January 28, 2006
Why I don't convert to Islam (1)By James Arlandson
Dear Muslim missionary and emailer,
During Islamic holy days and months I get a slight increase in emails from you that go something like this: 'Come on, brother. During this holy time or month when we are conscious of God, accept Islam. You know it's the truth.'
Other fellow missionaries of yours send me links to news articles that report on Australians or Europeans (mostly from the UK) converting to Islam. One email linked to a story about a 'lone Pentecostal African pastor' who converted. The message is clear. If they convert, then why not you? Or, if they do, Christianity is losing.
One emailer named 'Jane' (a pseudonym) was surprised that I had not converted already. Why? I study the Quran carefully. Evidently, she believes that her holy book should convince me by itself.
I don't want to hurt her or your feelings, but it is precisely because I study the Quran and hadith that I don't convert. (The hadith are the traditions about Muhammad outside of the Quran.)
This long article explains why I don't convert, by using primarily the Quran itself and secondarily the hadith. But before you begin reading the list, here are four things you should know.
First, if you believe that I have taken a verse out of context, then click on the supporting articles under each item. They will put the given verse in context. I generally work hard at treating the Quran with respect and with at least a little scholarship. Also, here are the introductions to each sura or chapter in the Quran by Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi (d. 1979), a highly respected traditional commentator. They will put the verses in historical and textual context.
Second, if you want to see the verses in other translations, then here are three sites. This one has multiple translations; this one has three; and this conservative translation is subsidized by the Saudi royal family. I sometimes use it here as Hilali and Khan, the two translators.
Third, it is likely that an optimistic and energetic Muslim missionary will send me an email trying to explain (away) this or that item in the list, hoping to persuade me. 'Slavery in Islam was practiced because of such and such conditions in Arabia.' I just finished an email with a Muslim who told me that sex with slave—girls was not allowed—even though the Quran says this clearly. Such an energetic missionary should no longer waste his or her time. I have spent many arduous hours studying the Quran, its cultural background, and historical Islam at its founding. I have not reached my conclusions lightly.
Fourth, I must answer a strategy. Sometimes one of your fellow Muslim missionaries, who, like you, believes that Islam is the best religion in the world and who wants it to spread around the globe, attempts to refute lists like this. But attempting to refute such a list is like reviewing a long, long book only from the last chapter. The reviewer has skipped over the hard work of reading all of the chapters. In the same way, such a Muslim polemicist must not skip over the hard work found in the back—up articles. This long list is only a summary of many articles and a lot of strenuous labor from myself and many other researchers. So he must refute them before he has earned the right to reply to a mere summary.
Here are the reasons why I don't convert to Allah's religion which are not placed in any particular order.
(1) The Quran differs widely from the Bible on such persons as Adam, Noah, Lot, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, and Moses.
Even though the Quran depicts Moses as a baffled prophet in Sura (Chapter) 18:60—82, Abraham and Ishmael serve as examples of the Quran's reshaping the Bible, often for the Quran's own benefit. The following passage asserts that Abraham settled Ishmael in Arabia near Mecca so that he could lead the Arabs in prayer and denounce idol worship:
And this next verse claims that Abraham and Ishmael, while in Mecca, built and purified the Kabah, the sacred shrine that houses a black stone:
This final verse says that Abraham nearly sacrificed a son, though never mentioning Ishmael by name.
Personally, I believe Abraham and the other patriarchs actually lived, but I must concede that no extra—Biblical evidence—e.g. archeological or textual—confirms their existence. Therefore, by extension, no reliable historical evidence can be advanced to support Abraham's sojourn down to distant Mecca. Muhammad was simply relying on Arab folk belief or his own imagination and elevated it to his sacred Scripture.
Dear Muslim missionary, please understand that the Quran is a derivative book—it would have never known about any of the Bible characters if the Bible had never existed, except only vaguely by oral tradition. (And this influenced the Quran often enough.) Therefore, I evaluate the later, derivative book by the original written text as the gold standard, somewhat like the Treasury Department uses the original typeface of printed money and other technology to detect deviations from the original. The Quran deviates too widely from the original.
So this first reason alone is sufficient grounds for me not to convert to Islam. The Bible is more than good enough for me, in matters of faith and salvation and Bible characters.
This article goes into more detail on Abraham and Ishmael. This one has many Quranic verses on them, arguing that even the Quran suggests that the two traveled only about five miles from Jerusalem, not to Mecca. And this one cites Muslim sources that admit that the son who was almost sacrificed may have been Isaac, not Ishmael. This fine online booklet offers a user—friendly comparative study on Biblical characters as they appear in the Bible and in the Quran.
