It’s Not the Facts, It’s How you Present Them: The Reza Aslan Tactic

In his self-appointed role as an apologist for Islam, Reza Aslan is determined to prove that the religion is a wholly benign influence. His position is that Islam itself should not be blamed for the negative attitudes and behaviours of its adherents. This is an untenable position and it seems to me that Aslan himself actually knows this. He wants to be the happy face of Islam and will say anything to maintain that. His denial of the role of Islam shuts down honest discussion, and makes it harder for the world to move forward.

In an op-ed in the New York Times a week ago he said:

On one hand, people of faith are far too eager to distance themselves from extremists in their community, often denying that religious violence has any religious motivation whatsoever. This is especially true of Muslims, who often glibly dismiss those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam as “not really Muslim”.

This is exactly the point those of us he calls “New Atheists” are trying to make. It also demonstrates he knows Islam is not without fault when it comes to finding the motivation for aggression and brutality. However, he then spends the rest of the op-ed explaining why religion bears no responsibility for the acts of its adherents:

No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives.

Aslan then goes on to reference conflicting verses in the Bible and the Qur’an and tells us:

How a worshiper treats these conflicting commandments depends on the believer. If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs. If you are a peaceful, democratic feminist, you will also find justification in the scriptures for your point of view.

Apostasy Egypt

The Pew Research Center statistics, as presented on MSNBC

A few days later he appeared on MSNBC with Chris Hayes. (We don’t get MSNBC in New Zealand, so I was unaware of Reza Aslan’s latest TV appearance until reader Shwell Thanksh brought it to my attention – thank you.) In the interview, Hayes appeared to be dedicated to little more than showing Aslan in the best light possible. Despite this, Aslan managed to show his true colours. Hayes brought up the issue of the large numbers of Muslims who believe death is an appropriate punishment for apostasy, and illustrated this with statistics from the Pew Research Center. Hayes described the statistics as “troubling” and appealed to Aslan to agree with him. Aslan wasn’t able to do that, but instead diverted the conversation:

Hayes: Now that’s a troubling polling result; I think both you and I would agree, right?
Aslan: The second number is a troubling –
Hayes: Right.
Aslan: – poll result. The first one you have to understand that those very same, that very same poll showed that of those 70-something percent that there was a massive variety of views on what they even meant by Sharia Law –
Hayes: Right, right.
Aslan: – you’re talking about marriage and divorce laws as well as inheritance laws as well as penal laws, but you’re right, 64% wanting the death penalty for converts out of Islam becomes incredibly frightening until you read the rest of the poll wherein 75% of Egyptians also wanted religious freedom.
Hayes: Right, right.
Aslan: If that sounds like a contradiction, it is, because religion and religious-lived experience is full of contradictions. So 64% wanting the death penalty, that’s scary. But, of course in neighbouring Tunisia it’s about twelve percent, in let’s say Lebanon it’s one in six, in Turkey it’s five percent. So the larger issue is can you look at a scary poll of a place like Egypt and, the largest Arab country in the world, and use that to make some kind of broad generalizations about the lived experience of 1.6 billion Muslims all around the world? You can’t. And here’s the problem: I think what Maher and Harris are getting at is they want to condemn beliefs.
Hayes: Right.
Aslan: Frankly, look, I’m gonna be honest with you, if you are some kind of ultra-orthodox Muslim who believes every word of the Qur’an is literal and that gays are going to hell, and that anyone who converts should be killed, I don’t have a problem with you, as long as it’s just your beliefs. I don’t care what you believe. It’s actions we should be focusing on.
Hayes: Mmm.
Aslan: We need to condemn actions, not beliefs. You can criticize beliefs if you want.
Hayes: Well let me push back on that for a second, I think if you, I think it’s fine to condemn beliefs actually, but I think the more demeaning issue is the one you raise in your op-ed. People saying they are a religion is as much about identity, right? And the perfect example of this is the Catholic Church, right?
Aslan: If it’s just your beliefs … There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the difference of religious text and the lived experience of the religious community and I think that’s what a lot of the simplistic, knee-jerk, criticism of religion doesn’t seem to get. You can scour the scriptures for some awful bits of savagery and say, “Ah ha, that’s the religion,” except that for the people who live the religion, some of them agree with that savagery, some of them don’t, you just ignore it, some interpret it away, some focus on other aspects of the scripture. Religion is an infinitely diverse experience… .

