Art Tests Religious Argument

Art has many functions in a society and one of them is being a litmus test of political, religious or social argument or policy. This function is not invoked very often, but when it happens the consequences are usually very dramatic. “Is this art” may seem a hollow and innocuous debate topic for glamorously styled critics with posh neck scarves and pocket kerchiefs, right up to the moment it folds into a dialogue between the hangman and his victim.

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, to death the other day for apostasy, with the conviction based on a poetry book he wrote years ago and a witness who claimed he allegedly heard Fayadh cursing Islam and Saudi Arabia. There was also something about the long hair the poet was wearing at the time of the arrest.

For me, this is a test for all Muslims who say Islam is not a violent religion.

This is my logic:

Lately, ISIS terrorists blew up a Russian passenger plane with 224 people, killed 130 people in Paris, beheaded two hostages, slaughtered 20 people in Mali, and murdered numerous others in Syria and Iraq of whom we would never know anything.

As all of the atrocities have been preceded or accompanied by praise to Allah, non-Muslims inevitably develop Islamophobic feelings. Our brain is built this way. Once we know what a snake looks like, we recoil from it without thinking or rationalising why the hell did we jump away from something that looked like a snake.

Non-Muslims can’t escape fearing Muslims. 

A simple neuro test can prove, beyond any doubt, that even the most tolerant non-Muslims feel this fear even if they don’t admit it. Give me a most liberal Guardian reader, and his palms would start sweating when I show them photographs of Muslims in their traditional garb. There’s no cheating impartial electrodes, folks.

Non-Muslims can be blamed for their fear as much as gravitation can be blamed for not letting us somersault in the clouds instead of running on a treadmill.

But consciously, rationally following this fear with behaviour is a different story.

This is exactly what ISIS wants non-Muslims to do. Convert fear into hate; hate into behaviour; and make non-Muslims push the big red button of European apocalypse by raising the level of intolerance to Muslim communities, which will trigger its own chain reaction of alienation, protest, and more violence.

Hate-crime rate in the UK has reportedly surged 300% already. A few Americans were detained by police for making threatening calls to mosques in the States on the night of Paris attacks. A few mosques have been vandalized and even shot at.

Commenters, intent on preventing the escalation of violence, went online writing that Islam is a religion of peace; that if all Muslims were terrorists we’d all be dead by now; and that ISIS is not about Islam, but about their own version of it, which has nothing to do with true Islam.

Those are valid arguments, all of them.


If we follow this logic, European Muslims need to raise their united voice now in defense of Ashraf Fayadh.

Is Twitter flooded with messages addressed to the Saudi king with the hashtag #FreeAshrafFayadh?

Do we read reports of European squares and streets being blocked by marching protesters?

Do we read embarrassed comments of Saudi officials who can’t get to their embassies around the globe because they are picketed by hijab-wearing true-to-Quran Muslim protesters demanding freedom for the Palestinian poet?

I am afraid the answer is “no” to all these questions.

Even an online petition to free the poet stands at 13,000 and not tens of millions of true Muslim votes.

If murdering people who live and think differently is not true Islam, then Saudi Arabia shall become the focus of European Muslim protest right this minute.

To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t happen.

And if it doesn’t happen, does it mean that European Muslims, who denounce ISIS methods, approve of morbid brutality when it is prescribed by the Saudi King? If Islam is a religion of peace, beheading a poet for his art is a crime against Islam, just as obvious as any of the terror attacks by ISIS.


I want to understand (not criticize) Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace but approve or fail to denounce its continued brutality.

It is time for true Muslims, who believe that violence is not an endemic Islamic feature, to start opposing and condemning non-true Muslims, who think beheading is good. Otherwise, the main argument about Islamists being of a different faith than Non-Violent Muslims loses credibility as a punctured hot air balloon.

If you are a Muslim and don’t sign this petition, you are making three errors in the word “PEACE” when you place it next to Islam, because it is, in fact, “DEATH“.

