Jordan Peterson’s naïve message to Muslims

by 24britishtvNov. 18, 2022, 2 p.m. 13
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Canadian psychologist and public intellectual Jordan B. Peterson has recently received an official invitation to convert to Islam. The invitation came in his meeting with a Muslim apologist, as they were discussing Islam and Muslims, which came after Peterson posted a short “Message to Muslims” on his YouTube channel.

Peterson is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures of our day. I came to appreciate him after his famous 2018 encounter with British journalist Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, when he masterfully and convincingly articulated his views on gender and social issues. Since that interview, I followed many of his lectures and genuinely appreciated his astounding navigation of complex issues and intellectual discussions.

However, his short video message to Muslims demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to Islam, its complex worldview, and highly influential original texts.

With a serious and strong voice, Peterson begins by telling Muslims, “It is time for those of you in the Muslim world to stop fighting among yourselves, you Shiites and Sunnis, and also time to stop regarding the Christians and even more specifically the Jews as your enemies.” To convince Muslims, Peterson assures them that “far more unites you with the other people of the book,” by which he means Christians and Jews.

In what appears to be an attempt to build a communication bridge with Muslims, Peterson addresses Muhammad by adopting an honorary phrase only used by Muslims in reverence and veneration of their prophet: “your own prophet himself, peace be unto him.”

Many Muslims hastened to YouTube to respond to Peterson’s message. A few thanked him and prepared for encounters to invite him to convert to Islam. For them, if he converts, Islam will gain a remarkable addition that highlights its superiority over other religions. Other Muslims were openly dismissive and unequivocally condemned his message, largely identifying him as disrespectful of Islamic traditions and ignorant of their beliefs. Some Muslim thinkers responded by calling the video “patronizing and tone-deaf.”

Indeed, it was unfortunate to see a thinker I admire criticized and attacked online, but the truth is that he threw himself into a subject with which he is obviously unfamiliar. While his invitation for peace and reconciliation may be appreciated on its own merit, it ignored historical precedents and theological particularities. Even his use of an honorary title after mentioning Muhammad appears ill-informed.



Peterson calls Sunnis and Shiites to stop fighting, as if his invitation should be heeded by those who have been in severe enmity for about fourteen centuries. The enmity is not only political as often claimed in Western circles, but also theological and harsher than what many assume or claim. Throughout most of Islam’s history, the Shiites have been the minority who were treated bitterly by the Sunni majority.

Worse, both camps believe the other is kafir (an unbelieving infidel) who is misguided and corrupting the pure religion. On many theological grounds, Sunnis and Shiites accuse each other of being heretics inventing untruthful dogma and inviting infidelity in the religion. This sectarian enmity is evidenced in a Pew Research study conducted in the heartland of Sunni Islam, which concluded that, “the prevailing view is that Shias are not members of the Islamic faith.” Thus, the dispute is severely and genuinely theological.

With this loaded theological disputation, Peterson’s invitation to Muslims appeared naive, ignoring highly contentious historical precedents and determinative theological realities.

As for Peterson’s invitation for Muslims to embrace the Jews in particular, the matter is even worse. Peterson, a secular thinker, seems unaware of the impact of highly prescriptive ancient texts on Muslims. In contrast to Peterson’s invitation for Muslims to reconcile with the Jews, Muslims have Quranic commands and statements attributed to Muhammad, instructing the exact opposite. To whom should Muslims direct honor and obedience, Peterson or Muhammad?

Most Muslims believe Muhammad did not die naturally but that he was poisoned by a Jewess. This is one source of the severe enmity against the Jews. Additionally, the Quran states that the Jews are “the worst of the enemies of the believers.” This is why in Muhammad’s biography, he provides an example of treating the Jews: He besieged a Jewish tribe until they surrendered, then the instruction came: “their warriors should be killed, their women and children should be taken as captives, and their properties distributed.” These are determinative and prescriptive texts for Muslims. Peterson’s invitation—as thoughtful as it might sound—can hardly be plausible in the presence of such religious realities.

Will Peterson become a Muslim? I doubt it. However, Muslim apologists always seek converts, especially of his status and stature.

Peterson’s invitation should be admired for its genuine call for peace and mutual coexistence. However, it is impossible to understand Islam and its worldview without a deeper comprehension of its historical precedents and a closer attention to its original texts. The issues here are not merely matters of misunderstanding.

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