The Qur'an and other traditional religious texts may indeed contain verses that are objectionable by modern standards, but that does not mean that we can reduce all these texts to these verses. Beyond the arcane mythology and certain specific objectionable rulings, there is also much wisdom contained in these texts, wisdom that allows them to keep their followers inspired and capable of coping with the requirements of modern life provided that they can understand the true nature of the relationship between the specific and the general in these texts.
In his treatment of Islam, and of traditional religious faiths in general, Bill Maher seems to be oblivious to this simple fact of life: people are mostly hypocritical in nature, not puritans. They want the best out of both: the here-and-now as well as the hereafter. This makes it difficult to judge people on the basis of the holy books in which they believe, because, while they might refuse to challenge the authority of these texts, in part or as a whole, their actions and inactions come as a much better measure of what they really want.
The answer to the extremism prevalent in Muslim communities around the world will not come from any allegedly “enlightened” or “moderate” set of religious scholars, but from the average Muslims’ changing attitude towards religiosity. Historical precedents have indeed shown that the religious establishment has often to play catchup with the people in this matter. In the meantime, however, establishment figures, motivated by a variety of ideological and parochial considerations, will often lead the fight against modernization using the pulpits and whatever social, economic and political institutions under their control.
- All so-called Abrahamic religions have an embedded element of disdain towards all other faith systems, one that has been clearly and unambiguously articulated in their various holy books as well as by a huge assortment of their favorite scholars and clerics, one that colors popular attitudes and feeds popular stereotypes, even among the self-declared secular segments, and inspires rejection, condescension and downright hate among a select few.
Most existing works by Muslims on the early sources and history of Islam, including the Qur’an, the Hadith (reports on life and teachings of the Prophet), the Sirah (story of the Prophet’s life) and the history of the early Islamic period, were written more than a century after the purported death of the Prophet and the beginning of the Islamic conquests. None of these works have reached us in their original forms. Moreover, the works themselves suggest that different versions of certain works, including the Qur’an, had existed at different times, and attest to the turbulent nature of the times in which the works were collected, to the haphazard nature of the collection process itself, and to widespread ideological motivations on part of the collectors and their sponsors. Therefore, the authenticity of these works, in the sense that they actually relate factual accounts of the times and events they purport to cover, is as dubious as that of the Christian gospels and the Old Testament.