Fundamentalist Islam is More Rational than Moderate Islam

Last night I disagreed with Ed Brayton about what atheists are not supposed to say and I also mentioned Dan Fincke’s article about not letting fundamentalists define religion. I want to make something real clear: when it comes to Islam, fundamentalism makes much more sense and it’s much more rational than moderate Islam. Now, I wanted to write a long post about why moderate Islam is an inherently failed project, but I guess I will just say this: moderate Islam makes exactly no amount of sense. Zero. Like, if I were a Muslim, I’d totally be a fundamentalist. When I deconverted moderate Islam was not even an option because of how laughable and irrational it was.

Why do I say that? Well, all versions of Islam are irrational, because the premise to all of them is irrational. That premise is that “Quran is the word of Allah and true”. But, let’s imagine that premise is actually true. Now, which of these reasoning skills seem more rational to you:

Logical reason A:

a) Everything in Quran is true.

b) Quran says beat your wife and kill the apostate.

c) Beat your wife and kill the apostate.

Logical Reasoning B:

a) Everything in Quran is true.

b) Quran appears to say beat your wife and kill the apostate, but it doesn’t really mean that.

c) Dont’ beat your wife and kill the apostate.

Doesn’t logical reasoning B sound really motivated by wishful thinking, intellectual cowardice, spinning the words, copping out, and all these things that you would consider irrational in every other thinker? Isn’t line A much cleaner and neater and at least not motivated by political reasons to keep both the religion and the democratic modern values? Don’t you even doubt the honesty of the Line B? I do. They might be lying to themselves or to us, but they’re lying to someone.

Let me bring two examples here that I also used in that reasoning line above. It concerns two of the most controversial Quran verses, that atheists constantly use as example of Quran’s horrific side, and fundamentalist and moderate Muslims clash over it. Take a look at this verse:

Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. (Source)
The whole Surat An-Nissa is like “Misogynist Manifesto”, including gems with rules like women having to inherit less than men, women’s testimony being worth less than men, etc. Now if you’re a white-washer, how do you white-wash this?
Some Muslims claim that there are some hadith that say you should really strike them with a twig so that it doesn’t hurt. Which makes absolutely no sense. Not only being “softly spanked” is still abuse and humiliating, just, that there are also as many hadith to the contrary, and you can be very sure that those “spank them softly” hadith were made up by other white-washers. Or they argue that the word was mistranslated, which seriously wasn’t. And ultimately there’s no way around the fact that this verse very clearly states that women are inferior to men.
Let’s look at another controversial verse, which is from the same atheist gold mine, Surat An-Nissa:
They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah . But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.
I’m also a fan of this verse:
[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” (source)
Now how moderate Muslims work around this? I have heard two white-washes: I have heard two moderate ayatollahs saying that an unbeliever, ie a kaafir, is not actually a genuine atheist (or someone who converts to Christianity genuinely), but someone who knows Islam is true, actually is a Muslim at heart, but pretends to be an atheist because s/he’s an enemy of god.
What?
I mean, does that make sense to you? I’m very thankful that these moderate ayatollahs are trying to save my ass – but does that make sense to you? Would you be convinced with this stuff if you were a Muslim? Seriously?
The other explanation is that these non-believers are specific non-believers, those that lived at the time of the prophet. Now these were very asshole apostates because they pretended to become Muslims in the morning and then deconverted in the afternoon and therefore the Allah got pissed and ordered that apostates get killed.
Point is, moderate Islam lies on one claim: that there are two kinds of rules in Islam, the ones that belonged to the jaheliyyah era (pre-Islamic society) and Allah simply didn’t bother to change them and then rules that Allah added himself and those should be considered main rules and obeyed.
Problem is, you really can’t claim that the rules of sharia are historic and not meant as absolute and claim that Quran is absolute and yet subject the rules set specifically by Quran as not absolute and time-based. It also undermines the whole “the life of the prophet is the best interpretation of the Quran that we need to follow”. Seriously, this is a major contradiction here, it makes no sense.
Now let me quote my previous article:

Fundamentalists “pick and choose” what they want to believe just as much as liberals do. Christian fundamentalists claim that they are strictly obedient adherents to literal Bible but that is a dubious claim.

