March 25, 2006
The Non-speech on Islam and Coexistence (1)By James Arlandson
At an interfaith conference at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Habib Siddiqui delivered a speech on March 11, 2006, titled 'Islam and Coexistence.' Normally, speeches at universities are sparsely attended, so they do not make an impact outside of the conference room.
However, three days later his speech was published in a Muslim magazine. And on March 17, 2006, it was posted on a large Muslim polemical and outreach website.These postings raise the stakes considerably. Plus, he often writes on a wide range of topics on the web, so he must be challenged.
The speech is intended to explain why Islam promotes peace and love for all peoples and why it can be a bridge builder between Judaism and Christianity, for example. If only we understood this most misunderstood religion, then we would not conclude that it is violent at its core. Instead, we would conclude that everyone could coexist with it.
But is 'peace and love' the only story in the Quran? Siddiqui quotes extensively from it, but does his choice of verses represent all of it? Does he disclose everything we need to know about original Islam to conclude that it is nothing but peaceful and tolerant?
Though this article pertains to a particular speech on a specific date, it brings up long—range issues about 'Islam and co—existence' and how to analyze this religion today.
To understand the Quran, it is crucial to know about Muhammad's Hijrah (Emigration or Flight) from Mecca to Medina in AD 622 (an historical fact that Siddiqui ignores when he quotes the Quran). Muhammad receives revelations in both cities. While he lived in Mecca, traditions say that they came on him in AD 610, and at first he was unclear about their meaning. But most of his fellow Meccans did not like them. However, since he has no raw, physical power in this city, he has to take a docile, submissive attitude towards his opponents.
The Meccan suras (chapters in the Quran) reflect this historical reality. Under persecution he has to leave Mecca behind, and he arrives in Medina. At this major stage, the revelations change in tone. He becomes bellicose. He raises a lethal band of raiders and eventually a large army. Textual reality of the Medinan suras in the Quran likewise reflects this historical reality.
Since Siddiqui's speech and this article quotes or refers to the Quran often, the readers may see the verses for themselves. This website has multiple translations. At the end of his speech, Siddiqui cites the older translator Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall approvingly, so I use his translation throughout my critique.
Also, space does not permit me to quote Siddiqui's speech paragraph by paragraph. Instead, I often summarize a section or a Quranic verse. Readers should click on the very first link, above, to view the entire speech for themselves (it's not long). Finally, I follow Siddiqui's sections in his speech, but I turn some of them into questions.
(1) Siddiqui's says about the critics and researchers of his religion:
Analysis: Which source documents of early Islam have 'his people' read or not read? Is it bigotry to report what the Quran and the hadith (traditions about Muhammad outside of the Quran) say about his Prophet and religion? Is it hatred to report what the early biographer Ibn Ishaq or early historical documents record about the violence in his religion? These sources seem pleased to record it, as we shall see throughout my critique.
Siddiqui is concerned over the definition of Islam that 'his people' could not recognize. The more important question concerns Muhammad. Would the founder of Islam recognize the following description of Islam, sketched out by Siddiqui, that is exclusively peaceful, or not? The evidence is overwhelming that the original Prophet would not, as the rest of this article will show.
(2) In another paragraph he condemns all forms of violence, and up to a point he is right to condemn this.
Analysis: But Siddiqui makes some errors and omissions. He assumes, for example, that Jim Jones of the Guyana mass suicide and David Koresh of the Waco incineration were Christians, but they were not. They deviated far from the New Testament and its teaching of love demonstrated by Jesus Christ.
Next, he says that there is genocide in Iraq. By whom? The allied forces? Would Siddiqui please be specific? His use of this word is careless, by any objective standards.
Finally, he mentions Christianity's 'colonization and massacre' of unarmed civilians across two millennia. But when did Jesus and the first generations of Christians take up arms to kill people or to impose a dhimmi tax on those who refused to submit? For the first few hundred years they did nothing but preach peacefully. Per contra, it is a fact that Islam engaged in colonization and massacres and forced taxes for over 1,400 years of its entire existence—and is still oppressing the Sudanese and other Africans.
This article has a timeline of Islamic aggression up to the European Crusades: The Truth about Islamic Crusades and Imperialism.
(3) Siddiqui locates the violence perpetrated by Muslim youth, not in Islamic theology, but in their:
Analysis: Here Siddiqui seems to have a strategy of ennobling the cause of Islamic violence, as Muslim youth see the worldwide 'hypocrisy' and 'mistreatment of his fellow brethren as third—class citizens.' Again Siddiqui needs to be specific. Does he speak of Guantanamo Prison and the imprisoned terrorists who were shooting at the large coalition that liberated Afghanistan?
