First published in The Huffington Post, February 25, 2015
Anti-Islam personalities can demonstrate glaring hypocrisy. On one hand they scream "where are the moderate Muslims and why aren't they condemning ISIS terrorism?"
When Muslims the world over condemn ISIS in word and deed, the first ones to object are ironically anti-Islam personalities. "ISIS is just as legitimate as anyone," they'll shout, "how dare you condemn their acts as un-Islamic or antithetical to Islam!"
If I didn't know any better I'd diagnose it as amnesia. It's not amnesia, but a willful anti-Islam agenda peddled to continue the rising antagonism against Islam and Muslims.
In an interview some months back, I was asked directly:
One criticism I have with your position is your claim that so many Muslim extremists aren't interpreting Islam correctly. Why is this not a case of the "No True Scotsman Fallacy?"
My answer below is the answer I gave in the interview, as this is the crux of the matter. You see, declaring ISIS and their acts as un-Islamic is not an excuse by any stretch of the imagination--it is an observable fact.
First, just in case you're not familiar with the No True Scotsman Fallacy, this is what it states.
Person A: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Person B: "I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge."
Person A: "Well, no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Replacing this with Muslim it might look like this:
Person A: "No Muslim practices honor killing."
Person B: "I am Muslim, and I practice honor killing."
Person A: "Well, no true Muslim practices honor killing."
There are two significant reasons why calling ISIS un-Islamic is not a case of the No True Scotsman Fallacy.
The first reason is because the fallacy discusses a person's acts, not an ideology's teaching. Islam is a religion, Muslims are people--we cannot conflate the two.
The question is not, therefore, what a true or untrue Muslim would do. The question is do the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Hadith--in that order--substantiate such acts? In other words, can Islamic teachings substantiate such acts? If so, then surely Islam is not the peaceful faith I profess it is. If not, then the acts of such Muslims can be dismissed as their delusional acts--not Islam's teaching. If an act is not something taught or approved by Islam, but rather condemned by Islam, then it is perfectly factual and accurate to call that act un-Islamic.
But there's also a second reason why calling ISIS un-Islamic is not an excuse, but a fact. This second reason stems from an obvious admission--yes, some Muslims engage in terrorism, or horrific things like 'honor killing,' and death for blasphemy or apostasy.
But inherent in my admission above is why the No True Scotsman Fallacy doesn't apply here--I'm not denying that the people committing those horrible acts are Muslim. A person's faith is between them and God. If ISIS claims they are Muslim, I'm not here to call them non-Muslim. But whether they are Muslim or not is irrelevant to whether their acts are Islamic or not. This is the fundamental issue anti-Islam critics pretend to ignore.
This is where intellectual dialogue and discourse comes in to play. Islamic teaching specifically forbids honor killing, forbids any worldly punishment for apostasy or blasphemy, and forbids terrorism. Therefore, should a Muslim engage in those acts and claim to follow Islam--shouldn't the logical question be to see if the Muslim committing those acts can back it up with Islamic teaching?
If he can, let him try. If he cannot, and indeed such extremists cannot, then why give that Muslim any credence in his representation of Islam? How can Islam suddenly be called violent--despite specifically condemning those violent acts--if some violent imbecile disregards clear Islamic injunction and commits those violent acts? Meanwhile, the same anti-Islam critics pretend to ignore 1000+ Muslims who protect a synagogue from attack in exact accordance to the Qur'an's specific command to protect synagogues from attack.
At this junction anti-Islam critics again leap to the defense of ISIS and claim ISIS has scholars that dig in to the fundamental core of Islamic jurisprudence and history. Ironically, the anti-Islam critics who defend ISIS as scholarly themselves have little to no training on Islamic scholarship, so how they're able to recognize whether ISIS is consulting authentic Islamic sources is incredulous.
More significantly, however, we know that ISIS gains the bulk of their ideology not from the Qur'an or Sunnah, but from ignorant terrorist organizations like Jamaat-e-Islaami--founded by Mullah Abul a'la Maududi, the father of modern terrorism. Maududi likewise had zero training on Islam or Islamic jurisprudence, no post high school education, and no education on Islamic history and Arabic, yet his work dominates ISIS ideology. ISIS is literally the blind leading the blind, and blinded by their own egos, anti-Islam critics refuse to see these facts.
This is one of the difficulties I have with critics of Islam. When a terrorist commits an act of terror, virtually zero academic research or insight goes into how such a terrorist justified his claim from Islamic jurisprudence. A random verse excerpt is cited and suddenly every critic is a scholar.
Meanwhile, when a Muslim claims that Islam teaches, for example, universal freedom of conscience, until and unless he can substantiate that claim with extensive argumentation and factual support, critics refuse to believe him. But for the record, it isn't this critique I have a problem with. Yes, by all means hold Muslims accountable to explaining their beliefs and Islam's teachings. I wouldn't have it any other way. My only request--and it is a fair one--is to apply the same in depth scrutiny to extremists claiming Islam teaches violence. That is called objectivity and fairness, concepts currently lost on anti-Islam critics.
Let us have a free exchange of ideas and let the best idea win. I'm reminded of a quote by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Messiah Ahmad discussed the violent acts of extremists and rebuked them, declaring way back in 1902:
There is a lesson in this story for the pro-Jihad Mullahs. The growth of such horrible doctrines among the Muslims, has done lasting injury to the cause of Islam and created an abhorrence for it in the hearts of other nations. They have no confidence in their sympathy so long as the dangerous doctrine of Jihad finds favor with them. ... The true religion is that which on account of its inherent property and power and its convincing arguments is more powerful than the keenest sword, not that which depends upon steel for its existence.
So in short, the No True Scotsman Fallacy doesn't apply when condemning ISIS, first because we are discussing what Islam teaches, not what Muslims do or believe. Second, it does not apply because I am not denying that some Muslims commit acts of violence. This is not a question of faith, it is a question of fact.
My proposition is fair. Instead of relying on such violent criminals, let us employ intellectual dialogue and debate to determine what Islam--or any ideology--teaches. And let us hold terrorists to the same intellectual standard to which we hold the vast majority of the Muslim world who are not terrorists. Otherwise it is a double standard unbefitting of a fair and objective discussion.
In the meantime, anti-Islam critics should either stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism only to condemn those Muslims for condemning terrorism, or learn Islam from actual scholarship.
The current hypocritical and selective listening strategy that anti-Islam critics all too often use empowers ignorance and terrorism, not education and pluralism. You can bet no true intellectual engages in such hypocrisy.
And that's a fact.