Islam. To some a religion of tolerance, peace, and enlightenment. To others a barbaric belief system that must be eradicated. The debate around Islam has been around seemingly since modern political discourse began. From its roots to its current form, the religion has grown to the second most followed religion in the world, and by 2050 is set to become number one. It has become something that billions around the world find purpose in and a way to find liberation from the struggles that plagues the lives of the common citizen throughout the world. But from its very inception, Islam has also been opposed by a multitude of groups of peoples, whether it was through religious differences, geopolitical interests, and as of recently political agendas. Islamophobia among the political right is nothing short of rampant and has become one of the defining characteristics of right wing ideology and policies. Why is this the case? If you ask a typical American conservative, their response would be along the lines that Islam is an inherently violent religion that calls for the deaths of anyone who does not adhere to its strict beliefs and this is evident through the spike in Islamic terrorism within the past decades. Other claims, such as the accusation that the Prophet Muhammad was a warlord pedophile are among the favorites for criticizing the legitimacy of Islam. It is only through the instillment of Judeo-Christian values that will allow western civilization to truly prosper, and an embrace of Islam will lead to an inevitable destruction.
However, the truth is that the rhetoric surrounding these preconceived notions about Islam are nothing short of ignorant, sensationalist, bad faith, and in the vast majority of cases are completely removed from the basis of reality itself. This paper will take a critical view into the logic that fosters Islamophobia among the political right and even parts of the anti-religious left, and provide a response to which readers can better understand the context and meaning behind the characteristics of Islam that garner the most criticism. It will go over a variety of subjects and provide analysis for each of them to debunk mainstream talking points and illustrate why Islam is nowhere near the boogeyman that it is painted to be as.
Age of Aisha
One of the favorite attacks that are made by Islamophobes is the claim that the prophet was a pedophile for marrying Aisha, who was supposedly 9 at the time of marriage. Aisha’s age is never mentioned once in the Quran and instead comes from various different Hadiths, many of which have differing views on her age at the time. What one needs to consider is that the Hadiths were not written and compiled until the 9th century, over 200 years after the life of the prophet and in many instances are viewed as unreliable accounts of the Prophet’s life. This is not to say that all Hadiths are illegitimate and should be rejected, but there is absolutely room for questioning, especially from the Maturidi perspective of Islam.
Quran verse 4:6 states “And test the orphans until they reach the age of “nikah” (marriage), and if you find in them “rushdh” (maturity of intellect) release their property to them.” The Quran places the importance of intellectual maturity over biological maturity, otherwise known as puberty, and makes it the basis for all marriages, and with the claim that Aisha was 9 it implies that the prophet went directly against the words of Allah. The actual age of Aisha can easily be deduced from the age of her older sister, Asma. According to numerous historians and biographers of the Medieval Islamic World such as the likes of Walluiddin Abdullah Tabrizi and Abu Ibn Kathir, Asma was 10 years older than Aisha and died in the year 73 Hijri at the age of 100. The Islamic calendar starts from the year of the Hijrah or the Prophet’s migration from Mecca to Medina, and so therefore by deducting 73 from 100, we can conclude that she was 27 years old during Hijra. This puts the age of Hazrat Aisha at 17 during the same period. As all biographers of the Prophet agree that he consummated his marriage with Aisha in the year 2 Hijri, this would make Aisha 19 at the time of marriage. A piece by the Yaqeen Institute gives a far more in depth analysis into the topic using multiple different references and supports the conclusion of Aisha being around 18 or 19, and it is highly recommended to be given a look.
Now, some might question the ethicality of a 53 year old man marrying such a young woman even if she was 19, but this is a question of cultural relativism. Whether it was in the Middle East or in Europe or in East Asia, marriages with such age gaps were commonplace in the Medieval era and were not exclusive to any particular group of peoples. The current and widely held view on the age of consent is that it is around 16 to 18, and so even by modern standards the marriage between Muhammad and Aisha cannot be classified as an act of pedophilia. The prophet’s marriage was simply a product of its time, and whether the morality of it is accepted or not by individuals it can be conclusively said that the claim of Muhammad consummating a marriage with a 9 year old girl is categorically false.