Well, my reaction to this is this: they’re still truer followers than the moderates. Like, if we had some grade for “How much do you really follow the religion you claim to follow” fundamentalists get D and moderates get F. Maybe that’s because Christianity has become much more moderate overall, maybe the last true Christian was Torquemada and all of the future Christians are false Christians who are just somewhat closer or farther from the “not Christian” end of the spectrum. Maybe there never even was a True Christian, because no one ever followed all those weird rules in Leviticus, maybe True Christian is a logical impossibility because of all the contradictions in the Bible…

Nevertheless, it’s legitimate to call people on their inner contradictions, and it’s legitimate when to cry bullshit when a moderate Muslims makes absurd claims such as “But if you look at Quran or the Prophet’s life you will see that Islam is not against equality for women” or “when Quran says apostates must be killed it actually means…”

I can logically prove and with a variety of evidence that Quran is a sexist book and it says kill apostates. I am happy that there are moderate Muslims who distance themselves from this stuff, but I still want to call them out on it because we need to teach our children that truth matters and that you still call out what you deem is wrong even if that wrong is less harmful or actually completely harmless.

And it’s not like that this is always against the religion. Like, I agree that Islam really doesn’t support FGM, as there is no verse or hadith or anything in the tradition to suggest it.

Maybe Christian fundamentalists pick and choose a lot. But fundamentalist Muslims pick and choose MUCH MUCH less than moderate Muslims. They are like a handful of verses that sound humane, most of which are completely stripped of that in the context, and they keep repeating those verses, like Surat An-Nissa (my favorite surat) begins with
O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah , through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.
Yeah this single verse says that you’re all the same in the eyes of god, but then it goes on to state very plainly that you’re supposed to follow Allah and Allah has made man superior to woman whose rights are half of his and can be beaten. The moderate Muslims quote the shit out of this single verse while attempting to ignore other verses, especially when it comes to non-Muslims. Or there’s one verse that says “It’s not mandatory to believe in a religion.” They quote the shit out of that too. Let’s take a look at it in context:
He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and their preservation tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Most Great. [verse 255]
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. [verse 256]
Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light. And those who disbelieve – their allies are Taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein. [verse 257] (Source)
This is no democratic “all are free to choose” situation. The verse simply states that people have free will, nothing more than that. There is ultimately no tolerance for them because they are condemned to fire.
Now, a commenter objected to my assertion. I’m going to quote him/her here:

That’s very much an assumption about what the text is, what it’s for, and what it means to “follow” it. Suppose that I follow the holy text of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Is it necessary to believe that the albatross was a literal bird? What am I supposed to make of the thousand thousand slimy things that lived on (and so did I)? The holy writ does verily call them “slimy things with legs,” so of course it’s rankest heresy to visualize them as worms or fish–but must I believe they actually “did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea”? Did they walk on water? Or are they like water striders: small enough not to break the surface tension? And in what way is the sea “slimy”? Was there a layer of foam or oil floating on its surface?

Fundamentalists of course assume that the Rime is literal: the mariner was an actual man; that the crews’ souls really did pass him by like the whizz of his cross bow; and then they really groaned, they stirred, they all uprose; etc., etc. To a fundamentalist Rimatarian, your goodness is measured by how literally you take the text. You cite a background in Iran, surrounded by fundamentalism, so it’s no surprise that you implicitly assume that this measure is self-evidently right. Liberal muslims are bad muslims; reformed Jews are bad Jews; liberal Christians are bad Christians; etc. They themselves would disagree with not only your assessment, but with the standard by which you’re measuring them to reach that assessment.

I think that Ed is right: informing them that they’re substandard Christians, Muslims or Jews is not going to help deconvert them. It’s only going to lead to an argument in which you tell them what they do, or should, believe. And it’s incredibly arrogant–on the order of born-again GW Bush telling the Muslim world what is or isn’t “true Islam.” (As opposed to allying himself with more moderate Muslim factions, which can be done respectfully.)

This is my first problem: How can rules be symbolic? OK, a moderate Christian might claim that Adam and Eve and other Bible stories are not “literal”. OK. I accept that. But Quran never tells stories, it sometimes alludes to them, always in passing, never narrating from beginning to middle to end. How can the parts I quoted can be symbolic? Of what? Where is the symbol? These are clear assertive sentences.

My second problem: Even if it doesn’t help deconvert them, it’s still… you know… true.

But, I end this post here. From this part onward the politics of the matter is touched, and I think that warrants a separate post. Tune in later, there is a part 2 to this.

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About Kaveh Mousavi

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.


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