My Take: Why Islam needs Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert at the 'Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear' in Washington in October 2010.
April 15th, 2011
12:57 PM ET

My Take: Why Islam needs Stephen Colbert

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Quick question: When you think of Buddhism, whose name comes to mind?

What about Islam?

A few nights ago, I spoke at the University of North Alabama on an interfaith panel that included a rabbi (Micah Greenstein of Memphis, Tennessee), an imam (Sheikh Ossama Bahloul of Murfreesboro, Tennessee) and a Protestant minister (Bishop William Willimon of Birmingham, Alabama).

During the spirited dinner conversation that preceded the event a group of us got to talking about the important role that high-profile public figures can play in breaking down religious stereotypes.

At the local level, for example, getting to know your town's rabbi can undercut prejudices you may have toward Jews. Having dinner with your Muslim neighbor can debunk stereotypes about Islam. At the national level, though, public figures control the conversation.

One reason Buddhists are accepted more often than they are feared in the United States is that when we think of Buddhism we think of the Dalai Lama and his trademark smile.

When we think of Islam, however, many of us think of Osama Bin Laden and his AK-47.

As aficionados of The Colbert Report have doubtless heard, Stephen Colbert has given up Catholicism for Lent. He became a Jew for a while but he liked that so much he guilt-tripped himself into giving up Judaism, too.

So a couple weeks ago he invited me onto his show to serve as his personal religion shopper.

I told him a little (you can't get too many words in edgewise) about Quakers and Hindus and Shakers and Jains, but when I tried to sell him on Islam he responded, “It’s got kind of a PR nightmare on its hands.”

Last week, however, Colbert converted to Islam in an effort, he said, to prove that moderate Muslims really do exist. It’s a gag of course, and he’ll be back to being one of America’s most beloved Catholics as of Easter.

But this gag does raise a serious question: where are the Muslims to whom Americans can look without fear or trembling?

There is Muhammad Ali, of course, and Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens) but their heydays were in the 1960s and 1970s. And there are some current NBA players and international soccer stars who practice Islam.

But these are all B-list celebrities, at least in the United States. There isn’t anyone here like Stephen Colbert (who, by the way, has probably done more than any other celebrity, to repair the public image of Catholicism in the wake of the sex abuse scandals, at least among young people).

Until there is, Islam will continue to suffer from its "PR nightmare."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Interfaith issues • Islam • Opinion • TV

soundoff (369 Responses)
  1. anabolics steroids online

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    November 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • DamianKnight

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      November 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  2. Abdul

    Islam sucks.

    May 4, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • terapi imam muda

      islam is nice... honey is medication in islam

      October 2, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • terapi imam muda

      islam is nice... honey is medication in islam...very good...

      October 2, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  3. luna

    i feel like we are in a time that had occuried already but in a diffrent picture , well the black and white were discriminated, now Religions are discriminated. We are all human, all from the same planet, we all have our beliefs, and we certianly shouldnt be fighting about this. Each person has their own thoughts, beliefs, and is they're own person. you can't comment on something general just cause of one event. For example, Twins , although they look simular and are from the same mother doesnt mean they act , think and behave the same way. And if you talk about ones religon, wouldnt you be mad if someone talked about yours. We all have our beliefs, im sure of that, but mustn we be more sensative. yes, we had bad examples for muslims, but doesn't mean they're all bad. And for the people who still believe that palestinians are murderes, well you missed out on alot, alot that zionists wont dare allow to be meantioned. Go to a local library and get the book called the scare of david or Wild thorns. or come to palestine your self, to the old city. Talk to to everyone and sit listen to the events that will leave you weeping and heart broken. We dont have the freedom of speech neither....

    April 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • luna


      April 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  4. william peterson


    Wait; WHAT???

    April 23, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  5. C. Cantu

    Muslims should convert to Christianity. They should open their eyes, minds, hearts and deeply analyze, discern and compare any of the Middle Eastern Christian Traditions which are much older than Islam to their Muslim faith. It is a fact that nowadays, violence, intolerance, hatred, terrorism, discrimination is much greater among Muslims than Christian Arabs. Anywhere in the world, the same conflicts arise caused by Islamic dogmas and practices. Most Islamic religious leaders are the main instigators of these violent actions, they seduce young people with their satanic teachings to commit all kinds of atrocities and justify these actions under their own Islamic dogmas. Muslims should compare their lives and ideology to their Christian Arab brethren and decide to take the first step to change their distorted mentality.

