Ground Rules for the Religious Pluralism Club

June 26, 2008

On a regular basis of late, Muslim spokespeople have called for “interfaith dialog”. They evidently want Islam to be viewed as a mainstream religion in a pluralistic world. This fits with a general desire for Islam to be respected by non-Muslims. It’s true that mutual respect is a desirable thing; however, for this to happen, I think it’s important for religious leaders to establish ground rules. Every community needs ground rules so that members can get along with each other, and a pluralistic community of religions is no exception. Here are five simple rules I would propose, based on fairness, which I believe are reasonable prerequisites for joining the club of religious pluralism:

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #1: Anyone Can Leave Any Religion

Oops, it appears that Islam is starting off on the wrong foot by breaking one of the very most important ground rules for fairness amongst religions. According to Sharia, the punishment for leaving Islam is death for men, and either death or life in prison for women (depending on the school of Sharia). Although few Muslim countries today enforce this punishment, vigilante enforcement is such that apostates from Islam fear for their lives, even in the United states. As long as this is the case, Islam is a religion that people can enter but cannot leave without risk. Why should other religions accept Islam when Islam traps its believers, including converts from other faiths, like flies on flypaper?

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #2: Anyone Can Promote Their Religious Beliefs to Anyone Else

Unfortunately, things don’t get any better for Islam here. It naturally follows that if Muslims are not allowed to leave Islam, non-Muslims are not allowed to do anything which might persuade Muslims to leave Islam. Christian missionaries throughout the Muslim world face persecution. In “moderate” Turkey, missionaries are sometimes arrested or deported, even though missionary activity is ostensibly legal. Niyazi Guney, Turkish Ministry of Justice director general of laws, has commented that “Missionaries are more dangerous than terror organizations.” Even in the West, police have been known to support Sharia rules banning non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims though there is no legal basis for it. For example, in Britain, a constable told two preachers they couldn’t preach in a Muslim area. In the US, a Christian preacher at UC Irvine was assaulted by Muslim students, while campus police did nothing.

Even simple religious expression that falls far short of missionary work is banned for non-Muslims under Sharia. Displaying religious symbols and building new places of worship, for example, are forbidden for non-Muslims.

Meanwhile, under Sharia, Muslims are free to promote their faith to non-Muslims all they want, as well as building mosques and displaying Muslim religious symbols, which clearly violates the fairness principle.

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #3: Anyone Can Criticize Any Religion

Hmmm…. Islam just gets further in the hole with this one. As noted by Robert Spencer in this must-read article, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is making a concerted effort, and a successful one, toward shutting down all criticism of Islam. Add to this the efforts of organizations such as CAIR, the MSA, and the MSU, to name a few, and it’s easy to spot a trend.

I would also note that mainstream, traditional interpretations of the Quran are severely critical of non-Islamic faiths, including polytheism, Christianity, and Judaism. In addition, any religion with a prophet after Mohammed is widely regarded by Muslims as blasphemous, based on mainstream interpretations of Quran 33:40. How can it be wrong for Islam to be criticized, when Islam’s holy book defames non-Islamic religions? So long as Islam keeps the Quran (and traditional interpretations thereof), fairness dictates that criticism of Islam must be allowed.

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #4: Religions May Not Impose Their Rules by Force of Theocracy

In the past, Christianity was a misbehaver on this one, but this is the twenty first century. No major religion today other than Islam has a political agenda to rule the world. The rules of Sharia are incompatible with the US Constitution and basic norms of individual rights and freedoms in the West. Sharia includes laws which explicitly discriminate against other religions, such as valuing the legal testimony of a non-Muslims as half that of a Muslim. The barbaric punishments prescribed for certain crimes also comes off as unfriendly. Is it any wonder, then, that representatives of Islam have trouble gaining respect from non-Muslims?

Religious Pluralism Ground Rule #5: Religions May Not Support Holy War

Yes, it seems people get really annoyed when they or their loved ones are killed for being infidels. That’s just not a good way to get along with others–it makes people testy. Of course, the majority of Muslims have no interest in participating in Jihad warfare. However, Jihad warfare remains, to this day, very much a part of Islamic theology. Where are the mainstream Muslim organizations who denounce Jihad warfare under any circumstances and refute the theological justification for Jihad warfare on Islamic grounds? There do not appear to be any at all. Support for Jihad warfare amongst everyday Muslims remains uncomfortably high, as well.


