Which Is the Best Solution to Islamo-Fascism: Reform or Apostasy?

January 29, 2008

As I see it, there are three main options for peace- and freedom-minded Muslims to respond to Islamo-Fascism: to ignore or deny it and hope it goes away; to reform Islam into a personal religion with no political component; or to leave Islam. Since ignoring the problem is so obviously doomed to failure, I’ll focus on reform vs. apostasy. Ultimately, this choice is up to Muslims; non-Muslims have choices of their own for responding to Islamo-Fascism. However, non-Muslims can have an opinion on the subject, especially since Islamo-Fascism infringes upon non-Muslim rights. The ideal would be to eliminate Islamo-Fascism in whatever way is most effective both in the short-term and long-term, while minimizing violence.

On the plus side for reform: if a version of Islam were developed with a compelling, comprehensive rejection of all fascist ideologies, it’s possible it could be easier to get large numbers of Muslims to join such a reform rather than to leave Islam altogether. It may be more comfortable for them to preserve the familiarity of the mosques, prayer rugs, five pillars, etc. However, on the minus side, it is difficult to believe the fascist tendencies of Islam could be altogether removed in such a way that they couldn’t come right back at any time. So, it’s possible that reform would result in Islamic Jihad and Islamic Supremacy going dormant, rather than disappearing forever. This could give the non-Muslim world a false sense of security, and it might even speed up conversions to Islam, which would then come back to haunt us at such time in the future that Islamo-Fascism reawakens.

At first glance, the idea of an apostasy movement may be tougher for large numbers of Muslims to get on board with. However, since any meaningful reform of Islam is tantamount to apostasy, according to orthodox Islam, perhaps a complete apostasy wouldn’t really be that much harder. Apostasy also seems like a more permanent solution, in that changing religious identity to a different religion creates something of a “firewall” between the ex-Muslim and Islamo-Fascism. It also seems like it would be more durable from one generation to the next. Some liberal Muslim parents have been appalled that their children became radicalized Muslims; that scenario would be less likely with ex-Muslim parents. However, if the apostasy movement does not gain some serious momentum, those advantages will not be enough to avert an unpleasant future.

Why not both?

I find that many people who write about Islamo-Fascism choose one solution or the other to support (and some are quite hard-line about it). However, I don’t see reform and apostasy as mutually exclusive. At this point, I think it’s useful for reformers, apostates, and non-Muslims to all work toward solutions, even different solutions, with the common goal of freeing the world from Islamo-Fascism. A reform movement and apostasy movement might even complement each other: if people are leaving Islam in significant numbers, this loss of “market share” could make orthodox Muslims more open to reform. If Muslims are becoming less orthodox, it could make it easier for them to leave the religion altogether. Both solutions are about introducing freedom of conscience to the Muslim world. And, both solutions benefit from well-reasoned criticism of Islamo-Fascist doctrines, which is where non-Muslims could be doing more to help.

Neither apostasy nor reform has much of a track record of working against Islamo-Fascism. However, we are in a new era which may change the rules in favor of peace and freedom, if we take advantage of the opportunity. With the help of the Internet and modern standards of individual rights and freedoms, maybe one or both will be successful this time.

Because both reformers and outspoken apostates are in considerable danger, it seems that either solution is greatly helped by the ability to speak freely and anonymously over the internet, which we have at least for now. This is an opportunity that has never before been available to a reform or apostasy movement of Islam. However, some people are trying very hard to end this opportunity. Whatever we do, let’s not allow this window of opportunity to close.


Is an Apostasy Movement a Viable Option against Islamo-Fascism?

January 28, 2008

There are enormous obstacles to apostasy (leaving the religion) in Islam. Some ex-Muslims say that in retrospect, their indoctrination into Islam was so intense, leaving it was akin to leaving a cult. This is not intended as a gratuitous insult; there are very real parallels between Islam and cults explained here, and these parallels are highly relevant to the subject of apostasy.