    April 21, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  6. Iqbal Khan


    April 19, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  7. Iqbal Khan


    April 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Iqbal Khan

    And this....


    April 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  9. Iqbal Khan

    Watch this....


    April 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  10. Adelina

    The Bible is proven to be correct by ALL related archaeological findings. Not a single contradiction is there.

    April 19, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Not exactly.

      November 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  11. john

    Mr. Colbert conversion to islam for even only on temporary basis would make him muslim in islamic world..Now if Mr. Colbert would convert to any other religion from islamic faith (though it was temporary); According to Quran he will be called "MURTAD" and in any islamic country Murtad is punishable by death....Good thing, this debate is stirred up here and not in any islamic country practice "Sharia".
    i think we are blessed to be a part of ebullient society like USA...

    April 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Dmol

    Its depressing that the two good figures that the author picked for islam was an individual who although was very talented and entertaining, was still definintly a racist while cat stevens is a tool who thought it was ok to kill a man for writing a book, thats pretty damn scary.

    How about picking omar sharif or Dave Chappelle or Fareed Zakaria

    April 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  13. Hooty-hoo

    Muhammad said, "There is no compulsion in religion." But ever since its beginning, Islam has owed its existence to brutal, violent compulsion. So, Islam isn't a religion, according to the pervert-prophet himself.

    April 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Juliett

      As a matter of fact, if you read about many of the dangerous cults of the past, they seem to follow along the same types of "rules" that these murderous cults did.

      April 18, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Ahjii

      I think any distorted belief system throws our imagination out of focus. Consequently, our judgment and the resulting actions end up being wrong. Although Islam is not a religion in the conventional sense – (it’s a System of life) – like other religions, it has suffered from a terrible and tragic dichotomy at the hands of the extremist, orthodox, closed-minded and tunnel-vision priesthood. They are the ones who refuse to think and reflect, and yet claim to be the custodians of Islam to the exclusion of others. -Dr. Shabbir Ahmed-

      Put simply, every message spewed from the Mouth of every Messenger of God has been adulturated and is being perpetuated in the wrong way. Thus every religion is true (where they are all in alignment with each other and other scietific and philisophical truths) and every religion is false (in where the differ in their dogma). We must acknowledge, semantics increases some of us in wisdom and leave other of us groping in the darkness of ignorance.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  14. The Whited Sepulchre

    Surely Colbert is aware of the Islamic penalty for apostasy (deconverting from Islam) ???? Rest in peace, Steve !!!!

    April 17, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Juliett

      lol, true, every other faith at least gives a human being a choice.

      April 18, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  15. Adelina

    Can't CNN use better photos? I think CNN is making fun of everyone including British royals.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  16. Adelina

    The question itself is stupid, because Americans don't know much about anything on any religion.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Most atheists are more knowledgeable about it than nuts like you, Addie.

      April 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Adelina

      Tom, no. The fact is that most atheists in America are average ignorant and don't have balanced knowledge on any religion. And your leaders are mere sci-fi writers. On the other hand, truly religious people have specific experiences in their own religions. Christian leaders are true scholars and thinkers with goodness.

      April 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Seraphim0

      A good portion of aetheists actually -are- more knowledgeable about the various religious creeds than people such as yourself, Adelina. It's quite a solid thing to say. Many usually research religions and learn about them. This stretches from Catholicism, baptists, islam, hinduism, shintoism, buddhism, ancenstor worship, various pagan, etc. Where it seems you simply are content to cast stones. "Fithy aetheist.." I'd rather be a "filthy aetheist" than a deluded, self important, self-righteous person (as obviously demonstrated by your posts) as yourself. Were I religious, I'd offer to pray for you. So, here's hoping that some of your fellows do.

      April 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Ahjii

      Adelina, you seem ego issues because you do not grasp the concept of Polarity which is a Universal Law (applicable to all things). There is a negative and positive pole or aspect to everything With that being said, every person religious and non-religious suffers from this dillusion. The wise and open-minded sees truth in many things, the closed, obstinate, and narrow-minded only focuses on the differences.