Islamic views on homosexuality take root in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the people of Lot, in which the cities are destroyed as punishment from God supposedly for a combination of sins and misdeeds, most notably homosexuality. This has led to widespread homophobia among individual Muslims and the persecution of queer folk in many Islamic countries, another point that is used to illustrate the brutality of Islam.
However, the views on homosexuality in the Quran are far more nuanced than it is seemed to be and historical views on the topic can also employed as counter- arguments. Addressing the Quran, it is a viewpoint that is up to interpretation of the verses and philosophical beliefs. We have to take into account the multitude of misdeeds listed in the Quran committed by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, including the refusal to worship one god, disregarding the message of the prophets, lack of hospitality, rampant robbery, the sin of pride among the people, and most importantly the widespread rape including the attempt to rape the angelic travelers of Lot. It is with this that the notion of blame solely being applied to homosexuality falls apart, with many scholars and activists arguing it was for these reasons that God ordered the destruction of the cities and not so much homosexuality. It begs the question as to why Allah would want to make such a seemingly arbitrary act a sin, and why he created queer people to begin with if it is such a sin (this cannot be equated to acts such as murder or robbery because same-sex attraction has been scientifically proven to be natural and generally not a conscious choice made by an individual and influenced by outside factors). Those who oppose queerness among the Muslim community equate the mass rape to the homosexual nature of the transgressors, however that is something that even the Quran never explicitly states and is entirely based on unsubstantiated interpretations. Another important detail to consider is that the Quran never lists a punishment for those who commit homosexual acts, while the Old Testament explicitly says they “are to be put to death” (this is not meant to be an attack on Christianity or Judaism as it is not the intention of this paper, but rather a comparison given many who oppose Islam are of the religious right wing). Moreover, Muhammad is never to have been recorded to condemn homosexuality or punish someone for it himself. Much of the views on punishment come from the Hadiths, but as mentioned earlier in the case with Aisha, they can be unreliable sources who have been repeatedly questioned by Islamic scholars throughout history, and in this case especially none of the Hadiths from which the basis for punishment comes from are from one of the three “authentic” Hadith collections: Sahih Muslim, Sahih Bukhari, and Muwatta Malik. Historically speaking, Islamic empires were quite tolerant of homosexuality in the past, more famously the Ottoman Empire, and they were far more so than Christian empires in Europe. European scholars even wrote documents on their accounts in the Islamic world with many noting the prominence of homosexuality in society. It has only been recently with the presence of imperialism in the region did anti-queer sentiment explode in popularity as it was seen as something more associated with the west. As for those of other sexualities, there is never a direct mention in the Quran or even Hadiths, so it is a viewpoint entirely based on individual logic. Given the explanation above, it is reasonable to assume that they are also tolerated under Islam if we were to keep with the moral consistency.
Gender identity is also an important topic in this debate. As with homosexuality, transgender people are assumed to be taboo, but there is much more nuance to Islam’s view on them. Once again, there is no mention in the Quran so attitudes on the topic comes from the Hadiths. The word “mukhannath” is an Arabic descriptor for effeminate men, and they were very common throughout the Islamic world both during Muhammad’s life and after. In one Hadith from Sahih Bukhari, one of the two aforementioned “authentic” collections, the prophet was asked whether to kill a mukhannath among his following for breaking gender boundaries in their appearance in behavior, to which the prophet refused and said “I have been prohibited from killing those who pray.” This would support the idea that people who do not conform to traditional gender boundaries are accepted under Islam as logically the rules pertaining to the male sex would also apply to the female sex. Intersex peoples are recognized in the Quran in verse 42:50 and are referred to as “khunsa” in Arabic. There is no explicit views on intersex peoples in the Quran or any known Hadiths, however many Islamic schools of jurisprudence still recognize them as natural and to be given the same rights as non-intersex peoples.
In the Islamic world, women are at a major disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. Everything from property rights to education to domestic life is meticulously made to give men the upper hand and force women to submit in countries with “Sharia law.” It is an unfortunate reality that Islamophobes will weaponize to prove that Islam is oppressive to women and girls, but once again this is simply not the case.