Punishments in this life:

As previously discussed, apostates may live in fear of being killed; some live with constant death threats. Those who are not killed may be treated as a sub-human by Muslims. They may be shunned by the Muslim community, which is a problem if all their family and friends are Muslim, and if there are no employment options with non-Muslims in their area. They may not inherit property from Muslim family members.

Punishments in the next:

Although the punishments for apostasy in this life are draconian, some say the threats of punishment in the afterlife are enough to give a Muslim a full-fledged phobia of even considering leaving Islam.

Former Jihadist turned reformer Tawfiq Hamid has assembled a list of Quran verses that describe punishment in the afterlife in Appendix A of his article, The Development of a Jihadi’s Mind. This is Hamid’s translation (I have compared it with some standard translations and find the meaning to be comparable, yet there are some differences. If you wish to compare for yourself, click the links following each verse):

  • “[…]For those who do not follow Allah garments of fire shall be cut out for them (in the life to come); burning water will be poured over their heads causing all that is within their bodies, as well as the skins, to melt away. And they shall be held by iron grips; and every time they try in their anguish to come out of it, they shall be returned there to and (be told): “Taste suffering through fire (to the full)!” Quran 22:19-22
  • “But those of the left hand (did not obey Allah and Mohammed or follow them)—how unhappy those of the left hand. They will be in the scorching hot wind and boiling water, under the shadow of thick black smoke, neither cool nor agreeable. …They will be gathered together on a certain day which is predetermined. Then you, the erring and the deniers will eat Zaqum (a thorny tree), fill your bellies with it, and drink scalding water, lapping it up like female camels raging of thirst and disease. Such will be their entertainment, their welcome on the Day of Doom … the welcome of boiling water and the entertainment of roasting in Hell. This is the ultimate truth.” Quran 56:41-57
  • “For We have truly made it as a trial to torment the disbelievers. Zaqumis a horrible thorn tree that grows in Hell. The shoots of its fruit-stalks are like the heads of devils. Truly they (the non-Muslims) will eat it and fill their bellies with it. On top of that they will be given a mixture made of boiling water to drink especially prepared. Then they shall be returned to the Blazing Fire.” Quran 37:63-68
  • “Soon will I fling them into the burning Hell Fire! And what will explain what Hell Fire is? It permits nothing to endure, and nothing does it spare! It darkens and changes the color of man, burning the skin! It shrivels and scorches men.” Quran 74:26-29
  • “We have prepared the doom of Hell and the penalty of torment in the most intense Blazing Fire. For those who reject their Lord is the punishment of Hell: Evil, it is such a wretched destination. When they are flung therein, they will hear the terrible drawing in of their breath and loud moaning even as the flame blazes forth, roaring with rage as it boils up, bursting with fury. Every time a fresh crowd is cast in, Hell’s wardens will ask, ‘Did no Warner come to you?” Quran 67:6-8
  • “‘This,’ it will be said, ‘is the Fire, which you used to deny! Is this magic fake? Burn therein, endure the heat; taste it. It’s the same whether you bear it patiently, or not. This is My retaliation for what you did.” Quran 52:14-16
  • “[…]Those who shall dwell forever in the Fire are given to drink boiling water that tears their bowels to pieces, and cutting their intestines to shreds.” Quran 47:15

To non-Muslims, these verses may just sound like a bad horror flick, but remember, most Muslims really believe this stuff. In addition to the graphic quality of certain verses, this torturous punishment is also an extremely pervasive theme of the Quran. A search reveals that 644 of the 6236 verses contain the words “doom”, “punishment”, “hell” and/or “fire”. Flipping through them, it appears that not all but most of the 644 are referring to the afterlife. Also, there are verses which specifically mention how despicable apostates are (2:217, 4:89).

Naturally, we can also count on the Hadith to supply even more examples of a painful afterlife, such as corpses being tortured in the grave. Although threats for punishment in the next life are found in other religions as well, these are arguably more graphic, ominous, and pervasive than those found in other holy books. Fear appears to be a major factor in preventing Muslims from leaving Islam.