Only Islam violates all five of these rules for respectful relations with others. Although there are individual Muslims who do want to follow these ground rules, they are not the ones who are “driving the bus” of Islam. Those who call for religious dialog can start by challenging the Muslim world to follow the same general ground rules that other religions today generally follow.

Archbishop of Sharia’s Errors

February 11, 2008

Recently, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams stated that adopting certain aspects of Sharia in the UK “seems unavoidable”. Many bishops, as well as the British Prime Minister, have rejected Dr. Williams’ statements. Here are his errors. All quotes and paraphrased statements of the Archbishop come from the BBC unless otherwise specified.

Error 1: Adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. On the contrary, having one law for all is what maintains social cohesion. Having a cohesive group means there are terms which define that group, which necessarily defines who or what is not allowed in that group. For everyone to follow the same law is one way a society defines itself. A case in point is the new polygamy ruling, which can allow a Muslim man to claim welfare benefits in Britain for multiple wives. This is sure to cause greater disharmony between the Muslim polygamists and the taxpayer.

Error 2: Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”. Why not? If loyalty to the Mafia conflicts with loyalty to the state, should we change our laws to make the Mafia legal? This is an error because, first of all, if a cultural practice conflicts with state loyalty in a glaring fashion, that practice should be excluded from the state. To say that all cultural norms must be accepted opens the door to legalized cannibalism, slavery, and burning widows on the funeral pyre of her husband. All of those behaviors are acceptable in some cultures, even today. Those practices are from non-Muslim cultures, but Muslim cultures practice such things as killing apostates, stoning adulteresses to death, and child brides. Any Muslims who are unwilling to follow the laws of a Western state should move somewhere that has laws more to their liking.

In addition, Sharia is not about individual choice. It’s about using the force of government to impose restrictions. In a free society, individuals can already choose loyalty to their culture to the extent that they are not infringing on others’ rights. For example, without Sharia, women can generally wear a headscarf, but Sharia can allow the elite to force all Muslim women (and, ultimately, non-Muslim women as well) to wear headscarfs. Dr. Williams’ understanding of Sharia seems, unfortunately, to be limited to the deceptive rendering of it by seemingly friendly Islamists like the truth-challenged Tariq Ramadan, whom Dr. Williams quotes.

What’s more, some Muslims have immigrated to the West in order to get away from Sharia. Others have grown up with Western freedoms and have no wish for Sharia to be imposed on them. Why would we choose to appease those who want to oppress the modern Muslim? Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, for example, says that “What Rowan Williams wishes upon us is an abomination.” Under Sharia, she could be punished for merely expressing that view.

Error 3: “Sensational reporting of opinion polls” are clouding the issue. I can only guess he’s referring to surveys such as the one done by Policy Exchange, which found that 36 per cent of Muslims in Britain between the ages of 16 and 24 believe apostates should be killed. This appears to be an example of willful ignorance on the part of the Archbishop. He gives no evidence that such polls are inaccurate, yet he thinks we should ignore their findings. If anything, I think it’s likely survey numbers underestimate such beliefs among Muslims, some of whom might not admit beliefs the pollsters would find reprehensible. It is known that people sometimes lie to tell pollsters what they want to hear, and Islam also has a doctrine of taqiyya, which sanctions deceiving non-Muslims to advance the cause of Islam.

Error 4: “[N]obody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states.” [Note: In fairness, I cannot find any statement on the Archbishop’s transcript that equals or approximates this statement, although this general topic is discussed. So either the BBC has fabricated every word of this quote, or Dr. Williams’ published transcript does not match the actual words he spoke. With this qualifier, I’ll proceed on the basis that the BBC may have had grounds for this quote.] Here, Dr. Williams is assuming that there’s a kind, gentle Sharia and a mean, tyrannical Sharia, and that we can pick and choose the nice one. However, there is no evidence this is so. There is no major school of Sharia that says it’s fine to pick and choose the rules we like; every law in Sharia is considered to be Allah’s law. Legitimizing Sharia as a source of law opens the door for the whole thing.

In this statement, he also appears to be assuming that virtually all Muslims in the UK are “in their right mind”, as defined by his values. However, it is a fact that many Muslims lobby for rules that most Westerners would consider inhumane. For example, over a third of Muslim youth in the UK support Sharia’s death penalty for apostasy (leaving Islam). Does this mean they are all not in their right mind? If so, why would there be such a high proportion of crazy people amongst Muslims?

Either orthodox Islam is a form of mental illness, or there’s another explanation: Orthodox Islam includes fascist doctrines. Some people do prefer to live in a fascist system, or they believe they should for the sake of their religion, or they are conditioned to submit to it, but none of this is compatible with a Western sense of individual rights and freedoms.