Aslan pretends the decision on how a believer interprets scripture is an entirely independent one, and has nothing do with the religion itself. This is simply not true. A person’s interpretation of scripture comes from their religious leaders. This is particularly true within Islam where mosque attendance is monitored and questioning of doctrine is discouraged.

In all countries, there are Muslims who believe apostasy is a crime deserving of death. In secular democracies with independent judiciaries, apostates are generally safe from those who hold such a revolting belief not because of any particular virtue of the Muslims in those countries, but because of secularism. A vigilante Muslim, acting on their belief that following the law of Allah as taught by most Imams is more important than any other consideration, may still act on that belief, anywhere. A person who doesn’t believe apostates deserve death will never kill a person for apostasy, wherever they live. Belief IS important, and offensive beliefs must be confronted and condemned.

When the Roman Catholic Church was the dominant political player in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and preached that deviation from core doctrine (heresy) was a sin that deserved death, we had the Albigensian Crusades and the Inquisition. Then there was a ground swell within Christianity led by men like Wyclif, Luther and Calvin. Christianity moved on, and the discussions continue throughout the Christian world. Pope Francis is currently leading ground-breaking talks at the Vatican that will bring the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings further in line with current values. Islam, on the other hand, continues to do its best to shut down criticism.

As long as Muslim religious leaders continue to teach that apostasy is not only a sin, but a crime deserving of death, individual Muslims are going to continue to support the practice. For this to change it needs prominent imams to speak out against it. Like the Qur’an, the Bible has passages that say apostates and non-believers should be killed. However, as far as I’m aware, no Christian religion endorses this practice any longer. In fact, many specifically condemn it. This is why Christians no longer support death for apostasy. There are still many who, disgustingly, disown family members for apostasy, or who come out as atheists as gays, but murder is not on the cards within Christianity.

As much as Reza Aslan says the level of brutality in the implementation of Sharia law is dependent on the country, the fact is these countries derive their values from Islam. They are implementing Sharia law because of their devotion to Islam. If it wasn’t for Islam’s teachings on apostasy, homosexuality and atheism, this wouldn’t be an issue. The root cause of the problem is Islam. Until that is addressed, nothing will change.

Andrew Sullivan put it well:

I think it’s pretty indisputable that any religion that can manifest itself in the form of something like ISIS in any period in history is in a very bad way. I know they’re outliers – even with respect to al Qaeda. But, leaving these mass murderers and sadists to one side, any religion that still cannot allow its own texts to be subject to scholarly and historical inquiry, any religion that denies in so many parts of the world any true opportunities for women, and any religion whose followers believe apostasy should be punished with death is in a terrible, terrible way. There is so much more to Islam than this – but this tendency is so widespread, and its fundamentalism so hard to budge, and the destruction wrought by its violent extremists so appalling that I find Affleck’s and Aslan’s defenses to be missing the forest for the trees.

Serve your mastersMoving forward within religion in contradiction with sacred texts is possible and there’s no reason why Islam cannot do it. There are multiple examples within Christianity. Slavery, for example, is well supported within the Christian Bible and it’s not that long since the Bible was used to justify this abhorrent practice. Now, as far as I know, there are no Christian religions that continue to teach that slavery is God’s will. Even the most fundamental religions that tout their version of Christianity is based on a literal reading of the Bible that dismiss evolutionary theory as a lie and homosexuality as an abomination, do not support slavery. Slavery still occurs in majority Christian countries, but whenever it is discovered it is universally condemned and the perpetrator is prosecuted. If parts of Christianity were still teaching that slavery was acceptable, Christians would still be fighting for the right to practice it.

Sharia law at work Kuwait

Sharia Law at work in Kuwait

There’s a more modern parallel with the different views of homosexuality in different religions. In most Western countries not only is homosexuality no longer illegal, but so is any discrimination on those grounds. However, because there are still Christian churches that teach that homosexuality is a sin, many people in the LGBT community suffer unnecessarily. The fact that suicide is far more common among LGBT people is, in my opinion, a crime against humanity. There are even businesses in the United States actually fighting for their “right” as Christians not to do business with gay people. For these people, their religious beliefs inform their actions. It is not a problem with the laws or governance of America, it is the fact that some religions teach that it’s okay to hate certain people because of the way they were born.

