Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Comment On Islam and Muslims

Note: A couple of days ago, I received a comment on this blog from a young Muslim. That comment is available here. Below is my response to the comment.

Hi Dana,

Thank you very much for leaving a comment on my blog. You have enriched my blog by leaving a comment here. I very much welcome your views and I’m glad that you have expressed your opinion here.

I am not questioning your opinion that the Quran advocates peace and tolerance. I am glad that this is your opinion.

To tell the truth, it is really not important to me what the Quran says or does not say. What matters to me is what Muslims think the Quran says. From what I can see, not all Muslims think, like you do, that the Quran advocates peace and tolerance towards people of all religions. Some Muslims claim that the Quran says exactly the opposite, and, like you, they also quote certain lines from the Quran to back up their claims. For example, some Muslims say that according to the Quran, idol-worshiping is bad, and idol-worshipers (i.e., Hindus, Buddhists, etc.) are evil. Some of the people who make such statements even claim to have studied the Quran for many years, and claim to be experts on the Quran. Unfortunately, these Muslims, who believe that the Quran directs them to be intolerant towards non-Muslims are not just a negligible fringe minority. Substantial numbers of Muslims do share this intolerant interpretation of the Quran. For example, even the government of Saudi Arabia, which claims to be rigorously following the Quran, practices savage intolerance towards non-Muslims (see, for instance, this).

Again, it really does not matter to me what is actually written in the Quran. What matters to me is what those who believe that the Quran is the word of God (i.e., Muslims) think is written in the Quran. For me, it is Muslims’ interpretation of the Quran than is important, not its actual contents. I am very glad that you believe that Quran preaches peace and tolerance towards people of all religions. I am sure that many, many Muslims agree with you. However, it is unfortunately also true that there is a large and influential number of Muslims who do not.

I certainly do not see Islam as evil. To me, no religion can be either good or evil. Only people can be good or evil. So a Muslim can be good or a Muslim can be evil, but Islam itself can be neither good nor evil. I do think that those Muslims who preach hatred towards non-Muslims are evil (as are non-Muslims who preach hatred).

Statements like “real Islam promotes peace” don’t mean anything to me. For me there is no such thing as “true Islam” or “real Islam”, there are only “real” Muslims. To me, anybody who claims to be following Islam is a “real” Muslim. Sadly, it is an undeniable fact there are many such real Muslims in the world today (and even entire countries like Saudi Arabia) who practice extreme intolerance towards non-Muslims.

I am a secular person by nature. I believe that all human beings should be treated equally, with honor and respect, simply because it is the logical and civilized thing to do. It really doesn’t matter what the Quran, or the Bible, or the Gita, or any other holy book has to say in this regard. I base my ethics and morality on the secular values of the Enlightenment, rather than on any religious text. As the American Declaration of Independence puts it, it is a “self-evident truth” that all men (and women) are “created equal”. This truth, being “self-evident”, does not require validation by any religious text.

With warm regards,



Anonymous Augustus said...

It is a oversimplification to state that all men and women are created equal. Every man and woman is different. Every tribe(or race, if you will) certainly share certain genes, which sometimes enhance and detract certain qualities in them. These genes become dominant or dormant based on the environment of the race and the factors by which the race reproduces. It is more effective to treat every man and woman differently. By extension every tribe can be treated differently. However, it is easier and more efficient to manage a large and diverse group of people, if everyone is treated equal.

I agree with most of your comments about the interpretation of the Quran. The point is, everyone should be treated equal and that they are equal is not a truism.

January 07, 2008 9:48 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Augustus, its great to see you visiting my blog!!! Thank you very much for leaving a comment!!

I agree with you completely that each human being is a unique individual with a unique set of talents, qualities and desires.

What I mean by "created equal" is that all individuals should be equally valued and have equal rights, and every effort should be made that all individuals have equal opportunities to fully develop their unique talents and qualities. You are absolutely right that each unique individual should be treated uniquely, but only as along as equal rights are guaranteed to each individual, and efforts are made to provide equal opportunities. I also agree with you that genes (i.e., heredity) determines some of our fundamental qualities, such as color of our skin, how tall we are, etc. However, I must point out that this cannot be extended to modern professions, e.g., saying that people from certain groups are genetically predisposed to become doctors, or software engineers, etc.

