Sam Harris, Omer Aziz, and Motivations

I finally got a chance to listen to Sam Harris’s podcast debate with Omer Aziz. Before getting to the debate, Harris spends the first 30 minutes of his podcast explaining how he is right about everything. It clearly went on too long and conveys a certain sense of insecurity, where he is trying too hard to ensure everyone will hear the debate as he does. Then, once the debate begins the two spend about 45 minutes arguing (where Harris does most of the talking) about the first paragraph Aziz wrote:

There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Reformation. Writing a book that fits in this category is actually quite easy. First, label yourself a reformist. Never mind the congratulatory self-coronation the tag implies; it is necessary to segregate oneself from all the non-reformists out there. Second, make your agenda clear at the outset by criticizing what is ailing Islam and Muslims. The Qur’an is a good place to start because Muslims, especially in the Middle East, surely treat their holy book more like a military instruction manual than anything else. Third, propose a few solutions. Lest you be accused of nuance, the more vague and generic these are, the better. Fourth, soak up the inevitable publicity that awaits, and with it, your hard-earned cash. Voilà!

Harris objects to the idea he wrote the book as some “get-rich-quick” scheme. Jamie Palmer summarizes Harris’s arguments:

Harris pointed out — inter alia — that slim volumes published by Harvard University Press were hardly a lucrative way to make a living; that most of what Harris described as his core audience had limited interest in the topic of radical Islam; that the reputational and security costs associated with writing critically about Islam were enough to dissuade others interested in the topic from touching it; and he pointed out that he and Nawaz had been offered no advance on the book and that he had no idea how well it was selling.

At this point, I would have to agree with Harris. Aziz clearly missed the mark in trying to portray the book as a “get-rich-quick” scheme. He completely missed the more likely financial motivation behind the writing the book.

When Harris goes on and on about all the downsides to writing the book, we are left wondering why indeed did he write this book? After all, he is not some Islamic or religious scholar who has some expert knowledge or new insight to contribute. There is no CV to pad. And, as he says, he would rather be talking about his atheist spirituality. So why write it?

Of course, part of it has to do with his atheist activism. Islamic extremism and Islamic terrorism fit comfortably into his activist message of religion being evil. The problem for Sam is when he holds up Islam as an example of the evils of religion, those on the Left view this as racism and bigotry. And therein lies Sam’s problem.

For some time, Sam’s liberal enemies (Greenwald, Myers, etc.) have been portraying him as an Islamophobe, bigot, and racist. Such accusations culminated in the Ben Affleck debate. Affleck, a very famous movie star and producer, made the very same accusations on an television show. This led Harris to complain:

One of the most depressing things in the aftermath of this exchange is the way Affleck is now being lauded for having exposed my and Maher’s “racism,” “bigotry,” and “hatred of Muslims.” This is yet another sign that simply accusing someone of these sins, however illogically, is sufficient to establish them as facts in the minds of many viewers. It certainly does not help that unscrupulous people like Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald have been spinning the conversation this way.

Here’s where the financial motivation comes into play. How does Harris make a living? By selling himself. And if the racist/bigot label gains too much traction, the Sam Harris brand is damaged. In fact, if you listen to his podcast with Aziz, he effectively admits this. At 33:40, he complains that accusations of him being racist are closing off other opportunities for him to make money, at 34:00 he clearly states that being called a bigot and racist isn’t good for his career (and his “career” is to sell books and get paid for speeches), at 38:30 he complains about the “cost” of dealing with this issue, from 38:40 to 39:30 he makes it clear accusations of racism/bigotry interfered with his ability to promote his meditation book, and at 43:15 he complains about the “reputational costs” associated with such accusations.

We get it. The accusations of Islamophobia, racism, and bigotry are bad for business. They make it harder for Sam Harris to make money. They make it harder for him to expand his market.

So along comes the book about Islam. Was it a get-rich-quick scheme? I don’t think so. I think it was damage control. Harris was able to throw something together, with minimal effort, working with former Islamist Maajid Nawaz – Islam and the Future of Tolerance. This pamphlet/book would serve as his way of denying those accusations by creating the impression that he works with Muslims. After all, how could he be a racist and bigot if he co-authors a book with a Muslim? And sure enough, Harris fan Hemant Mehta uses the book in just this way:

[Aghapour and Schulson] say [Harris] doesn’t see Muslims as individuals, but as monolithic… Not only did Harris write his latest book with someone who identifies as a Muslim, he’s actively praised Muslim reformers like Malala Yousafzai, and supported the work of moderate Muslims who want to reform the extremist views within the faith.