The truth is simpler, hiding in plain view. It is Islamic countries that wreak havoc on the world, by dictatorships that kill even Muslims, by the oppression of women, and by the policies that kill anyone who speaks out against Islam or leaves it. Would Siddiqui explain why Christian Palestinians do not volunteer to become human bombs, even though they are as equally "oppressed" (his idea) as Muslim Palestinians? What if Siddiqui found one or two who did? Still, why do Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of these homicide—suicide killers? The answer is found in their belief, rooted in the Quran.
The list of other abuses is long, but they come directly from the Quran (see Supplemental material, below). This article analyzes torture in the Quran and early Islam. Islamic theology cannot be excluded from the motive of young people to become human bombs, as this article demonstrates from the terrorists themselves and the Quran itself.
Background information about Islam
(1) In this section of his speech, Siddiqui speaks about the 'class struggle between the forces of light and darkness, good and bad, truth and falsehood.' It is odd that he blends the Marxist phrase 'class struggle' with spiritual struggle, but I will let that pass. The more important part is found in these words:
Analysis: The ancient Greeks produced a very high culture (fine arts, literature, philosophy, and architecture), but they were polytheists. In fact, it could be argued that they created a much higher culture than Mecca or Medina did in the first third of the seventh century and throughout history. Further, does Siddiqui believe that it is self—evident that polytheism needs to be destroyed by violence? Is this what he means by a 'lightening bolt'? Muhammad believed this. That is why he and Abu Bakr (his right—hand Companion) forced all polytheists throughout the Arabian Peninsula to die or to convert without the third option of tolerance (Sura 9:1—5, see 'No Monopoly' below for an analysis). Though I personally am no supporter of polytheism, in today's world we must tolerate all beliefs, provided they do not perpetrate physical harm on others.
(2) What about Islam lifting people out of false notions of superiority and race and ethnicity?
Analysis: In a verse in Sura (Chapter) 9, probably the last sura to be revealed, Muhammad believes that desert Arabs are the hardest in unbelief and hypocrisy. The Quran in Sura 9:97 says:
Why does Muhammad scold the wandering Arabs as being the most stubborn of all peoples in his discrimination and generalization? First, he was a city—dweller, and a natural prejudice built up in them against desert nomads. Second and most important, many of them did not support Muhammad's wars, either financially or personally as soldiers.
In Sura 9 the peaceful Prophet for humanity takes off the gloves and says that the desert Arabs, his fellow Medinans, and the so—called hypocrites (nominal Muslims who will not jump when he cracks the whip) are either for him or against him in military campaigns and their adherence to Islam. He had just returned from the Tabuk Crusade with 30,000 jihadists to wage war on the Byzantine Christians. He had heard a rumor that they marshaled a large army, but they never showed up. Be that as it may, Muhammad is not the role model for the world about the equality of all humans. People were equal if and only if they joined Islam. If not, then Jews and Christians had to pay a second—class citizen tax called the jizyah. Polytheists were killed.
(3) Siddiqui continues in this section:
Analysis: Does Siddiqui really believe this? Islam's 'unique pattern that was unknown in the history of mankind'? Does he ignore Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament? Moses established divine law and the prophets preached reform and fidelity to one God. Jesus was a reformer within Judaism, and eventually his reform movement became a worldwide religion. For the first few hundred years Christianity turned the world upside down without violence.
In contrast, after Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632, Muslim armies, led by a series of Caliphs who exercised an authoritarian right to rule the world, stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula and conquered societies to the north, east and west—societies that had done no harm to Islam. So what kind of 'reform' and 'program' was this, anyway?
See this article that outlines the Islamic invasions of Italy proper and the harsh laws that the rulers imposed, derived from the Quran and reliable hadith.
Further, would Siddiqui please inform us where Islam has produced a beneficial 'socio—economic—political program' that the world today should adopt? Where is the pattern? Medieval Cordoba, Spain? Muslims invaded this land in the early eighth century and forced its way on to people, complete with pogroms (an apter word than program).
Where is the model for 'continuous reform'? Muhammad did not lead by example. Throughout his life in Medina, he was more than willing to conquer any tribe or city that stood in his way. In AD 630 he conquered Mecca after eight years of Muslim raids and conflicts that hampered its trade. This is an historical fact: in the ten years that Muhammad lived in Medina (AD 622—632), he either sent out or went out on seventy—four raids, assassination hit squads, battles and large wars. Thus, original Islam in those ten years did not know long stretches of peace. Is this what Siddiqui means by a 'socio—economic—political program'? Is this what he means by "continuous reform": Muhammad's continuous conquests that force people to reform (read: conform)?
The Quran in the Medinan suras reflect this historical reality, but he seems too eager to omit these verses from his speech (see Medinan Sura 8 in its entirety for many jihadist verses).
