June 17, 2006
Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (3)By James Arlandson and Soliman albuthe
[James Arlandson has been enagged in a frank and mututally respectful dialogue with a Saudi Muslim religious authority, Mr. Soliman al—Buthe (aka AlBut'hi), prompted by an Open Letter to Congress Mr. al—Buthe wrote. Part One has a brief Introduction, and Part Two continues the dialgogue. Mr. al—Buthe's words are indented. Part 3 is presented today]
From the Open Letter to Congress (continued):
JA: I will skip over the second paragraph that discusses Islam's transformation of the Arabian Peninsula and instead ask two questions about the first paragraph in this section.
1. You say that Islam is the final revelation for humankind. Does it ultimately complete and fulfill Christianity (Sura 5:15—16)?
JA: 2. Since Islam is the continuation of religions, is it the will of Allah that Islam must spread around the world (Suras 61:9, 48:28, 9:33)?
JA: My comments on this part of our dialogue come in five numbered points.
(1) You write in answer to my first question on Islam fulfilling Christianity:
Yes, indeed it does. But the Christianity that it completes and fulfills is the true Message with which Jesus came. The verses you quoted [Sura 5:15—16] state that the first thing that Islam does to that message is to present it as it truly was.
Does Islam present the message of Jesus 'as it truly was'? This implies that the Quran corrects the New Testament, a common belief among Muslims. As we shall see in my fifth point and in the Conclusion, below, the Quran itself is in need of correction—in fact, the list in this section, below, demonstrates this.
In your second paragraph of your Open Letter, you list some positive things that the Quran commands, such as speaking the truth, honoring promises, being kind to relations, being helpful to neighbors, abstaining from bloodshed, avoiding obscenities and false witness, neither appropriating an orphan's property nor slandering chaste women, and so on.
I acknowledge that many items on your list help society. Those positive commands are good, but they are all found in Christian ethics, so the Quran does not bring anything new in this regard. They are not areas of disagreement between us. However, one of the main reasons why I have written my articles is to expose all of Islam to unsuspecting Westerners and others. To withhold valuable information that clarifies all aspects of 'the final revelation' is wrong. But this is what I find Muslims frequently doing, as I read their articles online or in the print media—leaving out the unpleasant and violent parts of the Sunnah and the Quran.
I do not believe that Islam completes and fulfills Christianity. I have clarified and slightly expanded the list from Part Two.
* Anyone who accuses someone else of sexual sin must bring four witnesses; if not, the accuser gets eighty lashes (24:4);
* Husbands are a degree above their wives in status (2:228); reliable hadiths say that the majority of the inhabitants of hell are women due only because of their 'harshness and ingratitude,' not because of their numerical majority around the globe;
* A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female (4:11);
* A woman's testimony counts half of a man's testimony because she may 'forget' (2:282). Reliable hadiths say this law is based on the 'deficiency of a woman's mind' ;
* To get a valid and legal divorce, a husband merely needs to repeat 'I divorce you' three times in quick succession (2:229). This verse is baffling because it does not explicitly say 'three times,' but Islamic law interprets it in that way.
* A wife may remarry her ex—husband if and only if she marries another man, they have sex, and then this second man divorces her (2:230);
* Muhammad has special marriage privileges (as many women as he desires), which only he enjoys (33:50);
* A Muslim man may be polygamous with up to four wives (4:3);
* Muhammad gets twenty percent from his seventy—four raids and wars in ten years in Medina (8:1, 41);
* Muhammad bought off converts (9:60);
* Husbands may hit their wife or wives (4:34);
* Mature men may marry and consummate their marriage with prepubescent girls (65:4);
* Sexual sinners must be whipped a hundred times (24:2), and sound hadiths say adulterers and homosexuals must be executed;
* Critics of Islam and Muslims may be killed (33:59—61);
* The Quran endorses and celebrates the massacre of Jewish men and pubescent boys and the enslavement of the women and children (33:25—27);
* Jihadists buy status from Allah in this life and in the afterlife (4:74; 4:95—96; 9:38—44, 86—87, and 111; 61:10—11);
* Polytheists in the Arabian Peninsula had to convert or die or leave (9:5—6);
* He forces Jews and Christians to convert or fight and die or pay a tax, with willing submission or subjugation (9:29).
This list balances out your positive one in the second paragraph of your Open Letter. It is one thing for the Quran to preach those positive rules to seventh—century Arabs, whom (you believe) needed them. But you also say that the Quran is God's final revelation to all of humanity, even though other holy books teach right social behavior. So do we really need the Quran, when it is filled with such dubious and violent verses that Muslim missionaries would like to implement around the globe?
Your Prophet suffers from the disadvantage of coming six hundred years after Jesus, who showed us a better way and ushered in a new era of salvation, an era that does not oppress people and force holiness and religious conformity on them from the outside in. Therefore, objectively speaking, if Islam and the Quran complete and fulfill Christianity and the New Testament, then the later religion (Islam) and text (the Quran) have dragged my religion and sacred text backwards by at least two thousands of years, before Jesus came.
If you or the readers suspect that these verses have been taken out of context, you and they may click on the following articles that in turn have long and several supporting articles behind each item on the list:
This article provides more evidence that Islam does not improve on Christianity.