Looking back at history, there have been a plethora of female Muslim leaders who held considerable political and cultural influence in places such as the Umayyad, Ottoman, and Mughal empires. Even to this day, there are a considerable amount of powerful women who have made it to their roles despite living in such patriarchal societies. Education was widespread among girls and in some societies women tended to be more educated than men on average. Many historians acknowledge that Muslim women had considerable financial and property rights in the past, much moreso than western countries at the time. Punishment of Zina, or sexual acts deemed to be haram, were almost never carried out legally with very rare instances in the pre-modern era. Islamic views on divorce and marriage were also fairly liberal, with a now famous 12th century document stating that a woman wanted a divorce because her husband’s penis was too large, and yes she was granted the divorce. In the early to mid 1900s with the rise of Islamic socialism and progressivism in the Middle East, feminism was a core tenant of these movements with an outright rejection of “sharia” and lobbying from conservative organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood to make legislation such as mandatory hijabs for women. Even before this era the strict dress codes applied to women in current countries were never historically found to be commonplace in previous Islamic societies.
From a religious perspective, the Prophet was a major advocate of women’s education, and declared that “seeking knowledge was a religious duty binding upon every Muslim man and woman.” There are no Quranic verses that restrict women’s ability to seek education, and rather encourage it. Quran verse 4:32 states “For men is a portion of what they earn, and for women is a portion of what they earn. Ask God for His grace. God has knowledge of all things;” what this and many other Quranic verses show is that women are encouraged to participate in economic investments and hold equal and individual property rights when compared to men.
Verse 4:34 is one of much contention and scrutiny, stating “Men are in charge of women by what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient… But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance — advise them; [then], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them.” It is seen as a justification for the use of domestic violence against one’s wife for disobedience, but this comes down to linguistics and potential mistranslation. The word “strike” in this verse comes from the Arabic root word “daraba” which has over 50 different definitions. The most common use of daraba in the Quran is not “to beat,” but rather “to leave and later reconcile,” so it is perfectly reasonable to apply this definition to the verse in question. Muwatta Malik, the earliest compilation of Hadiths and agreed upon by historians to be the most accurate and authentic, has the Prophet stating “do not strike your wife on the face, and do not revile her.” Verse 2:228 states “And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women,” supporting the idea that the rights of one sex should not be priortized over the other. In his final sermon, Muhammad said that a husband’s most important duty in marriage is to ensure the happiness of his wife, and if he cannot meet that requirement it is best for the two to part ways. When it comes to divorce, both men and women have grounds on which they can divorce the other party and still must go through a legal process to gain them. Although men can unilaterally divorce women under any circumstance while women cannot, they are also required to pay their ex-wives for any financial support for the following 4 months and child support until the child reaches adulthood, an obligation that does not apply to the wife.
The Quran is also accused to condone polygamy for men exclusively in verse 4:3, where it states that a man may marry up to four wives. For this we have to look at historical context. The verse mentions mothers of orphans, which may seem questionable at first. This is because at the time the verse was revealed, the Islamic armies were decimated in size and led to a major gender imbalance as the number of women far exceeded men, and to compensate for this men were allowed to marry multiple wives. In verse 4:129, it states “You can never be equitable in dealing with more than one wife, no matter how keen you are,” and is a clear discouragement of polygamy. It supports the conclusion that the allowance of men to marry four wives was meant to be a temporary endeavor rather than a permanent belief.
Additionally, there is no explicit condemnation of contraceptives and is generally agreed upon to be allowed as long as it is of the consent of both parties and does not result in permanent sterilization. Abortion is universally allowed if it is within the first 120 days of conception as it is not recognized that a fetus has developed a soul before that, or if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. As for abortions due to rape there is no direct mention in the Quran so it is up to an individual’s morality; conservative scholars claim that the life of the fetus supersedes a woman’s autonomy, but this opinion is subject to heavy criticism from scholars who are more liberal in their approach and argue the option for abortion should always be allowed in the case of rape due to the mental trauma a woman suffers during such an event.