(2) The Quran denies the actual and physical crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Sura 4:157 says:
For me, this passage is one of the most difficult to accept in the Quran. Jesus was made to appear to have died on the cross. But even the most radical western critics of the Bible do not deny that he was crucified. They may doubt his divinity and miracles, and most may doubt his bodily resurrection, but not his bodily crucifixion.
So where does Muhammad get this farfetched belief? Denying Jesus' actual death absorbs docetic teaching circulating around the larger Mediterranean world, which holds that the flesh, the physical body, is evil. (Docetism comes from the Greek word for 'seems' or 'appears.') Therefore, a spiritual Messiah like Jesus could not really die in the flesh, but would merely appear to do so. In his own peculiar way, Muhammad seems to be protecting Jesus from the Jews, by denying that they killed him.
Whatever Muhammad's motives, denying the crucifixion is completely unacceptable to me as a Christian. It is Christ's atonement or sacrifice on the cross that saves us and ushers us into heaven when we die. I no longer trust in my own good works, but in Christ's Good Work on the cross—though I do good works after this transaction of faith and trust and salvation has taken place, but not to re—earn my way into heaven (Ephesians 2:8—10).
Dear Muslim missionary, his atoning death is the heart of Christianity as revealed in the New Testament, but your Prophet lived six hundred years after the crucifixion, so he could get things wrong more readily. I do not give up this essential New Testament teaching.
For more information on Gnosticism and other sources inspiring this belief about Jesus' 'non—crucifixion' in the Quran, see this chapter, and scroll down to 'Denial of the Crucifixion of Jesus.' This article examines the fine nuances of Sura 4:157. And this one looks at the non—canonical testimony on the crucifixion, establishing external support for the event. This article is a clever analysis of the fallout of this denial.
(3) The Quran grants 'special' marriage privileges only to Muhammad.
It seems that Allah gave Muhammad special permission to marry as many women as he desired or to take them as slaves or concubines, just as in the pre—Islamic days of 'ignorance.' Average Muslims may marry only four wives (see point no. 4), but Muhammad is allowed to have as many as he wanted. Sura 33:50, a lengthy verse, grants Muhammad wide latitude in his marriages:
So Allah gives his favorite Prophet slave—girls and any woman who gives herself to him, provided, of course, that he desires her. This hadith says that Muhammad used to visit nine (or eleven) wives in one night.
Dear Muslim emailer, I know that your Prophet could do no wrong in your eyes, but to an outsider like me this 'revelation' that permits him to have as many wives as he desires looks suspicious.
(4) The Quran allows a Muslim to be polygamous with up to four wives.
Sura 4:3 says:
Maududi paraphrases the verse: 'If you need more than one [wife] but are afraid that you might not be able to do justice to your wives from among the free people, you may turn to slave girls because in that case you will be burdened with less responsibilities' (note 6) (See Sura 4:24). Thus, the limit on four wives is artificial. Men could have sex with as many slave—girls as they wanted (see no. 11, below).
However, Muhammad would not allow polygamy for his son—in—law Ali, because an extra wife would hurt Muhammad's daughter Fatima, by his first wife Khadija. Fatima was married to Ali.
Muhammad understands how hurtful polygamy can be for women, but he himself practiced it and allowed it for male Muslims, generally.
This article explains why Christians do not accept polygamy. This page in an online index explains polygamy. For a more thorough analysis of polygamy in the Quran, go to this online booklet and click on Chapter 12. See this article on the number of wives and human sexual property Muhammad allowed himself. Here is my own article.
(5) The Quran grants Muhammad twenty percent from raids, wars, and conquests.
Sura 8:1 shows some people complaining about how Muhammad distributed the wealth taken from his aggressive Battle of Badr in AD 624 against the Meccans, not too long after his Hijrah to Median in AD 622. He gets a revelation that tells them who the boss is:
Then he gets a revelation that says that he gets to keep twenty percent, to distribute as he sees fit. Sura 8:41 says:
It is true that Muhammad distributes some of his twenty percent to the poor and needy—he is trying to maintain a community of Muslims, after all. But sometimes he gives the conquered spoils to the not—so—poor—and—needy, in order to 'win over a people that they may become Muslims' . . . (Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford UP, 1955, p. 596).
