The handy-dandy Aslan/Affleck refuter

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.



  1. Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Excellent post. I saw the Syed/Haider post referenced elsewhere so now I’m reading per your suggestion.

    Have you read the latest post from Michael Tomasky via The Daily Beast re the Maher/Affleck segment?

    I wonder what you think of it.

    Kind regards, C.

    • gravityfly
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      That’s a great article. Western liberal values should not be applied to countries that haven’t developed full human rights(namely, the Muslim world). It’s the reason why people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali can find a home only among American conservatives.

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      The last two sentences say it all. How can the relativists not see something so obvious? Wanting to help those people living in those circumstances is not arrogantly imposing Western culture where it doesn’t belong, it’s saying “hey! Those people are humans and the powers that be in those countries need to recognize it!” We are all human.

  2. mormovies
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    The whole ‘islamophobia’ concept must be exposed and clarified. It’s based on the mystical idea that we are born into specific religious/cult sects and cultures that our genetically predetermined. Some so-called enlightened, scientific folks think this. I argue this all the time with college educated people. They think that religion is it’s own genetic thing and not specific or part of culture which is also man made. People are shocked and put me a notch or two above the anti-christ when I say that I reject all cultures and only cherry pick and accept what I find to be positive from any culture. This is a continuing argument.

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      I have the same arguments. Also, there’s where people equate, for example, criticism of religious belief with racism, sexism, homophobia etc. Religious belief is a choice – gender, race and sexual orientation aren’t.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Well put. The idea that religion is identity — a chosen one or one in which someone is born — frames rational criticism into bigotry.

      Religious beliefs are hypotheses and they need to be treated that way. Any truce based on allowing religion the status of identity will be shallow and short-lived. Religion — and the cause and consequences of lack of faith in same — is taken far too seriously for that.

  3. merilee
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink


  4. Folie Deuce
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I personally know many moderate Muslims who are horrified by Sharia law. But they are convenience store types who ignore what they don’t like. Nothing wrong with that unless you are going to use such people to defend Islamic ideology.

    Over 90 percent of American Catholics will use birth control at some point in their lives. But that doesn’t mean birth control is compatible with Catholicism. Similarly, the moderate beliefs of convenience store Muslims do not mean Islam itself is moderate.

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      I’m such a PC limousine liberal I recoil at “convenience store Muslims,” but I know what you mean. I was at school in Southern California in the early years after the Iranian revolution and found Persians, as they self-identified, were largely holiday-only Muslims and they were more than happy to go on about how un-moderate Islam is (And a good many of them were Jews, who fled Iran for obvious reasons). I don’t think they harbored any True Scotsman illusions.

      • Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        The point is, who leaves these countries? And why? It’s mkre than just “economic” opportunity …

  5. Gordon
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’m not impressed when people rush in to shout #notallmen so I dont see why #notallmuslims would be any different.

  6. Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    There is an ancient idea which Plato is given much credit for furthering but which assuredly is much older still…that it is good to lie, if the result of the lie is a “greater truth.” For example, if shock and disgust with Muhammad’s rape of Aisha were to keep somebody from coming to see the “wisdom” that Muhammad “revealed,” then it would be good to lie about that event. Then, once the mark has come to understand that Muhammad is the perfect ideal of humanity, his rape of Aisha would no longer be the stumbling block it otherwise is.

    Such is the heart and soul of all religious apologetics…and much political propaganda and even commercial advertising.


  7. @eightyc
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Never ever forget that Reza Aslan has a PhD.


    • colnago80
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      So does Bill Dumbski.

    • Kev
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      My last project leader had a PhD in Physics: his role was to manage the design and development of an engineering project.
      He has poor design skills (not the same as solving physics equations), VERY poor social skills. He backedated design documentation and coersed junior engineers into signing blank documents that he filled out himself later. The project eventually failed and he signed an affidavit (under his solicitor’s supervision) in which he made perjurious false statements to cover his own and his company’s back.
      So much for scientific integrity and neutrality. Its what many people do to further their career in management, in which they have to ‘compromise’ with non-scientists, sales departments, HR, fund-raising departments and grant authorities, PR.
      The only Muslims I saw were vesa dependent and underpaid, afraid to refuse instructions for fear of losing their job and being deported.

