Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

“Islam Is a Moderate Religion”

“Islam is a moderate religion… if a person deserts Islam, we kill him.”1

Those were the words spoken by a Muslim cleric in charge of a “re-education facility” (the Centre for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue) in Afghanistan during the bad old days of the Taliban. This was the place you were sent if, as a man, you shaved your beard. Or if you repeatedly failed to turn up for prayer (and survived the beatings that would be dished out by the Taliban patrolling the streets). Or were caught listening to music, especially “music with women singing”. Or playing games. Or for committing any number of other offences, many of which would seem trivial to you and me.

Why does this quote seem appropriate now? Well, apparently Gillian Gibbons deserves to be shot for “insulting religion”. How did she commit this grievous crime? By asking her class to name a teddy bear; they chose the name “Muhammad”.

I happen to think that she was rather naïve to allow the name “Muhammad” to stand, but I certainly don’t think she deserves to be shot for it. Whether she deserves the 15 day jail sentence or the order expelling her from Sudan is a slightly more difficult question though; liberal commentators claim that this is wholly unacceptable, but then those self-same liberals also claim that it is the right of the religious to follow their religion, and you can’t really have it both ways2. At least, not unless all religions adopt liberal principles as their fundamental ideals, and they simply don’t.

1 This quote is from Sean Langan’s excellent Behind the Lines programme which was shown on BBC2 in 2001. The wording is from memory, but I’m fairly sure it’s accurate. If anyone has a copy of the programme and can check, I’d be very grateful for any corrections. 2 I should be clear: personally, I think Gillian Gibbons’ treatment and the reaction of some of the Sudanese people is wrong. But you have to acknowledge that Sudan is a religious state, and that the law allows for religious punishment. As an atheist, I think that is wrong, and I don’t believe that the religious should have a fundamental right to hold irrational beliefs, or indeed to act on them (especially in mock offence). But as a realist I would not go to a Muslim country and then do anything likely to inflame religious sensibilities. And if I were to do such a thing, I would expect to be treated harshly, because that is the current mood of the Islamic world.