Shouldn’t they fight their own battles?

More recently, Dawkins tweeted this:

Was he suggesting that African LGBT people can’t take care of the situation themselves?

How about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s praise for white male Christian David Cameron, for his speech setting out the British government’s “five-year strategy for tackling extremist ideology, describing it as ‘struggle of our generation.’” (at 1:15)

This was an excellent, excellent speech… he rejects outright any kind of narrative — whether it is violent or nonviolent — any kind of narrative that is about submission, that is about intolerance, that is about bigotry and gender segregation…

Was Cameron implying that British Muslim women needed his help? Was Hirsi Ali wrong not to have attacked Cameron, too?

Since no single atheist can ever be a part of every minority community represented by a given religion, this rule can be used to silence any atheist for speaking about the need for social progress within any religion. Really, it could be used to silence any progressive from speaking for social progress nearly anywhere. Should the West not have partnered in divestment from apartheid South Africa? Or is racial apartheid a cause worthy of Western support, while gender apartheid is not?

When I read Lauren’s earlier admonishment that “it is possible to express oneself as an atheist without alienating a larger audience,” I had to laugh wryly. It’s apparent from looking around the net that a sizable freethinking audience has just been alienated by her essay. In reading their reactions, what I’m seeing is not a defense of “our hero Dawkins,” but a kind of giving up on wanting to help so as not to risk getting blasted for imperfect phraseology. And that’s most unfortunate.

I can’t speak for all women. No one can. But I speak for myself when I say I don’t want to see us condemn anyone for asking how they can help promote feminism.

I submit that articles such as these from my fellows on the left do far more to discourage would-be atheist leaders from stepping out of the shadows than anything from the Religious Right.

In his latest podcast, posted last night, Sam Harris talks about the tragic murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad. After saying that he feels nothing but horror over the crime, and that the victims were by all accounts marvelous people, he addresses the assertion that New Atheists like him have “blood on their hands,” in the lovely phrasing of C.J. Werleman.

The deluge of claims of equivalence between this crime, and the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and the daily behavior of a group like ISIS, has been astonishing to witness. You can sense that people have just been waiting for a crime like this that could conceivably be pinned on atheism.

But of course the analogy between militant atheism and militant Islam is a terrible one. It’s an anti-analogy. It is false in every respect. Atheists are simply not out there are harming people on the basis of their atheism. Now, there may be atheists who do terrible things, but there is no atheist doctrine or scripture; and insofar as any of us have written books or created arguments that have persuaded people, these books and arguments … only relate to the bad evidence put forward in defense of a belief in God. There’s no argument in atheism to suggest that you should hate or victimize or stigmatize whole groups of people, as there often is in revealed religion.

And what we’re seeing is that people like Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan, the usual suspects, the bevy of apologists for theocracy in the Muslim world, are using this very real tragedy in Chapel Hill to try to stoke a kind of mob mentality around an imagined atheist campaign of bigotry against Muslims. It’s an incredibly cynical and tendentious and opportunistic and ultimately dangerous thing to do.

Of course people like Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan are alleging that there is some kind of double standard here — that atheists are so quick to detect a religious motivation in the misbehavior of Muslims worldwide, [but] when it comes to their own, well, then they discount the role played by atheism. But this is just a total misrepresentation of how an atheist like myself thinks about human violence.

It is obvious that some instances of Muslim violence have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, and I would never dream of assigning blame to the religion of Islam for that behavior. …

But the problem, of course, is that there are teachings within Islam that explicitly recommend, in fact demand, violence under certain circumstances, circumstances which we in the 21st century, if we are decent human beings, will recognize as being morally insane. Apostasy, blasphemy, adultery. Merely holding hands with a man who is not your blood relative or husband (if you are a woman unlucky enough to be born in a country like Afghanistan), these are rather often killing offenses. And the link between the doctrine as it is understood by Islamists and jihadists at this point, and the behavior, is explicit, it’s logical, it is absolutely unambiguous. And yet this doesn’t prevent people from denying it at every turn.

Now, there is no such link between atheism or secularism, and violence of any kind. In any circumstance. There’s nothing about rejecting the truth claims of religious dogmatists, [and] there’s nothing about doubting that the universe has a creator, that suggests that violence in certain circumstances is necessary or even acceptable. And all the people who are comparing these murders to Charlie Hebdo — or to ISIS, as insane as that sounds — are really trivializing a kind of violence that threatens to destabilize much of the world. And ironically it is violence whose principal victims are Muslim.

