Derek Sivers
Islam and the Future of Tolerance - by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

Islam and the Future of Tolerance - by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

ISBN: 0674088700
Date read: 2024-01-23
How strongly I recommend it: 2/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

A dialogue between Sam, a famous atheist, and Maajid, former radical. Like listening to a podcast about Islamism, jihadism, extremism, fundamentalism. I admire that they did this, but the perspectives that interested them the most did not interest me.

my notes

Religion creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.

Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam on society.
Jihadism is the use of force to spread Islamism.
Islamism and jihadism are politicized, contemporary readings of Islam and jihad. They are not Islam and jihad per se.
Islamism is the desire to enforce a version of shari’ah as law.

Political Islamists seek to impose their views through the ballot box, biding their time until they can infiltrate the institutions of society from within.
Revolutionary Islamists seek change from outside the system in one clean sweep. Militant Islamists are jihadists.

No traditional reading of jihad can ignore the idea of armed struggle.

Such fundamentalists are not Islamists. Their support of death for apostates hails more from a medieval, tribal desire to punish the “out-group,” which is justified by religious scripture, than from a belief in the Islamist ideological project of codifying shari’ah as law and imposing it on society.

The majority of Muslims are conservatives because they don’t wholeheartedly subscribe to contemporary liberal human rights.

Most traditional Muslims consider Islamism an errant politicization of their religion.
They generally don’t want the state to impose their religion.

By pointing to historical and contemporary pluralism in scriptural reasoning, we can challenge the rigidity of violent, fundamentalist, or ideological dogma.

A more precise definition of the word “secular”: simply a commitment to keeping religion out of politics and public policy.
Your religion is your business, and my religion, or lack of one, is mine.
A willingness to build a wall of separation between church and state is what defines secularism.

Belgium has the highest percentage of citizens who recently went to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State.

Four elements exist in all forms of ideological recruitment:
1. a grievance narrative, whether real or perceived
2. an identity crisis
3. a charismatic recruiter
4. ideological dogma.
The dogma’s “narrative” is its propaganda.

Bigots, whether they are of the Islamist variety or the anti-Muslim variety, essentially agree that Islam itself - not Islamism - is a supremacist ideology that is here to take over the world. And that Muslims and non-Muslims can never live equally and peacefully together, but must separate into religiously defined entities.

Anti-Muslims want to expel all Muslims from Europe, even those who were born and raised there.

Tribal identity leads many Muslims to speak out only in defense of “our” people, because that’s the extent of any emotional energy we have.

Indulging identity politics can be dangerous. It usually leads to division. It doesn’t lead to communities’ standing together.

Tribalism and Nationalism: in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are acting in abhorrent ways.
Muslims often rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how badly behaved they are, simply because they happen to be Muslim.
Other groups do this as well.

Vacuousness approach to text: an insistence on ignoring apparent contradictions - not in keeping with literal wording.

In Muslim history there have been people, known as the Mu’tazila, who didn’t insist that the Qur’an was the eternal word of God.
The Mu’tazila were eventually defeated by the Asha’ira, whose views on the eternal, uncreated nature of the Qur’an then became accepted as orthodoxy.
Because there is no clergy in Islam, these matters are constantly evolving.

The doors leading out of the prison of scriptural literalism simply do not open from the inside.

In the 21st century, the moderate’s commitment to scientific rationality, human rights, gender equality.
The past thousand years of human progress was accomplished in spite of religion, not because of it.
Most of our modern values are antithetical to the specific teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
And where we do find these values expressed in our holy books, they are almost never best expressed there.

All scriptures contain an extraordinary amount of stupidity and barbarism that can always be rediscovered and made holy anew by fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist picks up the book and says, “Okay, I’m just going to read every word of this and do my best to understand what God wants from me. I’ll leave my personal biases completely out of it.”
Conversely, every moderate seems to believe that his interpretation and selective reading of scripture is more accurate than God’s literal words.
Presumably, God could have written these books any way He wanted.
And if He wanted them to be understood in the spirit of twenty-first-century secular rationality, He could have left out all those bits about stoning people to death for adultery or witchcraft.

The appeal of literalism:
We demand it in almost every area of their lives.
The menu promises “fresh lobster”, you expect fresh lobster.

Sunni Muslims have no clergy.
Anyone can interpret scripture if she is sufficiently learned in that scripture.
There is no correct way to interpret scripture.

In the absence of a right answer, pluralism is the only option.
Pluralism will lead to secularism, and to democracy, and to human rights.

A school within traditional Islamic thought rejects any aspiration to human perfection or achieving utopia on earth.
Many Sufi groups, including the Mulaamatiyya and the Qalandariyya, became quite keen in their right to sin.
They argued that we’re not angels walking on earth, and God is expecting repentance. What does that achieve?
It produces a “relationship with scripture” that looks at texts in a completely different way.
It’s no longer a matter of strict legal injunctions but a spiritual, mystical relationship with God, a journey.

The Qur’an’s central messages:
First is the demonization of infidels.
A hatred and fear of infidels seems central to the Qur’an.
Muslims are told to have no friends among them and are assured that Allah will mock, curse, shame, and destroy them on the Day of Judgment.
This idea isn’t foreign to other religions - Judaism and Christianity both have a version of it. The difference is in emphasis.
The evil of unbelief is spelled out in the Qur’an on almost every page.

If I say “smoking is bad,” this does not mean that I believe all smokers to be bad people.

No idea is above scrutiny.
No people are beneath dignity.

One cannot approach scripture by imposing upon it meanings that words have come to acquire today while ignoring what they meant then.

The sacred and the secular can be delineated, and Islamists critiqued, without the need to exit significantly from existing Islamic tradition.
The mere possibility of interpreting scripture in this way fundamentally undermines the Islamist insistence that only they speak in God’s name, and only they are agents of His will.

Jihadist movements weren’t really popular before the nineteenth-century Islamist movements. For long periods of time, Muslims were relatively progressive.

More than a million Europeans were enslaved and forced to work in North Africa.

No place on earth should seek to impose any given interpretation of religion over the rest of society.