Lastly, addressing the obligation of the Hijab and dress codes. It is widely expected in the name of modesty that a woman covers her body except for the face, hands, and feet, but the hijab is subject to much more debate. Quran verse 24:31 serves as the main justification for mandatory hijab wearing, stating that women are to “draw their khimar over their breasts,” with khimar being considered a precursor to the word hijab. However, there is little evidence that at the time of Muhammad that the word referred to head coverings exclusively, and according to historians and Arabic linguists, it is more likely that it referred any forms of covering such as curtains and lids. As such, this gives greater support to the notion that the hijab is not mandatory, but according to other verses and sayings by the Prophet, it is still encouraged.
The Quran’s messaging on those of other faiths is confusing for many and may seem contradictory at times. While there are some verses that call for peace and solidarity, others seemingly call for brutality and violence. It is of the latter that are used to paint Islam as a religion of violence and totality. For this, we need to look at historical context if we wish to know the meaning of these “violent verses.”
First off, Surah 9:5 which states “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them on their way.” At first glance this would be seen as irrefutable evidence of the Quran’s call to violence against nonbelievers, but as mentioned earlier the historical context is the key to finding out the intentions behind the verse. It was revealed to the Prophet during the Battle of Tabuk, a retaliation against the Byzantine attack on Medina. The pagan population as well as Christians and Jews allied with the Byzantines to stop the spread of Islam, and so the verse was calling for retaliatory action only against those who actively engaged, as the very next verse said that any pagans should be given protection if they repent and have no clear intention of attacking Muslims. The same context applies to verses 9:28–33. Verse 5:51 says “Do not take the Christians and Jews as allies, for they are allies of each other.” Looking at the context, this verse was given to the prophet during the Battle of Badr, in which a similar situation occurred where the Christians and Jews allied with the pagan Meccans to halt the Muslims’ expansion, and as such they could not be trusted to form alliances with in the case either one decided to switch sides in the battle. “And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, as persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers” is from 2:191 and is also interpreted as advocating for the killing of infidels.
The verses directly after contradicts this notion; “But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:192), “And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors” (2:193). Elaborating on this, the Quran once again encourages violence only against those who seek to actively suppress one’s right to faith, and at any other point differing religions should coexist peacefully so long as freedom and equality are maintained. In fact, later in the Quran, verse 60:8 calls for peace to be made with those of all other religions, not just people of the book; “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes — from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” 6:108 gives even more argument for the contrary; “[Believers], do not insult those who they (nonbelievers) worship beside Allah in case they, in their hostility and ignorance, insult Allah. To each community we make their own actions seem fair, but at the end they will return to their Lord and he will inform them of all they did.” In Islamic faith, people of the book (Christians and Jews) are held in very high regard and are explicitly stated to reach heaven just as any other Muslim, and while it does not explicitly say the same for other religions it can be said that irregardless Islam advocates for them to be treated with the same respect and for peace to be maintained within society. What many fail to consider is that while the Quran is a book of faith and outlines the beliefs of Islam, it functions as a primary historical document as well and is subject to the analysis that must be taken into account with any other primary documents.
Islam is claimed to be the only religion to have apostasy laws and goes as far as to support capital punishment in the case of anyone renouncing their faith. While it is true that support for the death of apostates is found in the Hadiths, they are not in the Quran and the verses that are assumed to be are severely misunderstood. Verse 4:89 is the main verse in question, which calls for “disbelievers,” which many assume to be a reference to apostates, to be seized and killed. The verse directly after clarifies this and states “if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for violence] against them.” Only those who are malicious in their approach and engage in violent activity themselves are to be given retaliation. The Quran never mentions the need for an apostate to return to Islam, and besides the verses given above never lists a worldly punishment that apostates should be subjected to. “There is no compulsion in religion” is an immensely important quote from verse 2:256 and is the basis for the belief that any conversion or maintainence of faith of an individual involving the use of coercion is one of the gravest sins in Islam. Other verses in support of this belief are “this is the truth from your Lord; so whoever wills, let him believe, and whoever wills, let him disbelieve’’ (18:29) and “so remind, you are only a reminder; you are not a controller over them” (88:21).
