Making sense of the “Open Letter to Moderate Muslims”

Making sense of the “Open Letter to Moderate Muslims”

Muslims praying
Muslims praying

WASHINGTON, October 10, 2014 — Under the nom de guerre “The Atheist Muslim,” an individual named Ali A. Rizvi, wrote a rambling article called An Open Letter to Moderate Muslims, where he conflated nearly every aspect of extremism with the behavior of moderate Muslims.

Rizvi begins by criticizing Reza Aslan for being upset with Bill Maher’s anti-Islamic comments from an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” During the episode, Maher incorrectly asserted various stereotypes about Islam, conflating problems of individual countries, with the entire Muslim community, spanning more than 1.5 billion individuals spread over every country in the world.

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During a later interview with CNN, Aslan took offense at the idea of showcasing Saudi Arabia as the example of the average Muslim country or populace, deeming it a fringe example of extremism. He pointed out that while women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, they are free to do so in the remainder of the 47 Muslim countries, several of which have female leaders and exemplary standards of freedom.

The interview ended when Aslan attempted to respond to a host of other misconceptions but was repeatedly cut off. Afterwards, he was bizarrely criticized for politely and academically defending Islam. CNN Host Chris Cuomo equated the debate to Islamic terrorism, saying “He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place.”

Rizvi embodies the fear of conversation, burdened as he is with his own misconceptions for which he believes there is no legitimate answer. He starts with a discussion on the Quran, where he cherry picks about 10 words from four different chapters of the Islamic holy book and asserts that the approximately two to four word “quotes” of each chapter are representative of the entire Quran and the whole religion. Rizvi complains of individuals disagreeing with his assessments: “Sometimes, this kind of exchange will lead to the questioner being labeled an ‘Islamophobe,’ or being accused of bigotry, as Aslan did with Maher and his CNN hosts.”

It is doubtful Rizvi will be accused of Islamophobia. Instead, the more likely accusation will be “academic dishonesty.”

Of the chapters picked by Rizvi in his tirade, the first is Surah Nisa, which the book “In the Shade of the Quran” describes as discussing “concerns about women, but also discusses inheritance, marriage laws, how to deal with children and orphans, legal practices, jihād, relations between Muslim communities and People of the Book, war, and the role of Jesus as a prophet.” Rizvi quotes just three words from the entire chapter.

While it is undeniable that there are references to fighting and violence, Rizvi tries to belittle the issue of academic context: “The Muslim responds by defending these verses as Allah’s word — he insists that they have been quoted ‘out of context,’ have been misinterpreted, are meant as metaphor, or that they may even have been mistranslated.”

Muslim academics often are asked to reconcile seemingly violent verses in the Quran with claims that Islam is a peaceful religion. The answers are usually simple, they say, as the Quran explicitly allows self-defense and the book is well known for retelling historical events that are not meant to be examples of how to behave (for example, no Muslim sect or organization believes that anyone should try to recreate the events of the life of Prophet Noah and his ark).

Mr. Rizvi never mentions contextual reading again in his nearly 7-page manifesto.

The letter goes on to assume that all Muslims believe that mere mistranslations are the issue, ignoring that some of these chapters are hundreds of verses long, and attempting to close the book on conversation about context by admonishing Muslims for their beliefs.

Mr. Rizvi then reveals his personal antipathy and aversion to Islam, as well as his ignorance of the religion, when he says, “the thought of the Quran being read ‘literally’ — or exactly as Allah wrote it — unsettles me …”

If Rizvi had made it into the third chapter of the Quran, he might realize that the book discusses literal and allegorical interpretations of itself.

“He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation.” The Holy Quran, Surah 3: Verse 7.

Rizvi continues with a rant about his confusion about metaphorical verses in the Quran for several paragraphs, although none of them acknowledge that the Quran defines how to deal with literal and allegorical verses in one of its first chapters.

The letter continues takes an unusual twist in which Mr. Rizvi engages in victim shaming, accusing Muslims of being responsible for the bigotry that they are forced to deal with. Rizvi asserts that any time a Muslim defends Islamic beliefs or the Quran they make “honest conversation impossible.”

Continuing in his series of bizarre claims, the author claims to have grown up in Saudi Arabia, yet rarely encountered an individual, “including the devoutly religious,” who could read and understand the Quran in its original language. It is difficult to understand this claim, as UNICEF statistics show Saudi Arabia with an 87.2 percent literacy rate. The Quran is written in Arabic, the official language of Saudi Arabia.

After continuing with a series of easily debunked stereotypes about Muslims, the letter closes with a series of patronizing remarks insisting that moderate Muslims don’t truly exist (and if they do, are not helpful) and calls for Islamic belief as a whole to change to suit Mr. Rizvi’s whims.

With Rizvi’s dramatically strained credibility, his demonstrated lack of knowledge on basic subjects relating to Islam, and his undeniable anti-Islam bias, it is difficult to see any merit in his “Open Letter to Moderate Muslims.”

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Rahat Husain
Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues. In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.