Error 5: Having one law for everybody is “a bit of a risk.” He gives as examples the idea that Catholic adoption agencies should be free to discriminate against gay parents. However, the solution to this is to allow every adoption agency to set its own standards for what parents they will serve. If the anti-discrimination law is dispensable and can be set aside in the case of Catholics, the law should be dispensed with in its entirety, otherwise non-Catholic agencies are discriminated against. One set of laws can and should serve all.

Error 6: Our experience with Orthodox Jewish courts can be applied to Sharia courts. According to Charles Moore, Jewish law is “the law of a minority that accepts the authority of the majority, non-Jewish state.” There is nothing in Sharia that accepts this authority. On the contrary, Sharia explicitly demands Islamic supremacy over non-Muslims. Historically, Muslims have seized power over non-Muslims even when they were in the minority.

Error 7: Denying he said what he said. Dr. Williams has recently denied that he was calling for Sharia to be introduced. His website states: “[Dr. Williams] explained that his core aim was to: ‘to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state’ and was using sharia as an example.” However, a reading of the full transcript of his lecture shows that he did make the points excerpted by BBC, except for the mystery statement noted in Error 4. The Archbishop does also expound at some length on some of the risks of multiple legal systems, which is not reflected in BBC’s article, but at no point does he conclude that Sharia in Britain is out of the question.

Dr. Williams is probably a very nice man who genuinely wants to reach out to Muslims in Britain. He probably does not have a motive of bringing about an Islamist agenda. However, he also appears to be woefully uneducated or miseducated about Sharia. My sense is that, sadly, his charitable feelings toward Muslims have made him easy prey for Islamists who wish to bring Sharia to the West through deception.

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 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

What is a “real Muslim”?

January 4, 2008

Who is excluded from any group helps define who is included. We can gain an insight into the orthodox meaning of a “Muslim” by taking a look at what defines a person who has left Islam, according to Islamic Law (Sharia). This is also essential for understanding the basics of Islamo-Fascism. There are Muslims who do not subscribe to the orthodox view; but substantial numbers, probably more than half of Muslims worldwide, do. I’m defining orthodox as believing the Quran was written word-for-word and letter-by-letter by Allah; believing Mohammed was a superior human worthy of emulating; believing in the authenticated Hadith (traditions) and the Sira (early biographies); and believing in the ijma (consensus) of mujtahedin (great scholars) of Sharia. Many Muslims who are orthodox by that definition are unaware of the full implications of accepting that list of doctrines.

My source text for this article is from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, 1994 Revised Edition. This manual represents the Shafi’i school (and it’s worth noting that all four schools agree on 75% of their rulings, according to the introduction to Reliance of the Traveller). Dr. Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani, President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and President of the Fiqh Council of North America, writes “There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English-speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language….In view of the utility of this eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence and its rank among well known standard Shafi’i legal texts, its translation into English is regarded as a useful, auspicious step….” The book is certified by the prestigious al-Azhar University, whose certification states: “…we certify that the above-mentioned translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.”

In addition, the editors had the option to omit anything they felt was not pertinent information for our times. The introduction states that “rulings about matters now rare or nonexistent have been left untranslated unless interesting for some other reason.” For example, rulings on slavery have been left untranslated (even though slavery and near-slavery are still practiced in parts of the Muslim world.) Additionally, Muslim reviewers of the book on generally find the book to be of practical use.

Reliance of the Traveller lists 20 “Acts that entail leaving Islam” (pgs. 596-598), while mentioning that “There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless.” I’ll be discussing five of these 20 acts:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus…belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it….”

So, Islamic Law mandates acceptance of every verse of the Quran. Anyone who denies “any verse” is an apostate. Picking and choosing the desirable verses is not good enough. Here is a small sampling of the verses which a Muslim is not allowed to deny, according to Sharia [bracketed words added by me for clarity]:

“Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (2:216)

“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (4:34)

“Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors? Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.” (5:59-60)

“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (9:29)

“Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” (9:111)

“Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not [a good example] in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming.” (60:4)

If you believe these verses could mean something drastically different from what they appear to mean, read here to find out how mainstream Muslim commentators have interpreted them.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma…) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse….”

This manual defines ijma: “Scholarly consensus (ijma’) is the agreement of all the mujtahids…of the Muslims existing at one particular period after the Prophet’s death…about a particular ruling regarding a matter or event….[T]he ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [expert legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.” (pgs. 23-24) There are also specific conditions for ijma to be reached: that a number of mujtahids live concurrently, and that they all without exception agree on a conclusion which each expresses individually and explicitly.