I also want to point out that the idea of "uniqueness of each individual" cannot be fully extended to communities, tribes, or other groups of people. To a certain extent, we can accept that different communities have different values, cultures, etc. However, this concept of "differences in communities" or "multiculturalism" cannot be allowed to infringe upon individual rights and opportunities. The rights and opportunities of an individual cannot be curbed on the plea of multiculturalism. Whenever there is any conflict between community rights and individual rights, individual rights must be supreme. For example, a community should not invoke multiculturalism to make claims such as "our community traditions and values do not allow girls to go to college", or "our community tradition tells us to treat certain groups as lowly and untouchable, so we cannot rent our apartments out to people from such groups", or "our community prefers male children, so we will practice female infanticide", etc.

January 08, 2008 2:52 PM  
Anonymous augustus said...

Sid, I agree with you that it is a much greater leap of logic to say that certain groups are genetically predisposed for a certain profession. On a much smaller scale, it is easy to say that certain groups of people have a greater probability for a certain quality. For example, given a statistically significant group of Kenyans and Indians, you will find more people suitable for long distance running from the group of Kenyans. This is true for a different quality for a different group of people. History, culture, and genes that causes this effect in humans. Given a certain goal, policies that take into account this quality of a group of people has a greater chance of success.

However, such a approach requires the right balance and it comes with a significant amount of risk. It is very easy for the policy to become a policy that encroaches on the individual rights and cause undesirable situations like the examples, you mention. You rightly argue a case for the "uniqueness of a community", in your blog,, when you say,

"Countries have always been, and will always continue to be treated differently from each other, whether or not a nuclear agreement exists between India and the U.S. For example, Iran and Israel are not treated equally. Nor are Iran and Pakistan. Nor should they be. Each is a special case."

I am saying that the same thing applies to individuals as well.

January 10, 2008 10:56 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Augustus,

True, you do see more Kenyans as long distance runners than Indians, etc. But even here, I wonder how much of this is really attributable to fundamental genetic differences, and how much of it is cultural differences (i.e., the old “nature versus nurture” debate). In any case, Indians’ and Kenyans’ genes are probably 99.99% the same. To the extent that Kenyan’s numerous gold medals in long distance running can be attributed to genes (and not culture), it is only the 0.01% difference (maybe even less) in genes that is responsible. The average Kenyan is no more genetically predisposed to becoming a long distance runner than the average Indian. Conversely, the average Kenyan is no less genetically predisposed to becoming a doctor than the average Indian.

Dealing with sovereign countries is very different from dealing with communities within a country. For example, the U.S. govt. is expected to ensure that U.S. citizens, whether they belong to the Hispanic community, the African Community, the Muslim Community, the Jewish Community, etc. have some fundamental individual rights and opportunities. On the other hand, internationally, there is no expectation that a citizen of Saudi Arabia, say, shall have the same individual rights as a U.S. citizen, etc.

January 13, 2008 2:01 PM  
Blogger Raag said...

Hi all,

Plz visit the site to know abt the true Islam.

September 20, 2008 10:28 AM  
Blogger Shabnam said...

Hi Sidharth:
Is it possible to have your e-mail? I am a doctoral student at Harvard and a professor at an art college (National College of Arts), in Lahore-and a Pakistani, interested in getting in touch with Indians, who like to write about the happenings between India and Pakistan, and on other regional issues. I was really moved reading your articles, and wanted to read stuff on your blog. Since I was not one of the "invitees," I couldn't get to your site! But I want to: You can consider my message as an overture from a Pakistani who is interested in reaching out to thinking Indians and Pakistanis. I strongly beleive that we have to work together to improve the living-together circumstances of people in Pakistan and India. Things are getting out of hand with jihadis moving aggressively inside Pakistan--and it will have to be a joint front that has any hope to check this menace in Pakistan, and from spilling over from beyond where it is now.My email( Thanks. My best, Shabnam
(Shabnam Khan)

December 27, 2009 3:22 PM  
Blogger Arpan said...

I think you are right .Most of the muslim countries are following the way of intolerance.But I want to point out something "Hate " is something that spreads more rapidly and catches attention .I can assure you if you were a muslim by birth you might have listened thousands time about "Babri Masjid " "Gujrat " or how a normal muslim is treated with disrespect (but I guess you surely know all hindus are not like that ).To them also it does not matter what Christianity says but what a normal USA guy will do when he sees a man in muslim dress. This blaming game has no end .I am also a non believer.But being grown up in a Hindu community and being close to Muslim community ,I know both there cultures pretty well .But when I was in my schools I saw an this type of argument between my friends .Both of them revealed what rubbish they think about each others religion .They were both from a conservative family .I know this might sound childish,immature but really love is the only solution.Respect ,love and try to understand each other from very childhood can be a good solution.... ohh did I forget to mention that I loved your blog?

June 23, 2011 9:00 PM  

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