Other obstacles

In addition to fear, there are other obstacles, as well. Muslims are conditioned to have an aversion to non-Muslims, taught that they are “unclean”, “cursed by Allah”, and so forth. Muslims are taught to avoid friendships with non-Muslims. Muslims are taught to reject any information that contradicts Islam without even considering it. Muslims are encouraged to sacrifice their own desires and, indeed, their individual identity, for the sake of Islam. (In each case above, by “Muslims” I mean “many if not most Muslims”.)

Apostates are already in danger just for leaving their faith, but the danger factor looms even larger for those who have a mission of bringing more Muslims with them into the world of apostasy. Many apostates do not even tell their friends and family they have left Islam, but communicate anonymously over the internet, instead. The non-Muslim world owes a huge debt of gratitude to these heros.

Political correctness is another obstacle, coming from non-Muslims, of all places. It could be considered politically incorrect to even examine the possibility of an apostasy movement. However, if it is acceptable for members of religions to express what they believe and try to convince others to join them, why would it not be acceptable for apostates to do the same, especially when the apostates’ beliefs could be an antidote for Islamo-Fascism?

Can these obstacles be overcome?

A growing number of people are indeed overcoming these obstacles, and are helping others to do so. If enough people leave Islam, the problematic Islamic doctrines go away.

Muslims may view apostasy as turning their backs on their heritage, but it could also be reclaiming a pre-Islamic heritage that had been taken from them. Based on what we know about Islamic conquest, it is likely that most Muslims today have one or more ancestors who suffered at the hands of the Islamic warriors.

Imagine the plight of Muslims’ pre-Islamic ancestors. They may have been killed outright, their children sold into slavery. They may have been given the two choices of conversion or death, or more commonly the three choices of conversion, dhimmitude (severe underclass status), or death. They may have been women who, as prisoners of war, found their prior marriages instantly dissolved, and found that their captors could legally have sex with them (legal rape). They may have been born as a dhimmi, and then found themselves unable to pay the jizya tax, and thus forced to convert to Islam. They may have sacrificed their own conscience so that they and their progeny could at least survive, because with survival there’s still hope. Depending on their circumstances, they may or may not have been aware that all their descendants would be required to be unquestioningly Muslim, and even be taught to hate their ancestors from the “jahiliyya” (pre-Islamic age of ignorance).

Of course, we all have ancestors who were barbarous murderers and rapists or victims thereof, if we go back far enough. The difference is that we do not all support the belief system that caused this barbarity. Muslims who support the ideologies of Jihad and Sharia do so, even if unwittingly.

To gain a sense of their roots, some apostates investigate their ancestors’ religion, which may or may not appeal to them. But even if it doesn’t, exercising freedom of conscience and choosing ones own religion can be a way of honoring ancestors who were not allowed that choice.

Can an apostasy movement succeed? The obstacles are huge, but anything is possible. Today’s Islamic apostasy movement uses non-violent means of disproving tenets of Islam, with the hope of minimizing the violence and oppression that seem inevitable if Islamo-Fascism were to continue on its present course. Let’s hope they succeed. The non-Muslim world should be supporting the apostasy movement big time.


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part VII: Conclusions

January 25, 2008

This is the final installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

There may be additional challenges I haven’t listed here. Despite the extreme challenges, there are some individuals and groups out there trying to reform Islam. Every person who tries to advance a meaningful reform of Islam is risking his life to do so, and I consider each one a hero, whether I fully agree with his approach or not. I can only hope that, if I had been born Muslim, I would act as honorably as these people do. I will again give special mention to the monumental endeavor made by Muslims Against Sharia. They are going the farthest of any Muslim reform group I’m aware of to abolish the fascist doctrines. Even so, it is not at all guaranteed that they will succeed, but at least they are making an honest effort. Unexpected things can happen, and sometimes unexpected good things do, especially when the alternative is grim. I wish them well.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part VI: Muslim Culture

