How to answer a critic of Islam
I know, I know, but it looks like the chaos is settling down and I'll be able to put up a few posts over the next few days, including "Dr. Kafka, I Presume" that will explain part of the chaos. But a correspondent of mine sent me 'Aquol's "How to be a Muslim Reformer"
and I couldn't resist. (If you haven't come across this, check it out first.)
How to answer a critic of Islam
In the past few years many former Muslims have turned against their religion and written articles and books critical of it. This has resulted in a scarcity of people prepared to respond to them. (Perhaps not a scarcity of people willing to respond, but shouting 'Death to the enemies of Allah' is not considered to be the most effective form of criticising them, and has even been known to bring them a certain degree of sympathy, as well as police portection. And other writers, such as Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid who runs the "Islam Q&A" site
who has conveyed the ruling that 'excessive laughter' is haram for a Muslim; that a man should not ride public transport with a woman, and should avoid sitting next to one -- even if it requires regular seat changing -- and if he feels himself tempted must leave the transport at once, even if it means being late for work; and that "if a woman has the misfortune to be studying in a mixed university, she should reduce the evil as much as she can, so she should not debate with men or allow any opportunity to speak to her or get to know her, even if that leads to her getting lower grades. Warding off evil takes precedence over seeking benefits." is not considered to portray the progressive, moderate image of Islam that is needed to confront the apostates.
Since there is such a lack, I have prepared a guide to the proper way to answer such critics. A person who follows it can write any number of articles and gain a fine reputation for brilliance, even among some non-Muslims who are impressed by the moderate reasonableness of the responses.
Of course, the responder has one main advantage if he knows the proper usage of the "SOS Device," a rhetorical trick hardly limited to Muslims. (Defenders of George Bush's and Republican domestic policies have been using it for years. Some people credit Ronald Reagan with its invention, though in fact it had been common for years.)
SOS, in this case, stands for "Same Old Stuff." If one person complains about something, the responder needs considerable agility to avoid actually answering the critic. But if there are fifteen people all making the identical complaint, the responder should realize this makes his task easier. Just use the "SOS Device." "Aren't you people ever asking the same tired questions over and over? Don't you ever come up with anything new. Hasn't that been raised by Irshad Manli, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and all the rest of you 'so-called' liberals. I'm not going to go over this yet again." Sometimes a simple "There you go again" is sufficient.
But of course you only use that in a debate or a general discussion. The most important overall rule is always to divert attention to the person, not the argument. "Ad hominen" may occasionally receive criticism from purists, but it works, especially if it is, in fact, 'ad feminem.'
Many critics of Islam are, in fact, women, who make the claim that Islam mistreats women. Now merely pointing out that the person IS a woman will win you the sympathy of a certain portion of the audience, particularly if the audience is predominantly Muslim and wonders why a woman is daring to speak in the first place, and especially to criticize. But there are still a lot of people for whom that isn't enough. Most of them, however, will be won over if you call her not just a woman, but a feminist.
That of course is just a start, a way of getting the readers on your side. The next thing is to declare the person doesn't know anything about Islam, has never studied it, is totally ignorant of it. The fact that the person may have spent most of her life in an Islamic environment, that they might have memorized the Qur'an at an early age, that they can actually speak Arabic, that they might have gone to a Muslim University, that's all irrelevant, or at least you need to make the audience think it is so.
Then you have to develop the "Sophisticated Sneer." This is difficult, but very rewarding, though it takes a certain hardening of the heart to pull off convincingly. Most critics have horrible experiences that caused them to reconsider the religion they had, until then, devoted their life to. Don't skip over those, mention them, but with the SS. If you do it properly, you can make even having your beloved professor killed in front of you seem like a mere trivial occurence that the protestor is using as an excuse for her real purpose, which is to win publicity for herself. Even if she has received death threats in e-mails, has had to go into hiding, needs police protection to appear in public, you can tell that as if she is boasting about her boldness, and even, subtly, imply that maybe she set the whole thing up herself to sell books. (Always attack the motives, always make it look like she's just trying to get publicity. Do it loudly enough and you can discredit her totally. After all, what is having to live her life behind shields, having to wonder if she will be the target of the sort of madman who drove his car through a crowd of innocent students for the love of Allah, seeing her name and picture on placards threatening her death, compared to the wondrous joys of being on the news.)
But you might have to pretend to respond to her criticisms. There are time tested replies that you can memorize. Whatever horror she claims about Islam, always claim that Christians did it too. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, and if they did it was hundreds of years ago, or was truly a minor splinter group, but your audience -- especially the Muslim and secular ones will be glad to believe it and certainly won't know any better.
Whatever she says, insist she's talking about a minor splinter group of 'crazy extremists' and not the 'great majority of Moderate Muslims." (This great majority somehow seems to have no political power in any Islamic country, or even in most communities of Muslims in Europe, and the minor splinter group is either the ruling party or main opposition in most countries, but who is going to say this aloud when if they do you can call them a racist, a bigot, or an 'Islamophobe.')
Insist that Islam means 'peace' -- even though it really means 'submission.' Insist that Mohammed (or Allah, depending on the audience) said 'there is no compulsion in religion,' even when they bring up the oppression of religious minorities, the burning of churches, the laws against blasphemy.
Claim that Mohammed was centuries ahead of his time in his treatment of women. (This probably isn't so if you compare his statements to Christian or Jewish teachings and practices in the metorpolitan areas, but the audience won't know this.) And if you say it often enough, the Christians will figure, well, our religiomn progressed over time, so probably Islam did too. (Remember, to them 'fundamentalists' are a minor group, they won't realize that all Muslims are, in theory, fundamentalists, whose book is supposedly unchangeable.
Depending on the audience, maybe you can even throw a quick jab at the Jews or the United States, pointing out how the critic's views pander to the prejudice of those groups.
But whatever you do, don't address the critic's points directly. That way gives them too much of an advantage.