So when Reza Aslan says it’s a Saudi Arabian problem, not a Muslim problem, that sees that country regularly hanging and beheading people for the “crime” apostasy, atheism or homosexuality, he is simply wrong. The root cause is that Islam teaches that not believing, atheism and homosexuality, are sins punishable by death. As long as that is the case, atheists, apostates and LGBT people will continue to suffer in Muslim communities, whatever country they are in.

46 Responses to “It’s Not the Facts, It’s How you Present Them: The Reza Aslan Tactic”

  1. When I was a Christian I believed that homosexuals and abortionists should be executed because that was God’s law. I did not believe in supporting any act that really would execute them, however.

    A handful of Christians did (still do) believe in carrying out those beliefs.

    It is easy to blanket a whole group of believers on the basis of a simplistic question to a survey but to explore the reality of the workings of both societies and individuals requires serious scholarly research. Sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, others have done that in relation to Muslim societies: Lily Zubaidah Rahim, Tara Povey, Christopher Houston, Riaz Hassan, John Esposito, Mohammed M. Hafez, Dalia Mogahed, Robert Pape, Scott Atran, Richard Jackson . . .

    I see little indication that many people are really interested in what the serious studies find.

    The studies actually support much of what Reza Aslan is saying. To attack Aslan for being a wilful liar and deceiver does no-one any credit.

    • Folie Deuce says:

      You have painted with a broad brush. For example, Adtran’s finding contradict those of Pape. Adtran’s work may be useful for explaining why some people join extremist groups. It is not helpful in explaining the violence committed by the same people after they join such groups.

      Pape’s work has been widely discredited. His own data does not support his thesis. His definition of “occupation” is so broad that nearly every country on the planet is would be considered occupied (including the US being occupied by China).

      John Esposito has called Yusef Al Qaradawi a reformer. In doing so, he forfeited his right to be taken seriously. Qaradawi is only a reformer in the sense that there are thousands of clerics who are more hate filled and violent than he is.

  2. Folie Deuce says:

    Aslan said “There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the difference of religious text and the lived experience of the religious community and I think that’s what a lot of the simplistic, knee-jerk, criticism of religion doesn’t seem to get.”

    No, every critic of Islam that I have ever read gets that as does the average person. We all know that Turkey is different from Saudi Arabia and that practices differ widely from community to community and individual to individual. No one disputes that.

    “You can scour the scriptures for some awful bits of savagery and say, “Ah ha, that’s the religion,” except that for the people who live the religion, some of them agree with that savagery, some of them don’t, you just ignore it, some interpret it away, some focus on other aspects of the scripture. Religion is an infinitely diverse experience…”

    1. When it comes to the Hadith and the Sira, you don’t have to “scour” to find the savagery and it does not come in “bits”. The savagery jumps out at you everywhere you look. It comes fast and furious in large doses.

    2. Yes, some people ignore the savagery. But some don’t. The point that Sam Harris and others are trying to make is that there is a causal relationship between the savagery in the holy texts and the savagery of the Taliban and ISIS. Can we have an honest discussion about that without being called Islamophobes? Aslan does not want that discussion to take place.

    • The overwhelming majority of Muslims read their holy texts and proclaim peace — that is surely indisputable. So if YOU see only barbarism in their texts then maybe you might like to have an open dialogue with some Muslims to see why you and they respond so differently to those texts.

      The problem with religion like Islam is that just as with any religion based on unverifiable beliefs people DO pick and choose and reinterpret and spiritualize and allegorize and read literally whatever does suit their values and personal self-interest. Yes imams and other religious leaders preach to people about the correct beliefs but we also find sects disagreeing and individuals keeping secret doubts to themselves in all religions.

      People can rationalize their scriptures for peace or war, for liberation or oppression. And we know that all religions blend local cultural heritage variations into their faith. Buddhists in Thailand blend in traditional Thai religious practices; Hindus in Indonesia blend in earlier forms of religious expression; Christianity today has embraced customs and values from secular society and paganism. Ditto for Islam.