After going on a tangent about the prevalence of religion-motivated hate crimes (Harris uses FBI crime stats to argue that it doesn’t amount to much, an opinion that I don’t think helps his case), he speculates on what drove the killer of the three young Muslims in Chapel Hill.

People are saying that this could not possibly have been a triple murder born of a neighbors’ dispute over a parking space. But this is the most common form of interpersonal violence! It never makes sense on paper! You’re talking about people who fail to regulate their emotional states. And they have, in the U.S., ready access to weaponry that makes it incredibly easy to kill someone impulsively.

Harris then temporarily returns to more familiar territory.

[There is] this basic incompatibility between a seventh-century theocracy and our collective aspiration to build a truly pluralistic and global civil society. … And for some reason, people on the left have aligned themselves with theocrats and people who are truly intolerant, intolerant of the very liberal values that apologists for Islam think they’re enunciating. As I’ve said before, tolerance of intolerance is just cowardice. And it’s a cowardice that is increasingly consequential.

This analogy between so-called militant atheism and militant Islam is essentially a moral hoax. The thing that very few people seem able to distinguish, and the distinction that Greenwald and Aslan obfuscate at every opportunity, is the difference between criticizing ideas and their results in the world, and hating people as people because they belong to a certain group, or because they have a certain skin color, or because they came from a certain country. There is no connection between those two orientations. The latter is of course bigotry and I would condemn it as harshly as anyone would hope.

But criticizing ideas and their consequences is absolutely essential, and that is the spirit in which I have criticized Islam in various flavors, and Christianity, and Judaism, and Buddhism. And all of these criticisms are different because these belief systems are different.

After marveling that Glenn Greenwald’s defense of Islam “is coming from a gay Jew living safely outside the Muslim world, who would be hurled from a rooftop anyplace within it,” he turns again to the triple murder by Craig Stephen Hicks.

Let me concede, it’s certainly possible that the murders in North Carolina were a hate crime. It could be that when Hicks starts talking, he’ll tell us how much he hates Muslims and he just wanted to kill a few; and he might even say he read the God Delusion, and the End of Faith, and God is Not Great, and took from these books some kind of rationale to victimize Muslims at random. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that that’s the case. I will be flabbergasted if Hicks says that his atheism drove him to commit these murders. Whereas the next jihadist will almost certainly say that his religion mandated that he behave the way he did.

But perhaps people like Greenwald and Aslan think that criticizing Islam is just dangerous because it could be misunderstood by bad people [fascists and the like]. Well, by that standard we can’t criticize anything. As Ali Rizvi pointed out, this would be like saying we can’t criticize US foreign-policy because some number of people overseas will become so agitated by this criticism, by reading Noam Chomsky or Glenn Greenwald, that they will then kill U.S. tourists at random. Is that possible? Sure it’s possible. But we have to be able to criticize U.S. foreign policy.

Some of what people like Chomsky and Greenwald write about U.S. foreign policy is correct. Should they be held responsible if some deranged person takes their writing and uses it as a basis for intolerance or even murder? No. Of course not. And the same can be said of any criticism or of doctrine of Islam.

At this point, you can hear the tension in Harris’s voice thickening as the topic morphs into his personal safety, and his family’s.

I want to make one thing very clear. In saying or writing or otherwise publishing the opinion that I have blood on my hands, and then backing that up with conscious misrepresentations of my views about Islam, that is a dangerous thing to do. … It increases the risk to me and my family. …

There’s some number of people among [Greenwald’s and Aslan’s] readers who are proper lunatics, goons, and madmen; who are organized entirely around this variable of Islam and its importance to their lives and to the future of humanity. And if you tell them, as Greenwald and Aslan repeatedly have, whether in their own words or by circulating the lies of others, that I want to nuke the Muslim world, or that I want to round Muslims up for torture, or that I’m a genocidal fascist maniac, or that I want to profile dark-skinned people at airports, or that I want to kill people for thought crimes, or that I have blood on my hands for the murders of three beautiful young people in North Carolina, this is dangerous. And I’ve asked them to stop it, and I’m asking them to stop it again.

(Image via Facebook)

Follow Us!

Browse Our Archives