Islam Q&A

Islam Q&A May 9, 2019

I decided to ask my Facebook friends to ask me any questions they have about Islam, thinking the questions and answers would make a good blog post. Feel free to ask your own questions in the comments. I had done one of these about Iran before, this new one is about Islam.

Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim at English Wikipedia, CC-LAYOUT; CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

What are the good and bad comparisons between Islam and American conservative Christianity?

Honestly, I’m not really sure if there are good comparisons. These movements have arisen from completely different histories and societies. Islamic conservatism is not entangled with Protestant work ethics, for example, therefore it’s much more susceptible to economic populism. The idea of scripture has evolved a lot differently, and literalism in Islam is completely different from literalism in Christianity. Islam is much more political, and the idea of following Mohammad is much different from following Jesus. I just think people shouldn’t use conservative Christianity as a means to understanding Islam.

does islam have something like god forgiving sins, like xtianity does?

We do have absolution in Islam. It’s not as easy as Christianity though, you do have to undergo some punishment for different kinds of sins.

Where are you at in the dispute between reformers like Maajid Nawaz and abolitionists like Armin Navabi?

I think society needs both Muslim reformists and anti-theist atheists. Firstly, I think these ideas deserve to be debated in an academic setting and neither part should erase the voice of the other. Secondly, considering concepts like the Overton Window and such, I do think we need both voices for real progress. Personally, I wish one day Islam disappears from the world by all of its followers deconverting, but obviously this is not happening in my lifetime so I’m glad to politically support reformists over more pressing and important priorities.

Are there mosques or sects of Islam that have a progressive theology? Is there anything like the “seeker friendly” movement in Christianity?

Depends on what you mean by “progressive”. If you mean progressive in comparison to other movements, yes, there are. If you mean progressive in abstract, while I do think there are many progressive people who happen to be progressive, and there are a few religious figures who are progressive, I don’t think any of them amount to “movement”, really, as in being a real and impactful force in Islamic theology. It’s pretty much dominated by various kinds of conservatives.

What do you LIKE the most about Islam? If you used to hold Islamic beliefs, what do you miss about it? Do you ever wish you could be Muslim?

I like Islam’s attitude toward charity and I’ve preserved it after becoming an atheist. I like to think of charity as a duty and not an extracurricular good thing to do. Also, I like how Islam includes non-material things in charity too. For example, there’s a saying that “The zakat of knowledge is teaching”. I like that. But no, I am grateful every day that I’m not a Muslim anymore. It’s a horrendous religion overall.

What attitude do you wish American and European atheists would have toward Islam in general?

An attitude that doesn’t end up Islamophobic and bigoted against Muslims while at the same time supports internal dissent in Islam and don’t throw ex-Muslims under the bus. It’s apparently a delicate balance.

an So I’m curious– Are there any rules that people tend to ignore from Islam, and if so, which are the most noteworthy that happens in Iran?

The majority of Muslims I know skip almost all daily prayers, don’t fast, drink alcohol, gamble, etc. Most Muslims I know are loose Muslims.

Is creationism as rampant in Islam as it is in Christianity?

It’s not rampant at all in Iran. In Iran they teach evolution in our schools and creationists are a tiny minority. It might be more rampant in other Muslim countries, but I don’t know about them.

What do you believe are the most misunderstood aspects of Islam among Westerners?

One is the idea of taghiyya, which is limited to Shiite Islam, and it doesn’t mean you can lie all you want. It means you can hide your religion if revealing it threatens your life, and that’s it. The idea that Islam is the same as Christianity. Lots of things.

Islamic societies were once bastions of scientific and artistic achievement. Now rightly or wrongly they are considered backward, or backward thinking. Is there any substance to either end of that claim, and if both are true, what happened?

I’ve already written about this, and it happens to me my blog’s most popular post. I’ll quote:

That era wasn’t that Islamic. While Harun al-Rashid and Ma’mun, the caliphates at the time, were strictly speaking “the rulers of the faithful” and their regime was theocratic, they came much closer to secularism than we ever did before or after. Ma’mun supported the Mu’tizili sect who believed in rationality and the scientific method, and tolerated religious dissidence and even non-believers. And also by all accounts these caliphs drank wine. So this era is not defined by the Muslim majority world following the tenets of Islam.

I recommend that you read the entire article.

What’s a concept in Islamic psychology/‘ilm al-nafs that you wish more Westerners were familiar with?

Nothing? First of all, ilm al-nafs is just the Arabic term for regular psychology, and if there really is a monstrosity called “Islamic psychology”, I don’t want to know anything about it, thank you very much.

Have you ever heard a Muslim (cleric or otherwise) give one or more interpretation of scripture or traditions (Qur’an, Hadith, holy days, etc.) that you found so absurd and potential for greater damage in Muslim society? Have you heard any interpretations that you found different but also improves upon the interpretations already there?

Oh, lots and lots of the first. The funniest gold mind is when people try to say that the Quran predicted scientific breakthroughs, for example I had a professor who said the jinn are actually the microscopic creatures and that Quran had discovered germ theory, or similar stuff. Sometimes, the ones in your first and second questions overlap; that is, progressive interpretation of the Quran and Hadith that are also at the same time quite ridiculous, as they try to convince us that the Quran didn’t ask for the execution of deconverts or didn’t allow men to physically beat women, whi require them to come up with ridiculous mental gymnastics. These interpretations are an improvement but also quite hilarious.

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