It's fine to criticize certain aspects of Islam, but it should be done in the proper context
Is Islam the most violent modern religion? This question surrounding Islam is complicated for western audiences, but it is still legitimate to ask? We often are given the wrong questions about Islam, so we often conclude with the wrong answers. I believe any religion is worthy of criticism, but we have to give said criticisms proper context.
A recent spat arose between Bill Maher and scholar Reza Aslan, over the question of Islam’s role in the world. An argument that spilled over the following week on Bill’s show between him, Sam Harris and Ben Affleck. As anyone who watches Bill Maher knows, he has very sharp opinions about the Islamic faith and religion in general. When it comes to Islam though, his opinions can cause many liberal viewers to split with him. I believe the debate is necessary, however there needs to be better questions being asked.
In Maher’s case, Bill does seem to miss several points. First, Bill often tends to lump all Muslims together in a way he doesn’t with other religions. second, Bill also tends to frame issues in the Middle East as solely an Islamic problem, without political and external factors.
In Reza Aslan’s case, he tends to say the opposite. Islam has many proportions that can spur radicalization. The radical elements of the religion can’t all be summed up to foreign policy errors. There is an element to the faith that should be scrutinized, but not in the way Maher suggests.
Maher has often stated that “not all religions are the same.” He is correct, to a degree, not all religions in the world are the same. I would never compare a Hindu and a Baptist as the same stock. Yet, Maher often makes his statement to single out Islam and Islam alone as the most violent religion in the world.
While Maher criticizes Christian religious beliefs, he holds this vain idea that Christianity has inherently transformed into a pacified faith not worthy of serious fear, while Islam is a threat to world peace. Maher claims that Islam breeds more violence, but still he fails to see the context. Islam and Christianity are very close, it just depends where you look.
The reason why Christians are not acting in ways that our Muslim counterparts are in certain countries is a lack of secular governments. Some Muslim countries, like Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey have secular governments. They do not impose harsh Sharia law, there woman are largely free and there is very little religious violence. Nations like Saudi Arabia however lack a clear separation of religious institutions and government. This type of country breeds the extremism Maher refers to.
Christianity in the Western world today is under the auspices of secular governments who do not permit religious laws to rule the population. The reason the US and Europe doesn’t burn witches at the stake anymore is because the governments of today have separated the religious institutions (for the most part) from holding major power. This doesn’t mean that Christianity doesn’t breed extremism, it simply means that those extremists are largely kept in check from seizing political power.
Christian nations that lack clearly defined separation of religion and state breed extremists like Muslim countries. In Uganda, for example, recent attempts at making homosexuality a death sentence reveals an issue of extremism in a Christian nation. This same nation also bred the notorious LRA, who, by all accounts, are the Christian equivalent of ISIS. In Nigeria, parts of the country that are Christian have engaged in witch-hunts, including persecuting children, with intentions of killing them.
These are the effects of what Christianity can produce when left unchecked in society, much like Islam. The problem with certain Muslim countries is not the faith, but with the faith dominating public life. Secular mechanisms keep religious extremism in check. Thanks to democracy and secularism, there is no real Christian theocracy to speak of in the western world. Muslim countries that lack these two important ingredients will always be a hotbed for extremism. It is here that Muslims must find solutions and it starts with places Saudi Arabia.
None of this affirms Islam as the sole source of religious violence, but it also means that any criticisms we hold be made from the view of secular discourse. This also means that Islam is not the sole religion worthy of criticism and ridicule. When it comes to Islam, asking a question doesn’t confirm a point of view.