Humanist And Former “Moderate Muslim” On How To Tell A Moderate Muslim From A Radical Muslim

Dec 7, 2015

by Amy Alkon

Short answer: “You can’t.”

Simi Rahman, a female US pediatrician, writes in a pretty incredible Facebook post:

Every Muslim humanist is asking themselves a question I first asked myself in September 2001.
How do you tell a radical Muslim from a moderate peace loving one?

And here is my train of thought.

The 9/11 hijackers reminded me of boys I had gone to school with in Dubai in the 80s and 90s. They were the same age, background, and modern enough to have listened to 80s pop and chased girls. Meaning that just like most young people in the Muslim world, we weren’t that religious.

So, I thought, maybe I could locate the differences between them and me, and at some point I would identify a breakaway point. Something they would do that I never would. And it took me a while to realize this, and now with the California shootings, it has reaffirmed for me, that indeed, when it comes to being able to tell a moderate from a radical in Islam, you can’t.

You really can’t tell until the moment before they pull the trigger, who is moderate and who is jihadi. Tashfeen has broken our moderate backbone, by revealing that she lived among us, unnoticed, normal, experiencing motherhood, enveloped in our secure community and yet, had radicalized.

And that’s the problem, that there are many others like her with exactly the same beliefs, who may not have been ignited yet by a radical cleric, but if the opportunity presented itself, they would follow. They’re like a dormant stick of dynamite, waiting for the fuse to be lit. The TNT is already in there.

What’s it made of? Not the 5 pillars, belief, charity, prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. Not the sayings of the prophet as to how to lead a good and just life. Not the celebration of Eid ul Fitr.

It possibly glimmers through in the fealty that Allah demands during the Eid ul Adha, when Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a sign of his superior faith is commemorated in a sacrifice and celebration very much like the American Thanksgiving, with family and food. But without the football. And oh yes, the fratricide.

It is there in the silence one must maintain during prayer, brooking no interruptions, because it would make the prayer invalid. It is there in the severity of the hijab when it is followed to a tee. Not a hair can show. It is there in the forced separation of men and women at social gatherings.

It is present in every act that is performed that excludes us from the mainstream. It is present in the very concept of Us and Them. Because the only way we remain Us is to reject Them. The only way to be an exemplary Us is to reject westernization at every turn. Halal only is a sham, constructed out of this notion of meat that has been cut a certain way. It’s the same meat. And yet there is a magical difference that people will attest to in all seriousness.

…And so, to understand the moderate mind, you have to envision it on a continuum from radical to middle, but the closer you get to liberal, there is a wall. It creeps up on you, in the condemnation of homosexuality, in the unequal treatment and subjugation of women, but it’s there. Beyond that wall that they are afraid to look over, for fear of eternal hell fire and damnation, is where the answer lies though. So being a Muslim moderate these days is like running a race with a ball and chain attached to your feet. A handicap. Unless you can imagine what the world beyond that wall looks like, you can’t really navigate it. If you’re so terrified of blasphemy that you refuse to look over, you’re forever stuck. Right here. And behind you is the jihadi horde, laying claim to real Islam, practicing it to perfection, as it is laid out in the Quran. A veritable rock and a hard place. I feel your pain. I’ve been there. And it was untenable.

I read, discussed, debated alongside many good Muslim young people from all over the world, in Internet forums, trying to argue our way to a solution, much like we are doing on social media right now. I knew I rejected the homophobia, I knew I rejected the subjugation of women. And it all remained a theory until I saw it in practice. In the drawing rooms of the Midwestern professional moderate Muslim. There was the discussion of whether the verse that allows a man to strike his wife instead actually means, he should strike her with a feather. As a doctor, I am a humanist first, and so the blatant homophobia was irrational, dangerous and something I stopped tolerating politely. I attended presentations at the mosque of videos from the Palestinian Territories, played to rouse the outrage of the gathered congregation…[continue reading]


Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.


50 comments on “Humanist And Former “Moderate Muslim” On How To Tell A Moderate Muslim From A Radical Muslim

  • A point I have reiterated over and over…If you indoctrinate a human, from birth, into believing that the Koran is an infallible guide to life in all respects and that guide includes numerous imperatives to kill humans who do certain things (like being infidels or apostates or even women in some cases) you must expect that that human might interpret it literally. When that person simply acts out what he or she was taught, everyone throws up their hands in horror? The Koran has to be reformed or banned as a book used for teaching children in schools. Until that is done globally, we will be leaving the decision of whether a Muslim is a radical killer or not up to the individual discretion of that Muslims interpretation of the Koran. The book provides the full authority necessary for an individual to commit atrocities to demonstrate his/her commitment to the faith. That authority has to be removed if Moslems want to be treated as the peace loving people that they claim to be.

    Report abuse

  • …We have to make the problem bigger. Instead of minimizing, we need to blow it up big and examine it and let go of this idea that a sacred text is unchangeable. Or unquestionable. We have to look at it instead as a humanism problem. Is Islam, in the way it is practiced and preached, humanistic enough? In that does it respect the personhood of a human being enough, and if it doesn’t, then what can we do about it.

    Lots of truth in there.

    Report abuse

  • It suggest that all muslims can turn to violent at any second. There is no resistance to the insane parts of the quran. That all men will rape if they can. It isolates the real world and doesn’t allow for the human being. There is nothing worse than a reformed (anything). It starts off asking how you can tell a radical from a moderate and then almost instantly loses the plot by over dramatising the writing. Of course robbers don’t go around with a striped shirt on and a sack with ‘swag’ written on it. If you remember? I gave an account of how I might have been a target for radicalisation on YouTube. They did not read out verses of the quran to me. Sure the first thing was to identify with being a muslim through my name but that is just a group thing. Instead they sent me images of Americans and Jews shooting and bombing innocent people. It was about injustice not religion. It was about personalising the possibility of this happening to me just for being a muslim, or so they thought. Despite being an atheist I still fear the possibility of being grouped as a muslim if a war does start between the two religions. The government will also round me up and hold me in ‘safe keeping’ regardless of my protestations. It might be an imagined fear but it is still there.

    I have rejected the claim that these books of religion are the only factor in the making of radicals and most here can relate to that through christianity because they can see it in themselves but can’t seem to apply that to muslims. Why? A young man witnessing a fellow muslim being tasseled by the police shouting “you aint no muslim bruv” can read this and feel sad that for being pushed even further away from his humane stand.

    Religion makes no sense. That is my standing. It is used for political ends. If we believe it word for word, in the negative sense, then those that abide by the good parts will feel obliged to defend the bad parts.

    A bit garbled response to you Stafford, I agree. A garbled article started it. Writers should sit down and think less about creative writing and think more about honest writing. That is the way this article comes over to me.

    Report abuse

  • Islam must put its own house in order; but first, its devotees must come to terms with the fact that it is a twentieth century anachronism.

    Preachers’ pious, public platitudes, and declarations of “surprise” and “bewilderment”, at murders committed by members of their congregation, should, in future, at all times, be challenged.

    But don’t hold your breath.

    Report abuse

  • Apparently sarcasm works but I won’t attempt it here.


    Peoples’ pious, public platitudes, and declarations of “surprise” and “bewilderment”, at murders committed by members of the human race, should, in future, at all times, be challenged.

    Report abuse

  • With you, Olgun.

    The heuristic of essentialism is fantastically unhelpful. Such a rule of thumb is trapping and utterly unrewarding of the change that those on the edge of an ideology always want to make. This makes the recognition of change much less likely and has a chilling effect when looking each other in the eye.

    “From your beard or headscarf I see your mind is like this.”

    Report abuse

  • Simi Rahman’s article is a real tour de force, with an analytic of religion which sees it in its social context, without the distraction of too much theology.

    I hear echoes of my own upbringing as an RC in protestant/non religious England, in the 1950s, with the added misfortune of having orthodox, narrow-minded parents, and a Christian Brothers education. Of course we were nothing like as repressed as modern day Muslim children living in the west, but the same elements were present, possession of superior doctrinal and moral truths, a sense of suffering past violent wrongs (the Reformation, the dissolution of the monasteries, the execution of Catholics, the Penal Laws, etc), mildly amused contempt from our fellow citizens, and some active discrimination. Like today’s Moslems we were laagered, all our social activities were involved with Catholic organisations, youth clubs etc., and we considered ourselves to be superior.

    It wasn’t too bad, but I can see, just about, where the jihadists are coming from. Most of us managed to kick our way through the wall, to use Simi Rahman’s excellent metaphor, although I know many people who did not, fortunately they have found ways of accommodating modern life and religion. I can’t help wondering; what would have happened to us if the wall had been just a little higher and thicker?

    Report abuse

  • When you apply the statement “Those who can be made to believe in absurdities can be made to commit atrocities” as a basic parameter for judging “Good people of the Book”. You come to the horrifying realization that any one of them is a potential fundaMENTALIST. Mind you religious people just won’t accept that as a basis for binning their life-guide and enjoying life like those of us with an inquiring mind.

    Report abuse

  • Laws have to be practical. How far do you think you’d get trying to ban the Koran, and what do you think the consequences would be, of trying to enforce such a law?

    Report abuse

  • He doesn’t. We are both ready, able and willing to live in a number of locations other than the one we are currently in. Our kids are also comfortable in other cultures and would be so happy if we all moved to Europe and took side trips in and out of North Africa. They are all dual nationals and I’m the only one here with one passport. If we really believed that these insane measures would be taken we would be out of here so fast that heads would spin.

    Report abuse

  • Last night we were watching the national news and there was some discussion over whether or not the San Bernardino male shooter was radicalized or not and if he was then when did it happen. Husband said, “The fact that the guy went off to Saudi to get a mail order bride was quite a huge hint, wasn’t it?” DUH!. The Mrs. goes around town in San Bernardino in a niquab sp? –Gee, I wonder if she has any extremist tendencies- DUH!

    Report abuse

  • Oh well yes, I took it to mean America because that’s where I’m sitting at the current time. 🙂 Every night on the national news (actually it goes on all day too) we have the Republican Fascists declaring that Muslims must be denied entry to the US and that the ones who are here must register their location and be monitored by the Gov. and we must get rid of the fiance visa status etc. So I can see how Muslims in this place would worry about being separated from their families. Last night some repulsive talking head was explaining on TV how there is plenty of historic precedence in the 40’s for rounding up political undesirables and monitoring them. He mentioned Italians. The other panelists were appalled at the idea that we would use this precedence at this point in time. Trump the fascist gets way too much airtime for his disgusting opinions about how this problem should be solved. It gives the Fux news crowd authority to come out of the woodwork and parrot everything he says. So depressing.

    Report abuse

  • Wow. This Cohen guy is a real head case. From that link:

    After using the phrase “rag head scum” in an earlier post, cllr. Cohen also suggested drugging water supplies in Gaza, to allow government forces to “clean house properly”.

    Remind you of anything? I wonder if Cohen has ever heard of something called The final Solution… Apparently, final solutions are all well and good as long as it isn’t directed against your own directly related group of people. Everyone else can fry though. Pathetic.

    He said: “I have a mental idea how to control refugees and track their movements and even listen to what they say to others….I figure EVERY refugee should be injected with a tiny micro chip each numbered and recognised by a main frame which would automatically track movements in and out of Syria etc”.

    He has a “mental idea”…more like a mental illness.

    Surprised that FOX news hasn’t discovered him yet.

    appointment to see him personally

    A delegation of leaders from the Jewish community ought to pay him a visit to explain what happens when a critical mass of citizens support the idea of “the final solution”.

    Report abuse

  • What would please me greatly is if the leaders of the Jewish community would take an ethical stand on the Israel apartheid situation and denounce the very same actions that were done to Jews historically with the intension of annihilating them. If there is one single action that could pull the rug out from under ISIS it’s a mass condemnation of that apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

    But they could definitely start by making an example of this deranged Cohen character.

    Report abuse

  • Phew…the most positive sign I’ve seen for years…If islam is a “peaceful religion’ then its texts and teachings need to reflect this if Moslems want to be trusted!

    Report abuse

  • A well known psychological experiment shows how people will do terrible things if given authority to do so and seems to be applicable here. The indoctrination of the Koran imperatives from birth provides the authority to do radical things without compunction if so desired:

    “In 1963 psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to test people’s propensity to obey authority when ordered to hurt another person. Milgram’s subjects were told they were to be the ‘teachers’ of a ‘learner’ (who was secretly in on the experiment). They were to deliver electric shocks to the ‘learner’ if he or she got an answer wrong. Worse, they were told to increase the shock if the ‘learner’ continued to get the answers wrong.

    Despite the screams and moans of pain from the unseen ‘learner’, the subjects continued to deliver ever more severe shocks if ordered to do so by the experimenter in the lab coat. They continued even when told they had rendered the ‘learner’ unconscious! The conclusion? Looks like we humans are quite easily able to set aside moral and ethical considerations when ordered by authority to violate them.”

    Report abuse

  • Thanks for your extensive and heart felt response Olgun; I take every one of your points.

    I do indeed remember you talking about the intimidation you experienced.

    A lionhearted video; way to go!

    And thanks too for the link to the conference material; encouraging.

    Lovely elegant design features in the decor and dress; I’d like to know what influenced that.

    Report abuse

  • Richard01 Dec 8, 2015 at 10:19 am
    A well known psychological experiment…

    I always thought it strange that that research, so long ago, has never been repeated or taken further; (at least as far as I know).

    It’s almost as if the results were too uncomfortable for people to handle.

    Report abuse

  • Let that be a lesson to you Stafford 😉

    Seriously though Stafford. This new symbol brought a tear to my eye. (Scroll down to see a new tube station sign). People can be amazing at times and pick things up that I would never think of.

    Report abuse

  • I agree, perhaps that makes me another eejit. I too was laagered, but also, lagered, which is something the young of Muslim parents are sadly denied.

    The chilling part was seeing that young people brought up by moderate Muslims in the west are in many cases faced with a bigger barrier between them and the liberal western non-muslim rest of us, than they are between them and the hard-liners at the extreme end of the religion of their parents, even if the parents are decently humanitarian in behavior and not particularly religious.