      • Posted October 6, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, those guys with PhDs in physics are complete losers…


        • TnkAgn
          Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

          Did he say that? I didn’t catch that part.

  8. TJR
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Their last paragraph is bang on.

    • gravityfly
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. Apologists like Aslan are preventing Muslims from coming to grips with the darker aspects of their faith.

  9. Isaac
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    This is why I think what Sam Harris said on Real Time was absolutely brilliant. Most liberals believe that there’s this fringe group of odious ill-informed jihadists, the ones who cut throats and burn embassies, and then there’s every other Muslim in the world who upholds the same values as we liberal westerners do. Yet, as Harris outlined, the spectrum is much more ‘nuanced’, though in a grim kinda way. While the beheaders may be relatively few,there is a larger concentric circle of followers who support they beheaders, and an even larger circle of Muslims who may condemn the beheading, but condone say prohibitions on women’s suffrage. As the spectrum widens out, we start seeing people like Reza whose principles are largely the same as ours, but nevertheless fail to see that those of most Muslims’ aren’t due chiefly to the tenets of their faiths. Finally, we see Muslims like Nawaaz and Irshad Manji. These are the true Muslim eccentrics. These are the heroes who risk their lives admitting that yes, there is a crisis in Islam, and it is largely due to the vicious tenets on which the faith was founded. This is the true minority.

    • Sean
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink


      Isis is not printing money, It is receiving tithe-ings from thousands upon thousands people.

      3 Million dollars a day.

      If the average donation is $100 (and I sure it is closer to $10) that means 30,000 people are donating money to these sadists each day.


      Lets say the average donation is ONE THOUSAND dollars. That equates to over a million donations per year.

      So I guess it’s just a few bad apples….

      • Poerba
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        I thought ISIS’s money is mostly from selling oil on the black market.

        • Sean
          Posted October 7, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

          Oil smuggling, human trafficking, extortion, theft…basically they are a mafia. (I guess Allah wont judge them for this behavior??) This is well documented in the media.

          But a big portion of the their fundraising is from tithe. Mosques in Saudi, Kuwait etc are encouraging their constituents to donate cash to ISIS

          This is why you see the almost oxymoronic images of ISIS (and Mamas / Hezbollah etc) performing charitable works, it is to show the Mosque attending, middle class donors that their money is indeed being used for ‘good’ [sic]

          • Sean
            Posted October 7, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

            Siri changed HAMAS to MAMAS! lolz

            • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              I kinda wondered…Hama mia!!

  10. boggy
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Sura 66:1 states ‘Prophet, why do you that which God has made lawful for you in seeking to please your wives ?’.
    The footnote in the Penguin translation says that Mohammed was once found by his wife Hafsah with a Coptic slave from whom he had promised to separate. Hafsah secretly informed Aishah another wife of his.

  11. illusionsofexistence
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    good article, thanks.
    once the world gets its mind around our nature then the world can have peace and free will. until most minds will be under a tyranny of one form or other.

    ‘…once penetration and conversion has been achieved, the greater part of the function of religion memes, as with all social memes, is as political tools of power for retaining and controlling converted populations.’

    ‘With all social memes that control and organise society it is about politics, control and order and whether the idea of a god is involved or not is just a quirk of their evolutionary history.’

    ‘Now we see it. The evolution of language, culture, develops the software applications that run on our brain. We all have the same hardware (dna). We all run the same basic operating system that allows us to navigate the world. We also run more sophisticated applications, higher level programs, culture, and this is the difference between people that matters. Some people are running applications based on much older code whereas others update their applications on a continual basis using the most recent code. This is what all the trouble is about and it is all in the mind.’

