I’ve always wanted to write more about moderate Muslims and express my great interest to that subtopic of Islam Reform. While I have created content in the past on the subject, the book we are about to discuss certainly gives the “necessary jolt” for me to discuss moderate Muslims in the West.
General Thoughts On The Atheist Muslim
I have recently finished an audiobook of “The Atheist Muslim” By Ali Rizvi.
The book is about a wide variety of things, but if I had to sum it up it is about the conflicting ideological struggles and identity crises in the Muslim world today.
The “Muslim world” in this case consists of the global population of Muslims, from minority diasporas in the western world to Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa etc.
A key strength of the book is that Ali provides something different. Traditionally the Ex-Muslim narrative has been one of victimization by family, society, local government etc. An example of this is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had an ultraconservative upbringing in Somalia, and fled an arranged marriage. As Ayaan criticizes the effect of Islamic doctrines on women in the Muslim world, her critics silence her by either calling her “Islamophobic” or they brush off her criticisms as personal hatred rather than objective analysis.
This isn’t by any means an attempt to belittle or disregard the narratives of those whose victimization stories were a result of Islamic doctrines. Without such problematic consequences, there wouldn’t be a cause for Muslim apostates to begin with and the Atheist Muslim book would merely be scrapped into your typical atheist book where they debunk religion’s truth claims.
However, because Ali’s lived experience isn’t one of victimization, the book automatically deflects ad hominem criticisms such as “he has daddy issues and takes it out on his family’s religion”.
Ali covers an entire chapter on “The regressive left” and discusses how a large segment of the western left focuses on being anti-western imperialism over pro-liberalism. Because they are defined by what they are against: which is the “global capitalist, imperialist establishment” they often defend Islam from its critics in the name of protecting Muslims from “ideological and cultural imperialism.” He even addresses how these same liberal apologists of Islam call him an Uncle Tom, or agent of imperialism.
I appreciated all the aspects of the book because if you have followed my Youtube channel or this website, you will see I have discussed many of these subjects at length: from Muslim apologists defense of Islamic scripture to why the regressive left defends Islam.
One of the subjects that fascinate me most which Ali successfully covers is the “Moderate Muslim” based in western societies. In her book Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali includes this population with her category “The Meccan Muslims” because they emphasize the peaceful and loving verses from the Meccan period of the Quranic Revelation (in contrast to Madinah Muslims who emphasize the politicized, decisive, tribal, and often militant verses of the Madinah period.) While Ayaan provides us with a good start on this subject and distinction, the terms Mecca and Madinah Muslims are far too broad and binary for my preferences. Even within Mecca Muslims there are variations.
Ali draws upon these concepts and gets deeper into it. His response to Muslim apologists were meant more for the moderate Muslim who is either aloof about their religion, perceiving it as a mere cultural identity, or the Muslim who joins their university’s Muslim student communities. The moderate Muslims’ limited understanding of Islamic scriptures, (sometimes an elaborately dismissal of its negativity) influences their response to Islamist terrorism and the public discourse on Islam inspired social issues (misogyny, terrorism etc.)
Moderate Muslims are not the liars that far right bigots make them out to be. Their apologia and defense of Islamic scriptures as “inherently pacifist and feminist,” though inaccurate, don’t stem from a place of intentional dishonesty, but a subconscious form of denial due to the desire to reconcile their secular upbringing in western societies with the religion they grew up with/converted to.
Because Moderate Muslims understanding is that Islam is a religion of peace that founded women’s rights, this informs the western left wing thought process on Islam, creating the extreme divide on Islam we see today in public discourse. In order to effectively address problems caused by the doctrines of Islam, the wider Muslim population, most of whom are moderate Muslims, need to admit to the fallibility of the Islamic scriptures. It certainly does not help for a moderate Muslim to call these books absolutely infallible while an Islamist reads these same books to feed his increasing tribalism, misogyny, and the sense of urgency for his political cause.
Where the Islamist reads Quranic verses that say “Kill All Disbelievers” as what it says, the moderate Muslim will excuse such verses as out of context, and do whatever it takes to water down the negativity of the verse. You name it: “self defense,” “those were different times,” “it’s all metaphorical.”
In his book, Ali addresses every major defense claim moderate Muslims present. While this article briefly brushes through moderate Muslims’ defenses, his book delves into it to quite lengthy extents. He mentions their defense claim, addresses it based on scripture, and gets ahead of the conversation by addressing “that is out of context/from different time/metaphorical” in advance. In other words: read the damn book. 🙂
While there is much praise to be said about the intellectual substance in the book, Ali certainly deserves praise for the welcoming nature of his writing. Religion is often a sensitive subject to discuss especially with believers of said religions. Sometimes in order to effectively reach the faithful you have to present yourself as approachable, relatable etc. Ali expresses disagreement with the world’s Muslim population but without tones of tribalism. He invites readers to standing in solidarity with liberals in the Muslim world, who are overlooked by western media, the regressive left, and the Muslim population at large.
Potential Criticisms of The Atheist Muslim
Ali has discussed at length some of the menacing criticisms that will come his way: such as being called a self hating Islamophobe and an Uncle Tom. While these are silly ad hominems, one criticism apologists may use to “do damage control” of this book’s influence is by interjecting moral and cultural relativism. For example: Ali suggests throughout the book that classic liberalism and secularism is what we should support in the Muslim world. One might double down on the “regressive left” thought process and ask “what makes you think one culture is superior to the other?” Ali does present the problems Islamic theocracy pose for minorities they would not face in secular liberal democracies. However, suggesting the support of Western values in these conflicts reeks of “cultural imperialism” for the Western leftist. In order to address this: the question must be answered whether one culture is definitively and objectively superior to another. Otherwise, they’ll just call him a “brown man who drank the neoliberal Kool-Aid” and continue ignoring his critiques.
Invitation to Ali Rizvi
I host many different guests on my Youtube channel. There has been a common theme of “Islam in the 21st century,” and “Ex Muslims” throughout my interview videos (though there has been a handful few videos that discuss other subjects.) After reading this book, I have a great deal of questions for Ali Rizvi on the “moderate Muslim” subject as well as theology studies in American universities. I would love to have him on my channel and pick his brain on these matters.
To conclude my praise for his book, I must confess: it felt like Ali was speaking my mind 100% of the time. Everything that I have discussed through forums, Twitter, publishing content and in private discussions with peers is expressed in this book. I have friends who aren’t engaged in these discussions on the Muslim world as we are. They have other social issues they focus on. When I tell them to read this book, I say “if you want to get to know my thought process and some of my concerns of today’s world, read this book.”
I would recommend this book to anybody interested in Islam in the 21st century. He is an excellent writer. His charm, articulation, and calmness is expressed both in writing and is quite visible in his interviews as well.
10/10 must read.
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