A little over a week ago, political comedian Bill Maher made some pretty controversial remarks surrounding Islam on his HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Maher has been heavily critical of organized religion throughout his career, concentrating particularly on Islam. In his view, Islam is an inherently oppressive faith, which violates human rights and stands as an affront to liberal values.
Quite frankly, much of what Maher has said and believes is simply false.
The debate over Islam continued this past Friday when actor Ben Affleck appeared on "Real Time."
The conversation between Maher, Affleck and the other panelists got quite heated. It was apparent that the actor was offended by Maher's views and some of the remarks made by other guests on the show.
In Affleck's opinion, Maher's views on Islam are "gross and racist." He contends that it's wrong to make generalizations about a religion with over one billion followers. Indeed, Affleck is correct.
Most Americans knew little to nothing about Islam prior to 9/11. While the tragic events of that day certainly fostered increased interest in the faith, it's evident that many people still have a lot to learn about Muslims.
The rise of ISIS has seen a resurgence of misperceptions and stereotypes surrounding Islam, as the terrorist organization adheres to a distorted and fundamentalist interpretation of the religion.
Despite the fact that these extremists represent a minority within Islam, individuals like Maher seem determined to paint all Muslims as violent radicals.
This is wrong, and dangerous. It is precisely this kind of intolerance that leads to the type of oppression that Maher wishes to condemn.
Here are 6 things that people often get wrong about Islam:
1. Islamophobia doesn't exist.
Islamophobia can be defined as "an irrational fear and hatred of Muslims categorized as an identifiable group." It is real, and it's a major problem. It leads to hate crimes against Muslims, and breeds intolerance.
Moreover, a large part of the reason terrorists, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, are able to recruit is that they claim the West is at war with Islam. When people in the media, like Maher, condemn Islam and describe it as one of the world's greatest evils, they are fueling the propaganda of terrorists.
2. Islam is inherently violent.
Islam does not promote violence.
Some might argue that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, condones violence. Yet, in many ways, the Bible is far more violent than the Quran. Thus, most Muslims, like Christians and Jews, try to take contextual, rather than literal, interpretations of their holy book.
In fact, Islamic texts, including the Quran, specifically prohibit the killing of innocents.
You cannot condemn an entire faith because a minority within it takes a radical approach. This is precisely why Muslim leaders from around the world have called ISIS an offense to Islam.
3. All Muslims hate America and the West.
Muslim people do not automatically hate Americans and the West. This was an apparent perception following 9/11, which has obviously continued.
The fact of the matter is, however, that some Muslims are likely frustrated by American involvement in the Middle East. When it comes down to it, they have every right to be.
The United States has habitually supported dictatorships in the region, and has been at war in Muslim countries quite frequently over the past two decades or so.
Likewise, as the foreign policy expert Fareed Zakaria puts it, "It's not an Islam problem but an Arab problem." Simply put, animosity towards the United States from Muslim countries in the Middle East is political and cultural, rather than a product of religion.
4. All Muslims are jihadists (terrorists).
A majority of Muslims do not support terrorism. In fact, extremism is one of the Islamic world's greatest concerns.
I should not be asked to apologise for ISIS' actions. I hate them more than you ever will. #NotInMyName — Syed Asif (@SyedAsif93) October 3, 2014
ISIS DOES NOT REPRESENT ME AND MY RELIGION. Full Stop. #NotInMyName — Aid Ul-Zuhr Mustaffa (@aidilrednblue) October 1, 2014
If only we could concentrate on the Muslims that have started the, #NotInMyName campaign, rather than those committing awful acts worldwide. — Nick Youngquest (@Nick_Youngquest) October 4, 2014
5. All Muslims have the same values.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, that's about 23 percent of the world's population.
Islam is a very diverse religion in terms of demographics, which also translates into differences in values.
Believing that all Muslims have the same values and traditions would be like claiming Catholics and Protestants are basically the same, or that Eastern Orthodoxy isn't different from other Christian denominations.
Muslims reside in multiple countries across the world, and some do not really adhere to traditional Islamic values whatsoever. For example, Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Azerbaijan is a majority Muslim country, but the people there drink like fish.
6. Our values (Western values) are better than Muslim values.
Part of the reason Maher condemned Islam is that he believes the religion promotes the violation of human rights.
While it's true that certain majority Muslim countries have less than stellar records in regards to civil and human rights, it's wrong to assume that Western or liberal values are that much better.
After all, the United States is guilty of immense human rights violations, such as the use of torture during the War on Terror, and its continued use of targeted killings with drone strikes.
America also has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Furthermore, as the events in Ferguson revealed, this country is obviously still struggling with racism and police brutality.
Likewise, values and morality are ultimately subjective, it's wrong to assume that we know better than the rest of the world. This is an imperialistic mentality, and extremely problematic.
It's important to promote civil and human rights, but this can't be done by making generalizations.