This now brings up an important question: what about the Hadiths? A sizable portion of Hadiths endorse punishment, with one claiming that the Prophet himself said that anyone who changes their religion must be killed. Regarding this specific Hadith, it comes from the testimony Ibn Abbas, who did not reveal this saying until 25 years after Muhammad’s death when informing Caliph Ali of what to do with a group of “rebellious heretics.” It is strange as to why such an important message had remained hidden decades after the Prophet’s death, and exemplified by the fact that Ali, who was one of Muhammad’s closest companions, should have known if such a ruling had existed, but alas he did not. It once again brings the legitimacy of the Hadiths into question, as many of the remaining Hadiths which do supposedly endorse punishment are widely categorized to be not as reliable and authentic as other collections. When it is all said and done, the Quran is meant to be the ultimate authority in Islamic belief and the Hadiths are only complementary to its likeness. If it is illustrated that the Quran in itself does not endorse punishment for renunciation and instead calls for apostates to be left alone if they do so in peace, then that ruling should supersede that of what is said in the Hadiths and should be the primary approach under Islamic Law. Any other ruling would be seen as an undermining of Quranic authority and as such classified as a sin.
Islamic views on slavery are extremely complicated and while arguably one of the more indefensible aspects, there is still a case to be made for the way it indisputably frowns upon it. Yes, the Quran technically does allow the practice of slavery yet it seeks to mitigate the harm done by it and does call for it to be phased out of society. There are many verses in the Quran which advocate for the emancipation of slaves by any means necessary and places its praiseworthiness on the level of zakat, or charity to the poor; 24:33 states: “if any of those in your possession desires a deed of emancipation, make it possible for them, if you find goodness in them. And give them some of Allah’s wealth which he has granted you.” Verses 4:25 and 4:36 recognize that slaves are still morally and spiritually equal to all people and that they must be treated with utmost respect and care, with other verses even describing them to be considered members of the household, alongside spouses, children, and relatives. In the Quran it is considered imperative that a slave owner maintains abstinence from sexual activity with slaves and slave prostitution is ouright condemned. The Quran unequivocally recognizes slavery as a source of injustice and envisions a society in which it no longer exists.
A common criticism that arises despite the information given is that Islamic views on slavery were too reformist rather than revolutionary and by codifying it the suffering of slaves was merely extended rather than mitigated. The legislation on slavery under Islamic law was far more progressive than the stances taken by Christian empires, with the Bible being more complicit with the practice than the Quran as well. While slavery was an integral part of the 7th century socioeconomic system and a total abolition of such would have caused major logistical problems, it is nonetheless to be conceded that it is still a fair criticism to be made under this perspective. Scholar Ghulam Ahmed Pervez argued that the term used to describe slaves in the Quran, “ma malakat aymanukum,” had been used in the past tense and that such a change would mean that the protection given only applied to those already enslaved when the religion was established, and any future practice of slavery was in direct contention with Islamic belief. Of course, this is still speculation and is a matter of interpretation but it is important not to rule it out entirely as the basis from which this claim is made, translation issues, is a legitimate stance to take.
By far one of the most popular and debated discourse surrounding Muslims as a whole is immigration. As with being one of the most popular topics in current politics, it is subject unfathomable amounts of misinformation by Islamophobes to support their agenda on the dangers of Islam and by extension justifying racism and xenophobia to people of Middle Eastern descent. The truth is that the effects of immigration are greatly exaggerated and the factors leading to the current situation are oversimplified by the right wing, and while there is some merit to their claims, they can easily be explained and disproven with socioeconomic analysis.
One country that is bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis is Germany, and because of this pundits have been attempting to link a spike in crime rates to the influx of immigrants. A report by the BKA, the German department of policing, in 2018 found that the country’s overall crime rate, including murders and rapes, had fallen to their lowest in over 25 years, with another study by the University of Magdeburg in 2019 finding that “The results do not support the view that Germans were victimized in greater numbers by refugees as measured by their rate of victimization in crimes with refugee suspects.” In fact, the study found that people of Middle Eastern descent are more likely to be the victim of an attack perpetrated by immigrants than a native German.
