Notice What Does NOT Offend Muslims

July 8, 2008

The Amboy Times has posted a growing list of Things That Offend Muslims. Several of the items on this list have been protested quite visibly by many Muslims, in some cases including death threats, violence and even murder.

Thousands upon thousands of Muslims have protested a bunch of cartoons published in Denmark. Muslims worldwide have expressed their outrage, not only through peaceful protests, but also by burning down embassies and murdering innocent people.

More recently, the movie Fitna was produced by Geert Wilders, a Dutch PM. Again, thousands protested.

Now, let’s look at what does NOT offend Muslims….

If worldwide demonstrations, violence, and mayhem shows us what offends Muslims the most, then it is equally revealing to pay attention to the events that do not cause sufficient offense for Muslims to muster any noticeable protest at all:

  • Apostates Tortured, Killed: As we have noted, apostates of Islam may be threatened with death, even in the West. Recently, a Muslim man who converted to Christianity in Iran was arrested, tortured, and may yet be killed. Many other apostates have been killed, beaten, or threatened. Where’s the Muslim outrage over this travesty? Why are there no large, visible groups of Muslims fighting for the right of apostasy?
  • Religious Minorities Persecuted Throughout Muslim Lands: Christians, Jews, Bahais, Hindus, Buddhists and others are persecuted throughout the Muslim world. Why aren’t Muslims more offended by this than they are by a movie?
  • Women Treated as Second Class Citizens: In Pakistan, thousands of women in prison are rape victims. Honor killings, stoning of adulteresses, and FGM (female genital mutilation) plague the Muslim world. Saudi women can get into trouble for driving a car. Why no big demonstrations against this appalling treatment of women? Is this less of an offense than a cartoon?
  • Islam Linked to Militant Jihad by Muslims: Muslims are offended when non-Muslims discuss Islamic Jihad (which was one subject of the movie Fitna). However, there are Muslims who have linked militant Jihad to Islam, in modern times and throughout history, yet these Muslims who promote militant Jihad are never protested in a large way by other Muslims. A press release may be issued, but Muslims are not demonstrating in the streets over this. Why the double standard?
  • Mohammed’s Example Justifies Marital Sex with Nine-Year-Olds: According to a Saudi marriage official, a girl can be married at any age, even one year, so long as the marriage isn’t consummated until she is nine. This is based on authenticated Muslim Hadith (traditions) that Mohammed married Aisha, his favorite wife, when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine. How is it possible that Muslims aren’t sufficiently offended by the Saudi’s comment to protest his words?
  • Jews Marked for Death Worldwide: According to Palestinian cleric Wael Al-Zarad on Al-Aqsa TV, the Muslims’ blood vengeance against the Jews “will only subside with their [the Jews] annihilation.” This is not the only recent example of Muslims calling for a new Jewish holocaust. Why are Muslims not offended by these calls to genocide? Why is there no obvious sign of Muslim outrage over this?
  • OIC Moves to Quash Free Expression in the West: The OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) is making bold moves to stifle criticism of Islam through the UN. There is a plethora of other Muslim groups attempting to stifle free speech about Islam in the West. All Muslims who embrace free speech and free press must be terribly embarrassed about this. Where are the demonstrations?
  • Slavery Practiced by Muslims: Recently, UAE royals enslaved 17 women at a luxury hotel in Belgium. Slavery has never been entirely abolished in the Muslim world. Surely this would be enough to generate some Muslim outrage, but I have seen no mass demonstrations against those Muslims who continue this abhorrent practice.

It isn’t that no Muslims are offended by the above list. On the contrary, there are some examples of decent Muslims speaking out against abuses committed by Muslims, often in the name of Islam. To notice the lack of public demonstrations over the above list does not disparage the tremendous efforts of these brave individuals and small groups. However, the Muslim community as a whole does not seem sufficiently disturbed by the items on this list to protest them en masse. Why would some cartoons be more offensive than torturing and killing apostates? Why would a movie be more offensive than declarations of genocide? Where are the Muslims who would demonstrate in the streets for the right of apostasy, true equality for religious minorities in Muslim lands, equality for women, full renunciation of militant Jihad, marriage for adults only, respect for Jews, free expression, and a real abolition of slavery? Hello? Are you out there?

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.

Can We Believe What Muslims Say About Sharia and Jihad?

February 19, 2008

The answer is: sometimes. The challenge is that we know deception is a part of the ideologies of Sharia and Jihad, and an integral part of Islamists’ game plan in dealing with non-Muslims.

Examples of Islamists using Deception (”Taqiyya”)

A Sunday Times reporter in Britain infiltrated the Savior Sect, a group which encourages hatred and violence. According to the Times Online article, the sect’s leader, Omar Bakri Mohammed, condemned the killing of all innocent civilians when giving public interviews. “Later when he addressed his own followers he explained that he had in fact been referring only to Muslims as only they were innocent: ‘Yes I condemn killing any innocent people, but not any kuffar.’” “Kuffar” is the plural form of “kafir”, a derogatory term for unbeliever, which is also used in the Quran.

