August 16, 2005
Why I write hard-hitting articles on IslamBy James Arlandson
I've been writing hard—hitting (but fact—based) articles on Islam for a while now, and I just finished a series of articles on sharia or Islamic law, culminating in a top ten list. Maybe a few readers wonder why I bother to write about Islam. After all, 9/11 is so long ago.
If any readers doubt that my articles are grounded in facts, then they should read all of the articles carefully and let me know where, specifically, I'm wrong. If I am, then I'd be glad to fix the error.
Here are five major reasons that explain my motives, for what they're worth.
1. Violence must be exposed.
Before 9/11, I had not paid much attention to Islam, other than a few facts in my Humanities courses, such as its contribution to science in the Medieval Age. (But current thought is now questioning the extent of Islam's contribution.)
After 9/11, I decided to read through the Quran. I did it from Friday afternoon through Sunday. I was shocked at the violence I found.
Two examples from the Quran, and one from an early biography:
First, Muhammad wishes for the death of his uncle Abu Lahab and his wife, who opposed him in Mecca (Sura 111). It's a short sura (chapter), so here is all of it:
In the interest of Comparative Religions, Christians read this passage and may ask, 'What would Jesus do?' Their likely answer: 'He would have forgiven his enemies and moved on.'
The second example is when Muhammad promises he will fight Jews and Christians, the People of the Book:
Note how Haleem supplies the word 'truly' in brackets. It implies that Muhammad will leave true Jews and Christians alone. It is as if Haleem cannot bring himself to admit that Muhammad will actually fight any and all People of the Book, which are the historical facts.
These tiny cover—ups and whitewashes permeate Islamic scholarship and translations, believe me. I'll return to them in a moment (see point three).
The bigger picture is Muhammad's violence. I had always heard that Islam was and is the religion of peace. But I was wrong. Violence permeates the Quran and Muhammad's life.
Third, the next book I read after the Quran from original Islam is Ibn Ishaq's Life of Muhammad (trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford UP, 1955). Ibn Ishaq died in AD 767, and he collected data on Muhammad's life and put them in his biography. He is a valuable source for modern scholars, though they may dispute his chronology and miracles. Muslims like him when he depicts Muhammad as heroic and noble, but they don't like him when he makes Muhammad—well, when he is less than heroic and noble.
Ibn Ishaq reports this violent episode. Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad's chief companions, barged into a Jewish school, led by two Rabbis. Abu Bakr called on one of the Rabbis
One of the Rabbis sassed him, saying that Allah must be poor, if Muhammad has to borrow money from the Jews. Enraged, Abu Bakr struck him hard on the face, telling him:
The story ends with the Rabbi denying to Muhammad that he sassed Abu Bakr (note how the Jew is not only a blasphemer but also a liar), but the Prophet got a revelation that the Rabbi had mocked Allah (Sura 3:181). Thus, Abu Bakr was justified in using physical violence in response to disrespectful words. He is a Muslim hero (Ibn Ishaq, p. 263).
Violent incidents like these three examples fill the source documents of early Islam.
To put this in human terms, the face of Islam wears a permanent grin, and its eyes twinkle. Its left hand offers candy to the uninformed. This is the seductive side of Islam. But its right hand hides a sword behind its back, ready to cut off the head of anyone who criticizes it or leaves it.
My goal is to walk behind this smiling and beguiling figure (keeping a sword's length away) and warn everyone about the sword.
The unpleasant facts about unjust and excessive Islamic violence and intolerance must be made public so that everyone understands ALL of Islam, not just the benign Five Pillars. Though I have deep theological disagreements with each Pillar, none of them harms me materially and physically.
But the Quran—supported violence does harm everyone materially and physically, so they must be forewarned. I'm a warner, to borrow one of Muhammad's favorite words about himself.
2. Christianity must be defended and explained.
Christianity is dying out in Europe, sadly. It is still comparatively strong in the US, thankfully. (Around the globe, it is growing by leaps and bounds.) Here in the West it must be revived (or at least protected), and the internet is one small way of doing this.
Most people in the West believe that all religions are pretty much the same. Dazed and confused Christians go so far as to convert to Islam, and this is heartbreaking.