PS Tell me what you think, please, and don’t try to be correct politically or in some other way. Just tell me what’s on your mind. 


  1. The big question here is where are the moderate Muslims in all that is happening in the world these days? If they are the majority, why their voice is not heard proportionately? Shouldn’t it override that of the extremists, who are supposedly a minority which misinterprets Islam? Saudi Arabia is an oppressive regime, OK. What about all the others? There are many moderate Muslim countries with enough resources – like the former Soviet ‘stans’, Indonesia, Malaisia, Brunai – why don’t they take up Muslim refugees? And if governments are corrupt and mercenary – where are the grassroot movements of Muslims condemning extremism or injustice, signing that petition? The answer: a big pregnant silence.

  2. I will tell you something. Most Muslims, both individuals and governments, are usually hesitant about contradicting Saudi Arabia in matters of religious principles.I heard in a recent interview of Edward Snowden by the BBC (very secretly held), when questioned as to why he chose to flee to a country like Russia considering its limited liberal and freedom views, he replied that he’d actually applied in 21 countries but none of them answered him back for fear of offending the US government. Only Russia replied.
    The reason I mention this is because the principle is more or less the same here. Muslims all over the world consider Saudi Arabia sacred, and Saudi Arabia itself prides on following the laws of the Shariah. Also normal Muslims, like normal people from any other religion, have a very basic understanding of the laws of their religion.What exactly the facts of the matter are, what exactly the Shariah says about it and what the Saudi government’s own interpretation is they’re not likely to know the intricacies of such matters.Hence protesting against something they don’t understand or know anything about, they usually shy away from that. Knowing precisely what occurred would help but the facts of the matter aren’t available. I mean the way I understand the real problem was with some of his poetry which he’d written a while back. Exactly what the problem is it doesn’t. If his poetry is insulting to The Prophet or something like that, this might genuinely be a case to be dealt severely. Maybe not with, because they expect him to plead, but certainly something severe.

    1. I understand everything you say, but.
      European Muslims are subjects to the laws of their respective countries, not Shariah. If they want to subject themselves to Shariah courts and legislation, they can move on to a theocracy. What Saudi Arabia is doing is against European legislation, so regardless of their understanding of religious rules, a European Muslim needs to protest against what comes strictly against laws by which he or she lives in Europe. In my opinion, one can’t say one does not support extremism and belongs to a religion of peace and stay indifferent to an extremist branch of their religion.

      1. Your statement sort of contradicts itself. Every region has its own rules, laws, cultures as well as religions.Saudi Arab is not just a separate country, but also located in a separate continent. You said in your comment that the Shariah law doesn’t apply to the European Muslims, or indeed Muslims in any other part of the world,because that is not the official law of their region.Then why would they protest about something happening in Saudi Arab?The Saudi government follows the Shariah laws strictly and conscientiously but they don’t impose, or try to impose,those laws onto the rest of the world. Europe and other countries certainly don’t follow the Shariah law so why would the Muslims residing there protest about anything? The Saudi people themselves are satisfied with their government and their laws.As for the problem with Fayadh,if he did write poetry that was insulting to Islam or said something along that line, I imagine the Saudi government investigated thoroughly before bringing the case to court. They’re are very thorough in such matters. It may not be in the international news but I’m sure it was mentioned in the local newspapers.The thing is Islam allows freedom of religion.If a person wants to convert from Muslim to something else, they’re free to do so.What Islam is strongly against is insulting Islam or Quran or anything else while claiming to be a Muslim which is punishable by death.

        1. I don’t think under Shariah law apostasy is possible without punishment, ranging from revocation of basic human rights to death penalty. When European Muslims react to Islamophobia (and I hate Islamophobia) by saying that Islam is a religion of peace, the logical next step is to protest against those people who call themselves Muslims and preach a religion of war. A religion can’t be a religion of peace at one country, and a religion of war in another. If I were deeply religious, I would protest if my religion is abused by people who understand it wrongly, especially if it is because of them that my beliefs are questioned.