Notice that Bakri was using a deceptive meaning of “innocent” rather than outright lying. Islamists sometimes intentionally use words like “innocent”, “peace”, and “terrorist” with a very different meaning from that of their listeners.

According to the Israeli National News, senior Hamas leaders have said, in effect, “We’re allowed to lie.” They explained, “A Muslim is permitted to say things that oppose his beliefs in order to prevent damages or to be saved from death.” According to INN, “Senior Hamas terrorists in Samaria, who were recently released from jail, publicly expressed disapproval with the Hamas takeover of Gaza and said they supported the PA forces. [Other senior Hamas leaders] explained that the Samarian terrorists’ announcement was not a sign of dissent within Hamas ranks, but rather a permitted use of ‘taqiyya’ to deceive Abbas and avoid prison sentences.”

In his article, The Development of a Jihadi’s Mind, former Jihadist turned reformer Tawfiq Hamid gives several examples of taqiyya practiced and encouraged by Jamaah Islamiyah, an Islamic organization which is now considered to be a terrorist organization:

“Salafi Islamic texts demonstrate Mohammed’s uncompromising nature…. They encourage devout Muslims to emulate the Prophet’s deeds and to accept and defend his actions in even the harshest passages. When confronted by outsiders, however, these same Muslims insist that such stories are misinterpreted because they are taken out of context—though they rarely, if ever, provide the context. This self-protective denial effectively paralyzes further criticism by the West. Meanwhile, these texts are taught and understood in a very literal way by both the young members of Jamaah and many other Muslims.”

“Among the more appalling notions [Salafi ideology] supports are the enslavement and rape of female war prisoners and the beating of women to discipline them. It permits polygamy and pedophilia. It refers to Jews as “pigs and monkeys” and exhorts believers to kill them before the end of days….Homosexuals are to be killed as well….

“These doctrines are not taken out of context, as many apologists for Islamism argue: they are central to the faith and ethics of millions of Muslims, and are currently being taught as part of the standard curriculum in many Islamic educational systems in the Middle East as well in the West. Moreover, there is no single approved Islamic textbook that contradicts or provides an alternative to the passages I have cited.”

“Muslims who live in the West—who insist to outsiders that Islam is a “religion of peace” and who enjoy freedom of expression, which they demand from their Western hosts—have threatened me with murder and arson.”

So, it is evident that many Islamists believe it furthers their aims to deceive non-Muslims by pretending Islam is peaceful when they really don’t believe it is. At the same time, there may also be some who claim Islam is peaceful and really believe it. Then there may also be some who think if they pretend Islam is peaceful, that will make it come true. However, even if they are sincere or well-intentioned, those who deny Islam’s violent and oppressive doctrines are doing the Islamists’ work for them by fooling the gullible West who wants to think well of Islam, despite the evidence. We need to understand Islam as it is, not as we wish it were. Muslims who wish Islam were peaceful need to reform it by addressing its problematic aspects. Living in a make-believe world won’t help.

What Is the Islamic Basis for Taqiyya?

Sunnis (the majority sect) will often say taqiyya is a Shia doctrine, ignoring the support for deception in Sunni hadith and law. As Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch notes, taqiyya is even practiced on the subject of taqiyya. The examples given above (Savior Sect, Hamas, and Jamaah Islamiyah) are, to the best of my knowledge, all Sunni.

Here are three examples from the Quran which excuse dishonesty:

Quran 3:28: “Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.” This means Muslims can only be friends with unbelievers as a means to defend against them, which is not sincere friendship. Muslim commentator Ibn Kathir explains: “[When believers fear for their safety from disbelievers], such believers are allowed to show friendship to the disbelievers outwardly, but never inwardly.”

Quran 16:106: “Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.” So, it’s fine to deny belief under compulsion.

Quran 2:225: “Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing.” So it does not bother Allah if Muslims make oaths thoughtlessly. Along these lines, in a Hadith recorded by Bukhari, Mohammed says, “…if ever I take an oath to do something, and later on I find that it is more beneficial to do something different, I will do the thing which is better, and give expiation for my oath”. I have found nearly identical statements in 11 additional Bukhari Hadith, as well.

According to several Hadith recorded by Bukhari, Mohammed said “War is deceit”.

Also from Bukhari, Muhammed gave permission for his follower to tell a lie in order to assassinate a critic.

In three Muslim Hadith, Mohammed gives three exceptions to the rule of telling the truth: in battle, to bring about reconcilliation in general, and to bring about reconcilliation between husband and wife.

