Why Islam Needs a Reformation – Richard Dawkins Foundation

Why Islam Needs a Reformation – Richard Dawkins Foundation

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“Islam’s borders are bloody,” wrote the late political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.” Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims. In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks world-wide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves.

Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself. For more than a decade, my message has been simple:Islam is not a religion of peace.

When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam. Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honor or to the honor of Islam itself.

It is not just al Qaeda and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice. It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labeled as blasphemy and punishable by death. It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime.”


  1. Comparing holy books, the Bible and the Qur’an, the bible is 100 times more in need of updating. The reason Islam is causing more trouble is that more people take it literally. Like the bible, the Qur’an contradicts itself. Most of it is quite reasonable. There is a rule that anything later trumps anything earlier. Perhaps rigorous use of this rule could be used to reform the Qur’an. There may be some way of detecting tampering. Most of it counsels restraint and rational behaviour. People cherry pick the crazy verses.

    • The rule you describe is called the principle of abrogation. I learned about it from Sam Harris. He noted that later rules are actually more violent, so abrogation has pernicious effects in practice. Maybe the exact opposite is true, but if that were so I’d imagine Harris would have egg on his face by now for what he said. He went on to explain that the reason rules became gradually more violent was because of changes in the methods to which Mohamed was eager to resort to continue spreading Islam. I’m no expert on the relative ages of Koranic verses, but that seems plausible.

  2. They all (religions) need more than a reformation. They need to step gracefully into the 21st century which means that they need to go away and be replaced altogether! The Bronze Age is over folks!

  3. You beat me to it Mombird.

    Reformation only gives the redundant a new lease of life, and moreover, judging by the Christian reformation, 1517 onwards, it can become very violent indeed. France was devastated by the Wars of Religion, and Germany by the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48). Even in the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763), a quarter of a millennium later, there was a strong religious element. Of course, it’s still going on in Ireland.



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