Let’s look at another country, France, which has taken the most refugees of any country as of now. A criminal statistics report by the French Ministry of Internal Affairs back in 2016 found that the overall crime rate that year also decreased from the previous year. Immigrants constituted about 10% of the country’s population and committed roughly 15% of crimes, which is a noticeable discrepancy but is nowhere near the numbers perpetuated by right wing outlets and since then this number has dropped further. In the table listing the statistics on homicide and rape by demographic, Middle Eastern peoples such as those from Syria or Iraq are not even listed and is instead taken up by that of former French colonies like Morocco and Algeria, and ironically other European citizens like Portuguese and Romanians.
Moving on to the UK, multiple reports by the UK government have shown that immigration spikes have not led to major increases in overall crime rates in all four constituent countries in the union, and the areas of crime with increases are incremental relative to their representation among the population. Immigrants made up 12% of criminal convictions in the UK, on par with their population share of 13%. Alongside this, refugees and asylum seekers are actually the least common category of immigrants despite the misconceptions, with the vast majority coming through legal means. The myths that services such as the NHS have been reduced in quality or that unemployment is rising among high skilled workers because of immigrants are also debunked in the reports.
Sweden is a hotbed for anti-immigrant rhetoric, and while the data has shown a more dramatic shift in crime than in the previously mentioned countries, the predicament in Sweden is still greatly dramatized. The Swedish government has a page with many attached studies and reports which goes over the misconceptions surrounding the rise in crime rates in correlation to immigration and why such a correlation may have occurred. One of the most important sections of the report is rape, arguably the most weaponized category used by anti-Islamic pundits. Over the past years, Sweden has broadened the definition of rape in the legal system and made it easier for prosecutors to convict offenders, with the most signficanct legislation being passed in 2018. Rape cases increased by over 75% as a result of this change, and this coinciding with large waves of immigrants coming to Sweden during this time period led many to falsely accuse the seemingly rapid rise on migrants.
We obviously cannot go through each European country individually, but what we can say is that the findings in the four listed countries above is a trend found throughout many countries in the European Union, where influxes in immigration did have minor impacts on the overall crime rates, but it is empirically nowhere near the extent of which the right wing attempts to paint it as. Even so, there is the question as to why there was even an increase to begin with, and that this is still proof of the negative impacts migrants are bringing. This can be explained through socioeconomic factors, which both the Swedish and French studies delve into. The slight rise in crime is attributed to systemic failures to assimilate and support immigrants, with them having generally lower incomes to start off with and a feeling of unwelcomeness in their new home, which leads to some resorting to crime. It is found that those who earn higher incomes, receive better education, and have greater living standards have rates on par with native born citizens, which is what we have been seeing given the universally declining crime rates in European countries.
Terrorism and Fundamentalism
Another current source of controversy on the impacts of Islam in today’s society is the prevalence of “Islamic terrorism” which has exploded (haha funny) in prominence in recent years. From organizations such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and many more, they commit heinous acts which are considered crimes against humanity with the justification of the Quran and other Islamic teachings; that they must cleanse the world of Kuffars (nonbelievers) to bring peace and are doing so in the name of Allah. This article up to current point has provided arguments against religious aspects which fuel Islamophobes’ preconceived biases and by extension the same arguments extremists use to defend their horrid actions. What terrorist organizations do is not Islam, plain and simple. They do not believe in Islam, they do not act according to Islam, they only subscribe to a twisted perversion that is completely unrecognizable to its original teachings. It is undeniable there are terrorist attacks committed in the name of Islam, there is no denying that, but again this problem is made out to be much more of a danger than it actually is in many occasions. No, Muslims are not going to take over the west and subjugate everyone to “Sharia Law,” it is nothing but conspiratorial nonsense. What ISIS is doing in Syria and Iraq or what the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan should be swiftly condemned and the spread of their ideas and power should be mitigated as much as possible without breaking international law or starting illegal wars.
