It’s not that there isn’t a problem with religious violence in the name of Islam. In Qatar, a “Doha Debate” revealed that Muslims believe they need to do more to combat extremism within Islam. And it’s not that there is a lack of knowledge about Islam--though there is probably more misinformation about Islam than any other world religion. The problem is with what people do with this knowledge.
Maher, and others like him, take what knowledge they have and make it prescriptive. That is, if the Quran says it, then all Muslims must believe it or do it. This simply isn’t how religion works.
Religions are communities of interpretation where culture shapes our understanding of what faith inspires and requires of us. As Reza Aslan said in response to Maher, “It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures.” (We must acknowledge that people from within some faith traditions do not necessarily view it this way.)
The fact is that we will not know what values Muslims, Christians, Hindus, or those of any religion, hold until we get to know them. Until we allow people to speak for themselves, rather than prescribing what we think they must believe, our misunderstandings will persist.
It is not enough to listen to one voice. One can never represent all. There are many ways to embrace and embody the religions of the world. So in the end, if one wants to understand Islam, put down the Quran and go meet Muslims.