          1. Look the term apostasy is very much debatable.Islam is a religion of peace as such that if a person feels that he is in conflict with himself and his own beliefs with that of his religion, Islam allows him to convert to a religion of his/her own choice. Islam doesn’t force any person, male or female, in any country. What it doesn’t allow (and punishes severely), is that while calling yourself a Muslim you criticize the beliefs of the said religion. And that is punished.
            Islam doesn’t preach war either. On the contrary, it tells you to be good and tolerant to the people around you.If you know someone who’s not a Muslim but he/she is a good person.They don’t impose their beliefs on you, they aren’t rude or offensive to you or anything like that. If their only thing is that they don’t share your religion, then your attitude towards them should be equally good and tolerant. The idea behind this is that if you don’t insult/offend his religion he won’t insult yours. And then there will be no fight.
            Islam has conditions for war but they are very specific. Every Muslim who dies is not ‘Jihadi’. War in Islam only in the name of Allah,but it does not allow mass killings of people of any religion.

  3. Reblogged this on il piede in due scarpe and commented:
    Un bel post, con una visione ancora diversa sulla questione della religione islamica uguale terrorismo. Se non leggete l’inglese, il punto più saliente è quello di firmare la petizione per la scarcerazione di Ashrad Fayad, poeta condannato a morte dal re Saudita per apostasi, condanna basata sul contenuto di un suo vecchio libro di poesie.
    La petizione è qui:
    Firmate numerosi, o dovremo pensare che la vostra opposizione a ISIS non è oltraggio per diritti civili e libertà calpestate ma solo pura irrazionale paura del diverso (l’ho fatto, era un ricatto morale. Ah)

  4. Religion poisons everything. To qoute the remarks I made recently: However far fetched and misconceived the arguments of the terrorists might be for the vast majority of Muslims, all those “not in my name” comments are misleading. The core problem is the religion itself. Same goes for any religion. (here is the post in full: I strongly believe, that any religion claiming to be “true” (usually montheistic ones) can not stand their ground without calling everything other than their own views “untrue”, “false”, therefore “bad” (as in evil, condemnworthy). This is the very core problem. I am aware, that not all violence is motivated solely by religion, but the arguments for it are drawn from this line of thought.

    1. Frankly, I don’t think that religion is a bad thing. I think it gets rotten when a believer starts hating those who stick a a different set of beliefs, instead of feeling sorry that disbelievers simply won’t be “saved”. This hate comes not from religion, but out of fear that it is false (which is quite normal in the absence of any proof). As for violence, it always finds a way to justify itself: inside religious texts, history books, and virtually anything. I am concerned if Islam will become a religion that can coexist with other belief systems. Ultimately, it depends on rank-and-file Muslims rather than freaked out Imams.

      1. I think this need for a god is a very human way to deal with mortality. It’s just, that at different places and times, various deities habe been conjured, and their man-invented powers and sets of rules now clash. I am an atheist, not by nature, au contaire, only after a long struggle. But am very tolerant toward any “rank-and-file” believers of any denominarion. The freaked out varieties really get me going, though.
        With Islam and coexistance: the age of enlightenment is still missing. This will take a long while still, remember the long middle age it took for christianity to overcome most of their dark and violent streaks. Actually, the French did a lot for secularization.

  5. Regarding the islamic Poet sentenced in Saudi Arabia, I’m horrified.
    I respect all people, all religions, but I think that there should be no theocratic states, where civil law is ruled by religious norms old two thousand years (or less). The state must be secular and based on laws that reflect the current needs of a people.

    1. Well, theocracies exist because that’s one of the best ways to rule people, that is, from the ruler’s point of view. These societies can’t produce anything of value, unless they have ample resources to sell, And when resources get depleted at some point, such societies collapse. It is not going to happen to Saudi Arabia any time soon though )

  6. If writing a little bit of poetry and being marginally linked to anti-Islam sentiment is punishable by beheading and death, is it any small wonder that Saudi Arabians aren’t protesting? When Assad uses chemical weapons on innocent civilians and when protesters are regularly shot at by militants, is it any wonder they aren’t protesting?