      April 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Maggie

    We as muslims like Mr. Colbert alot...he has broken down some of the stereotypes but this type of thing is pretty much over the line if you ask me. All the same, it is the reason he can never be accepted by Allah as a muslim and if he is reading this that ought to make him just a tad nervous because of course, we are absolutely right and declare it openly.

    Truth only has one version. Lies are multifaceted like diamonds and as such simply coal in disguise.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • BG

      @ Maggie

      " if he is reading this that ought to make him just a tad nervous because of course, we are absolutely right and declare it openly."

      Exactly what are you "openly declaring?"

      Pssst.... Colbert - better check under your car.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • ma5t3r



      April 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Juliett

      The only reason he "wouldn't be accepted" as you so high-and-mightily put it, is because unlike "you people" his answer to everything he doesn't like isn't death threats and killing. Just look at the girl of your twisted faith that is in the beauty pageant, what are "you people" doing to her? Massive death threats for being proud of her own beauty! And you want to constantly blame the West for all of the problems in your own countries that your fanaticism has brought on to yourselves, when your precious beliefs attempts to solve all your problems by death threats and killing? I say the civilized Western world and it's people should simply get out of your countries and let you kill each other off.

      April 18, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Ahjii

      Maggie, the last time I checked the Arabs did not have a patent on the words peace, submission, or even surredering to the Will of God. Just because it is spoken in Arabic does not change the literal meaning of any of the words. With that being spoken all symoblise only what can be understood within the individual. If that individual understands those words within the very fiber of his/her being and walks this in his/her life then that is what they are, and Gods Knows better than any of us. Just because a person says this is who they are or what they represent means jack for if they contridict this in their actions then they are hyocrites. Indeed, there are hypocrite Muslims who claim to be Muslims but very actions even contridict the criterion of the Qur'an itself. There are also Muslim who conceal and reject the truth though they know it.

      Semantics increases some of us in wisdom and leaves others of us groping in the darkness of ignorance.

      April 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  18. bronzeladdy

    Cat Stevens believes in stoning. He supports immoral sharia law. He's crap.
    End of story.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ahjii

      Lol, if what you speak is true bronzelady I would have to agree Cat Stevens would not be a good PR for the true Universal System of Life (Al-Islam). Stoning is not even in the Qur'an nor anything about Sharia (man-made) Law, the sunna spoken of within it's pages is Gods. All of this spoken from me, a Muslim in the true sense of the word (one who surrenders "only" to the Will of God). Peace

      April 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  19. answer

    Dave Chapelle is a Muslim. Islam already has its Steven Colbert.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  20. Adelina

    I think Mr. Colbert has been joking all along. I wonder what religion he would claim if all organized religions get persecuted by filthy atheists in America.

    April 16, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • asrael

      Ah. the term "filthy atheists" has such a smugly self-righteous tone; thanks for the temperate demonstration...

      April 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Adelina

      @Asrael: I should have written "hedonistic" instead of "filthy." Communists were/are not immoral like atheists in the West.

      April 17, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Sarah

      I have been an atheist my entire life, I was raised by atheists by the way. Currently I work three jobs so I can support my family, I pay my taxes, I sometimes volunteer at the women's shelter downtown, I support my local community garden and I run a craft group.
      I open doors for people and try everyday to become a more fully developed human being without fear or judgement. I try and love everybody, although you have probably started off on the wrong foot with me, but that isn't necessarily a deal breaker.
      Which part of me is "filthy" exactly? I am very interested to know since you are obviously an expert on atheism.

      April 17, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Adelina

      Sarah, that anyone can do. Atheists in the West are peaceful as long as it's convenient. But when a crisis hit, you cannot manifest goodness at all. It's Christians who fight for true goodness and everyone's safety rain or shine. Typical atheists promote s e x ual perversion and infanticide in the society. And selfishness is a norm to you though you never acknowledge selfishness as selfishness.

