Last weekend there was a New York Times article on Wafa Sultan, an outspoken critic of Islam from Los Angeles. She made news when she debated an Egyptian cleric on Al Jazeera. The LA Times also featured her. The full transcript of her debate is carried on MEMRI.
What is Wafa Sultan saying? It doesn't matter what. She may be right on one point and wrong on another. What matters is that she is saying it.She says that she has left Islam because it stifles her. Her critics say she has no business criticizing Islam since she has left it. Criticism, they say, has to be from the inside, not outside. Really? In that case, what business do the Islamists have to criticize communism, since they are not communists, or to criticize Hinduism, say (since they are not Hindus)?
There is something else about Wafa Sultan's argument that bears a second look. Most commentators, who try to impress upon us that there are no problems with Islam, assert it is just that the great religion has been 'hijacked' by terrorists and 'evildoers'. This is rather like customer support offering consolation to an irate user that there is nothing wrong with the product since the User Manual is perfectly written. By this token (see The Trouble with Infallibility, by Niranjan Ramakrishnan), every religion is perfect, only people are flawed. Wafa Sultan has a basic problem with the tenets of the religion itself, and brings up a good point -- does one have to accept everything a religion says in order to adhere to it, or can one be eclectic and still belong? Is there a way in which a religion can be updated with new ideas and experiences?
At any rate, Wafa Sultan, who has stood by her arguments despite death threats, is a brave woman, and the argument is good for clearing the air of the increasing choke of hypocrisy-filled air that has prevailed in the last few years.