Harris did not write the book to promote some new insights into reforming Islam (after all, his book has generated no discussion along these lines). He wrote it to show that he can work with a Muslim. He wrote it to show he doesn’t think all Muslims are evil. In essence, Maajid Nawaz can now serve as his shield against the accusations that are hurting his “career.” And sure enough, throughout the podcast, Harris uses Nawaz as a shield.
So while the book may not be a get-rich-quick scheme, I think it was financially motivated in the form of serving as damage control. The opportunities to make more money were being hurt by the accusations and Harris’s book was one way to try and repair the damage, while helping to defend against future damage. Sam Harris is not anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. He’s a reformer. 😉

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8 Responses to Sam Harris, Omer Aziz, and Motivations

  1. Dhay says:

    > In essence, Maajid Nawaz can now serve as his shield against the accusations that are hurting his “career.” And sure enough, throughout the podcast, Harris uses Nawaz as a shield.

    Nawaz might well be considered Harris’ shield, giving some rationale to supporters who might say, “Sam Harris is not anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. He’s a reformer.”, but his support for Ayaan Hirsi Ali — not just moral support but also active practical support (tildeb, on March 8: “helping to fund 24 hour security for Ayaan Hirsi Ali”) — can be considered to be a drawn sword proving the opposite.

    Here’s part of one of my responses in an earlier thread:

    When Namazie claims that Harris is promoting a far-right narrative of bigotry, his support for Ali demonstrates this very nicely: in 2009, in an interview with the Reason website, she talks of the need to “defeat” Islam, not radical Islam, but “Islam, period”, Q: “We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot?”, A:”I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars”, and “There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.”
    (See several paragraphs near the bottom at https://reason.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-trouble-is-the-west/1)

    So Ali spouts the far-right narrative of bigotry; and Harris supports her and her narrative of bigotry, as Namazie has claimed.

    What a gentle, moderate reformer Ali is: “defeat” Islam, not radical Islam, but “Islam, period”; “crush” 1.5 billion Muslims; “we are at war with Islam”; “there’s no middle ground in wars”; “There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.”; “enemy”.

    Harris needs to choose his friends and associates more carefully if he wishes to be thought of as someone not supporting Ali’s far-right political narrative of crushing Islam, not radical Islam, but the “enemy” of Islam, period.

    Nawaz, shield; Ali, sword. You cannot claim not to be a warrior because your shield is defensive.

  2. Dhay says:

    > Harris did not write the book to promote some new insights into reforming Islam (after all, his book has generated no discussion along these lines).

    As part of a nicely humorous summary of Sam Harris’ latest “Ask Me Anything #4” podcast …

    Just listened to the latest Ask Me Anything Podcast. My thoughts:

    – I was pleased that at the beginning Harris said he was going to give his ‘thoughts’ on Brussels, as I could then just skip the next 10 minutes and listen to the actual questions asked by readers. Unfortunately, this is Harris, so he could not let the topic of Islam drop and I have to do that thing that the Southern woman does at the dinner party in Borat, like “I am politely pretending this isn’t happening”. You say you’re trying to reform Islam and help Muslims in the Middle East but ‘decline’ to have your books translated in Arabic because Arabs would probably get so violent about it? OMG, I think the potatoes are done, gotta just run into the kitchen for a minute! Small zip codes in the US have contributed more to humanity that all of Islam in a thousand years? Wow, momentary deafness, that happens to me sometimes, weird, right? So anyways, doesn’t the garden look nice this year? ‘Mystified’ by why people complained when you spent two eons demanding Omer Aziz apologize to you? ‘Arabs’ are only 5% of the world population but only produce 1% of the world’s books? Saying, hey, let’s take a moment to compare ‘Jews’ (a term I don’t like, it sounds derogatory to me) to Muslims and think about who is producing more intellectual work vs. “beating your wife or forcing her to live in a bag”? Wow, for that one I was actually clinically dead for a minute, I was in an entirely different realm where all paradoxes were resolved and a bright white light surrounded me but, whoops!, whatever you said I missed it so I’m just gonna go check on those potatoes again now…

    https://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/68033/

    … frequent Harris Forum poster NL tells us Harris is not going to get his books translated into Arabic, so there will be little availability to Arabs of the “reform” message of this last book, either.