      April 17, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Nancy

      I'm a Christian who doesn't yell at anyone, helps others as much as I can and is moderate in everything. Faithful to my husband and good to my family. Yet I have found that when someone tells me they are "a good Christian" as their first comment when they are introducing themselves, I make sure I protect my wallet! The "moral majority" is anything but moral but they are a majority. I have worked with a large number of Islamists and Buddihists. All of them have been good people and have great families.

      April 18, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Adelina

      Nancy, anyone in peace time can look good outside for a time... Those Polish peasants who slaughtered the Jews were good neighbors to them until... Real good people give up their lives in order to save others. Let's see how many of us are really good...

      April 18, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Sarah

      Adelina, If what you are saying is true (Atheists in the West are peaceful as long as it's convenient.) then why aren't the majority of people who are in prison atheists?
      I can only speak for myself and say that I am not a violent person, although I do find you to be an annoying troll-like person I certainly do not feel violent towards you and I would consider this conversation anything but convenient. I myself will hope in the future that perhaps you will be less angry and more accepting and find peace. Good luck to you!

      April 18, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Seraphim0

      I actually feel bad for you, Adelina. It's, unfortunately, not too rare to find intolerant religious people of any denomination... but people like you tend to take the cake. You spout off how you believe in goodness and such... but apparently equality and goodwill towards those who do not share your beliefs don't count toward goodness? How about not judging those who you, obviously, have no true experience with? You mention leaders among aetheists being science fiction writers? Who? Scientology? Not aetheist. Sorry. They're just... strange. They are a religion. Aetheists are not. Regardless... your own religion enspouses you not to judge and to love your neighbor. Two things you seem to be having a problem with. Would that your diety were real, he'd probably take issue with you paying lip service to his religion, yet maintaining a healthy set of jugdments and obvious hatreds.

      April 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Adelina

      Sarah, the religious affiliation of prison population reflects that of general population, and inmates convert a lot during the seving the term. I'm not angry. Don't wish me a luck unless you are ready to sacrifice yourself for me like Christians do. I don't need petty American wishes which mean not a thing in itself.

      April 19, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • Adelina

      @Sera-0, There is no one who is good among humans. It's your fantasy to believe any human is ever good. Christian doctrines are more realistic than any ideology in existence regarding human nature. No cover-up or overlooking. One of the reasons I embrace Christianity. Fiction writers are anti-God scientists whom atheists blindly trust illogically. Atheism is a religion, since atheism requires more faith than average organized religions to take in. Christianity commands its adherents to judge right and wrong and bestows verdicts. I love Americans dearly, the reason I expose your own blindness because your liberalism is fatal to you.

      April 19, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Face


      April 19, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Goldenmarble

      I wouldn't let him bother you, Sarah. He's a troll - which, in essence, means he's simply slavering for a reaction of any kind. See enough of them, and they're pretty easy to spot. The most desperate amongst them will often switch gender handles as well.

      April 19, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Adelina

      @Goldenmarble: I'm a woman. I have a lot of ideas of beautiful phrases but didn't use them so that readers of my comments would know my gender as it is. Don't think everyone is a pervert like today's secular Westerners. Admit people are different.

      April 19, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • TheDevil

      Adelina my child you continue to do my bidding and for that I applaude you.

      They said that I was silly to create a religion on earth and disguise it as something good. But look at it now. My christian religions have successfully killed more people in history than any other single group. Not only that but I get the souls of those who do the killing so I win on both counts.

      And you should have seen the faces of my friends when I created islam. We all knew they would clash with the christians and kill each other, but little did I realise that they would do so for thousands of years....it was quite simply brilliant.

      And then I had my best idea yet.....seeding the world with people like you. People who think they are doing gods work, but in reality are merely spreading my word.

      Keep up the good work.

      April 25, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • TheOneTrueGod

      Seeing as you have brought it up here you are forgetting your promise to me. Shouldn't you have implimented the destruction of the human race by now? I want my planet back with the original animals but no humans....that was the deal and you are already overdue on delivering your armageddon.

      These games you are playing are simply too slow, just destroy them already. The damn things are killing my animals, and look what they have done to my beautiful rainforests!!!

      When you said you just wanted to run a little experiments I didn't expect you were going to crap on my planet with those annoying bipeds.

      Hurry up and end it!!!

      April 25, 2011 at 2:32 am |
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