So, it would seem that according to this manual, in order to be a Muslim, a person must support the ijma of mujtahedin. Excerpts from Islamic manuals indicate that this ijma includes: jihad, death penalty for apostates, lower-class (dhimmi) status for non-Muslims in a Muslim state, and more. To deny any one of these, according to this manual, would constitute apostasy. It is understandable that reform efforts within Islam have not succeeded in the past 1000 years.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah….”

I have included this one to illustrate why the Islamic world has been in stagnation for about a millennium. While the Christian world embraced scientific principles and strove to discover natural laws, the Islamic world took the position that the concept of natural laws was blasphemous, because it meant that those natural laws ruled the universe rather than Allah. Recently, in a quick backpedal, Muslim apologists have been “discovering” that all of modern science is miraculously in the Quran, without providing any explanation for why Muslims are now learning science from non-Muslims. Despite the backpedalling on matters of science, Islam has somehow also retained the belief that Allah is micro-managing the universe, as shown by the frequent use of “Insha’Allah” (if Allah wills it). Nothing happens without Allah’s will.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam:“(20) … to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message…to be the religion followed by the entire world….”

Thus, to accept other religions or non-religion as equal to Islam is to be an apostate.

And what happens to apostates? According to this same manual, “There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (…or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).” (pg. 596) In fact, there is an Islamic practice of “takfir” which means declaring a Muslim to be an apostate. This is often used by Jihadists as an excuse to kill Muslims. It’s against Islamic Law for a Muslim to kill another Muslim, but if the intended victim is declared an apostate, suddenly it’s legal. This is what happened to Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, who was declared to be an apostate and assassinated.

However, before rushing off to pronounce takfir on someone, it would be good to also be aware of another way to become an apostate:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr)….”

So, if Muslim A declares Muslim B to be a disbeliever, but Muslim B is in fact a believer, then Muslim A has, presto chango, made himself an unbeliever.

Given the importance of being correct when pronouncing takfir, a Muslim’s willingness to do so is a good indication of his confidence in his position. Pronouncing takfir is also a way of marking the “line in the sand” between who is a Muslim and who is not. For this reason, it is not a good sign that currently, the most noticeable group who uses takfir to define Islam is the Islamists.

What would let us know the Muslim world no longer advocated fascist doctrines?

One indication that Islam has been successfully reformed and lost its fascist edge would be if and when the following acts would cause a person to be declared an apostate by all Muslim religious authorities, and all Muslim organizations would declare the following acts to be “un-Islamic”:

  • to express the belief that violent Jihad can ever, under any circumstances, be justified;
  • to express the belief that there should be any penalty whatsoever for apostates, heretics, or critics of Islam;
  • to express the belief that non-Muslims or women should be treated differently from Muslim men under the law;
  • to express the belief that every verse of the Quran (in its traditionally accepted interpretations) must be believed and taken literally as the word of Allah;
  • to express the belief that Mohammed’s actions, as recorded in the Sira and Sunnah, are to be emulated;
  • to express the belief that Islamic law should rule any land.

As I’ve never heard of any one of these acts causing a fatwa of takfir by any prominent group of clerics, I’m not expecting this transformation to happen this week, and perhaps not ever.

What About A Peaceful Jihad?

December 9, 2007

There are Muslims who wish to accomplish the goals of Islamic Jihad peacefully. Would this be an acceptable alternative to violent Jihad? We cannot answer this without a thorough understanding of the goals of Jihad.

What Are The Goals of Jihad?

The global Jihad movement takes on a number of different forms in different local environments, but there is one overriding goal of Jihad: to remove all un-Islamic regimes from power and install Islamic government, ultimately to be united under a global Islamic Caliphate. Technically, it is against Islamic law for offensive war to occur against non-Muslims without the authority of the Caliphate; however, the Jihadists define “defensive war” loosely enough that it’s kind of a moot point. Any grievance can justify defense, and who doesn’t have a grievance? The Jihad movement takes advantage of local grievances; they “think globally and act locally”. There is a great deal of evidence that this is true. [1]

What is an Islamic Caliphate?

