Written by Theresa Corbin
Much has been written about who speaks for Islam. There’s this book, cleverly entitled Who Speaks for Islam, by Dr. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed that discusses this exact topic. There is this recent Pathoes blog post that tackles the topic as it pertains to Americans.
It is an interesting topic since there is no longer a central figure in Islam, thanks 1924 Turkish Republic. JK, we all know it was colonialism.
But I think it is also important to talk about who does NOT speak for Islam. Since it seems every (specifically non-Muslims) one in this anti-Muslim political landscape feels the need to talk about Islam, doing so without even knowing the first thing about the faith.
The tipping point for me was when I read that one of Trump’s crony’s told CNN that, “Islam is traced patrilineally. I am a Muslim if my father is Muslim,” speaking about the conspiracy theory that President Obama is a Muslim.
I don’t care what conspiracy you ascribe to, but this statement is categorically untrue and ignorant. If this were true of any faith, literally no one would be a follower of anything since its all starts with converts. Faith is not in your DNA, even though many never question the faith they inherit from their fathers.
But the need to talk about this topic has been building for a while. I find it absurdly arrogant and patronizing when non-Muslims feel the need to explain Islam to actual Muslims. It is a version of whitesplaining called Islamsplaining , and it’s exhausting.
So here is a list the kinds of people who often speak their ignorance about Islam without any authority or basis to do so. If you have listened to any of these sources about Islam, considered your information wildly inaccurate.
The Couch Theologian:
This person has never studied theology in any capacity, usually doesn’t even know much about his or her own faith. But s/he reserves the right to market him/herself as an expert on Islam because s/he watches the news. Because we allllll know that modern Middle Eastern politics is the end all be all of Islamic scholarship (insert massive eye roll here).
The True (meme) believer:
This person read a meme once and now believes s/he knows enough about a 1,400 year old faith to be an expert on the topic. Despite the fact that actual experts have studies their entire lives, memorized volumes of books, and sacred text and still consider themselves students. But one meme is enough, right?
The Contrived Phobe:
This is a person who has listened to a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric. S/he has “studied” limited parts of Islam from other phobes, all with the intention of fearing and hating Islam and- more importantly- Muslims. S/he wouldn’t know a confirmation bias if it hit shim in the face. The Contrived Phobe regurgitates talking points, but if you scratch that surface, s/he doesn’t know anything about Islam in reality.
The Anecdotal Evidencer:
This is the person who starts off most conversations about Islam with “I once knew this Muslim who …” S/he takes everything that someone who looks like a Muslim does as Islam itself. They often think that if your religion is true, all the followers have to act like angels. But the Anecdotal Evidencer reserves the right to excuse all kinds of evil done by his/her own co-religionists.
This person resembles the Anecdotal Evidencer, but has more of it because s/he visited or lived in a majority Muslim country and thinks that the habits of the people s/he sees is Islam itself. But doesn’t think that the habits of the people in majority Christian countries is representative of Christianity.
The Pandering Politician:
This person has become very successful in a difficult profession, and wants all to believe that his expertise in that profession translates to expertise in all the things, including Islam. The politician tells lies about Islam to fan fears and gain political currency. It’s called pandering. Read more about this type here.
The Talking Head:
This person has a radio show or is the host of some Fox news program. They have and maintain high ratings because of the inflammatory ignorance they spew about people who do not look like them or are not from the same socio-economic stratosphere as them, appealing to the majority and exploiting their fears. They know that Islamophobia is trending so they jump on that scare tactic bandwagon to make more money and increase ratings. Their knowledge of Islam is similar too or less then (if that is even possible) the Coach Theologian.
The Fake Experts:
This is a person that poses in the media as an expert. They may fall into any of the other 6 categories, but have somehow convinced the media that they know more that the average bear, including actual Islamic scholars. But the truth of the matter is that they really do not know much. They are extraordinary pathological liars in that they believe their own lies so well that they have been able to market and sell them. Read more about this type here.
I am sure there are more of these types, so let me know which ones I missed.
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