Taqiyya also has some support from Islamic Law. In Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, (pgs. 744-748) we find a paragraph explaining that lying is prohibited, followed by four pages on “Permissible Lying”, Exaggeration”, and “Giving a Misleading Impression”. Here are some quotes: “…Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali…says: ‘Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible, and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory….But it is religiously more precautionary…to employ words that give a misleading impression….[I]f a ruler asks one about a wicked act one has committed that is solely between oneself and Allah Most High… one is entitled to disclaim it….’” “Scholars say that there is no harm…in giving a misleading impression if required by an interest countenanced by Sacred Law that is more important than not misleading the person being addressed, or if there is a pressing need which could not otherwise be fulfilled except through lying.”

So, according to this source, it’s obligatory for Muslims to lie in order to accomplish an obligatory goal that could not be accomplished truthfully. And what are some obligatory goals? According to Reliance (pg. 600), “Jihad is a communal obligation…” (emphasis added). In addition, we know that the goal of Jihad is to impose worldwide Sharia, so it follows that Sharia is also an abligatory goal. Since both Jihad and Sharia are considered obligatory, it follows that lying about them to non-Muslims would be obligatory if they could not be accomplished truthfully, according to the rules spelled out in Reliance.

This does not mean that all Muslims are liars. However, it does mean that Muslims who take Islamic Law seriously could very well believe that lying to non-Muslims about Jihad and Sharia is justified. This is why it’s important to check multiple sources, including not just supporters but also critics of Islam, and see who has the evidence to back up their position.

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

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

Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part II: The Hadith

January 19, 2008

This is the second 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 Hadith. The Hadith (technically, the plural is “Ahadith”) are oral traditions about the sayings and actions of Mohammed. There are thousands of Hadith, organized into collections. Six of these collections (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai, Ibn Majah, and Abu Dawood) are considered “authentic” in Sunni tradition, and are generally considered synonymous with the “Sunnah”, which means “the way of the Prophet”. About 85% of Muslims are “Sunni”, which word comes from “Sunnah”. The Shia have their Hadith, as well.

The Quran contains no biographical information about Mohammed, although it says the Messenger (Mohammed) is a good example for believers (33:21). Muslims can only find out what Mohammed’s example was through the Hadith and Sira (see Part III). In addition, the Quran gives little or no context for its verses. Again, this context has traditionally been supplied by the Hadith and Sira.

Technically, a Hadith cannot be considered to be authentic if it contradicts the Quran (although many Hadith in the authenticated collections actually do so, such as the ones attributing miracles to Mohammed). However, there are many Hadith that have been used to develop the doctrines of Sharia and Jihad. For example, the Quran has no explicit command to kill apostates, although several verses hint at it. The Hadith, on the other hand, are very explicit on the subject, and have been relied on as source material for that ruling. Here are two examples (there are also others):

Narrated Abu Burda: “….Mu’adh asked, “Who is this (man)?” Abu Muisa said, “He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.” Then Abu Muisa requested Mu’adh to sit down but Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed….” (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 58)

Narrated ‘Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'” (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57)

There are many other examples of undesirable behavior sanctioned by the Hadith, including:

Wife beating:
“Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab: The Prophet…said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.” (Abu Dawood, Book 11, Number 2142)

Torture: “Anas reported: Eight men…killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. This (news) reached Allah’s Messenger…and he sent them on their track and they were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Muslim, Book 016, Number 4131)

Killing Critics: “It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of Allah…said: Who will kill Ka’b b. Ashraf? He has maligned Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like). So, Muhammad b. Maslama came to Ka’b and talked to him, referred to the old friendship between them….So when [Ka’b] came down and he was holding his cloak under his arm, they said to him: We sense from you a very fine smell. He said: Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia. He said: Allow me to smell (the scent on your head). He said: Yes, you may smell. So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: Allow me to do so (once again). He then held his head fast and said to his companions: Do your job. And they killed him.” (Muslim, Book 019, Number 4436)

What can overcome this challenge?

The Hadith would be easier to throw out than the Quran, and some reformers advocate following the Quran only. However, to disavow the Hadith would mean that the Quran has no context, and little or nothing is known about Mohammed. It would seem that to throw out the Hadith and Sira would be to essentially throw out Mohammed, which I’m not personally averse to, although Muslims may be. The other alternative would be to create a new fairy tale about Mohammed, either by picking and choosing from the Hadith or pulling it out of thin air. It seems it would be hard to convincingly present this as more authentic than the current version, however.

For those who do want to throw out the Hadith, analysis of their origins gives supportive evidence. Various scholars have called the authenticity of numerous Hadith into question. Goldziher, for example, has demonstrated that a great number of Hadith were complete fabrications. And, so far as I know, none of the Hadith are conclusively confirmed by non-Muslim sources.

Part III of this series will examine the Sira.

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.