The Caliphate would be the Islamic world if ruled by a Caliph. There was an Islamic Caliphate from the early days of Islam until early 20th Century, although from time to time there were some areas of the Islamic world that were ruled independently of the Caliphate. For example, in recent times, parts of Asia were on their own. The Caliphate was abolished in 1924 by Ataturk, a democratically-minded ruler of Turkey. In 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt, with the goal of re-establishing the Caliphate. Once the Caliphate is established, the goal would be to subjugate the rest of the world under Islamic Law. [2]

What is Islamic Law?

The implementation of Islamic Law (Sharia) has varied from time to time and place to place. However, even when the implementation was weaker, the more severe versions of Islamic Law were never removed from the books, and haven’t been to this day. There are four major schools of Sunni Islam, which encompasses the majority of Muslims. There is a consensus of the four schools on 75% of their legal conclusions. These schools were founded about 1000 years ago, and have remained basically unchanged to this day. The reason for this is that about 900 years ago, “ijtihad”, which means “free thought on religious matters”, was closed down. It was then declared that everything of importance had already been decided, so any further innovation would be heretical. This decision also marked the beginning of the end of the Islamic Golden Age, and since that time there has been very little development in the Islamic world in areas of philosophy, mathematics, medicine, science, or literature. [3] Today there are brave reformers, such as Irshad Manji, who are trying to open the gates of ijtihad, but their influence would be difficult to discern at present.

Here are some common elements of Islamic Law:

Apostasy: Anyone born to one or both Muslim parents is required to be Muslim. Any Muslim, whether by birth or conversion, is required to remain a Muslim. For a Muslim to leave Islam is punishable by death, if it’s a man. This is agreed by all four schools of Islamic Law. One of the four schools would give the same penalty to a woman; the other three would give her life in prison. [4]

Freedom of expression: It is illegal to criticize Islam, Mohammed, or Sharia. Attempts at reforming Islam or Sharia can be called “heresy”, which is illegal. Attempts at converting Muslims to other religions is illegal (but Muslims are free to proselytize). [5]

Women: Women are treated as minors their whole lives. They are always under the protection of their fathers, brothers, husbands and/or sons. They may be married off at a very young age, even before puberty, with no say. Their testimony counts as half that of a man’s in court. Their inheritance is half that of a man’s. They can only prove rape with four pious male witnesses; otherwise, to allege rape could get them punished for illicit sex, which is the woman’s fault. There’s no such thing as rape in the context of marriage. Wife-beating is clearly sanctioned in the Koran. A man can divorce his wife by saying “I divorce you”, in which case he has custody rights; a woman cannot divorce her husband. Although it is legal, at least in some circumstances, for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman, the reverse is not legal. Because Muslim men are allowed to have up to four wives, this potentially puts more of the child-bearing capacity under Muslim control. It is also legal for a Muslim man to have sex with his female slaves, whose marriage (if any) is instantly dissolved upon capture. (Slavery has been abolished throughout much of the Muslim world, but continues to be practiced in some countries.) Abortion is most likely illegal. Then there’s the headscarf, or other means of coverage for women. [6]

Non-Muslims: A non-Muslim’s testimony in court is inferior to that of a Muslim. Non-Muslims cannot practice their faith openly, or display religious symbols. Non-Muslims cannot hold a position of power over Muslims, as in government. Non-Muslims have to pay extra taxes (this one is required by mainstream interpretations of the Koran, see 9:29). There have been poll taxes, property taxes (since they’re really just renting the land from the Muslims, rather than owning it), and sometimes double the regular taxes that Muslims pay. Treatment of non-Muslims has varied from time to time and place to place, but Islamic Law is very clear on the principle that they are second class citizens. Their payment of extra taxes is in exchange for their lives being tolerated (protection money). At times, a group of non-Muslims has been singled out for especially harsh treatment. Here are a few extreme examples: As recently as the 20th Century, Yemen has had a law that Jewish orphans must be forcibly converted to Islam. Iran once had a law that Jews could not go outside in the rain, since rainwater could splash from the Jew onto the Muslim, thus defiling the Muslim. There are many, many other examples of discriminatory laws toward non-Muslims that I am not listing here. [7]

Gays: Under Sharia, homosexuals would be killed.

Note that currently, very few countries live under the full Sharia; some experts say just Saudi Arabia and some also include Iran. This is one reason that Jihadists target Muslim countries: they are trying to make Muslim countries more Islamic. Worldwide, more Muslims than non-Muslims are victims of Jihad. Strategically, it makes sense for Jihadists to go after Muslims first, because after reaching their goals in Muslim countries, they would then have more potential recruits with which to go after non-Muslims.