Does Islam reject racism and preach alternative criteria?
(1) Siddiqui in this section says that Islam rejects racism that permits only certain ethnicities and tribes to get into heaven.
Analysis: Islam has the messy problem of storming out of Arabia and conquering people left and right, after the Byzantine and Persian Empires had worn themselves out with wars. According to Tabari, an early Muslim historian, it seems that most conquered people wanted nothing to do with Islam. They preferred to keep their own religion. As we shall discover below, Islam could not leave this alone. It had to impose a second—class citizen tax.
Next, before this worldwide conquest, Arabia was not as diverse as the Mediterranean world during Jesus' lifetime and the earliest generations of Christians. His followers went out along the highways preaching the gospel of genuine peace and true love, and they turned the world upside down with this message, despite being persecuted. Islam is not really the best example of a paradise on earth.
(2) Siddiqui quotes from two verses in the Medinan Sura 2 (111 and 112), which say that Allah created the nations and that if anyone submits to Allah and does good deeds, then he will have nothing to fear.
Analysis: This sura is regarded as the earliest one after Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Muhammad wants to be accepted by all peoples, so the two verses that Siddiqui quotes reflect this desire. But he fails to mention an unpleasant verse in Sura 9 (and there are many in this sura). Recall that this sura is the last one to be revealed, and many Muslims believe that it abrogates or cancels earlier verses that seem to promote 'peace and love.' The unpleasant verse calls Muslim jihadists to wage war on Jews and Christians (People of the Book or Scripture) for theological reasons, not for any aggression on their part. The Quran in Sura 9:29 says:
This verse says nothing about a real and physical harm done to Islam. Muhammad gave Christians and Jews to the north during his Tabuk Crusades three options: (1) fight and die; (2) convert; (3) or submit and pay the second—class—citizen jizya tax for the 'privilege' of living under Islam.
Is there unity of mankind in Islam?
Siddiqui quotes from Muhammad's speech during his final pilgrimage. This quotation talks about blacks and whites getting along in peace and harmony.
Analysis: Muhammad also says in his farewell speech that husbands may hit their wives and that adulterers should be stoned to death (Ibn Ishaq, pp. 651—52). These two policies fit perfectly with the Quran and reliable hadith. Is it any wonder why Siddiqui left this out of his own speech at Vanderbilt? Islam would appear so violent and intolerant, according to its source documents—not according to any researcher today who is allegedly hateful or bigoted, as Siddiqui says in the introduction to his speech.
The Quran in this Medinan sura says that during Judgment, some faces will be blackened and sent to hell, whereas some faces will be whitened and sent to heaven [the word 'some' has been added by the translator].
Next, this verse, from Meccan Sura 39, repeats the same theme of blackness deserving or symbolizing harsh judgment and hell:
Thus, blackness is not viewed positively in the Quran, whether a Meccan or Medinan sura.
Moreover, the Quran endorses slavery—not merely permits it because it was too deeply entrenched in society. Muhammad himself traded in slaves. The Quran in Sura 47:4 says:
The Muslim victor has two options for prisoners: grace (free release) or ransom (payment to get the prisoner back). The third option in other passages is for the raider to keep prisoners for himself, especially women with whom he may have sex—that is, rape. The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:
The following hadith shows a sad snapshot of abuse in original Islam. The passage matter—of—factly talks about disrobing a recently captured female prisoner of a Muslim raid. Salamah the Muslim raider was 'fascinated' by her. But Muhammad wants her for himself. Why?
Muhammad did not give her family the option of ransoming her. He did not give her back freely, as an example for the world to stop the slave trade. 'I hereby give the girl back as an example that all Arabs must stop this trade! I do this especially as an example to the new community of Muslims I'm founding!'
Such clear announcements would be crucial for a fledgling religion that traffics in slavery, not merely permits it because it is was too deeply entrenched in the surrounding culture. Instead, he is depicted here as ravenously wanting the hapless girl. 'Give me that girl!' And he trades her for some Muslims who had been kept as prisoners in Mecca, which was not involved in the raid or in her life. So trade or exchange is a fourth option for a slave—owner, even if this means selling a slave far away from her family.
The slave trade was lucrative for Muhammad and his original Islam—the one revealed in the Quran from which Siddiqui quotes so often. It traded in slaves throughout its history, and still does today in some parts of the world, like Africa. Is this what Siddiqui means by Islam's unique and unparalleled 'socio—economic—political program'?
Does my criticism imply that the West has behaved flawlessly in this area? Of course not. But did original Islam? No. So why does Siddiqui leave this out of his speech?
See this page that references reliable hadiths on black slaves, some of whom Muhammad owned.
Part 2 appears tomorrow.