      And Christians in Ireland fought bloody wars/terror campaigns while other Christians deplored their actions. We can all recognize the political and social and economic pressures that led the Irish Christians to fight and justify their violence with the Bible. Why on earth can’t we do the same with people who use Islam to justify their criminal acts?

      • Folie Deuce says:

        “The overwhelming majority of Muslims read their holy texts and proclaim peace — that is surely indisputable.”

        No, it is in fact false. The majority have selected parts of the texts read to them by others. Like most people of faith, your average Muslim is incredibly ignorant about what the texts actually say.

        • Folie Deuce says:

          I don’t dispute that the majority non-violent but that is not because of the texts. It is because the texts are being ignored.

        • Jimmy says:

          As you say, the majority of religious followers – not just muslims, but all religious followers – are almost completely ignorant of their scriptures. They rely on their cleric to tell them the meaning of their religion.

          A more accurate statement would be that the majority of muslims intuitively desire peace, like all people, and were raised in an Islamic tradition which, like it or not, does emphasize the (somewhat twisted-up, by our reckoning) concept of “peace” quite heavily. As such, they look *at* their koran, perhaps read whatever is the Islamic equivalent of John 3:16, and declare peace.

          The bible calls for death for apostates, and yet, as you say, no Christians today support death for apostates.

          There is no intrinsic connection to the content of the scripture and the behavior of the adherents to that scripture, particularly under conditions when, as you yourself say, the vast majority of believers exist in perfect ignorance of their own revered texts.

          “The point that Sam Harris and others are trying to make is that there is a causal relationship between the savagery in the holy texts and the savagery of the Taliban and ISIS.”

          A point which they have *not* demonstrated to be true, and which you yourself have called into question here with your own words.

          “Can we have an honest discussion about that without being called Islamophobes?”

          Translated: “Can we villify the entire Islamic world through specious and undemonstrated claims without being called out for our sophistrycated bigotry?”


      • Folie Deuce says:

        We can all recognize the political and social and economic pressures that led the Irish Christians to fight and justify their violence with the Bible. Why on earth can’t we do the same with people who use Islam to justify their criminal acts?

        So you really think the Taliban, ISIS and Boko Haram are motivated primarily by “political, social and economic pressures”? Over half of ISIS’s fighters are foreign volunteers coming from places not subject to whatever those pressures might be.

        • Yes I do believe this is the motivation of most foreign volunteers who go to join the fight in the Middle East because the research establishes that that’s exactly why they are so motivated. There is an identity among many people of the one religion no matter where they live (not always, but it’s common).

          One only has to listen to those who do leave their countries to join in a fight in the Middle East and the reasons they give for their actions. I also listed several names of those who have written serious scholarly research into this question.

          They see Western powers oppressing and unjustly fighting against Muslims — they are far more familiar with the history or our actions in the Middle East than many of us Westerners are. Those who leave Australia want to fight alongside and for those whom they see as the most mistreated by the West.

          Most people who seem to have the strongest outrage against Muslims seem to me to have relied entirely upon mainstream media impressions and have never bothered to actually read a serious work of scholarly research into this very serious problem.

      • T Morgan says:

        I’m not sure what your point is. Of course, religious texts can be interpreted in many ways – no one is disputing that. Indeed, it’s rather the exact problem we’re discussing. Why you cannot follow this idea to its logical end is the real question. Many Muslims, for whatever reason, have chosen to take the directives of their doctrine seriously. That’s tenet one in the discussion and you acknowledge it. It doesn’t even matter what percentage. Enough do. Do you think we would see the same morass of problems in the ME if the predominant religion was Lutheranism as practiced in Minnesota? Buddhism? Me neither. Now ask yourself why that is. Put another way, it doesn’t matter why Muslims interpret it the way they do (I have ideas), they just very reliably do.

        Two, and this keeps coming up, the IRA was an explicitly political organization. Their goals were political, never religious. You never heard an IRA bomber yell out (or mail a letter later) In ‘God’s Name!’ or ‘Catholicism FTW!’. That’s not even close to what they were all about. Not only did Adams et al repeat this many times in clear language, but any cursory study of the Troubles will tell you the same thing. Equal rights, British out, and a united Ireland. They never demanded a global society based on papist doctrine. It’s true in some respects that Paisley and friends couched some of their claims in religious claims, but that’s largely because he was a professional protestant. And a crazed, weirdo bigot. But the IRA never did – many were atheists – and they were always clear as day in their demands and intentions. Any religious differences were ancillary to the political cause. This is obviously not true for Islamist groups. Please stop using this incorrect analogy.