    Well, if Harris wants to get a “reform” message directly into Arab or other Islamic homes, the blindingly obvious thing to do is to make it visible online, on the Web, he’s already got a website. And who better to translate the meaning correctly into fluent Arabic than his enthusiastic fellow-reformer Maajid Nawaz, who would surely be delighted to get the message out there where it needs to be. Until then, the message will rattle in futility elsewhere, in the heads of mostly Western New Atheists and atheists (ie Harris fans), of a very few Western or Westernised Muslims, but just a tiny number of “Muslims in the Middle East”.

    But I think NL has it wrong: as his 2011 Huffpost Politics article entitled “Bombing Our Illusions”, tells us, Harris is primarily targeting his “reform” messages at Muslims in the West:

    Rather than continue to squander precious time, energy, and good will by denying the role that Islam now plays in perpetuating Muslim violence, we should urge Muslim communities in the West to reform the ideology of their religion.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bombing-our-illusions_b_8615.html

    *

    In that same article Harris contrasts peaceful Tibetan Buddhists with Islamic suicide bombers and claims:

    … This is not to say that Buddhism could not help inspire suicidal violence. It can, and it has (Japan, World War II). But this concedes absolutely nothing to the apologists for Islam. As a Buddhist, one has to work extremely hard to justify such barbarism. …

    I rather think Harris is bullshitting, here: Rinzai Zen Buddhism was the ideal religion for the Samurai warriors of mediaeval Japan; and indeed for any callous soldier of any era, teaching a disregard of any life, including one’s own. And it’s not just in Zen, it’s right at the heart of all Buddhism, in the Four Noble Truths: look at the Second Noble Truth, concerning the causes of what’s unsatisfactory (dukkha) in one’s life:

    2. The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha is that craving for and clinging to what is pleasurable and aversion to what is not pleasurable result in becoming, rebirth, dissatisfaction, and redeath. (Wikipedia.)

    Indeed, if I cut off (or blow off, as “collateral damage”, using Harris’ ‘imperfect weapons’) someone’s arm, but remain detached and indifferent — the more detached and indifferent the better, and the nearer to that Nirvanic state of perfect detachment from and indifference to the World — that detachment and indifference conforms entirely to the Second Law; and it is the victim who, because he or she (or child) is craving to still have an arm, and averse to both the immediate and chronic pains and the lifelong disability — it is, in Buddhist terms, arguably the physically and mentally suffering victim who is at fault.

    Then this is soon followed by Harris telling us:

    … While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization. …

    This is a presumably thoughtfully written article, not something spouted off-the-cuff, so it is with surprise that I see Harris apparently desiring “the emergence of a global civilization” — a single global civilisation, not a plurality of different civilisations, then, leaving me wondering what’s wrong with a plurality of civilisations, a plurality of cultures, are we not enriched by the present plurality; of course, an Islamic civilisation could in principle become that “global civilization”, but I feel sure that is not what Harris wants, he more probably has Cultural Imperialism in mind, and I predict that the single “global civilization” which he wants to “emerge” will be a Westernised one.

    Then there’s:

    The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed. The tenets of Islam simply do not admit of anything but a temporary sharing of power with the “enemies of God.”

    There are times when New Atheists also look just like this — for a glaring example, see my comments above on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who seems to have mirror-image views. Some New Atheists would convert all children to New Atheism (or to atheism, at minimum) by removing them from their parents; their parents would be politically subjugated (or killed while resisting, or imprisoned); responses here at S2L have variously suggested that religious people have no right to an education, to education at an elite university, to teach or educate others, to practice science, or to hold down a responsible post in science. The tenets of New Atheism do not seem to admit of anything but a temporary sharing of power with its “enemies”.

    New Atheists are not anti-religious or anti-religion, of course. They are, er, reformers.

  3. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris > The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed. The tenets of Islam simply do not admit of anything but a temporary sharing of power with the “enemies of God.”

