Sarah Haider: Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique (AHA Conference 2015)



Presented at the American Humanist Association 74th Annual Conference, May 7-10, 2015, in Denver, Colorado. #ahacon15

Reformists in Muslim countries are routinely silenced, through persecution or violence, which has been increasing over the last few decades as Islamism gains traction. Liberals are in a unique position to make a nuanced and compassionate critique of harmful conceptions of religion- a position which we are ceding. As a result, the only visible voices are those of hate-mongers from the far-right, Islamists and outright apologists. It is of the highest priority that liberals exert pressure on both groups towards positive change.

Sarah Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America, a community building organization for Ex-Muslims across the non-theist spectrum, for which she currently works to reduce discrimination of those who left Islam.

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20 thoughts on “Sarah Haider: Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique (AHA Conference 2015)”

  1. i dont have much of time to watch the entire video .. but m pretty sure this girl is being carried away with just what she can see or hear from the media … the so called media is portraying the image of ISLAM as a religion of hatred and terrorism specially when u hear about 9/11 or the ISIS groups… all i wanna say to this gurl and everyone in here is that 9/11 was a planned attack (not by only muslims) it had almost nothing to do with the religion, at the end of the day it was about the recession in the US, oil etc, the war on terror in iraq was again for oil, no weapons of mass destruction was ever found in iraq, and there have been several proofs that ISIS is being funded by ISRAEL, USA and lot of other western countries, let me know if you want the links i can give u all that.. one more simple comon sense that almost any one with a little brain can guess is if ISIS is such a well wisher of ISLAM and Muslims why arent they Bombing ISRAEl, why arent they saving the palestanians, why did they even bother to travel like 4200 kilometeres ….. etc tec .. there are many things, all i want to say before you come to a conclusion to talk bad about ISLAM just do a little research and you will get your answer ,,,,,,, PEACE

  2. Humans are a fucked up species . People believe in hundreds of different gods that have been created by who?? Humans. The lives that have been destroyed is mind numbing.

  3. there are white atheist liberals that share her beliefs lol. the main liberals against her are mainstream media hosts and their hand picked guests. I think it's funny people bring up cenk as if he'd hate this message with a vengeance. I honestly doubt that. Cenk is biased towards defending Muslims as a whole but I doubt he'd be against this message. Unless people actually have evidence proving otherwise.

  4. you r a begger of every breath you take, you have no control over your heart. who created the source of breathing,did you forget that haider.if a man created all this ..then you should also be able to controll your death.

  5. Who is "silencing" Harris and Dawkins for speaking out against Islam? Did she mean there are leftists criticizing them? what's wrong with that? Last time I checked the main stream attacks them more for their atheism than of their criticism of Islam. On the other hand not a single youtube voice that criticizes new atheists goes untrolled (let the trolling begin…)

  6. Watching this felt like extracting poison. She said everything I've been screaming at various tv screens or muttering under my breath since I started paying attention to this stuff, but she put it better and did it in Style!

  7. She threw the baby out with the dirty water…You can not find the truth through Islam…So when her eyes were opened to the lies of Islam, she just disregarded the faith completely, instead of searching in her heart for the answer. And the answer is: Jesus is the ONLY WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE…

  8. I think nowadays the biggest problem is, that many people don’t cultivate their individual views regarding difficult problems. That trend can be watched mainly, but not exclusively among young people. They are searching for a socially present take on a problem and make it their own – in many cases politically motivated. I don’t have anything against one seeking education regarding a social problem and within that context, it is good to learn about a set of idea used by a group. But, many people just swallow one narration and stop their critical thinking – I guess out of laziness, or because many others do so as well, but here I don’t want to make a certain claim. Many stand up for humanistic values without having read one book of a thinker, who helped establish this philosophically stance. I am 31. I read Vergils Aeneais, Caesar, Cicero, Catulls poems, some of Ovids books, Plato, Confucius, the Edda, a lot of Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Hemingway, Hesse, Gerard Genette, Tolkien, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, de Saussure, George RR Martin, Descartes, Freud, James Joyce, Schopenhauer, Sartre, J.D. Salinger, Vonnegut, the Hagakure and the Bible as a whole (and some of their books partly or as a whole more often) and in this list I am only mentioning primary literature and left out many German authors, where there is a small chance anyone would know them. I don’t want to brag with this – actually my knowledge tought me to be humble and careful not to claim absolute certainty, because, as my Latin teacher put it: The less you know about an issue, the more resolved you will present your view about it. That is in some way connected to the wisdom Socrates gained from the oracle of Delphi, which told him he is the wisest man on earth. He was rather surprised by this and had to think about it a little while. Then he came to the conclusion, that he indeed is the wisest person there is, because everyone else pretends to know something, but he knows, that he knows nothing and by that standard he knows more than anyone else. This means the more you know about a topic, the more you will know about the aspects of the topic you know little or nothing about, and the more you will become aware of topics you know nothing about. Although I have not read the Koran yet (but I will very soon), I have had some arguments with Christian hardliners. Here I am very informed and can argue against them within and without the context of their religious books and narratives. They turn quiet rather fast, when I do so. I want to share my comments (the English ones) regarding Islam (which of course are not as well informed) here. Although I made some arguments targeting problematic fields within Islam out of their faith, I just realized those are all in German language – however – here we go:
    1.) Well, civil rights come first. The problem is, that some hardliners get caught up in the delusion, that religious texts and laws could provide those the best. In a society, in which civil rights are the maxim, everyone prospers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so on… In a society, in which religious rights are the maxim, those who dispense justice in the theocretic system prospers, as well as those, who serve them. Everyone else suffers.2.) If the religious difference would be removed by a collective acceptance of the pantheistic approach (which in an amazed input has the best drag regarding the Islamic community, compared to the atheism with it’s negatively and the agnostic philosophy with it’s doubtful stance), as the smallest common demoninator in ALL religions, then religion would only be bureucracy of belief, tradition and imprinting, and holy books would only function as guidelines applied to rationality and ethics, which without any doubt demand peace. Instead of being limited to theology, clerics of all faiths would search for God in several sciences and philosophies. The problem is in most parts bigotry and reactionism – on all sides. The philosophy of Mansur Al-Hallaj can actually be interpreted as a pantheistic one and came up earlier than the pantheistic point within Christian culture, which was established by Spinoza in a philosophical setting. If you ask me, Mansur in his claim, in which he said „I am God“ is valid, given a philosophical stage and not a personal one. He just had to add an article: „The I is/am God“. Regarding the truth that every persons reality and perspective is narrated by an interconnectivity between biological, chemical and outer paramiters, or in simpler words, that everything that defines a person, be it the perception of the world, which is the outrovert part of the person, and the reflection about the world which is the introvert part of the person, this actually is Pantheism, because this definition of God is inherant of all experience that can be possibly collected by a mind, which at least in theory, is everything. Nevertheless – Mansur is only accepted as a saint in certain religious traditions – in others he is a heretic… Furthermore, when you think about it: one of the names God is referred to in Islam, is translated as „The Truth“. Dedication to the truth, in this understanding, is dedication to God, which in Pantheism is dedication to all there is, and the method that provides the most accurate explanations what is true and what is not, is science. So, following this logic, Islam would call for a dedication to science. In addition, I often heard about the quote within the Koran, that demands: „Read!“; I don’t know about the context of this quote, but I doubt it demanded: „Read this book over and over again.“, but to read in general and learn about cultures, philosophies, sciences and other fields of interests. But I could be wrong about that one…3.) I hate the cherry-picking argument. I can't imagine one person within any faith doing all the content, intents and interpretations of their faith justice. Every person moving within the frames of one religion puts highlights on the teachings, passages and interpretations, that inspire him or her. This seems to be a problematic field of Islam for me too. When the Koran is only allowed to be published in Arabic, many muslims have to trust their imams, that they tell them what the book demands. This intermediate stage gives a lot of possibility of power abuse. We had the same problem within christianity once. If you want to find out more about it, read about Martin Luther. Sadly its' resolvement led to a war in Europe, that laid waste to almost the entire continent and its’ population. However, the most immidiate level of faith in every religion is the direct connection between the individiual and the godly. Then comes the teaching, which can be written down or orally spread. This only is a guideline and even, if it is understood binding, there is always room for interpretation. This is valid for any text and it is also valid for the Koran, which is quite obvious, as there are some theological and religious streams within Islam, that originated out of different interpretations of the book. To condemn someone because of cherry picking, is just a dramatization of a personal interpretation, which everyone can be blamed of, be it, because they studied the content of the holy sources of their religion themselves, or they got it delivered by a cleric (although I personally always prefer the first approach). It’s just like the accusation of being a hippocrit. Everyone does it and the biggest hippocrit is the one denying he is one. It’s just as believable, as a person, who claims to have never sinned. It’s obviously a lie and the longer and stronger he holds on to this lie (which is a sin itself), the bigger the sin of his lie grows and the more destructive potential it produces, if it is taken seriously, for it gets a tool of manipulation amongst others…4.) Noone, who deals in theocracy denies all three big monotheistic religions claim to derive from Abraham. If you look into the story presented about him, God demands from him, that he sacrafices his kid to show his dedication towards God (I’m no big fan of this, but OK…). The conclusion is, that God does not demand this sacrifice after all and Abraham decides not to kill his son. Nevertheless, many people in Christianity, Judaism and Islam – mostly hardliners – do just that or at least demand or honor it. Killing children (and even adults are children of someone) to prove the devotion and dedication towards God. Actually, it is rather ironic.

  9. While I agree with Sara that some important parts of Islam desperately need reform, I am a Muslim myself, but she lost a huge part of her credibility and sincerity when she said that "1.5 BILLION Muslims are being oppressed by Islam and desperately need help", my god was that a greatly insane and just plain stupid thing to say, even for an ex-Muslim!

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