I watch Bill Maher every weekend. I enjoy the commentary from various people. I like it when multiple brains are involved and therefore multiple perspectives. But a common position that Maher takes is that Islam is an evil. He believes that the religion of Islam is the root cause of terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists, and he is certainly not alone in this belief. But one has to remember that Bill Maher believes all religion is dangerous, and to his credit any religion can become so. Any religion can be used to justify abuse, declare war, or justify human rights violations. But to say that Islamic terrorism is an “Islam problem” is a falsehood, and here’s why.
Let’s start with holy books, and not just the Qu’ran. Islam is one of the youngest world religions and is still well over a thousand years old. Have you ever noticed that the Torah depicts slavery under the Egyptians and war with the Hittites, while Christian gospels frequently reference the Romans? We have to remember that a lot of what goes into the recording of these holy books is cultural and influenced by historical events of that time. Why does the Qu’ran even mention war and fighting? Because war occurred between the cities of Yathrib (Medina) and Mecca during Mohammad’s time, just as the Hebrews had to fight for Israel after the Exodus. One would be surprised how much of what is to be taken as religious law was simply influence from the environment at the time of the compilation of these books. My point is this: if you were to take all holy books literally, the Bible would have you enslaving pagans, beating your wives, stoning sinners, and screwing your brother’s widow when you die. You’d go to hell for getting a new TV just because your neighbor got one or because you ate too much at Golden Corral.
But people do often take their holy books literally. Sometimes it’s harmless, and sometimes it leads to hurting others. It’s one thing to not get a tattoo because you believe it to be a sin. It’s another thing to disown your son for being gay, or worse, subject him to harm because you view him as an abomination. One thing that we should consider is where we might find the vast majority of people who take the Bible literally. In the US, that would be rural areas somewhat isolated from places that gather more diversity thus experience a higher degree of social dynamics. I’m not saying that rural living is bad. I quite enjoyed my rural upbringing. But I can tell you from experience that there is a lot more taking the Bible literally in the country than there is in the cities and suburbs. There, people generally approach their religion thematically. Rather than getting hung up on commandments, deadly sins, and details about who you can love, there is more of an emphasis on general, positive themes like looking out for your neighbor, helping the helpless, loving your family, faith, salvation, and being moral. Never mind the details and scripture quoting. And with most of the people in the US living in those areas, I’d venture to assume that most Americans approach religion this way. I think this keeps Americans somewhat civil about religion. We typically don’t impugn one another over faith.
Now, look at Islam. The Qu’ran actually says that a Muslim is to adopt the laws and customs of the place in which they live. Every Muslim I’ve ever known in the US has done this. Some of the women choose to wear a hijab, which is not required by the Qu’ran, though it is encouraged as a degree of decency. All of them follow the law as closely as any non-Muslim. They seem to approach Islam as thematically and generally as most Christians do with their religion. So why is it that we find Muslims in other parts of the world killing liquor store owners and subjugating women? Why to so many openly advocate for killing someone who strays from the religion? I bring you back to the issue of taking one’s religion literally. The Middle East as a whole has been highly isolated for most of human history, mainly because of the barren, desertous geography. It has not experienced the social changes in real time with the rest of the world. Basically, much of the Middle East still exists in the middle ages, in a time when women were second to men and stoning a person to death was common. Much of their religious book took on the culture of seventh century Arabia, and even now in the twenty-first century, much of these areas still bear those cultural standards. Men still hold control over the status quo, and so do Muslims. Outside influences are shunned. When terrible things happen in the name of Islam, it isn’t because the religion is evil. The religion contains broad themes of helping the impoverished and even the exaltation of women as largely equal to men. But the places where Islam is dominant often bear an ethnic (not religious) culture where women are mistreated, non-Muslims are hated, and extremist groups come to be. This is a result of isolation and literal interpretation of the religion. It stands in resistance of changes in human rights and progressive thinking.
Islam is not more the perpetrator behind atrocities and terrorism than Christianity is the culprit behind hate crimes against gays. Either the religion is misunderstood, perverted, altered by cultural standards, or people are outright using the religion to justify their hateful intentions and actions. It isn't fair to demonize an entire religion, especially when all other religions have had hateful fundamentalists, themselves. And it isn't fair to single out Muslims for their faith and force them to take responsibility for the wrongs of others.