January 25, 2008

This is the sixth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Muslim Culture. Besides the religious doctrines, Islam also has a culture which has been influenced by those doctrines, but is really a separate item, with several components. For example, Islam is an honor/shame-based culture, meaning that having a good image is of primary importance. This makes it difficult to admit to problems. In addition, honesty is not an absolute virtue in Islam; there are various exceptions to the rule. The combination of an honor/shame orientation and excuses for dishonesty creates a strong tendency to blame others for problems, which we often see in practice today. Blaming others for problems created by self is a sure way NOT to solve the problems.

Also, it is psychologically difficult for Muslims to accept a “demotion” from being superior (according to Islamic law and tradition) to being no better than the low-class dhimmis or the unclean kafirs. And, many Muslims strongly identify with Islam, making it more difficult for individuals to change their beliefs.

In addition to the purely psychological factors, there’s also real danger: Sharia’s draconian punishment for apostasy has also created a culture that is dangerous to reformers, as orthodox Muslims can label any attempt at reform as being an act of apostasy, carrying the penalty of death.

How to overcome this challenge:

This is a tough set of issues, but it must be addressed. As long as Muslims cling to the idea that Islam is the world’s most perfect religion, and that all the world’s problems result from Jewish conspiracies, Western imperialism, and whatnot, nothing will change.

First, honor and shame can be redefined. “Real honor comes from admitting ones own faults.” “People who blame others for their own faults should be ashamed of themselves.” This message would be more effective coming from Muslims, and there are a few who do put out messages along these lines. We need to support them. Let’s not expect immediate results, but a sustained effort could eventually make a difference. When Muslims blame others for problems that are obviously their own responsibility, the rest of the world should not buy into it.

In addition, the Muslims’ extreme aversion to shame can be utilized by criticizing the problems within Islam and expressing outrage at barbaric Islamic practices every chance we get. If they really get the message that others see Islam’s fascist doctrines as shameful, and honor is heaped upon those who are sincerely trying to reform those doctrines, we could start to see some real change.

This isn’t about using a “gimmick”, it’s just telling the truth. The truth really could set us free, if only we were willing to tell it. This is the opposite from what the PC crowd says would be effective, but for the past thousand years the Islamic world has gotten by with little or no challenge, and what has that yielded? Stagnation and misery. If we really care about Muslims, we’ll give them what they most need: a good dose of honesty. It’s painful, but it’s about the only thing that has a chance of helping them. The serious reformers, by and large, know this already, and they’re the ones we should be allying ourselves with.

Shame can also be utilized to make it easier for Muslims to accept the “demotion” from superiority to equality with others. We need to condemn supremacist doctrines, including Islamic supremacy, as shameful.

Shame is one thing that does actually have a track record for bringing about change in the Muslim world. There have been various examples of <a href=”http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/019017.php”<atrocities averted due to criticism from the West. Since we know shame works, and there’s so little that does, it would be foolish not to use it.

Note to PC crowd: Criticizing fascist doctrines of Islam (Jihad and Sharia) is not hate. If we hated Muslims, we’d allow these doctrines to grow unchallenged until the only possible effective response is a military one. I don’t believe we’re there yet, but the PC mentality is allowing us to drift closer to it. The first victims of Islamo-Fascism are Muslims; if we care about them, we’ll do what it takes to spare them from it.

Of course, we can expect a violent response to truthful messages, because Muslims have found violence very effective for getting their way. Think of a two year old. If they throw a tantrum and get what they want, what will happen next time? A responsible parent has to ride out the tantrum, lovingly yet firmly. Otherwise the two year old will soon be running the household, which is what we are already on a slippery slope toward. Many people believe Western culture will inevitably prevail because it is more sophisticated, forgetting the power of a two year old. We’ll have the fewest tantrums–er, the least violence–in the long run if we don’t reward it.

