TIME Religion

An Open Letter to Bill Maher From a Muslim American

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno - Season 21
Comedian Bill Maher during an interview with Jay Leno on September 3, 2013. NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The problem isn't Islam. It's your movement to demonize Islam in the liberal left.

Hey there, Bill. You hate religion. You particularly hate Islam. We get it. Your liberal bigotry against Muslims and Islam is no secret. For a while now I’ve just avoided watching your show, which kind of stinks because for many years I was a great fan and really loved it. I wasn’t even bothered when you called out Muslims doing stupid, criminal or horrific things. You do that with a lot of groups, and it’s important to do. But I stopped watching when it became clear that you loathed a faith I was devoted to.

On your show you recently discussed the kidnapping of hundreds of girls by Boko Haram, followed by the new sharia laws in Brunei, and rounded out the segment with a nod to your buddy Ayaan Hirsi Ali—quite the trifecta of examples to support your conclusion that Islam itself is, as you said, “the problem.” Your reasoning is essentially that Muslims are doing many horrible things around the world, and they all believe in Islam, so naturally Islam is the nonnegotiable culprit.

Let’s ignore for now the numerous logical fallacies in your premise and instead follow your exact line of reasoning. If we are to accept your rationale, we have to also accept that, if many Muslims are doing good things around the world, and they all believe in Islam, then Islam is responsible for the good that they do. We also accept, given that Ali’s criticism of Islam is based on her personal experience, that the positive personal experience of other Muslims, including converts, are just as valid reflections on the faith.

For the sake of argument, and being as generous as possible, let’s say Islam has been a force of destruction for 50% of Muslims and a source of empowerment, peace and comfort for the other 50%. Where exactly does that leave us? Whose experience of Islam is legitimate? If Boko Haram is, in your estimation, an authentic expression of Islam, what do you make of the hundreds of Nigerian Muslim families who were sending their daughters to school? Why isn’t their dedication, like Malala Yousafzai’s dedication, to girls’ education an authentic expression of Islam? What do you deduct from the fact most Muslim women in the world are not circumcised? Are they just doing Islam wrong? Are all the good, peaceful Muslims doing Islam wrong?

You noted that women are treated at best like second-class citizens, but most often like property in Islam. The first Muslim woman, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, a successful businesswoman, boss-lady and wife to the Prophet Muhammad, and the other Muslim women of his time would have snickered at you. Women of the region were chattel before Islam, treated and traded as such, until the Quran freed them through revelations such as “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will.”

I could tell you that Islam was the first system to establish women’s property rights, inheritance rights, the right to education, to marry and divorce of their free will, to be religious scholars, business owners, soldiers. I could tell you that while Christianity was debating the status of women’s souls and declaring them a source of sin, Islam had already established authoritatively the spiritual equality of men and women and absolved Eve, and womankind at large, of sin. I could tell you that the world and history is full of highly educated, successful Muslim women who are empowered by their faith, not debilitated by it. I could tell you terrorism is categorically forbidden in Islam, and that between 1970 and 2012, 97.5% of terror attacks in the U.S. were carried out by non-Muslims. I could tell you that female genital mutilation is never mentioned in the Quran; the only reference to it is found in a weak narration, and scholars find it objectionable to the point of being classified as impermissible.

Nothing I tell you would matter, though. The facts are irrelevant. That’s how bigotry operates. It’s both telling and troubling that you referred to these issues as “the Muslim question.” The reference didn’t escape me and it’s hard to believe it was anything but deliberate. Think for a second about what was unleashed by the “Jewish question” in Europe. Bigotry sometimes does that, too.

So while I support you in continuing to expose Muslims and others who shock the conscience of decent people, who destroy lives, and who wreak havoc, I caution you on the anti-Islam rhetoric. You have a massive following and are successfully leading a movement to demonize Islam in the liberal left, a place many American Muslims call home. You are leading people into rocks and hard places when you posit that Islam is the problem. You are putting Muslims up against a wall and pushing those who fear us further into spaces where little choice is left. As the mother of two American-born daughters, and a Muslim who calls the U.S. her home, I worry deeply about the solutions your followers may propose to your “Muslim question.” You should too.

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney and the founder and president of the Safe Nation Collaborative.

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