A reliable hadith absolutely supports Ibn Isaq's narrative or tradition:
. . . [W]hen the Messenger of Allah . . . conquered Hunain he distributed the booty, and he bestowed upon those whose hearts it was intended to win.
That is, after the Battle of Hunain, which took place shortly after he conquered Mecca (early AD 630), he uses 'the good things of this life' (Ibn Ishaq) to soften hearts for Islam, in order to convert not the poor and needy, but the elite, or to keep them in Islam.
Finally, the Quran itself in Sura 9:60 (a late sura, if not the final one) says:
Though this verse speaks of charity and not the spoils of war, it still reveals a dubious use of money to attract converts.
Dear Muslim polemicists, this policy on money appears manipulative, to me. I realize, though, that you believe that your prophet is justified in everything he does, but your explanations are not convincing. Jesus never used money or the spoils of war to convert people or to keep them converted. So I don't believe that such a policy is God ordained.
This article explains the spread of Islam in five reasons, such as the thirst for material gain (scroll down past the timeline of the Islamic Crusades.) This article offers four reasons for the spread of Islam. This quick comment by Ibn Kathir, a classical commentator, explains Sura 9:60. This article by an Islamologist of an earlier generation clarifies the use of alms to win converts.
(6) The Quran permits husbands to hit their wives
Even if the husbands merely fear highhandedness in their wives, quite apart from whether they actually are highhanded— hitting is permitted, as if domestic violence in any form is acceptable.
Sura 4:34 says:
This hadith says that Muslim women in the time of Muhammad were suffering from domestic violence:
Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating). It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's Apostle came, Aisha said, 'I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!' (Bukhari, emphasis added)
This hadith shows Muhammad hitting his girl—bride, Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, his right—hand Companion:
Dear Muslim emailer, Quran—inspired domestic violence is completely unacceptable to me, and the many links below refute any attempt at whitewashing the dark clarity of this verse. For me, this is reason enough not to convert to Allah's religion.
See this article for fuller details on wife—beating. It clarifies many translations of the verse. This article, though long, offers a clear analysis of wife—beating, examining the hadith and other early source documents, as well as refuting modern Muslim polemics. This article is a superb analysis of the subject, giving various translations of Sura 4:34. It cites the hadith and classical commentaries and refutes modern defenses. Finally, this article is thorough in examining the Quran and hadith and Muslim polemics.
(7) The Quran says that Muhammad had little or no authority over some evil jinn (genii) who came into his presence. Also, meteors kill jinn.
Some of the jinn listened to Muhammad's recitation of his holy book. In Sura 72:13—15, the jinn speak in this passage, and some receive the truth (the Quran), whereas others refuse:
In Sura 72:8—9 the jinn say that shooting stars lie in wait for them, if they try to eavesdrop:
These passages reflect pre—Islamic myths and beliefs that jinn can listen in on human conversations. But Muhammad manipulates the Meccan polytheists' belief to his own advantage. If jinn have become Muslims, then what about stubborn Meccan humans becoming Muslims, too?
To postulate the existence of spirit beings like demons is one thing (the New Testament does this), but these Quranic passages take things well beyond the Bible and lurch over into manipulation and fantasy, at least to me they do.
(8) The Quran allows mature men to marry and have sex with prepubescent girls.
Dear Muslim missionary, this Quranic permission may be one of the strongest reasons why I do not convert. The true God would not allow this. I have read the 'explanations' of Muslim polemicists, but they do not convince me. Muhammad's example speaks louder than their arguments, and he had sex with a nine—year—old girl.
Sura 65:1 and 4 says:
This hadith says that Aisha was only six when she was betrothed:
This hadith demonstrates that Muhammad pursued Aisha when she was a little girl. Abu Bakr is Aisha's father, and he resists giving her to the Prophet, until a little pressure is applied.
This hadith recounts the fifty—plus—year—old Muhammad's and the nine—year—old Aisha's first sexual encounter. She was playing on her swing set with her girlfriends when she got the call.
This hadith describes Muhammad counseling a mature Muslim man to marry a young virgin for the extra thrill it gives him to fondle her, and she him.
This is a short article on the subject of marrying prepubescent girls. The article has links to Iran's deceased Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who reduced the marriage age of girls to nine years. This long article is filled with references to early Islamic sources and modern opinions. This one is also filled with references in the hadith and modern scholars. It even refers to modern physiology and psychology to show the damage done to girls. Finally, this one discusses marriage age in the Bible.
James M. Arlandson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.