Making a distinction between Islamic doctrines and Muslim individuals is also useful. Muslims in general identify so strongly with Islam that they may not hear this message for a long time, but eventually it may sink in. Muslims will not be able to conceive of changing Islam until they develop their own identity, separate from Islam.

As for the danger factor, as with so many of these challenges, there’s no easy solution. However, at the very least, we who live in the relative safety of the West should be handing microphones to the brave Muslims and ex-Muslims who are willing to risk their necks to call for an Islamic reformation, rather than lavishing our attention on those who merely defend the status quo. If we even understood the danger factor better, perhaps we’d be more willing to lift a finger to amplify the effect of those few who are undeterred by death threats.

Part VII of this series will offer conclusions.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part V: Historical Evidence

January 24, 2008

This is the fifth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Historical Evidence. To be brief, Islam’s 1400 years of history is riddled with conquest and subjugation [1]. I’ll focus on the earliest history, because Muslims generally believe Mohammed and those who heard his message in person understood Islam the best. If we accept early Muslim sources, we know that Mohammed and his earliest followers conquered everything they could get their hands on, creating a huge empire within one hundred years of Mohammed’s death. If the message of Islam were peaceful, why the rush to conquer the world? To be believed, any reformed Islam would have to be compatible with known history.

What can overcome this challenge?

Frankly, I don’t know. Some apologists put out revisionist histories in which Islam spread peacefully because people far and wide instantly recognized the “truth of Islam,” but it’s hard to put a lot of faith in a deception. In addition, it would dishonor the memory of the conquered peoples to claim they embraced Islam willingly. Ancient peoples lost their lives, religions, and cultures, either quickly or excruciatingly slowly through the pressures of dhimmitude; it would be a further disgrace for them to lose their place in our memory as well. And there’s the old adage: those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

So, what do we say? Mohammed and his earliest followers all misunderstood Islam? Both Mohammed and his early followers were not only human, subject to error, but actually barbarians, subject to gross error? This would beg the question: why would any compassionate god choose Mohammed to be his final messenger? I don’t know, you tell me.

Ideally, a solution would be consistent with the truth (based on the best information we have available), and provide a foundation for a non-militant, apolitical Islam. That’s a tall order.

There is one possibility that I can see, though it may be a long shot. If we regard all the early Muslim sources sceptically, and look instead at the small amount of evidence available from non-Muslim sources, that evidence appears to cast doubt on virtually all of the Muslim version of their early history. This could then be used to challenge the doctrines of Jihad and Islamic supremacy that were formed in early Muslim history.

There is a “lack of evidence, outside the Muslim literature, for the view that the Arabs were Muslim at the time of the Conquest.” [2] The earliest mention of the Quran in a non-Muslim source is from the 8th century, not the 7th century when it originated according to Muslim sources [3]. This is a big problem for the traditional Muslim version of events, because Mohammed supposedly mandated that no one was to be conquered until after they were invited to embrace Islam. Even if the conquered peoples did not fully understand Islam, they would have noticed if they’d received a message saying “embrace Islam and you’ll be safe”, and subsequently they were sacked. This would not be difficult to understand. If this were the case, it is virtually inconceivable that word of this would not get out to areas that had not yet been conquered. The Byzantines, for example, would have been very interested in such information.

According to the Quran, the qibla (direction of worship) was changed from Jerusalem to the sacred Mosque in Mecca during the Messenger’s lifetime (2:142-150). However, archeological evidence shows that mosques built after Mohammed’s life were pointed toward Jerusalem, suggesting the qibla was moved much later than the Quran indicates [4]. In addition, there’s no mention of Mecca in non-Muslim sources of that time period Mohammed allegedly lived there. If Mecca were truly a thriving trading hub as described by Muslim sources, the Greeks or Romans would have mentioned Mecca in their records of trade. Also, Mecca is located in a most inhospitable place, miles away from the natural trade route. Together, this evidence in itself casts doubt on not only the integrity of the Quran as Allah’s word, but also on the entire history of the foundation of Islam.