    I feel that you gravely misunderstand the fear and violence that Saudi Muslims face on a daily basis. To be sure, many of them agree with the implementation of Sharia, but just as many, I presume, are simply afraid to oppose it for fear they may share the same fate.

    1. Oh, no-no-no. I was not talking about Saudi Muslims. I understand perfectly well why they do not protest. I was talking about European Muslims. Millions of them say Islam is not about violence, and I accept this argument as true. But it is they who do not rush to sign the petition to free the artist, which I find contradictory.

      1. Perhaps they have just not seen it? I don’t mean to sound inflammatory, but I don’t go around signing petitions all day to voice my disagreement with something.

        Am I outraged that people are trying to defund Planned Parenthood? Absolutely, but I haven’t signed a piece of paper “confirming my outrage.”

        But perhaps I am mistaken, perhaps millions of Muslims have considered signage and turned a blind eye to it because they are happy with the verdict – I doubt this, but it could be the case. With that said, I don’t think either of us really have the necessary information to draw conclusions if this is the only evidence.

        While my American Muslim friends have been quick to take to social media and confirm they are outraged by the verdict, this is just my anecdotal evidence so it should be taken with a grain of salt.

        1. I am looking at twitter statistics for the hashtag and it is disappointingly low. The mere fact that it is not on the agenda of European or US Muslims can be an indicator they do not feel convinced they should take any action: and I mean not the petition, but at least spreading the word. If I were a Christian believer in a Muslim country and people living around me were Christianophobic for the reason of a Christian sect killing Muslims, I would be concerned that my neighbours know I was against the policies of that sect. I would not hesitate to vent out my indignation at cruel acts they perpetrate, because I would want to defend the real faith. Again, perhaps, twitter lags behind Facebook on this issue, and as I am not Facebook, I can’t check it.

          1. Perhaps you’re right, I’ll have to look into it more. Interesting to see the low statistics on twitter, that surprises me.

            I wonder how this compares to, say, the similarly silent Christians with regards to the arson of historical black churches in South Carolina.

            Perhaps I’ll do more research and see if I can discern if this is isolated to Islam or if extremism is similarly disregarded by Christians and other religious groups. I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.

    2. You are right in your presumption, many, many (but we shall never know exactly how many) Saudis are hugely frustrated by the life in their country. Drug abuse among educated young people is rampant. I have been there and it is a sad place on many levels, apart from the ones we know about.

  7. I think the only explanation is the Power Of Money which, unfortunately, is the only the true god of our civilization and makes Saudi Arabia immune to criticism not only from muslims but also from western governments.

  8. I appreciate your comments and applaud your speaking up. To me, this, also, is art.

    Governments can be terrifying. I was at Manzanar War Relocation center yesterday. A place where law abiding citizens who had done absolutely nothing wrong were interned during WWII. The official government reports say the citizens went along “cheerfully” [see video linked below, at 3:23]. What else could they have done? If they had spoken against this incarceration, they still would have been corralled, but maybe the conditions (which were terrible) would have been even worse.

    I do think we can speak up for them.

    I hope this isn’t out of line.

  9. As a Muslim, I will say Islam is not a religion that promotes violence. There are countries like Saudi Arabia, where violence is promoted, using twisted laws & verses of Quran taken out of context & applied to enact control, oppression, & violent versions of “Sharia” law. A great deal of the violence we see in the name of Islam is carried out in places where the people practice oppression against each other or against Women, & those are cultural practices. That is why I would never live in those places or marry someone from those regions. – Just one woman’s opinion.

    1. Thank you for coming back to me — and I totally agree with you. But if Saudi Arabia tars the image of Islam why they see no protest from Muslims who are not Wahhabi? Why is the petition not being signed by millions? Why is Saudi Arabia immune to criticism?

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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