As it turns out, these similarities exist by and large only in down—to—earth ethical matters (e.g. do not murder, do not steal, and so on), though even on this ethical level differences exist as seen here to link to only one example in Islam's confusing marriage laws about adultery.
But the similarities disappear in many in heavenly matters. These heavenly differences must be brought out to the public. Specifically, Christianity and Islam have irreconcilable differences.
For example, Muhammad is confused in his Quran about Jesus. After all the confusion, though, Muhammad demotes Jesus.
In my articles I would like to present the New Testament view of Christ—to remind everyone who is concerned and who reads my articles what basic Christian doctrine says.
Muhammad denies the Sonship and divinity of Christ, whereas the New Testament everywhere affirms his divinity and Sonship.
Here is one passage from the Quran, representing others (the first addition in brackets is mine; the second is the translator's):
From the point of view of Bible—educated Christians, this passage is filled with many errors, but three stand out.
First, Muhammad clearly admits that he gets his information from revelation, not from simple research. He did not have a qualified Christian to explain who Jesus really was. Muhammad picked up ideas about him, here and there along the trade routes in Arabia. He doesn't know what he's talking about, so he frequently retreats into dubious revelations.
Second, Muhammad says Jesus is like Adam, created from dust. This 'revelation' flatly contradicts the New Testament, which says that Jesus was involved in creation and was uncreated.
Third and finally, but even if Muhammad had listened to a qualified Christian, then Muhammad still would have demoted Jesus to a mere prophet. Why? Among other reasons, Muhammad must be the best and last of the prophets. He had to maintain his own highest status, so Jesus could not be the Son of God, while Muhammad was a mere human and mortal messenger (Sura 3:144). So Muhammad had a human and selfish motive to get this revelation and demote the eternal Son of God.
On the other hand, Christians are to test doctrines by Christ's and the Apostles' standards, because teachers would arise and deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God:
Did Jesus himself say he was the Son of God just so he could seem better than everyone else? Where is the evidence for this selfish motive? Who specifically was he trying to better? A Pharisee? He deliberately kept his true identity out of public knowledge for the most part, and accepted the popular (but ultimately inadequate) titles of Prophet or Teacher or Rabbi. But he revealed his true identity as the Son of God to his core twelve disciples and sometimes to those outside of his inner circle. He went out of his way not to boast about his true nature.
Further, based on this New Testament passage in 1 John, written by the Apostle John, what are Christian supposed to conclude about Muhammad's denial that Jesus is the Son of God? Dazed and confused Christians must not trade in the eternal Son of God for a human messenger: Muhammad (Sura 3:144).
For more on Muhammad's confusion over Christ, go to the conclusion of a long article.
Muhammad says that he has improved on Christianity and that God could have destroyed the Messiah to demonstrate how wrong Christians are about Jesus (Sura 5:15—17).
The New Testament disagrees, so I disagree. That's why I write my articles.
3. Truth must win out over errors.
I have been discovering that too much (not all) of Islamic scholarship in the West is filled with tiny, brief, barely detectable, but significant errors or omissions. They seem to be deliberate and are calculated to cover up some embarrassing facts and to present Islam as winsome so that people would convert to Islam.
This must be exposed.
First, in point one, above, Haleem adds the modifier 'truly' in Sura 9:29, implying that Muhammad targeted only untrue Jews and Christians, not the 'true' believers. Haleem translates two other verses that indicate that true believers are those who submit, a key concept in Islam (Sura 3:19 and 85). Apparently, his intent is to show that true Jews and Christians 'submit,' so they are Muslims of sorts. But how is Muhammad supposed to sort out the true believers from the untrue when he waged wars on them? Historical reality says that he didn't sort them out.
So Haleem's tiny, brief, barely detectable addition of 'truly' is designed to make Muhammad seem fair and just in the eyes of unsuspecting Westerners. But it skips over the big picture: why would Muhammad wage war on Jews and Christians in the first place, if he was creating the religion of peace?