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I have a good friend who is from Indonesia. She is of Indonesian and Chinese descent and is Catholic. She had to take a Muslim name (she had her name officially changed to remove it when she came to Canada) and she told me that you don’t speak about religion as it could get you in trouble. She faced terrible discrimination for simply having a different ethnic background and religion.

    Has Aslan and all these others who argue that Indonesia is a peaceful Muslim country forgotten that as late as 2012 an atheist was arrested there for being an atheist? Or does discrimination against atheists not count? Or how about Indonesia’s Islamic laws? The ones that extend to non-Muslims and punish people (both gay and straight) for having sex with 100s of lashes?

    Give me a break!

    • Poerba
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      My favorite (?) example is Yasmin Christian Church, which despite being permitted to operate by the highest court in the land remains sealed, and the congregants have had balloons filled with urine thrown at them while they pray on the sidewalk. The Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) is ubiquitous.
      Btw, your friend didn’t have to take a Muslim name per se, rather a non-Chinese name under Suharto’s rule.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        Her name already was non-Chinese. She was forced to have another that was Muslim. Could be she selected that but she told me she had no choice but to take the name officials gave her.

  13. Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Here’s what Winston Churchill said about Muslims: “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries!
    Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia
    in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many
    countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods
    of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the
    Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and
    refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan
    law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as
    a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the
    faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

    Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion
    paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde
    force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant
    and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising
    fearless warriors at every step, and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the
    strong arms of science, the science against which it (Islam) has vainly struggled,
    the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

    • Glen Steen
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      In 1899…brilliant!

    • Folie Deuce
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      A guy was arrested in London in April for reading portions of that Churchill quote in public.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 7, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        No wonder the English are so good with dystopian novels & movies – they witness strange elements of it like this.

      • Kev
        Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        The guy:

        Police Commissioner Simon Hayes responded to the media coverage on the Hampshire Police and Crime Commission website:

        It has been wrongly suggested that Mr Weston was arrested for reciting passages written by Winston Churchill. I understand he was not welcome outside the Winchester Guildhall, the Police were called and he was asked to move on. I also understand that he was not prepared to move on and was arrested for this reason.

        Members of the public are of course at liberty to debate issues of importance to them in private or public spaces. However, there must be a level of decorum and decency.

        Hampshire Constabulary has an obligation to ensure action is taken if decency or safety is put at risk and, if there is any reason to suspect they have intervened unnecessary [sic], this will be investigated.
        As far as I am aware, this is not so in this case. With the local and European elections coming up, it is important to register that there is a great deal of politically motivated spin going on at the moment which it [sic] is having a significant impact on local policing – both in terms of vital frontline rescourse [sic] and reputation.[33]

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I’m glad Turkey was mentioned. When Affleck poutitly spoke about how great the Muslim nation of Turkey was, I shouted at the TV “it’s secular!” and Turkey still struggles to remain secular!

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      It’s easy to get booze in Turkey but there are places where you need to be careful. Our tour guide warned us about a place called Konya in particular as a good place to act inoffensive and keep your eyes open.

  15. Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I know many Moslems casually but have only talked religion and politics with two of them.

    One is a male Shia from Pakistan, very urbane and easy to talk to. But he loathes Israel and wants to see the Jews pushed into the sea.

    The other is a woman from Eritrea. She fasts during Ramadan but I don’t know how serious she is otherwise. She wears Western clothing exclusively. The interesting thing about this woman is that about 95% of females there are genitally mutilated and she was completely open about talking about it anywhere, including at lunch with many of our male and female friends. I clipped articles from the paper for her.

    Thus gives the lie to Aslan’s “central African” claim. It is also practiced in West Asia, and Islamic State recently demanded its implementation. It is not exclusively Islamic, and many Muslims do not practice it, but there’s a strong correlation.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Oh yes. Aslan denies that FGM is “an Islamic problem.” I’d like hime to clarify exactly what he means, and describe how it is a relevant response to those he is talking to.