It would also be useful here to mention that there are many examples throughout history of other religions persecuting their religious minorities and mistreating women. However, so far as I know, there is no other religion at present which has a global movement for implementing a legal system like Sharia, so fundamentalist Islam is really the only one which poses a current threat.

However, when I say “fundamentalist Islam”, don’t make the mistake of thinking this means a small fringe group. There is reason to believe that fundamentalism is really the mainstream of Islam; in any case, it’s not a tiny band of extremists, and many observers say it’s growing.

To What Degree Do Muslims Support Sharia?

This is a big unknown. This is partly because in the West, due to the impoliteness of saying anything critical of non-Christian religions, few people are even fully aware of what Sharia is. I think most Westerners think that it would be a good thing for Muslims to pursue Islamist goals non-violently, because they don’t really understand what Islamist goals are. This is one reason more education about Jihad ideology is needed: we need to nip the whole Sharia movement in the bud.

It is clear that not all Muslims support Sharia; perhaps even a majority in the US do not. In Canada, there was a referendum to impose Sharia family law on only the Muslim citizens, which failed. If this had succeeded, a baby born in one house would have had a different set of rights than a baby born next door. This referendum was defeated mainly by women. However, keep in mind the Islamists see themselves as part of a 1400 year old ongoing struggle that will only end when their goals are met. They do not see a tactical defeat as an end, merely a temporary setback.

There are some disturbing indicators of fairly widespread support of Sharia in the US. First, to my knowledge, no mainstream Muslim association or organization in this country has denounced Sharia. It is the small reform groups who have denounced Sharia.

Second, a fair number of Muslim spokespeople have said openly they do want to have Sharia replace the Constitution in this country one day.

Third, the first Muslim congressman in the US, Keith Ellison, who took his oaths of office on the Koran rather than the Bible, has refused to denounce Sharia.

Fourth, according to polls, a very significant number of Muslims have sympathy for the goals of Jihad. [8] So, even if it’s true that Islamic Jihad itself consists of a tiny fringe group, the same cannot be said for those who support the Jihad’s goals. If anything, I would expect the numbers indicated by polls to be understated, because it’s known that some people tell pollsters what they think the pollsters want to hear.

What to do about it?

This is a problem that cries out for more public discussion. I think it’s quite possible that some Muslims support the idea of Sharia because they feel it’s their duty to support it, perhaps without even fully knowing what’s involved. If so, then this, too, needs to be discussed.

In addition, the stigma needs to be removed from those who oppose Sharia, who are currently often branded “racist bigot hate-mongers”. Opposing Sharia is no different than opposing a Christian theocracy, for which there is currently zero threat, but lots of people opposing it. It is no different than opposing Communism, Fascism, or any other political system. Quite a few Muslim reformers want more non-Muslims to speak out against Sharia. It makes no sense to associate opposition to Sharia with hatred towards Muslims; on the contrary, Muslims would be among the biggest beneficiaries of the demise of Sharia, and many Muslims are already aware of this.

Some mainstream Muslim spokespeople will accuse those who oppose Sharia of being on a Crusade against Islam, but Westerners have no excuse for going along with such accusations. What it really boils down to is this: If Islam is just a personal religion and Sharia is not integral to Islam, then going against Sharia is not going against Islam. If Sharia is integral to Islam, then everyone who cares about individual rights should oppose it, and support those wanting to leave it or reform it.

On the other extreme, some Muslims insist, incredibly, that Sharia is not a system of law at all. These Muslims have a lot of explaining to do. If they are right, it should be no problem for them to convince all mainstream Muslim groups to denounce the implementation of the Sharia as a system of law.


[1] Front Page Mag: The Muslim Brotherhood “Project”, Patrick Poole

Daniel Pipes: What Do the Terrorists Want? [A Caliphate]

Front Page Mag: The Caliphate is Coming, Rachel Ehrenfeld

[2] Wikipedia: Caliphate

[3] Islam Watch: The Nostalgia of Islamic Golden Age vs. the History of Science, Syed Kamran Mirza

[4] Light of Life: The Penalties for Apostasy in Islam

Challenging Islam: What is the Shariah?, Mentat

[5] Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, Rev. ed. (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1994), 595-598, 609.

[6] Opinion Journal: Unfree Under Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Challenging Islam: What is the Shariah?, Mentat

[7] The Jizyah Tax:
Equality And Dignity Under Islamic Law?, Walter Short

Dhimmitude: History: Dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or

Challenging Islam: What is the Shariah?, Mentat

[8] Telegraph: Poll reveals 40pc of Muslims want sharia law in UK, Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite