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Lesley Hazleton at TEDxRainier: “Muhammad, You and Me”

Lesley Hazleton, one of our favorite “anti-Loons” describes herself as the “Accidental Theologist” by which she means that even though she is an agnostic Jew she is fascinated by religion, theology and faith. Her fascination with religion has led her in recent years to be consumed by a study of Islam, particularly the Quran and the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad.

We first encountered Lesley when she gave her memorable speech in 2010 at TEDxRainier about her “extensive devotion to the study of the Quran”:

The comment thread in our article on her speech became quite lively as you would expect.

Recently, Lesley was back at TEDxRainier and delivered another stunning speech, this time on the Prophet Muhammad (she has just completed a book on his life) and what he means today in light of those who like to cast him as the evil villain par excellence and his self-described devotees who sometimes move to excess in his “defense.”

Hazleton tells us that she was motivated to write the book because, in her words “how could she not? We’re talking about one of the most influential figures of all time. A man who radically changed his world and is still changing ours. So how can so many of us know so little about him?”

TEDx Talk: Muhammad, You, and Me

Just released:  the video of the talk I gave at TEDxRainier on November 10, 2012.

I can’t judge how effective the talk is (a few of the slides were dropped in the video-editing process, including a shot of Newsweek‘s infamous ‘Muslim Rage’ cover).  But as with my previous talk on reading the Quran, I do think I’m getting at something that needs to be said in today’s politically manipulated climate of suspicion and distrust.

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  • zangi

    Nothing in Quran or in teaching of prophet SAW has ever been , is or even will be abhorrent to those who are sound in knowledge. There is no need to “scissors cutting large chunks” of anything from Islam. To those who don’t like Islam, the burden of proof is upon them to prove anything wrong in Islam. Have you proved anything? other than spouting your opinions? To prove anything wrong with Islam you will need very solid evidence like proving any aspect of Qur’an with definite knowledge e.g of natural science etc. Just opining your disgusting opinions here will do ho harm to Islam.

  • zangi

    how do you know what say above is really wrong. Suppose what you say about apostasy is correct (e.g death punishment for apostate), can you really prove that it is wrong? if so on what basis?

  • zangi

    I don’t know what is the basis on which you judge anything. Is “reason” a basis for your opinion? If so whose reason? the reason of Aristotle, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nazis, Zionists, Alqaeda ? who? After all everyone is using reason to justify whatever they want to justify?

    e.g For example there are people who believe that eating of humans is OK. After all human being are nothing but proteins so why eating human should be anything different than eating cows or chickens. I don’t know on what basis would you call such an idea wrong, but it is completely abhorrent to me, mostly because my faith informs me that is abhorrent. May be you can argue that taking human life is wrong ( again i don;t know on what basis would you say so), but what about eating dead humans. After all it can solve two problems in one stone! It may help solve problem of hunger and also save natural resources which are required to dispose off dead humans.

    The point i am making is you need to have basis to judge anything. If its just your opinion then everyone else has his own opinion., there can’t be anything good or bad. taking a human life is as good or bad as saving one. helping poor and the needy is as good or bad has harming them. Love is as good or bad as hate, being loon is as good or bad as being wise. being rational is as good or bad as being irrational. So essentially your criticism of Islam is no more than an opinion. So at most you can say is that you think that Islam (or certain aspect of it) is wrong, but not that Islam is wrong in absolute sense.

  • zangi

    Ru saying that if their is God, he is not capable to punish people He think server it? Logic of your statement escapes me! I mean why should it be impossible for God to “roast in hell forever” whom God determines to be deserving of it?

  • Stephen G. Parker

    Layla – You have – apparently deliberately – missed the point of ‘parable’ and ‘metaphor’. You’re still insisting on literal fire quite literally burning up bodies, as well as the literalness of other imagery used to describe the ‘afterlife’. I admit that I also find that kind of imagery disturbing, and if I had been the one ‘revealing’ the Qur’an I am pretty sure I would not have used such imagery.

    Of course, a far wiser being that I am was the Messenger God used to convey His guidance and warning (that is, the Angel of God – Gabriel). Therefore I accept that imagery, however disturbing it may be; but I RECOGNIZE it as metaphorical imagery and seek to understand its MEANING. As I said, I believe the imagery is fulfilled in the reality of karma and reincarnation. Multiple earthly lifetimes spent in ‘purging’ my unrighteous ways (as well, perhaps, as non-earthly discipline – but not literal fire – in the between-lives period) is the reality behind the imagery of one body after another being burned up in the fire. I suspect the reason for use of such loathsome imagery is to impress people – by means of hyperbole – that the results of not following God’s guidance will not be pleasant; it won’t be “a walk in the park”.