      That the barbaric practice of FGM has been adopted from somewhere else as opposed to having been invented by Islam doesn’t mean shit against the fact that a significant portion of Islam condones and practices it in the name of their religion. And trying to sway people to think it doesn’t have anything to do with Islam is dishonest and immoral.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Aslan may be one of these [from the linked article]:

      “The idea that FGM is concentrated solely in Africa is a huge misconception and bandied about by apologists with citations of an Africa-focused UNICEF report which showed high rates of FGM in African countries.”

      If so, they didn’t read the report. There are two epicenters, it isn’t “central African”. The UNICEF expert (which I forgot the name of as I write this) has a pet theory that analogous how foot-binding in China was tied to an empire with slave concubines for the emperors and their staff, FGM is. That fit with history, and if so one of the epicenters are tied to the (oldest) Rashidun caliphate.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        It was not practiced by earlier empires:

        “While there’s evidence of male circumcision in Old Kingdom Egypt, there is none for female.

        DNEWS NUGGET: Female Circumcision Closer to Ban
        “This was not common practice in ancient Egypt. There is no physical evidence in mummies, neither there is anything in the art or literature.” [ ]

        Irony alert:

        “Last week the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also called for abolishing female genital mutilation.

        “This practice is a ritual that has survived over centuries and must be stopped as Islam does not support it,”Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said at the intergovernmental organisation’s 4th conference on the role of women in development, in Jakarta, Indonesia.”

        Seems the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is as oblivious to his faith as Aslan is. :-/

  16. Bobby
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Jerry says: “It’s also an Indian practice”


    This is not correct. FGM is not practised anywhere in the Indian sub-continent by Hindus. It is even largely absent from Muslims in the Indian sub-continent except for very small sects like the Bohra Muslims of Karachi.

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right. I checked and it’s practiced by Indian Muslims. I fixed the text above, thanks.

      • Posted October 9, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Am from India working in the US – FGM does not exist in India – however, economic and social factors have combined to give rise to female infanticide every now and then – the boom in the economy over the last 22 years ever since the socialist model was abolished to usher in an open free market is rapidly changing the social landscape as well.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 10, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          My Indian friends (some born in Canada, some who immigrated to Canada) bemoan the fuss made over boy children. My one friend pretended not to know the sex of her child to her in-laws just because she hated the fuss over boy children.

  17. Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink


  18. Mattapult
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Warning: the Patheos site keeps trying to install games on my iPhone. It lets you read a little, then a timer goes off. I did not click anywhere. Maybe it’s comming through an ad, but either way, it’s unacceptable.

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it was doing that a few months ago also. It stopped for a whole and now it’s back. It’s even worse than before. You can’t read the site for more than 20 or thirty seconds before being redirected to the App Store.

  19. Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    FGM does seem to have some east asian ties – a problem in poorer parts of the UK, where the muslim population is descended from Pakistani immigrants – 20 years ago, girls were sent “back home” towards the end of primary school to “benefit” from FGM. To claim FGM is an African problem does smell a little, how should I put it… …racist?

  20. Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink


  21. mooncat
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    ‘The notion that Muslims should be heldq to a lower standard of behaviour…’ There’s a degree of arrogance imposing a more progressive civilisation’s values on a less developed society. ‘We have learned that this is morally correct, so now you must adopt these behaviours’. Not saying we sit back and do nothing but we need to tread carefully.

    • Felix
      Posted October 8, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Moral philosophy shouldn’t have a difficulty articulating very clearly and compellingly why things like beheading or lashing and even imprisonment for apostasy, homosexuality or mere refusal to adhere to certain dress codes is unambiguously wrong on every count of social progress, empathy and reasonable insight as well as respect for lawful authority as opposed to submission out of fear.
      To insinuate that certain (brown?) people can’t yet reach this basic, pretty common level of empathy and understanding, or that they need to be taught like children, is not a pretty thing to say or think.

    Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Well said, Jerry! Aslan is cherry picking not only from Koran but also from Islamic countries. He apparently left out the Sharia law imposition in Ace in indonesia where flogging is a common site. In Malasia, where you can be imprisoned for consentous sodomy, the picture is not much different either. These were societies which were so open and equal towards women, before the onset of Islam about 600 years ago, that you can still find some remnants of them in present Bali, Sulawesi etc. But fundamentalism and its counterpart to the other end, radicalism is catching up very fast in such moderate countries as well. There’are no Kamal Ata-turks in the present Islamic world.
    Regarding reform in Islam, forget it! You’ll be the first target by the radicals if you just try to change a vowel sound in Koran or modify reported tenets in the three well-accepted Hadiths.
    Anwar Khan

  23. D
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    To your last point, celebs like Ben Affleck and others who support the “don’t criticise Islam” movement do nothing to help those who are trapped in the religion by their parents, spouses and community. I’ve met some moderates who in private ask me “this is a free country, Islamism is growing, why don’t you DO SOMETHING”. Surely Ben Affleck can tolerate SOME criticism of the ideology and theocracy? Why is it just Christianity and Israel that are fair game? It’s bizarre to say the least.

  24. Bob Michaelson
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    If you are interested in high scholarly standards, you should perhaps inquire more into what FGM is and how it varies. Some scholarly studies e.g.,%20C.%20%281999%29%20Female%20genital%20surgeries.pdf
    cast doubt on the assumptions that it has severe health effects or always causes sexual dysfunction. See also publications by Richard Shweder at the University of Chicago, including work with his former postdoc Fuambai Ahmadu, who voluntarily underwent the procedure at age 22: and

    At least some FGM procedures, it appears, are no more severe than male circumcision. My own take is that both female and male genital mutilation are stupid and disgusting – any surgery is risky, and neither have any need or genuine health benefits. But though I don’t think much of Shweder’s ideas, to the very limited extent that I have read them, I agree that “Everyone has a responsibility – anti-FGM activists and cultural pluralists alike – to insist on evenhandedness and the highest standards of reason and evidence in any public policy debate on this topic … “

    • Justin
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Debate on this topic? This is a matter of personal human rights. There’s no debate to be had and the Problem is that people think there is. How about this. If you physically force someone to undergo something like this and I see it, you won’t be able to do it again. That’s how it should be treated, and anyone who does it should be treated as the criminal they are.

      • Bob Michaelson
        Posted October 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Justin – what, no concern for all the circumcised males in the world? Their human rights have been violated as well: currently over half of all male babies born in the United States are circumcised, for example. None of them gave consent to this genital mutilation.
        As I said, BOTH female and male genital mutilation are stupid and disgusting.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      There is a major difference between male circumcision and FGM. FGM is all about controlling female sexuality. Since we’re talking about facts, it’s important to look at WHO’s fact sheets. Here is what WHO says about FGM as an instrument for controlling females:

      FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed, the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage “illicit” sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.

      Not to mention that the procedure is horribly painful with no anesthesia. Often those that choose to have the procedure do so not because it’s a great idea (there are no health benefits and many health risks) but because of pressure within their culture.

      Finally, the WHO rightly identifies this as a violation of human rights because:

      FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

      • Bob Michaelson
        Posted October 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Diana – I have no doubt that in many, perhaps the great majority of cases, FGM is about controlling female sexuality, but I admit to being skeptical that this is always the case – indeed the WHO report you cite only says it is “often motivated” not “always motivated;” nor do I accept that this is the only factor involved. Indeed it would be difficult, I think, to class under your rubric for example the case of Fuambai Ahmadu, an intelligent, very well-educated woman who chose to undergo FGM as an adult. This may in part be a matter of religion-induced lunacy, but surely there is more to it. All ritual behavior, whether hideously painful or benign, is ALWAYS primarily about identification with your specific group. BTW would you characterize horribly painful initiation ceremonies for boys and young men as about controlling their sexualities as well? (Think of male infibulation among ancient Romans, or the Okipa Ceremony, or Xhosa circumcisions (of young males), …

        • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          So you’re saying because less than 100% of the FGM performed therefore it is not about sexuality? Do you know why those women volunteered for the procedure? Cultural compliance or fitting in most likely? A culture that as I quoted in the WHao report considers women with intact genitles to be dirty and “slutty”. If you were never to be able to marry or considered shameful in your culture for not undergoing FGM, it is understandable why you’d volunteer for the process. It is all about control female desire. Women who have desire (as evidenced, according to cultures who practice FGM, by intact genitalia) are bad women, bring shame on their families, and should not marry “good” men. Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about how the girls discussed non mutilated females in her book, Infidel. Wanting not to be considered shameful has nothing to do with intelligence.