        • What would we think of Muslims or any others telling us we are not real Christians or Jews if we are not committed to the worst excesses our holy texts dictate? The religious beliefs of others are not defined by us and how we read their texts; we enquire into the thinking of those who are the adherents to understand their religion — except when it’s Muslims, apparently.

          Buddhists are just as prone to murderous violence given the right social and political and economic conditions as anyone else. Witness what is happening right now in Myanmar to the Rohingya just for starters.

          I am astonished at the inability of some people to see how religion is used to justify causes that are instigated by other factors in history. This to my mind shows a rather two-dimensional understanding of human nature for a start and a very tenuous knowledge of history and current affairs in the wider world.

          • T Morgan says:

            > I am astonished at the inability of some people to see how religion is used to justify causes that are instigated by other factors in history.

            It seems like you’re arguing the position you want to argue, and not what is being discussed. At no point did I say anything about other factors not being involved. Nor did I say anything about *my* interpretation of any texts. We’re going off of what ISIS/imams/Al Quada says, end of story.

            You openly state that you agree that beliefs influence actions; you agree that religion influences beliefs (to what extent is dependent on the individual or group); yet you refuse to acknowledge that the specifics of any (interpreted) doctrine play a part in violent behavior. But you still insist politics (a kind of belief system) *do* influence behavior. So, which is it – people are motivated by political beliefs, but not religious beliefs? Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t it true that Islam is – as practiced – also a political system? Sharia law, anyone?

            And, yes, of course Buddhists are just as capable of murder, just *not in the name of* Buddhism. The Myanmar analogy fails directly on this point.

      • Jerry Tarone says:

        People are not complaining that Muslims are not peaceful, they are complaining that Islam has terrible ideas, like men having dominion, practically ownership over women. Being able to beat their wives. That people use the religion to keep certain people down. This is wide spread in the Islamic world.

        Beliefs inform action. We see this in the Japanese death cult that tried to murder subway patrons with nerve gas. We see it in Christian cults that cut off their testicles, or another cult that cut off their testicles and killed themselves. They didn’t do this because it was Cut Off Your Testicles Tuesday, they did it because of beliefs. Beliefs inform our actions. Many Muslims believe Muhammad was a perfect person, anything he did was right because the Quran says he was perfect. So it’s not a surprise to find the same Islamics believe if Muhammad said stoning is the punishment for a crime, then that is the most perfect punishment possible. Don’t believe me?
        What Normal Muslims Think – And Europe Fails to Understand:

  3. There’s no doubt there are multiple causes for the violence that’s coming from parts of Islam at the moment. For example, with DAESH (ISIL), there’s no doubt the governance of Assad and al-Maliki in Syria and Iraq respectively bears a lot of the responsibility. My issue is that Aslan continually says Islam bears no responsibility, and that all criticism of Islam is Islamophobia. When he says only 12% of Tunisians want the death penalty for apostasy, like it’s a good thing, it annoys the hell out of me. The percentage should be zero, and the only reason it’s not is because some religious leaders preach that apostates should be killed. All religious leaders in all religions need to take responsibility and preach religious freedom, including the freedom to be atheist. Aslan is actually holding Muslims to a lower standard of behaviour by not expecting them to abandon the teaching of death for apostasy. Christianity used to have the same penalty for apostasy – they’ve moved on and so should Islam. And I can’t say it often enough – beliefs inform actions.

    • Ant (@antallan) says:

      I thinks the apostasy issue is a key one. What justification is there for *any* punishment for apostasy other than religion itself?


    • Folie Deuce says:

      The 12% figure for Tunisia is regarding suicide bombing not apostasy. 29% percent of Tunisians favor the death penalty for leaving Islam and 44% favor stoning for adultery. 56% favor Sharia.

      Tunisia is a wonderful country that I love dearly. It breaks my heart to see those kinds of numbers. The numbers are lower in Tunisia than in many other countries because Tunisia has a long experience with secularism, 10 million foreign tourists visiting every year and heavy non-Islamic foreign influences (especially French influence). But the numbers are still too high, especially considering that Tunisia is the most moderate country in the Arab world (and perhaps the entire Muslim world though the Turks and Malaysians might dispute that).

      • Ben Batt says:

        Not disagreeing with your overall point, just a clarification of the numbers involved:

        29% percent of Tunisians favor the death penalty for leaving Islam and 44% favor stoning for adultery.

        The relevant tables in the Pew poll are “Among Muslims who say sharia should be the law of the land”, so it’s actually (29% * 56%) = approximately 16% that favour the death penalty for leaving Islam (assuming the percentage is negligibly low among Muslims who don’t want sharia law). Similarly, the number favouring stoning for adultery is approximately 25%. Still not a good result!

    • I would be surprised if Aslan does not disapprove of acting out the penalty of death for apostasy and other barbaric practices among Muslims and any other religion. I think he is trying to steer the debate to the central issues as he sees them. And I happen to agree with his perspective.

      Of course I deplore barbarism in any religion. But that that’s not the real issue is evident to me from the fact that anger is directed against Islam generally and in a way that threatens all Muslims. If barbaric practices were the issue we would target those and those who are committing them. We would not be firing at anyone who has the same religion at least at a higher conceptual level.

      We would be demanding the US government treat the Saudi Arabian government be treated the same we it treated the Taliban on the pretext that it wanted to restore women’s right, end barbarism, etc. We would push for sanctions against Saudi Arabia and support financially and militarily opposition groups to the Saudi government. Of course we would also have to be prepared to pay more for our petrol. So where are our values? Where is our consistency? What are the real issues?

      • No one is denying that Aslan himself holds moderate/liberal views, or even that he’s personally opposed to the human rights abuses carried out by his coreligionists. And I support his project of demystifying the lives of everyday Muslims in the US.

        Whether or not he’s trying to “steer the debate to the central issues as he sees them” is another matter. I’m of the opinion that Aslan’s insistence that religious belief doesn’t inspire action is a dodge. It seems to me that he’s so biased in favor of religion, and of Islam in particular, that he’s obfuscating some of the central issues.

    • AU says:


      Have you asked Jerry Coyne why he doesn’t allow criticism of your articles in his comments section, and instead says we should come and post here?

      Surely even he knows that many readers will just read his article, read the comments below, and never click on the links to your article. This means these readers will never get to see both sides of the debate.


  4. Folie Deuce says:

    Aslan says “but you’re right, 64% wanting the death penalty for converts out of Islam becomes incredibly frightening until you read the rest of the poll wherein 75% of Egyptians also wanted religious freedom.”

    Here Aslan is either mistaken or deliberately deceptive. The religious freedom question related to religious freedoms for non-Muslims. In other words, 75% of Egyptian Muslims believe Christians in Egypt should be allowed to practice their religion freely (25% do not). There is no contradiction between that response and the views on apostasy nor is that response indicative of moderation (25% believing Christians should not be free to practice is hardly moderate). Unless of course, we grade on the curve and have lower expectations for certain groups in which case only 25% opposing religious freedom for non-Muslims can be viewed positively.

    Aslan repeated this stat on Twitter and was called out for it. If he continues to repeat the 75% stat (as I suspect he will), then we know he is being deliberately dishonest.

    • etaoin shrdlu says:

      I’ve read through the Pew Research report, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, again and I may be blind, but I don’t see Reza Aslan’s 75% figure for religious freedom supported anywhere. They don’t report an answer to that question. The closest thing, in Chapter 2, is that out of the 31% of Egyptian Muslims who believe that people of other religions are ‘very free’ to practice their faith, 77% believe that is a good thing. They don’t report on the remaining 69%. (It’s not clear whether Pew asked; the true value might be in the raw data, if someone has the time and inclination to look.)

      Pew only reports responses to certain questions, including the penalties for apostasy and adultery, for Muslims who want sharia to be the law of the land. So the 64% figure in support of death for apostasy comes the 74% who want Sharia to be the law of the land, times the 84% of those who believe in death as punishment for those who leave Islam. They don’t report support for killing among the 26% who don’t want sharia as national law; it’s probably less than 84%, but perhaps not zero.

      Back to religious freedom, 81% of Egyptian Muslims who believe sharia should be the law of the land believe it should also be applied to non-Muslims.

      Care to guess the fraction of Egyptian Muslims (sharia-backing or not) who say they would be comfortable with their daughter marrying a Christian? [Answer in Chapter 6]

  5. Folie Deuce says:

    Reza’s latest “I mean, if you know anything about Islamic history the very first thing that Muhammad did was outlaw slavery,” Aslan said.”

    Surely he can’t get away with an error (lie?) of that magnitude.

  6. Bhagwan says:

    Superb article as usual 🙂

    Reza has now displaced Armstrong as the incredibly unbelievable and outrageously false twisted apologist for religion.

    His position is “only I am qualified to criticize Islam. oh wait – its all culture and politics and other factors, and anyway beliefs don’t matter” therefore his “work” is a way to prevent all criticism of Islam. Apologists are getting pretty propagandist. sadly, they have most of the public fooled.

    Praise Darwin, thank Flying Spaghetti Monster for the New Atheists!

  7. Randy Schenck says:

    It is very important to remember in this discussion about actions and beliefs within the Muslim world — actions do follow the beliefs. In most Muslim counties the day to day lives of the people are controlled by the religion. People are monitored for compliance, especially if you are a woman. You put that rug down 5 times a day and do your thing. Even in Turkey, one of the most liberal of Muslim countries, you hear the noise all day long every where you go.

    It is heavy handed and relentless dogma that covers every day of your life. The religion takes priority over nearly everything but breathing. It is a psychotic existence and extreme behavior is only a short distance away.

  8. Ron Murphy says:

    The freedom of religion and no compulsion nonsense is so old you’d think they’d give it up by now.

    It may be the case that in principle those people already of other religions living in Islamic (state based or majority by culture) nations are free to practice their religion, but even then there are caveats that change the sense of ‘freedom’ and ‘compulsion’.

    You are not free to promote your alternative to Islam in order to convert Muslims.

    You are not free to practice your religion without some penalty – and in a Caliphate that would require additional ‘protection’ money in the form of additional taxes.

    Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women, but the children must be raised as Muslims.

    Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men. A corollary of this is that it avoids the potential difficulty whereby if a non-Muslim man married a Muslim woman there would be a clash regarding the children, in that demanding that the Muslim wife gets to have the children follow her religion is antithetical to male domination in marriage, or, alternatively, letting the non-Muslim father dictate the religion of the children is bad news for Islam.

    Then, add to that the lack of freedom to leave Islam, enforced by various means from community based coercion to a death penalty.

    The total of all this is that where possible, as state adoption of Sharia of some aspects of it, or by strong cultural pressures, Islam is a one way ticket and is nothing like supportive of religious freedom.

    It reminds me of the lame equality argument theists sometimes use against same sex marriage: homosexual men have the same freedom of choice to marry as do heterosexual men … they can marry women but not men.

  9. “The root cause of the problem is Islam.” By problem we can assume the author means violent behavior. Where is there a single evidence-based argument for this!? Where is a single empirical study supporting this statement?

    Where is there ANY objective support for this statement other than the kind of hand-waving this author and prominent atheists like Sam Harris engage in!?

    It is dishonest and irresponsible to make this demonizing claim. Further it is sophomoric Western ideology to claim silly supernatural ideas and statements cause behaviors.

    • Actually, there are multiple empirical studies that show that countries where Islam is the dominant religion are more violent, poorer economically, less free and have the worst records when it comes to human rights -especially women’s rights. I will be featuring these is future articles.

      There are obviously many more reasons than just religion for the behaviour of groups like DAESH (ISIL). The frequency with which they excuse that behaviour by referring to Allah is also obvious. Terrorists who are Muslim say, “Allah u akbar,” every time they fire a gun. Terrorists who are Christian do not say, “God is great” every time they do the same.

      “Further it is sophomoric Western ideology to claim silly supernatural ideas and statements cause behaviors.”

      This reflects your lack of understanding of how important many people see their religion. If you believe that killing non-Muslims is a role you have been given by your god, carrying out that role becomes a rational act. You see the same behaviour in all religions, it’s just that it doesn’t usually involve murder. To many people, their religion is not a “silly supernatural idea”. It is the most important thing in their life and informs their every action.

      • “Correlation is not causality.” In which direction does the causality go?

        “This reflects your lack of understanding of how important many people see their religion…” This is just hand-waving repetition of cultural myths and demonizing of other cultures and people.

        There is no peer-reviwed evidence that uttering religious statements causes violent behaviors, none. Why “play dirty” and pretend there is? To support your prejudices and fear of the outsider.

        You lack the ability to understand what evidence and proof of causality is and a complete lack of understanding of the latest medical and behavioral studies – if we are getting ad hominem.

        • anonymous says:

          The argument is that today’s Islamic extremists are doing exactly what their scripture tells them their prophet and his companions did during warfare. Just like they are told to pray 5 times per day and not eat pork.

          Here’s how one former extremist explains it.”In other words, can a young Muslim become more religious—and more obedient to Allah—without subscribing to this ancient brutality? Will he be able to find an approved Islamic theological source or interpretation that clearly contradicts this principle, or at least teaches it in a different way (i.e., contextualizing it in time and place)? The sad answer is: No, he cannot.”

          • Look:

            1. We have no evidence that the silly supernatural/magical things ppl say/”belief” cause or even influence behavior
            2. Why would we ever believe any violent person’s explanation for why they do something. The mentally ill’s explanations and perceptions for things are called delusions.

            It is also a delusion that magical statements/beliefs cause behaviors. We simply don’t know if that is true scientifically, so why presume it to be true unless we want to demonize other folks?

  10. anonymous says:

    Here is an explanation of why Aslan is wrong that may be more to the liking of people like Neil and some of the other detractors.

  11. Either Coyne is lying or…….? Well, he is being dishonest. In a current post he says this:

    “Second, Ugyar just won’t accept that religion itself can be the main reason for malevolent acts.”

    First, a statement like this needs scientific evidence to make this statement.
    Second, the no free will evidence says this cannot medically be true.
    Third, without evidence and ignoring the countra-evidence makes this just another dehumanizing and demonizing statement of the “other.”

    Why are atheists being so dishonest!?

    • Jerry’s comment doesn’t need scientific evidence – if you’ve watched the interview you’ll see he’s correct.

      Your comment is rude, insulting, and you are making generalisations about atheists. If you cannot learn to express yourself without attacking others you will be banned from this site. Jerry has obviously already banned you from his.

  12. The medical facts atheists are dishonestly denying –

    “…the traditional distinctions between separate systems for perceiving the world, storing and retrieving memories, thinking about an abstract goal, and acting upon it do not find strong support in neurophysiological and neuroanatomical data.” P. Cizek

  13. I’m pretty sure I’m correct in saying that Cizek’s ideas are not widely endorsed.

    Also, I’m not saying that everyone acts on every idea they have – that would be ridiculous. What I’m saying is in most cases people don’t act without having the idea to act first. As I’ve said over and over as an example, those who do not think death is an appropriate penalty for apostasy, do not kill people for apostasy. Put another way, all murders for apostasy are committed by people who think murder is an appropriate response to apostasy. That is why the leaders of those religions that teach apostasy are responsible for all deaths because of apostasy – those deaths would not occur without the teaching within that religion.

    • Ant (@antallan) says:

      Agree. But even more fundamentally, apostasy isn’t even a thing without religion, let alone a thing deserving of punishment.


      • I don’t participate in sites that censor comments.

        • Brujo Feo says:

          That’s hilarious, Brain. Almost ALL sites censor comments; the ones that don’t end up inundated with work-from-home, internet-diploma, and penis-enlargement spam.

          You just seem to be miffed that our host here expects you to act like an adult, and support your arguments with facts. And for failure to do so, BTW, she’s not proposing censoring at all…but banishment. If these rules seem too onerous, perhaps you should launch your own site and see what kind of readership you get. Me, I’ll keep reading this one.

      • Yes, Ant, definitely. I should have made that point myself.

  14. Daniel says:

    That is a very dishonest picture you put showing the black slave with the chains around his wrists. That verse quoted next to the picture was NOT referring to THAT kind of “slavery”. It was referring to “slavery” in the form of indentured servant-hood, NOT chattel slavery.

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