According to Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren, the Arabs were most likely pagans when they began their conquest. Wansbrough believed the Arabs gradually formed Islam after making contact with Rabbinical Judaism outside of Central Arabia [5]; certain Islamic themes are similar to those of the Samaritans (of central Palestine) [6]. Michael Cook and Patricia Crone have stated it’s possible the Quran was thrown together from various sources after the early Arab conquests [7]. Lammens believes the entire biography of Mohammed was created to explain the Quran [8], and Wansbrough believes they went to some lengths to give Islam an Arabic identity, distinct from Judaism [9]. According to Schacht, none of the traditions used to support legal doctrines could be taken as authentic [10].

Some have said they have trouble believing any type of sweeping revision of Islamic history, just because the early Muslims would not have fabricated Mohammed with such a disagreeable character. However, I have another explanation for that. What is disagreeable to us may have been considered admirable by those who wrote the story. To the victors of the Arab conquests, whoever they were, savage ruthlessness could have been a virtue. Having many wives and marrying a child could have been evidence of virility and manliness. They may have seen nothing wrong with torture, raiding caravans, trading in slaves, and raping female captives. It is to us, informed by Judeo-Christian values and the norms of modernity, that this is all quite disgusting. In addition, if the story was written when there was a large empire to keep in line, the rulers could have wanted to justify ruthlessness and savagery for their own purpose: keeping their subjects “subdued” with fear. [Note: All links in this paragraph reference early Muslim sources, or a page which links to early Muslim sources.]

The one exception which I cannot explain in this way is the sorry episode of the Satanic verses, in which Mohammed claimed to have been deceived by Satan (according to early Muslim sources). This episode could have been fabricated to justify the corresponding verses in the Quran (22:52-53, 17:73-75), but how did those verses get in there?

I do not know whether any of the revisionist researchers are correct, but it does seem to be an avenue worth exploring. If even one of these theories is shown to be the best explanation of the evidence, it would provide more than enough basis for Muslim reformers to challenge the authenticity of the ideologies of Jihad and Sharia. The challenge then would be to preserve a viable religion that is harmless yet bears some resemblance to Islam. Middle East expert Daniel Pipes believes Islam can survive these types of scholarly challenges, just as Christianity and Judiasm did, and maybe he’s right.

Part VI of this series will examine Muslim culture.

[1] Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2007); Andrew G. Bostom, MD, ed. The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005)

[2] “Methodological Approaches to Islamic Studies” in Ibn Warraq, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, p. 425 (referencing work by Yehuda D. Nevo and Judith Koren)

[3] Ibn Warraq, ed. The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998) pg. 354

[4]Ibid, pg. 32

[5] Ibid, pg. 24

[6] Ibid, pg. 31

[7] Ibid, pgs. 26-27, 32

[8] Ibid, pg. 19

[9] Ibid, pgs. 25, 357

[10] Ibid, pg. 23

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part IV: Sharia

January 23, 2008

This is the fourth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Sharia. Islamic Law, or Sharia, is recorded in various legal manuals. Sharia is based on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma (consensus of previous Islamic legal scholars, considered to be infallible). The problems with Sharia are obvious from the examples here.

How to overcome this challenge:

Sharia depends on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma. Parts of Sharia, such as the Jizya tax and Jihad fighting, are explicitly called for in the Quran. Just as the Quran is more challenging to reform than the Hadith and Sira, aspects of Sharia based on the Quran are more difficult to deal with than the others.

However, the concept of the infallibility of ijma appears to have scant support from the Quran. Cited in Reliance of the Traveller (pgs. 24-25), there’s a verse which tells believers to obey “those in authority” among them (4:59), and another which threatens believers who do not follow “the believer’s way” (4:115). Then there are some supportive Hadith, which say things like “when the believers are in agreement, they cannot be wrong” and so forth.