    I don’t get upset by charges of ‘heresy’ or ‘apostasy’; it’s like water running off a duck’s back to me. I recommend you seek to let go of your bitterness and shrug off threats just as I do. If you really don’t believe your actions will have any after-death consequences, then don’t let the threats of those of us who do bother you. You’ll find out whether or not you were correct in God’s good time.

    I also went through the ‘agonies’ of leaving a very fundamentalist religion – ‘evangelical’ Christianity – and I well remember the sadness of my relatives and the ‘reminders’ they gave me about “what happens to apostates”. 🙂 But I left off worrying about that kind of thing long ago. (It’s not as if that sadness was a thing of the past, either; but it’s been so many years now since my ‘apostasy’ that they no longer talk about it.)

    Since I believe in reincarnation (as the reality behind the Biblical and Qur’anic imagery, as well as that of other religions) I am aware that if I do unrighteous or ungodly deeds, I will reap unpleasant results for that. But I reject all ideas of literal punishment by fire – whether that be ‘everlasting punishment’ or temporary punishment which will result in my annihilation. I do have well founded hope that my ‘sins’ will be ‘annihilated’ however, whether through the refreshing ‘rain’ of God’s guidance, or the ‘purifying fires’ of karma. 🙂

    Obviously not all (probably not even very many) Christians or Muslims agree with my beliefs on this subject; but I am willing to leave it to God to clear up our differences. And He is the Best of Judges and the All-Knowing, All-Wise. Can you not try to get over your bitterness and hatred and let God clarify these matters for you?

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  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Layla Loonwatch is not about reinterpreting anything, that is up to Muslims to do. Loonwatch is about detailing and exposing anti-Muslim bigotry and the loons who perpetuate it, and yes, if your post falls into that category you will likely not get published.

  • “When you’re all finished, Islam will still be here, and so will Muslims.” Actually the face of Islam will change and is changing; the religion is rapidly evolving – thanks to sites like loonwatch. Soon Islam will be unrecognisable in many quarters. I sit here listening to the sound of scissors cutting large chunks from Bukhari and Muslim (and btw I don’t blame people who do this), and many furiously composing lengthy tracts to re-write single words within verses (eg 4:34). (Why Allah didn’t just say “don’t beat women!” multiple times.) The prophet is whoever you want him to be, as is Islam – all things to all men. A truly unknowable man. Western Islam: No more “right hand possessions”, gay friendly mosques, only a “figurative” hellfire (though in a couple of decades this idea will be abhorrent & new translations of the quran will be issued), etc.

  • “No, Islam is a religion you can choose to follow, or not. It really is that simple.” That’s actually a huge insult. Do you know how emotionally draining it is to leave this religion (I’m speaking from experience). Not only does your family have to go through the anguish of thinking you’ll be roasted and tortured for eternity for leaving, you also have to accept that many believe (and they’re backed up by the majority of scholars) you deserve to die for your choice. So please spare me the “it’s just that easy” nonsense. It’s never easy. The bridges you need to build are with your fellow Muslims. “spew hatred” for a religion that forces women to marry within the religion, persecutes homosexuals, non-monotheists? I should hope so!

  • “If God is going to punish people in the AFTERLIFE, and you don’t believe the religion is true, why is it your concern?” Because it is a form of psychological torture and/or mind control: If one fails to submit to the questionable morality of this 7th century prophet then expect “purification” torture camps in the afterlife. What a terrible burden to place on a child. “Also, there are no punishments in the Qur’an for blasphemy or apostasy, so it is not a matter of “reinterpreting” anything.” I grow so weary of redundant technicalities. Much of what you do isn’t written in the Qur’an. What the Qur’an commands you to do, however, is submit to the sunnah of the Prophet. The punishment for apostasy (and blasphemy) is thoroughly entrenched in 1400 years of Islamic tradition, and all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence.

  • Stephen G. Parker

    @ ‘Layla Kei’ – With regard to “if you don’t submit to [Islam] you roast in hell forever”: no doubt there are Muslim literalists who actually believe that, just as there are Christian literalists who believe that everyone who does not embrace ‘evangelical’ Christianity will burn in hell forever. However, there are many other interpretations of what ‘hell’ means.

    From my own study, as well as reading a number of articles by Muslims, I have seen that the Qur’an says over and over that God has sent messengers to all ‘communities’ throughout human history. Other major religions such as Christianity and Judaism – and some believe that “Eastern Religions” such as Buddhism and Hinduism are also included – had their origins in Divine Revelation, inspiration, and wisdom given to holy men. Those who truly follow those previous revelations – even though they may not fully adopt the Muhammadan revelation – will have reward from God (not condemnation). We are told to leave it to God to clear up differences that exist, while he will reward all true believers according to the best of their actions. (Previous revelations from God are also considered “Islam” or revelations of Islam. That’s why I refer to the “Muhammadan revelation of Islam” – it’s one of several such “revelations of Islam”).

    As to “roast[ing] in hell forever”, it is probably true that some Muslims (as well as many Christians) believe this in a very literal way: literal fire will forever torture sinners who died without repentance. However, there are a number of other viewpoints on the meaning of “the fire of hell” besides the strictly literal one. Some will believe in a partly literal/partly metaphorical interpretation; while others will hold to an entirely metaphorical interpretation.

    That is, some will perhaps believe that sinners will be tormented forever, but not in a literal fire. Others may believe in “annihilationism”: that the ‘fire’ is a metaphor meaning that the sinners will be entirely ‘consumed’ so that they no longer exist. Still others believe that ‘hell’ is entirely metaphorical, with the meaning being that the sins of people will be completely purged, leaving a purified soul to be useful in God’s kingdom. Among this latter group are some who believe in reincarnation and karma as the purifying process symbolized by “the fire of hell”. I am among that group.

    Let me give just one example of Qur’anic verses which seem to me to clearly teach that the ‘fire of hell’ is a PURIFYING fire rather than “eternal punishment”. (I emphasize “it seems to ME”; obviously others will disagree – perhaps strongly – with my viewpoint). In the Muhammad Asad English Version of Sura (Chapter) 13, verses 17 and 18, we read this:

    “[13:17] Whenever] He sends down water from the sky, and [once-dry] river-beds are running high according to their measure, the stream carries scum on its surface; and, likewise, from that [metal] which they smelt in the fire in order to make ornaments or utensils, [there rises] scum.

    In this way does God set forth the parable of truth and falsehood: for, as far as the scum is concerned, it passes away as [does all] dross; but that which is of benefit to man abides on earth.

    In this way does God set forth the parables [13:18] of those who have responded to their Sustainer with a goodly response, and of those who did not respond to Him. [As for the latter,] if they
    possessed all that is on earth, and twice as much, they would surely offer it as ransom [on the Day of Judgment]: a most evil reckoning awaits them, and their goal is hell: and how evil a resting-place!”

    Here we have a parable showing two different ways of purging the ‘scum’ (sins) of people. (1) God sends His revelations like a pleasant rain. Those who respond “with a goodly response” to God’s guidance will find that their sinful ways are ‘washed away’ by this ‘Divine rain’. (2) Those who did not respond “with a goodly response” to God’s messages will have to be purged with the fire ‘of hell’ – “a most evil reckoning”. The result of the ‘fire’, though, is that the ‘scum’ (sin) is burned away, leaving ‘ore’ from which useful vessels can be made. As in the Christian apostle Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (verse 15).

    So don’t imagine that the extreme literalist interpretation of “hell fire” is the only option for any of God’s Scriptures (whether Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim). And from a Qur’anic point of view, no matter how literally (or not) one interprets ‘hell fire’, the inhabitants of the fire do not include in their number those who truly follow other revelations of “Islam” (such as Abrahamic, Mosaic, Christian, etc.).

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I don’t know if it’s worth posting to you, it’s usually a sign of a closed “Conservative” mind when terms are liberally thrown out there such as “PC liberal lies” but if you’re open to seeing beyond essentialism then take a look at some of the threads and discussions on Islam that have occurred here. Start with this one, it also has links in the comment thread to older discussions:

  • You mean PC liberal lies. Islam is a “beautiful” religion; if you don’t submit to it you roast in hell forever.

  • Razainc_aka_BigBoss

    Good to see she was invited back we need more people like her

  • Heinz Catsup


  • mindy1

    Gotta love those willing to go on facts, not hate 😀

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