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Neither Right Nor Wrong

I recently commented on a Facebook post which someone had made which featured Reza Aslan, the (moderately) well-known writer and scholar of religion. If you follow this blog you will know that I am no great supporter of religion and find Islam particularly obnoxious. But I am also most enthusiastic about knowing what is true, especially when that truth contradicts commonly held beliefs, even my own.

So after watching a short video of Aslan making a very reasoned case in support of Islam I commented that I would be more careful about my criticism of that religion in future. And I still think that was a fair response, but maybe not as fair as I had first supposed.

Why? Because not everything he said was strictly true, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it was true, but true in a misleading way. The video was from an American TV program where Aslan defended Islam against the attacks of TV personality Bill Maher. If he was there for that sole purpose then he was brilliant. But if he was there to expose the truth then maybe not so much.

For example, on the subject of female genital mutilation, he pointed out that this practice (which any reasonable person should find horrendous no matter what the motivation for it is) is not primarily a Muslim problem because it occurs in many areas of Central Africa where the main religion is Christianity. He said “Eritrea has almost 90 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75 percent female genital mutilation. It’s a Christian country. Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.”

He’s right. But a map he himself tweeted shows a slightly different story. The countries with the highest rate of FGM are shown in red and almost every one (if my research is correct) in this category is primarily Muslim. So clearly being a Muslim is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a supporter of FGM but it sure helps! Of course, many of the American critics of Islam would scramble to find an excuse for it in Christian countries but I would simply say: you’re right, it’s not a Muslim problem (although that is a mitigating factor) but it is a religion problem.

It’s a problem when people resort to superstition instead of thinking for themselves. It’s a problem when people simply follow what is written in an old book or what some religious leader tells them instead of actually questioning whether it makes any sense. It’s a problem when people believe out-dated, misogynistic ideas instead of taking modern social trends and scientific findings into account.

So Islam is the problem. And so is Christianity. And so is every other religion, whether it supports FGM or not, because it’s the mindset that is the problem. If it wasn’t mutilating young girls it would be failing to stop infectious diseases like AIDS, or it would be stopping young people from learning the great truths that science has uncovered in the century or two but that some religions have failed to accept.

But I still think we should all be more cautious about criticising Islam anyway because facts like: FGM being common in some Christian countries, Islamic states having female leaders where the US has never had one, Buddhist monks being guilty of slaughtering innocent people, the barbaric practice of the death penalty being used (very badly) in the US, and the majority of Muslims being peaceful, are all true.

So Aslan is both right and wrong, and he’s neither right nor wrong. But that shouldn’t be a surprise if we consider two quotes from his Wikipedia page…

His religion is described as “Islam, formerly Evangelical Christianity”. Wow, really? He was so convinced that Christianity was true that he was a fundy yet then figured he was wrong and converted to Islam? Maybe he’s wrong about that too!

And his professional position is “Reza Aslan … is an Iranian-American writer, scholar of religious studies and a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. He is a member of American Academy of Religion.” A professor of creative writing? Yes, I can believe that!

  1. October 11, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Perhaps you may find some interesting read on this link also: http://vedabase.com/en Take care.

  2. OJB
    October 11, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Yeah, plenty of superstition there.

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