Unless there is more support for ijma than what’s listed in this legal manual, it would not have to be difficult to reinterpret this in a credible fashion (at least, in comparison to the difficulties faced with the other challenges). There is a long tradition of ijma, it is highly influential to this day, but its foundation appears to be pretty weak. “Those in authority” could be secular leaders, “the believer’s way” could be reinterpreted any number of ways, and “when the believers are in agreement” could be reinterpreted more literally as a consensus of every single believer, rather than a consensus of a few scholars in the distant past. With “ijma” redefined, all the rulings of the four schools of Sharia could be reevaluated. (Ultimately, it seems the best thing would be to abolish Sharia altogether, but this could be one step in that direction.)

It would also not be difficult to make the case that none of the Hadith are sufficiently reliable to be used as a basis for law. Joseph Schacht, a great Islamicist, found evidence that “[d]etails from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines.” [Quote from The Origins of the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq, page 23.] Schacht also found that for the most part, Sharia was not derived from the Quran.

Another piece of “good news” is that the death penalty for apostasy is never explicitly given in the Quran, but is hinted at there, with more substantiation from the Hadith, and “locked in” by ijma. This does not mean this death penalty would be easy to get rid of in practice, because the tradition is deeply in-grained. Still, any good news, however small, is worth noting. Reforming this one aspect of Islam, if achievable on a large scale, could make a huge difference. Some Muslims make a good case that the death penalty for apostates is “un-Islamic” in theory, although so far as I know, significant numbers of clerics have not gotten on that bandwagon. While cheering on the reformers, it is important for us non-Muslims in the west to be realistic about the current state of things, as well.

Part V of this series will examine historical evidence of Arab conquest.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part III: The Sira

January 20, 2008

This is the third installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: The Sira. “Sira” means “life” or “journey”, and the Sira are biographies of Mohammed. Like the Hadith, these are also based on oral traditions, but the Sira are different in that they are written as a continuous narrative, with events placed in sequence. The first and most important biography, Sirat Rasul Allah, was written by Ibn Ishaq just over a century after Mohammed’s death, well before the first Hadith collection. This makes it arguably the most reliable Muslim version of events, as written traditions are more durable than oral ones. No original manuscript of Ibn Ishaq’s Surat exists today, but Ibn Hisham’s edited version remains. Ibn Hisham said in his introduction, “I have omitted things which are disgraceful to discuss and matters which would distress certain people.” It’s amazing to read the whitewashed version, and wonder what could have been left out (a condensed translation is available here). Another biographer, al-Tabari, quoted extensively from Ishaq’s original manuscript in his 40-volume History, and he included some material that Ibn Hisham omitted.

There are many passages in the Sira which are problematic. Here are just a few:

Genocide: “The apostle of Allah imprisoned the Qurayza [a Jewish tribe] in Medina while trenches were dug in the market-place. Then he sent for the men and had their heads struck off so that they fell in the trenches. They were brought out in groups…. In number, they amounted to six or seven hundred, although some state it to have been eight or nine hundred. All were executed.” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 18)

Child marriage: “Since the death of Khadija, he had acquired seven wives, foremost among whom was the daughter of Abu Bakr, Aisha. She had been married to the apostle at the age of ten….” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 15) Note: Some Hadith say she was 9 when her marriage with Mohammed was consummated.

Slavery: “Now the apostle distributed the property of the Banu Qurayza, as well as their women and children, to the Muslims, reserving one-fifth for himself. Every horseman received three shares, one for himself and two for his steed, and every foot soldier one share. There were thirty-six horses present on the day of the Qurayza. The apostle dispatched an emissary to Najd with the prisoners, to barter them as slaves in exchange for horses and camels.” (Sirat Rasul Allah, Chapter 18)

How to overcome this challenge:

The same types of problems exist in the Sira as in the Hadith (see Part II), and the same types of solutions could be attempted. Scholars Caetani, Lammens and others have cast extreme doubt on the reliability of Mohammed’s entire biography.

Part IV of this series will examine Sharia.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview