This is a conversation I had with my good friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutaar, who I consider a moderate atheist. I use the terms liberal and moderate atheists, to tell them apart from those New atheists that espouse bigotry and Islamophobia. I speak of these in detail in this piece.
Many new atheists I come across on social media insist ISIS represents the Islamic faith, not me or my community and not the majority of peaceful moderate Muslims in the world. They usually get butthurt when I mention something good about Islam or when I condemn the bad acts of extremist Muslims as inhuman and unislamic. They complain that moderate/peaceful Islam does not exist. Faisal, however, does agree to existence of moderate Islam. I want New atheists to learn from him, through this exchange we had. The issue, as Faisal rightly concedes to, is one of interpretation. ISIS consider their ‘interpretation’ plausible. Majority Moderates reject it as an abomination. As an outsider (new atheists), choosing one interpretation over another to represent Islam is hypocritical and reeks of bigotry.
So, here we go folks: (In the midst of an argument on who defines Islam. I said Islam was peace. Of course that means my understanding of it.)
Faisal: I challenge you Kashif N Chaudhry to draw a cartoon of the prophet, and let’s see if the Muslim world respects “free speech”
Kashif: I challenge you to a debate instead. Why do you always insist on drawing cartoons and burning books when I speak reason and argument. Smh!
Kashif: Islam is not what a Mullah says or does. It is what the Koran and Sunnah teach. Whenever I challenge you to reason and argument, you find refuge in cartoons. Define Islam Faisal? What do you mean by ‘Islam’ is not peace?
Faisal: I didn’t lump you with the Mullas at all. I am just exposing your fallacies that you think your version of Islam represents what the majority of Muslim think of Islam around the Muslim world.
Kashif: My claim is that my version of Islam represents the Koran and Sunnah. Define Islam?
Faisal: Islam = teachings of Koran and Muhammad, that’s true, but there are tons and tons of interpretations because the majority of these teachings are contradictory.
Kashif: Excellent! You do admit Islam has many interpretations. Which is good. Where you go wrong is when you lump Mullahs’ Islam and Ahmadiyya Islam together. Why would you say Ahmadiyya interpretation is unacceptable to you and ISIS’s is? And do you agree that Ahmadiyya Islam is peaceful and ISIS’s version is Violent?
Faisal: I have never said that, I have said that your interpretation and their interpretation are both plausible within a contradictory book.
Kashif: Good. You admit Ahmadiyya Islam is a plausible interpretation of Islam. Which means you agree Islam has a plausible peaceful humanitarian interpretation? And the violence we see in Jihad’s name is not Islam, but another “interpretation” of it?
Faisal: I don’t care, whatever interpretation this person makes to fit to modern Human rights values. It should be “My interpretation within Ahmadi Muslim sects thinks Islam is peaceful”
Kashif: I am an Ahmadi Muslim. Of course when I say Islam is peaceful, I mean the Ahmadiyya understanding of it. You are neither Ahmadi, nor ISIS, yet you further ISIS’s “interpretation” as true Islam. You have to clarify “ISIS’s interpretation of Islam is violent” (not “Islam is violent”) Fair enough?
Kashif: I reiterate, when I say Islam is peaceful, I am of course speaking of MY INTERPRETATION. When ISIS speaks of ISLAM, they are speaking of theirs. The fact that you chose theirs as credible Islam over mine which you are upset about, is hypocritical, unless you are ISIS.
Kashif: Do we have a deal here: You must clarify “ISIS’s interpretation of Islam is violent,” and not say “Islam is violent” in the future. Fair enough?
Faisal: I acknowledge that there are progressive Muslims and moderate Muslims. But progressive Muslims and moderate Muslims not a majority in the Muslim world and we have to be honest about it.
Kashif: That is a different debate. Quite frankly, ISIS are a very tiny minority within the Muslim world. Don’t give them credibility. And glad you also acknowledge existence of peaceful Islam (eg Ahmadiyya) which is a good start. That is why I praise you in this piece. You are a moderate New atheist. Unlike those who insist Islam is violent and reject my Islam as unacceptable and “not true.” Thank you for being a moderate.
I hope other New atheists will learn from this exchange and not be bitter when “a plausible interpretation of Islam” (eg Ahmadiyya Islam) is advertised by those who find it plausible. Gracias all!