This leads us to the next and final point. “Islamic terrorism” has only gained so much prominence because of European colonialism. Before this, the extremist interpretations of Islam had nowhere near the following as it does now and many of its modern forms did not even exist yet. Wahhabism, a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam which has become the religion of the Saudi Arabian regime, was founded in response to suppression of Arab seperatist movements by the Ottomans and the perceived loss of Islamic culture due to the empire making too many concessions to European powers. Only after the Middle East and North/West Africa were colonized did these beliefs spread as it was seen as a counter to the destruction European empires caused. Despite this, the Middle East by the 1950s had become one of the most progressive regions in the Eastern Hemisphere, with countries like Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Afghanistan removing the implementation of Sharia altogether in favor of secularization. Women, religious minorities, and to an extent even queer people enjoyed civil liberties and equality under the law. The countries of the Middle East, with the exception of a few, were rapidly modernizing and on the verge of becoming legitimate powers. The embracing of socialism and less dependency on the west however, was the biggest mistake these countries made. The turning point and the beginning of the rise of “Islamic terrorism” and fundamentalism in its modern form can be traced back to the coup of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, where the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies partook in the overthrow of the democratically elected leader after he nationalized the oil industry. The incredibly unpopular and authoritarian Shah was placed back in power and set off a chain reaction of anti-west sentiment among the Iranian people, which culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution where Ruhollah Khomeini seized power and established a dictatorial regime based on extreme interpretations of Shia Islam. Had Mossadegh never been deposed it is highly unlikely the revolution would have ever occurred. The same could be said about interventions and wars in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Political figures were deposed from power and rebel groups earned funding either directly or indirectly. In every conceivable way, the efforts of western powers in the Middle East backfired as overall anti-west sentiment in the Middle East soared and the use of violence became common. Many felt the need for a unifying factor to fight back, and the factor which all these nations had in common just so happened to be Islam. The result was the radicalization of millions with fundamentalists earning political power through Islamism in various countries and Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations gaining prominence by manipulating the views of citizens. This vicious cycle continued throughout the late 1900s and into the 2000s and leads us to today.
The rise of Islamist politics and religious fundamentalism is undeniably a direct consequence of imperialism. It is blatantly ignorant to blame the beliefs of Islam rather than the myriad of circumstances and conditions which led to the current situation. However, it is not surprising that the Western right wing maliciously cherrypicks events to better suit their agenda and conveniently neglects to take into account the consequences of their nations’ past endeavors.
So what is this article’s purpose? What did it accomplish? This article can only go over so much and it is likely that there are other misconceptions and false rhetoric used by Islamophobes that are not addressed here. However, it has still given a rebuttal to the foremost anti-Islam talking points, hopefully to the point where it can be considered a total debunking. The main goal of this article is to combat bigotry and silence bad faith critics of Islam, and give a more positive and accepting image of the religion. The words and imagery that Muslims throughout the world are exposed to that demonize them is immense and places a great amount of social pressure onto them to question their own placement in society. It is an obligation for all that engage in civil discourse to be more educated on the topic and become motivated to make more substantive criticisms of Islam if they wish. Use this article when combatting Islamophobes, in fact use it when encountering bigoted and extremist Muslims as well. It kills two birds with one stone.
What can be conclusively stated is that despite the illusion of the Western right wing and Islamic extremists being diametrically opposed to each other, the rhetoric that they use to justify their beliefs is in reality much the same. Their views of what the Quran says about queer people to women to nonbelievers of the religion are identical in logic, the only difference is their interpretation and the conclusions drawn from them. Those with faith will weaponize it to oppress those who do not conform, and those without faith will weaponize it to demonize an entire people group. That is it. Call it Islamic horseshoe theory, but it is the truth. Islam is not perfect by any means, far from it, just as any other belief or moral system has certain flaws. But the deliberate misrepresentation of the religion and using that to perceive false enemies is dangerous and is the same line of thinking that has led to wars and genocides in the past.
In the words of the Prophet Muhammad, “Beware the supplication of the oppressed, even if they are a disbeliever, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” Ameen.