Second, Haleem fails to translate a key word in a violent Quranic verse. The historical background of Sura 8 is the Battle of Badr (AD 624), in which Muhammad and about 320 Muslims won a surprising victory over about 1000 Meccans. Muhammad celebrates the death of the Meccans (the addition in brackets is mine):
In Arabic the sentence repeats the word 'killed' (root is q—t—l) after 'God.' So the verse should read:
Why does Haleem omit this last violent word 'killed'? He doesn't offer a manuscript variant. Maybe, just maybe, he has to protect Islam's reputation from any idea that Allah kills people directly (and I would add) six hundred years after Christ came and showed us a better way. After all, Haleem is communicating Islam to English speakers in his translation of the Quran. The temptation to exclude the last violent word must have been strong, in order to make the Quran palatable to speakers of English who live in cultures having Christianity as their background—remember only Christ is foundational to Christianity, not Constantine or the Medieval Crusaders.
Sometimes the omissions and distortions are not tiny, brief and barely detectable, but blatant—which is worse because these errors are bold and therefore much more deceptive; they're hiding in plain sight, so the uniformed reader reasons to himself that surely Muslim scholars would not commit blatant errors, would they?
Here is the third example, which illustrates a blatant error.
Muhammad harassed the Meccan caravans after his Hijrah or Emigration from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, but two Muslim scholars (among others) distort Muhammad's aggression and make him appear on the defensive. After Muhammad left Mecca, the Meccans sent their caravans loaded with goods along trade routes. But which trade routes? Ones that harassed Muhammad in Medina? Two Muslim scholar—apologists are inaccurate when they assert that the caravans 'passed through' (note their words) Medina, adding that the poor and helpless Muslims haphazardly sought for whatever spoils they could in their raids, whereas the Meccans mobilized for war (Isma'il R. al—Faruqi and Lois Lamya'al Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, New York: Macmillan, 1986, p. 134).
In contrast, the widely respected historian and Islamologist W. Montgomery Watt paints a more accurate picture of these early raids before the Battle of Badr (AD 624), saying that the Muslims took the offensive, long distances from Medina:
Thus, the Meccan caravans were not waging war on Muhammad at Medina, but they were going about their business, traveling (mostly) along a trade route by the coast. Traveling eighty miles takes about two or three days in seventh—century Arabia; thus, the Meccans were not on the Medinans' doorstep, and certainly not with an army. Watt correctly implies that the Meccan caravans were worried about attacks from Muslims, not about attacking the Muslims in Medina. Islam was not fighting for its survival against the Meccans, and Muslims were not waging 'just wars' of self—defense after the Hijrah (AD 622). Rather, they were following the dubious Arab custom of raiding. Hence, seeds of violence have been planted into the early soil of Islam. It is only natural that the Quran would reflect this violence.
The uninformed Westerner could conclude from Faruqis' Cultural Atlas that Muhammad and the Meccans were in a constant state of war, and that the Meccans were always aggressive. Thus, any military action by Muhammad would appear defensive and therefore just. But this is false. The Meccan caravans never 'passed through' Medina. Muhammad was on the warpath.
Apparently, Islam must appear pleasing to the eyes and ears of Westerners, so that they believe that Islam is not all that bad. It's a world religion, after all. Enough said.
However, ALL of Islam must be exposed to the world, and so must biased and tendentious Muslim scholarship that shaves off the unpleasant aspects of this religion with the possible goal of converting unsuspecting seekers.
4. The Enlightenment says to think and analyze critically.
The West has been blessed by the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason (c. 1600—1800+). A heavy dose of critical thinking and reason has been injected into our education and science. (Though the Enlightenment thinkers would not like to admit this, reason was highlighted in the Medieval Age, notably by St. Thomas Aquinas, but that's another article). This is why the western world has long bypassed and surged ahead of the Islamic world in such areas as technology, and this difference is the cause of many problems.
Sadly, Islam has not gone through such an Enlightenment. This is why no one dares challenge Muhammad or the Quran. For example, one of the oddest beliefs is that Muhammad is sinless, even though the facts and Muhammad's own words say differently. Belief has been exalted high above critical thinking and sound reason and plain evidence—even from the original source documents in Islam.
As a child of the Enlightenment (as all Westerners are) I have one motto that I've adopted in my analysis of Islam: Let the facts guide me and fall where they may, for then I'll be safe.
It seems that the majority of Muslims don't have this motto because they either ignore or explain away basic, indisputable, unpleasant facts that appear in the original source documents in Islam. Most likely, the vast majority of Muslims have never read these source documents, so they believe what they've heard from their leaders who cover up or withhold these facts about Muhammad. With the internet, however, these hard truths will come out.
My goal (and that of others) is to make sure these truths come out, so we know about ALL of original Islam.
The Enlightenment has produced skeptical, hard—hitting scholarship in religion, as well.
Though the New Testament everywhere affirms the divinity of Jesus, when some Enlightenment intellectuals embarked on the (in)famous quest for the historical Jesus, they took out all supernatural elements. Who emerged from their biographies? A winsome teacher of love or an itinerant preacher with a radical call to an uncompromising commitment to the kingdom of God. Regardless of these deficient and incomplete and inadequate results of these biographies, one thing is certain: a violent and lustful man could not be found in Jesus of Nazareth.
On the other hand, what would happen if Muhammad underwent the same scrutiny? The Quran nowhere gives Muhammad a divine status, so would a non—violent preacher with only a radical call to an uncompromising commitment to Allah and his messenger emerge? Would he seem peaceful and unlustful? Muhammad trafficked in violence, and he didn't live an exemplary life sexually. Maybe this is what Islamic leaders fear. But the truth will come out about all of this.
The Enlightenment produced two big themes.
First, the Enlightenment brought us tolerance. The US was founded at the height of this intellectual movement, and the First Amendment in the Constitution says we all have the right to worship (or not) as we want without interference.
Second, the Enlightenment also brought us critical thinking and skepticism (e.g. Hume, Voltaire, Nietzsche and a long list of others). Christianity was analyzed skeptically, and it survived remarkably intact, largely because of Jesus. To repeat, apart from the supernatural side of his life, the Enlightenment concluded that he was a good man—though the New Testament affirms his divine nature.
In the same way, Islam must be analyzed skeptically. It must be placed under the Enlightenment microscope. The facts emerging from my study of Islam so far indicate that it has a shaky foundation of violence and bad behavior from its founder. This article predicts the eventual decline and demise of Mohammedism (defined in the article as Muslims' beliefs about Muhammad) because of the information superhighway on the web. No longer can the secrets in Muhammad's life stay hidden or be explained away since more and more reasonable and reasoning people will have access to the truth. Then Muhammad will not look so good.
All of this talk about the Enlightenment may sound highflying, but I take the intellectual movement seriously. As far as I'm concerned, Islam does not get a free ride when it comes over to the West, especially when it claims that it is the ultimate truth, and especially when Muslims are called to spread it aggressively.
Islam must not get a free pass, and others in the West who take the Enlightenment seriously must challenge this religion.
What's so surprising is not that I and only a few others (so it seems) challenge Islam, but that a thousand other scholars have not used their critical thinking even to question it.
5. Western freedoms must be preserved.
One of the hallmarks of the West is freedom.
The West allows freedom of speech, whereby we can criticize religious truth claims. Islamic law says that critics of Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam must die.
It keeps the state away from the church (at least in the US), whereas Islam does not make this distinction.
It allows freedom of worship so that we do not have to live under sharia (Islamic law), but Islam teaches submission, even for the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) (Sura 9:29).
Incidentally, these just freedoms flow out of Christianity when it is properly understood (scroll down to 'Christianity').
Islam forces holiness on all of us from the outside in. That's why sharia has harsh laws and punishments like stoning adulterers and whipping drinkers and gamblers.
By proclamation alone, Christianity seeks to win people from the inside out—a spiritual transformation.
However, if people don't choose this path, then Christianity allows them to go their own way. God will judge them in his way and his time, not ours. Islam, on the other hand, forces them to conform.
I write to preserve, in my own small way, the best parts of the West.
Islam must not get a free pass as it settles here in the West. It must be examined according to the Enlightenment standards of scholarship. Aggressive Islam can also be challenged best by a well—explained and thoughtful Christianity. For example, we can compare laws that came out of the earlier religion with those coming out of Islam. Freedom must prevail in the West and around the world.
Simply said, I will not stop my critique until I have written enough articles to feel safe from aggressive Islam. The truth must come out about ALL of Islam.
A few have been telling the truth about Islam for years (long before I came along), but many others, religious or secular, must join the cause. They must rigorously examine the truth—claims of Islam and Muhammad's life. Their own freedom may depend on it.
For these five major reasons, I write hard—hitting (but fact—based) articles on Islam.
James M. Arlandson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org