    In his The End of Faith, Pp 150-1, Harris says:

    What constitutes a civil society? At minimum, it is a place where ideas, of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence. … It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. Whether such societies have to be democratic is not at all clear. Zakaria has persuasively argued that the transition from tyranny to liberalism is unlikely to be accomplished by plebiscite.

    It seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap. But benignity is the key—and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both. While this may seem an exceedingly arrogant doctrine to espouse, it appears we have no alternatives.

    It seems to me that what Harris envisages in his last paragraph is but the mirror image of what he says “devout Muslims” envisage: that is, the only future Harris can envisage is one in which all Muslims are converted from Islam as they know it, are politically subjugated by imposition of a Harris-approved state from without — using “economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both” — or killed. His tenets simply do not admit of allowing power and self-determination to his ideological enemies.

  4. Dhay says:

    > Harris objects to the idea he wrote the book as some “get-rich-quick” scheme.

    Sam Harris’ best refutation of Aziz’s “get-rich-quick” scheme accusation is contained in the transcript — just now blogged — of his podcasted discussion (published June 2015) with the historian Dan Carlin:

    I actually just gave up a book contract that was the best book contract I’ve ever had and maybe will ever have, but I decided that the topic was going to put me in an all-out war against critics whose first impulse would be to ignore all the nuance in my arguments.

    https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/shouldering-the-burden-of-history-podcast-transcript

    What I read into that is that Harris passed up a lucrative book contract on a topic that would have put him “in an all-out war against [his] critics”, presumably his controversial positions on Islam and what to do about it; a sentence or two further on he says said topic was one which Ben Affleck has misinterpreted him on, so almost certainly Islam.

    I note that this same sentence supports Michael’s idea that the substituted book co-authored with Maajid Nawaz was probably damage limitation.

    *

    Harris has just tweeted “Many have requested podcast transcripts”, together with a link to this one. I understand the frustration of those “many” who find a spoken podcast inadequate: life is too short to listen attentively enough through a two-hour podcast for that listening to be worthwhile and to pick up and understand all the relevant points; indeed, the ephemeral nature of voices — if you think about what’s being said while it’s being said, you mentally chatter over what’s being said, and you miss portions, and points — the ephemeral nature of voices means that realistically you have to listen twice; now where were those passages I wanted to ponder, compare and contrast, and probably to quote — listen again; now did I understand that passage right — find passage and listen again; that majority of us who are not practiced audio-typists will need to listen several times as we write a passage down if we are to quote it accurately. In short, critiquing a lecture or podcast is very difficult absent a transcript, and usually not worth bothering with.

    Contrast this with written material, which can be speed-read for the gist in minutes, printed out for convenience and multi-colour highlighted for subsequent instant identification and in-depth analysis of interesting or contentious passages — with easy electronic searching for that half-remembered elusive passage and easy copy-and-paste of anything worth contending.

    I wondered for a while whether Harris’ move from written blogs to audio podcasts was precisely to make life difficult for critics by making the material difficult and tedious to find, think about and discuss — looks like I was wrong on that one — and also had (and have) a cynical subsidiary hypothesis that Harris eloquent rhetorical style often work best if the listener comes away with just an impression of what was said rather than being able to pin him down to what he actually did say.

    *

    I am glad that Harris has released this particular transcript, because I find that his words there are rather more nuanced and reasonable than those I quoted in the responses above; up to a point, anyway. He does say:

    SH“We’ve seen a tipping point on our national view of gay rights in a way that I don’t think anyone expected 20 years ago, and one has to hope for and try to engineer similar moments of change in the rest of the world. The question is, what tools do we have to do that? And one always hopes that they’re conversational first, economic second, and more coercive a distant third.”

    And he says about Saudi Arabia:

    SH: “I’m just saying that the fact that we can’t do anything other than pay lip service to our values when confronted with Saudi Arabia is a symptom of our abject and unnecessary dependence on oil. If oil were worthless, we could take a very different line with them. I’m not saying we would invade them, because that would be analogous to the other misadventures we’ve had in the Middle East. But we could take a very hard line, whether it was sanctions or just non-collaboration. We could treat them the way the world began to treat South Africa during apartheid.”

    But that relatively moderate statement from Harris about Saudi Arabia comes after Harris has been worked on for a while by exposure to Carlin’s viewpoint. His first thought, responding to Carlin’s earlier comment that Saudi Arabia is repressive of human rights (as espoused in Western countries) and exports Wahhabi extreme conservatism and intolerance:

    DC: “… in a country like Saudi Arabia—which isn’t just doing these things but in an educational sense is a bit of a fountainhead for these ideas and the most extreme of the extreme ideas—they get a pass.”

    Was:

    SH: “We should plant a flag there …”

    Yep, Harris’ first thought was, “we should” invade Saudi Arabia.

    (My own knowledge of US idiom is patchy, but invasion is how Carlin, too, seems to interpret Harris here.)

  5. Dhay says:

    In the first response above I note that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is on record as very clearly and unambiguously stating she wants to “crush” Islam:

    What a gentle, moderate reformer Ali is: “defeat” Islam, not radical Islam, but “Islam, period”; “crush” 1.5 billion Muslims; “we are at war with Islam”; “there’s no middle ground in wars”; “There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.”; “enemy”.

    I note that Sam Harris’ response to the 2006 Edge Question, “WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?” was “Science Must Destroy Religion”.

    Got that, destroy. Harris is just as bad as Ali, and less selective: Ali would “crush” Islam; Harris would “destroy” religion in general.

  6. Maria Sederholm says:

    Former Islamist Maajid Nawaz? Former? I have serious doubts about that, as others do as well. I think Nawaz knows exactly how Harris’s ego works. Harris as a heaven-sent gateway, now that is an ironic twist of fate. Will it turn out to be fatal? Only time will tell.
    http://gatesofvienna.net/2015/12/maajid-nawaz-stealth-jihadist-exposed/

  7. Dhay says:

    > “There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Reformation.”

    Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher, Maajid Nawaz and anyone else who inclines to hope for or promote an Islamic Reformation would do well to learn from history, from the original (Protestant) Reformation.

    Here’s from Tim O’Neill’s History for Atheists blog post entitled “An Islamic “Reformation”? – Pseudo History meets Politics”, in which he discusses the horrendous turmoil and bloodshed which Luther and his successors ushered in, whether an Islamic Luther is therefore desirable, and that Islam has already had a “Luther” and successors, with very violent results:

    … Ibn Taymiyya’s ideas inspired the Salafi movement in modern Islam – the hardline fundamentalism that underlies Sunni Islamism. In its Wahhabist form it forms the basis of the Saudi regime’s ideology. The Saudis have used their considerable wealth to export their version of Salafism around the world, largely as a bulwark against the aggressive Iranian Shi’ite ideology of the post-1979 ayatollahs, but with the effect of bankrolling global jihadists (and blowback in the form of even more hardline forms of the ideology such as Al Qeda). Saudi Arabia is hardly a model of Enlightenment values.

    Extreme Salafism forms the underpinnings of the Islamic State’s attempt at establishing a caliphate and its ongoing terrorist operations around the world. The equally murderous Boko Haram movement in West Africa and smaller groups from Thailand to the Philippines also subscribe to forms of Salafism. Far from ushering in a separation of church and state, secularism, liberalism and modernity, the ideology based on this Muslim “Luther” and the allied preaching of fellow reformer Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab has seen the imposition of theocracy, the practice of slavery, mass rape, the summary execution of heretics and dissenters and war and mayhem that makes John Bockelson’s “New Zion” in sixteenth century Münster look like a picnic.

    https://historyforatheists.com/2017/10/islamic-reformation-pseudo-history-meets-politics/

    Be careful what you wish for: you may get it; you might already have it.

    O’Neill also challenges the idea that the Reformation “caused” the Enlightenment and led to ‘Science and Reason’, saying economic and other factors had a big hand. And he challenges the idea that the Reformation and Enlightenment “caused” modern Western liberal values:

    … the conception that our liberal values … stem wholly or even substantially from the thinkers of the Enlightenment is dubious as well. While many of the ideals of the eighteenth century philosophes … it is also true that many of the practical steps to bringing liberty and education to the masses came not from bewigged aristocrats in Parisian salons or London coffee houses but via earnest Quakers and evangelical vicars. After all, things such as universal suffrage or the Emancipation Movement may have drawn on some of the philosophes’ ideas, but they also drew (as much as New Atheists hate to admit it) [on] much older Christian ideals of human equality and dignity.

    That an Islamic Reformation is likely to trigger a process which inevitably ends up in modern Western liberal values is dubious:

    … what is clear is that our ideals come to us as a confluence of many streams of thought and tradition and as a consequence of a vast array of historical accidents, large and small. Any attempt to plot some linear progression of “Reformation” + “printing” + “science” + “Enlightenment” = “Us” is clearly going to be nonsense. And that is ignoring the fact that most of the assumptions that lie behind that progression, even in a less reductionist form, are problematic at best and plain wrong in most instances.

    *

    It occurs to me that Harris et al probably want gradual reform within Islam rather than an ‘Islamic Reformation’; well, they can try, but any attempts they might make to influence Islamic cultures and politics will almost certainly be seen as Western Imperialism and rejected and resisted.

    The ‘New Atheist’ approach Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Phil Torres suggest in their “How to Fight Extremism with Atheism” article presumably amounts to creating enough atheists to start an Atheist Reformation, one which would surely match the Protestant Reformation in bloody violence:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/peter-boghossians-silly-article/

  8. hikayamasan353 says:

    In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
    That’s how Ayaan Hirsi Ali poses herself as. On Prager University channel, she was saying that Islam is not a religion of peace and calling for the “reform” in Islam. Basically, all that Islamic “reform” is basically a sentiment to covertly impose self-hate upon Muslims and make themselves renounce and deny, rather than question, their faith. Moreover, Islam itself has a lot of branches than just Wahhabism/Salafism. Wahhabism is an ideology of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in the poor and desolate Najd desert, who was upset with Islam spreading worldwide and transforming local pagan cults into the cults of saints (awliyah). He, as a Salafi, thought that the only true form of Islam is one that was in times of Prophet Muhammad – in a literal sense. Sunnah is a very general concept and while it refers to the actions and behavior that Prophet Muhammad has been commencing, it also refers to the reasons why Muhammad acted exactly that way.

    For example, one of the most controversial topics in Islam is the ban of fine arts. Hadiths used to justify this ban, were that “angels don’t enter the house where there are dogs or pictures”, or that “every image maker will be in the Fire”. While Muhammad allowed non-animalistic images, the reason why Prophet said so, is to eradicate idol worship which was very common in pre-Islamic Arabia, and encourage worship in God. Nonetheless, Aisha used to play with the dolls, and she also has made a curtain with animalistic images into a cushion, instead of simply throwing it away or burning it. Scholars say that the dolls that Aisha used to play with were featureless and had no eyes/mouth, but it was very common that children’s toys of these times had no facial features. And the reason why Muhammad was saying that about images is pretty much the same why Prophet Moses (Musa) was guiding his people along the desert for 40 years – so that they won’t be slaves of their human masters, but slaves of God. Similarly, Persian and Middle Eastern fine arts didn’t have any clashes with Islam.

    At the time of the advent of Islam, the society of Arabia was very morally corrupt and it was the final revelation from God. Tribes were fighting each another, each one worshiping their own idol, but they all believed in the same God which is the Abrahamic God. “Islam” is derived from “salam” which means “peace”/”submission”, and by that etymology, the mission of Prophet Muhammad was to cease tribal warfare on Arabian peninsula, and make them into common single community having a common belief in the one God, instead of different scattered communities that each worshiped their own idol. That’s why the Shahada has formed – “there is no god other than God”. Everyone had to renounce their own idol in favor of the single God that everyone believed in. Women were used as sex objects and baby girls were buried alive as “birth control”. Adultery and fornication was common. This led to the introduction of veiling, and the primary reason for it was to distinguish the “free”, decent woman, from a prostitute/slave. It’s even documented in the Qur’an. So this means, that the reason why Islam has emerged, is to change the social psychology of Arabs at that time, to reconcile fighting tribes and to submit them all to God.

    Right now things are different than 1400 years ago. Various muftis mock women who don’t veil themselves, also artists, musicians etc. Hadiths and Qur’anic verses are being used out of context to justify persecutions and bans. Religious police in Saudi Arabia favor religion over human survival – for example, they told the firemen not to save the girl trapped in building on fire because she didn’t wear the veil. Legal punishments (hudud) are executed in a brutal and aggressive manner. People who use the Scripture to justify any merciful action are being persecuted if they are merciful to people who are non-Muslims, LGBT, or “kuffars” and “murtads”. Once again, mocking and persecution is an absolute sin in Islam. Veiling was introduced to ward off and eradicate the psychology of lust, common to pre-Islamic Arabia. Even though it does not have any sex appeal, recently veiling becomes not because of choice, but because of requirement. In Iran, despite the legal requirement for women to veil themselves, even veiled women are still sexually harassed and raped. Unlike many hijab activists say, veil is not a “magical shield” against lustful behavior. The Qur’anic verse says in the first place that we should lower the gaze and be mindful about our own chastity, and maybe, by “gaze” it’s meant lustful gaze. Only then it says about covering. Another verse says that women should cover their bosoms, and in recent times, only clothing worn by prostitutes would be the kind of clothing that doesn’t cover the bosoms, and even bra itself is something designed to cover the bosoms, or at least the nipples. Even then, women generally don’t leave bra uncovered as it’s underwear/lingerie, and put tops, blouses, one piece dresses and T-shirts over them. Generally it is forbidden in Islam to even form opinions, let alone issue fatwas and regulations, without meeting specific learning requirements, and by use of cherry picking a particular Qur’anic verse or Hadith without considering everything else in Qur’an and Hadith. The hadith used to prohibit music – “Among my community there will be people who consider silk, alcohol, fornication and musical instruments as lawful…” (Bukhari 7/69/494, narrated by Abu ‘Amir Al-Ash’ari) – usually refers to drinking parties common to pre-Islamic Arabia, where everyone – both men and women – wore silk clothing, and orgies included illegal sexual intercourse. If taken by itself, it should also ban silk. But silk is permitted for women. Another is “Two cursed sounds are the sound of musical instrument on the festivity, and the woeful wailing upon adversity” (narrated by Anas ibn Malik). Regarding music permission, there are two hadiths about Aisha arranging marriages of her relatives with the Ansari locals in Medina, and when Prophet Muhammad asked her, whether she sent an entertainer etc, Aisha said no. Muhammad then replied that the Ansari people are beloved with music and poetry, and that we need to greet them as they greet us, and respect their culture instead of imposing our own culture on their culture. Another hadith is about Abu Bakr seeing Aisha and her friends playing drums and calling that there are “musical instruments of Satan”, but Muhammad asked him to leave them alone, because it was ‘Eed, and “for every nation there is an ‘Eed, and this is our ‘Eed”. Muhammad himself was persecuted when he became a Prophet by his uncle – Amr ibn Hisham, aka Abu Jahl. At the culmination of everything, at the Battle of the Trench times, Abu Jahl has formed a coalition of tribes against Muhammad. Meccans also have broken peace treaty offered by Muhammad. Muhammad even has said that “who saves one person, saves whole mankind, and who kills one person, kills whole mankind”. When Muhammad was in Medina, he was collaborating and cooperating with local tribes regardless of their faith, he didn’t impose Islam on them since “there is no compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah 256), and he was merciful to them nonetheless. He even said once that he is the advocate of dhimmis. Here is what he said about the dhimmis:
    1. “He who hurts a dhimmi [a member of a non-Muslim minority living in a Muslim state] I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Judgement.”
    2. “He who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God.”
    3. “On the Day of Resurrection I shall dispute with anyone who oppresses a person from among the People of the Covenant [Jews and Christians], or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his strength, or takes something from him against his will.”

    In the Letter to Baghdadi, it’s written that since the difference of opinion in Islam is allowed for everything except the religious fundamentals that everyone should know, there is blameworthy and praiseworthy difference of opinion. And amongst such a difference, the more merciful opinion should be chosen and is the better one. Severity should be avoided and it is not a measurement of piety. Muhammad has said: “Do not be severe with yourself or God will be severe with you”. To truly come to Islamic reform, we need to learn about religion, stop being severe with ourselves, let alone with others, and put general mercy and kindness over “observance” such as: forced veiling, not eating pork, not playing instruments and not drawing pictures, hatred towards LGBT, dogs and “kuffars”/”murtads” etc; as well as also be more forgiving and charitable. There is a hadith that says that when a prostitute has fed a thirsty dog with a water in her shoe from the well, her sins were forgiven. Even pork is permitted to eat – but only when there is nothing else besides pork to be eaten as pork is impure meat, especially proven to be sort of toxic by modern science.

    Only God knows best anyways.

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