          As for initiation rites of males, how does that compare to shaming women and considering them dirty sluts if not altered. We are talking about completely different things.

    Posted October 6, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Heard a good one on the web: “For all you people who are trying to convince me Islam is a religion of peace, please try and convince ISIS first”

  26. Derek
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Here is Politifact’s article checking the “it’s a central African problem” statement:

    • Folie Deuce
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      That was a horrible job of fact checking. They did not mention Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia where FGM is widely practiced and they did a poor job of summarizing the position of Islamic scholars on the practice. 4 schools of Sunni jurisprudence. 1 requires FGM, 3 recommend it.

      • Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        Not to mention, the entire claim is baseless. They seem to base their assertion that Aslan is mostly right by the fact that FGM existed prior to Islam and Christianity and thus is not a consequence of either of these religions.

        This is, of course, absurd. Imagine someone claiming that belief in transubstantiation is not a Catholic phenomenon. After all, cannibalistic Eucharist rituals predated Christianity, so clearly it’s not a Christian phenomenon according to the logic applied to Islam. I just don’t understand why there is such motivation to give that religion a free pass.

  27. Filippo
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink


  28. Eric
    Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Man is this a tough nut to crack!!! There seems to be virtually no way to convince people about how messed up the Islamic religion is. I cannot make any headway. We even saw President Obama say that ISIS is not Islamic because religions do not endorse such things. It is a mass delusion.

    • Sean
      Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      No True Scotsman…

  29. Kev
    Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Seems to me that there are many freedom of religion issues in play. A major problem is what measures to take when the limits of “freedom of religion” are exceeded.
    How to separate religion from politics.
    Is there even a case for denying freedom of religion when that religion is excessive or places its believers outside accepted law.

    Does freedom of religion include:
    a) the imposition of your beliefs on under-aged offspring:
    the sending of children for indoctrination in faithschools
    b)the right to punish apostasy or non conformity.
    d) the right to incite believers to take part in violent action in the name of religion
    c) the right to use religion as a screen for delinquency, gangsterism, mafia or other social control
    d) the right of non-believers to publicly criticise or discuss another religion without retribution
    e) the obligation to accept religious criticism
    f) knocking on somebody’s front door and trying to convert them
    g) the rights to tax exemption aimed at furtherance of one’s own religion

    How to define and limit abuses of religious freedom

  30. Rikaishi
    Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    They do speak up. All the time. Such events are just not sexy enough to get a lot of play in the press or viral exposure, so you aren’t aware of the frequency of Muslim denunciations of extremism.

    “Where are the moderates” is a bad argument which needs to be put to rest imo.

    Good points in the rest of the article though.

  31. avijit1971
    Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider have done an excellent job refuting Reza Aslan, who suddenly getting a lot of attention for his “brilliant” take-down of Bill Maher.

    Aslan was dishonest, cunning, and devious (just as most of the apologists of Islam we know), someone had to go after him. I am glad that Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider did it with a grand style! However, there is a small mistake in their writeup. The wrote:

    “Khaleda Zia, the predecessor of Sheikh Hasina, assumed power over her party after the assassination of her husband — the second Prime Minister of Bangladesh”.

    Ziaur Rahman was not the 2nd prime minister of Bangladesh. He was the 7th President of Bangladesh (seized power through a military coup and served from 21 April 1977 until his death in 30 May 1981). Also see wiki.


    • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Sam Harris describes him pretty much in the same way in his response to the whole Affleck fiasco on Real Time. I have never really heard Sam describe someone that way so dude must be a jerk as Sam strikes me as someone that is pretty gracious, even to his opponents.

      • Gary
        Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

        I think Sam’s anger comes from the fact that he’s debated Aslan a few times. Aslan has acknowledged some of Sam’s points in person and then completely forgot about them the next day and brought them back up in interviews when Sam’s not there. That’d annoy me too. He’s just got a set of talking points that he’s sticking to.

  32. Gary
    Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Aslan’s defense is almost identical to most people who call themself “theologians”.

    It’s always something like.

    Premise 1) Religion is a really complicated and profound thing.
    Premise 2) You’re not acknowledging premise 1 enough.
    Conclusion: You’re wrong, stupid and possibly immoral.

  33. Posted October 8, 2014 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    It’s a tricky one ……..

    On the one hand, everything you say about Reza Aslan’s disingenuity is correct.

    On the other hand, this kind of disingenuity in the service of a more humane interpretation of Islamic doctrine is *exactly* what we need to encourage – given that we are unlikely to defeat Islamic extremism in the short-to-medium term by disabusing Muslims of their belief in their god.

    • Posted October 8, 2014 at 3:24 am | Permalink

      Well, is a talking head like Aslan going to persuade Muslims to be more humane? I think it’s disingenuous for pundits to say that this is how Islam *is*.

      But if more imams promulgated this interpretation — and explicitly deprecated extremist views – so much the better.


  34. Ian
    Posted October 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read somewhere that the claim that “FGM is an African thing” is based on a study that only looked at Africa and nowhere else.

    So, while true that it is an African thing, there haven’t been any studies on the prevalence of FGM in many Islamic countries and therefore he is distorting the truth.

  35. Poorang Nori
    Posted October 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I am no fan of Aslan, as a matter of fact I walked out of one of his talks at UCLA, when he started to relabel Ahmadinejad as a force for liberty in Iran. But one major issue is the idea that Islam is somehow “WORSE” than other religions. I feel we confuse the cultural elements of Muslim countries with the actual religion. Most religions are full of violence and inhumanity, Islam is no different.

  36. Steve
    Posted October 8, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Have a look at the Pew Research data:

    I think this is a useful as it does go some way to dispelling some of the more ignorant and xenophobic views of what Muslims around the world actually believe. Its far from ideal; there are some methodological flaws that could be devastating. For example, Saudia Arabia and Iran, arguably the two most extreme countries in the Middle East are NOT included in the survey (that’s not to say that liberal values and beliefs are precluded by the people themselves). Likewise, some questions were not asked due to religious and cultural sensitivities and researcher safety, such as questions about homosexuality. There are other methodological flaws too, including the fact that the data was collected using face to face interviews; there was no opportunity for anonymity. In some countries the sampling was weighted toward one men. Moreover, it could be argued that those interviewed may have felt some pressure to answer in a particular way.

  37. Posted October 11, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Agree completely. And did anyone who saw Affleck’s spluttering mini-breakdown / “defence” of Islam actually agree with him? Even if you’re on his side of the fence — which I am not — the man was completely incoherent and talking nonsense.

  38. Posted October 13, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Refuting Aslan is easy as pie. He is a professor of “Creative Writing”. It is abundantly clear that his writing falls in the “fictional” category.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] […]

  2. […] Perhaps one can best understand the Gould panegyrics in connection with another of the major themes of de Waal’s book; his rejection of Richard Dawkins and the rest of the New Atheists.  De Waal is what New Atheist Jerry Coyne would refer to as an “accommodationist,” that is, an atheist who believes that the atheist lions should lie down with the religious sheep.  As it happens, Gould was the Ur-accommodationist, and inventor of the phrase “nonoverlapping magisterial,” or NOMA to describe his claim that science and religion occupy separate spheres of knowledge.  One can find a good summary of the objections to NOMA from the likes of “New Atheists” Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Coyne on Prof. Coyne’s website, Why Evolution is True, for example, here and here. […]

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