In the past week or so we’ve heard Ben Affleck defend Islam against the criticisms of Sam Harris and Bill Maher, with Affleck (and Nicholas Kristof) claiming that many Muslim-majority countries are—unlike Saudia Arabia and Iran—benign, even supportive of women’s rights. And right before that, Muslim apologist Reza Aslan went on CNN to make the same points, also arguing that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not an Islamic practice, but an African practice (sometimes done by Christians), and cannot in any sense be pinned on his religion.
In general, all of this is Islam-osculation reflects Americans’ desire to bend over backwards to avoid offending Muslims. Part of it is fear of the misguided accusation of “Islamophobia;” part of it is reverse racism (although Islam is not a race): the notion that Muslims should be held to a lower standard of behavior than people in the West; and part of it is simple fear of what will happen if we offend the feelings of Muslims.
Regardless, a lot of the defense of Islam is factually incorrect. While some assertions have a grain of truth (FGM is practiced by non-Muslims, and has been co-opted by the faith), a lot is simple apologetics. Reza Aslan is a particularly good example of someone who distorts the truth to defend his faith, and it’s made him popular and, with two religion-coddling bestsellers, well off.
But even countries like Malaysia and Indonesia—often cited as examples of “good” Muslim countries—are hardly paradise. In a new post at The Friendly Atheist, two “apostates”, Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider, co-founders of Ex-Muslims of North America, have written a rebuttal to Aslan’s claims, ‘Reza Aslan is wrong about Islam and this is why.”
You’ll want to read it. It isn’t that long, but is informed by the knowledge of two ex-Muslims who know a lot more than most of us do about those “good Muslim states.” As Syed and Haider say in their post:
Nearly everything Aslan stated during his segment was either wrong, or technically-correct-but-actually-wrong. We will explain by going through each of his statements in the hopes that Aslan was just misinformed (although it’s hard for us to imagine that a “scholar” such as Aslan wouldn’t be aware of all this).
They take on three issues highlighted by Aslan. I’ll give only brief excerpts, which I’ve indented.
1. Women’s rights.
Aslan contends that while some Muslim countries have problems with violence and women’s rights, in others like “Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men” and it is therefore incorrect to imply that such issues are a problem with Islam and “facile” to imply that women are “somehow mistreated in the Muslim world.”
Let us be clear here: No one in their right mind would claim that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are a “free and open society for women.” Happily, a few of them have enshrined laws that have done much to bring about some progress in equality between the sexes. But this progress is hindered or even eroded by the creeping strength of the notoriously anti-woman Sharia courts.
For example. . .
2. Women as heads of state in Muslim-majority countries.
Aslan’s claim that Muslim countries “have elected seven women as their heads of state” is an example of “technically true, actually false” — a tactic we have often noted among religious apologists.
It is true that there have been seven female heads of state in Muslim-majority countries, but a closer inspection would reveal this has little to do with female empowerment and often has much more to do with the political power of certain families in under-developed parts of the world. . .
3. Female genital mutilation.
Finally, we get to Aslan’s claim that it is “actually, empirically, factually incorrect” that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a “Muslim-country problem.” Rather, he believes it is a “central African problem.” He continues to state that “nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.”
This is an absolutely ridiculous claim. . .
To know why the claims are bogus, go read the post, which has garnered 750 comments. I find Aslan a slippery character, one who’s prone to exaggerate his credentials as a “religious scholar.” Of course I generally frown on “credential flaunting,” but it doesn’t speak well for someone’s integrity to bend the truth about one’s training. And he constantly mentions his exaggerated credentials to buttress his claims.
More important, Aslan’s treatment of Islam (he’s a Muslim) is often a whitewash, as I found by reading his book No god but God. In it, he bends the history of Islam towards the most charitable possible interpretation of everything, and he’s been caught out a few times. One thing that irritated me immensely was Aslan’s excusing, in the book, Muhammad’s taking and having sex (if you can call it that) with a nine-year-old girl. As Syed and Haider note:
This isn’t the first time Reza has stated half-truths in defense of his agenda. In his book No God But God, he misleads readers about many issues including the age of Muhammad’s child-bride Aisha. Scripture unanimously cites Aisha’s betrothal at age 6 or 7 and consummation at 9. Similarly, he quotes Mariya the Copt as being a wife of the prophet when overwhelming evidence points to her being Muhammad’s concubine.
Of course there are many moderate Muslims, but I want to know how many of them truly are for full women’s equality and also decry the oppressive sharia law favored by so many of their coreligionists. If they’re out there, why don’t they speak up?
Well, they are out there, but we know why they keep quiet.