    Seems there’s a serious need to find a better way to encourage their young to rebel against their moderate muslim parents by eating bacon, drinking beer, dressing provocatively, going to raves, sleeping around, befriending gays (or coming out, if it applies) rather than rebel by becoming holier-than-thou and signing up with the extremists?

    Picking on “them” as a group doesn’t sound like it’s going to help. Somebody tell Donald.

    Instead, that “wall” needs to be eroded, so it’s easier for those up against it on the other side to find a way to kick through.

    Report abuse

  • My dear Laurie,
    Did you read my mother’s description of her visit to Gaza and what it’s like there? Jesus! (The expression’s part of our culture, as Dawkins says.) It’s at the end. Don’t skip.
    I’ll be interested to hear what you thought of her book – at some point; don’t feel constrained.
    I have a cousin named Cohen. He’s a great Shakespeare scholar and really into being Jewish. Hope it’s not him. I’m afraid to open the link…
    Just checked. Not him.

    Report abuse

  • For those for whom it would appear to have not yet quite sunk in, this makes it manifestly obvious that the fundamental problem is fundamentalism; whence ever it stems.

    Witness, the statement made by no less a personage than the twice incumbent President of the United States of America, George Walker Bush; to wit : “The jury’s still out on evolution.”.

    There spake a dangerously ignorant man!

    I’m in a linguistically archaic frame of mind today!

    Report abuse

  • I have done a little research on it Stafford and found it a mishmash of everything. Islamic, Arabic, Persian, Chinese and folklore. The repeating patterns come from all and I believe later claimed by religion in that Islam does not like idols. There is the myth of the artist putting a deliberate flaw in the design to show that only Allah can create perfection. Sounds like a dodgy artists afterthought when he gets pulled up on his lack of!!

    The colour blue is claimed by some to represent either the sky or water and have a calming effect but others dismiss it has anything to do with Islam with green being its main colour.

    The clothes too are a mix of tradition and history with colours showing allegiance to this or that. I personally see a lot of influence from the Chinese empires that existed before. If I ever find the time I would really like to research in detail the influence of Chinese music through the years and regions. I hear a lot of it in nearly everything I hear including classical but I am just ‘playing by ear’ the moment and have no data to back it up. Many of the tunes that come out of Turkish music seem to link the whole region in one way or another with a Chinese flavour running all the way through.

    Report abuse

  • Thanks Olgun; what you say makes sense, since all forms of art influence one another to a degree, and all artists tend to borrow from each other; it’s not committing theft, it’s paying a compliment.

    The twentieth century avanguard movement was heavily influenced by the simplicity of line and economy of form the ancients or “primitives”; principal examples being Stravinsky, Picasso and Mattise.

    Sorry mods; way off beam.

    Report abuse

  • Dear Simi Rahman,

    This is rubbish (I like to generate feedback/argument). If you are Muslim and know some moderate Muslims, and I’m sure there are many, then there must be something about Islam that you and they still wish to hang on to. In the parallel Christian world that predates Islam there is nothing that we wish to hang on to. There may be Old testament Christian fundamentalists in the US and new testament Christians in the US but we have next to none of them in western Europe. Most of us take the “NO POSITION” line with respect to God and religion. We aren’t believers, non-believers or agnostics. We just don’t go there, its a place for nutters. If we still have church weddings its just because its a traditional adornment. Its the only time we go into a church and one of their biggest income streams. Most of our church’s have been converted to other uses. Even our church establishment don’t do Goddo. They do Kierkegaard “its a belief, a faith”. So what bit of Islam do you need to hang on to? Its reliant on the Abrahamic hook, its an Abrahamic religion, it stands on the shoulders of Judaism and Christianity and continues with the chosen people hook. In western Europe we shook off the Old testament and then the New testament and today we only attract a small crowd “if you believe he is there for you suckers”. Less than 12% of the population and they only declared a faith because it said that was their religion on their birth certificate. They have never heard of Aquinas, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Mill or Popper. They have never read about evolution which isn’t a theory or a fact but just history and history isn’t interesting its “bunk”. Over to you. Islam was 1,000 years behind the times when it was created and has not delivered anything to man’s knowledge of the world of facts or values in the last 900 years. 1.6b people, one fifth of the world’s population making no contribution to cosmology or ethics. Over to you. You must explain why you are still Muslim. What is lurking there that we don’t know about? We only know that we will go forward by standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing further. We have got up to Popper. Over to you. What have we missed?

    Report abuse

  • Most of us take the “NO POSITION” line with respect to God and religion.

    A “no position” looks a lot like a position to me.

    … it stands on the shoulders of Judaism and Christianity…

    Much of “it” actually lies on the ground beneath their squatting buttocks and rectum.

    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.