The first strategy that Muslim apologists use to reply to such excesses in the Quran is to remind Christians about the severe commands in the Old Testament. However, we Christians revere and benefit from this older sacred text, when we read it correctly. But we also believe that Jesus Christ fulfilled it, so we no longer have to live under the Old Law. Therefore, Muslim apologists no longer need to cite it to score polemical points.
The second strategy of Muslim polemicists is to show the "horrible" life and the crime rates in the US (and the whole West) because western freedoms (supposedly) do not work. Then they assert that Islamic law is the best solution. We humans need it for our own good, even though it is so severe.
In reply, however, this line graph on a short page at the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that violent crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, assaults, robbery) in America have decreased dramatically since 1994 to 2003. Next, this line graph also found at the BJS depicts a dramatic drop in property crime (burglary, theft, and car theft) from 1994, though the rate has leveled off since 2002.
But what is the point of placing these two line graphs below this list? To boast that America has reached sinless perfection and has no room for improvement? No. Maybe the crime rate will increase (God forbid) in the next decade (or go down). The point is this: though many factors contribute to a drop in crime rates (or their rise), it is possible to see such a decrease without Islamic law. This means, therefore, that it is not needed to improve any society. Other, less brutal, methods can be applied in order to lower crime and enhance the quality of life.
(2) You say in Point a:
I asked this question in Part Two of our dialogue: Did Jesus and his Apostles and the New Testament authors say or do these things on that list in my previous point, above? Not even close. The question and answer still stand. This is why I doubt seriously that Islam and the Quran are 'the final revelation' for humanity.
(3) This is my comment on your Point b that says:
It is interesting that the translation of Sura 61:9 that you choose reads 'conqueror' in the context of Islam prevailing over every religion. This apt translation catches the spirit of the path of Muhammad who either went out on or sent out seventy—four raids, assassination hit squads, skirmishes, and full—scale wars, such as the conquest of Mecca in early AD 630. The Meccan polytheists were 'averse' (a word in Sura 61:9) to this conquest, but they were so worn down by your Prophet's raids, conflicts, and battles that they surrendered, but not before Khalid al—Walid killed about two dozen who 'resisted' (according to his own report).
Whereas Islam may be spread by reason and argumentation (our dialogue proves this), the path of Muhammad says that Islam is also spread by violent means, and this information should not be withheld.
Next, you repeat the common belief that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. But this belief is simply untrue. (In the West Mormonism may be the fastest.) Regardless, Islam is growing fast in the West, but this is not surprising. The West has been already saturated with Christianity, culturally (not Biblically). So if a new religion sprouts up (at least new to the West in its own countries), then the religion appears to be the fastest growing.
Here is an analogy that may clarify matters, though the specific numbers and the years are made up. Let us imagine that in 1975, 100 million Americans owned cars made in America. But foreign car manufacturers had been selling their cars in the American market. In that same year, let us pretend that one million Americans owned the foreign cars. In 1976, ten million new and additional customers bought American—made cars, but two million new and additional customers chose the foreign models. What are the net increases (assuming that everyone kept their 1975 cars and did not sell them)? The foreign manufacturers doubled their growth, but the American cars, by comparison, did not do as well. Yet the American cars still dominate the domestic market. Thus, in the same way, Islam may be (or may not be) the fastest growing religion in the West, but Islam has a long way to go. Here is the point: the phrase 'fastest growing religion' in a Western context can be misleading.
In the rest of the world, the claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion is untrue. In many nations, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. China is rapidly becoming more Christian, seeing the conversion of millions each year. In a few decades Sub—Saharan Africa will be mostly Christian. India is being blessed with large Christian meetings.
Some examples follow:
This is one large outdoor meeting in Africa, led by one German evangelist. Only slightly smaller Christian meetings happen often in this continent.
In Pakistan, one Christian woman evangelist hosted a capacity crowd in a football stadium that holds 100,000 spectators.
This book spells out the growth of Christianity in China: Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power.
(4) For your Point c, you say:
First, you assert that it is forbidden 'even to attempt to force anyone to Islam.' Then you quote from Sura 2:256. In reply, however, if only this tolerance were the complete picture of Islam! Instead, we must balance out the 'peace and love' representation with some hard reality. Sura 2 is generally regarded as one of the earliest after Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. He wanted to be accepted by all peoples, particularly Jews, so the verse reflects this desire. The sura has many passages discussing Jewish Scriptures and beliefs and actions. However, there is an unpleasant verse in Sura 9, among many. This sura is the last one to be revealed in its entirety, and many Muslims believe that it abrogates or cancels earlier verses that seem to promote only tolerance. Verse five unveils Muhammad's violent policy against polytheists. They either convert or die or leave (cf. verse 6).
9:5 Then when the Sacred Months (the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikun [polytheists] (see . . . 2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As—Salat (Iqamat—as—Salat) [prayer], and give Zakat [charity tax], then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft—Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Hilali and Khan, their insertions in parentheses, mine in brackets)
So there is compulsion in Islam, after all, which contradicts the earlier Sura 2:256.
Second, you say that 'events' (presumably acts of violence, especially on September 11) are completely forbidden in Islam. However, your prophet commissions his followers to wage war on Jews and Christians or the People of the Book or Scripture (= Bible). Sura 9:29 says:
9:29 Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (Hilali and Khan, insertions in parentheses are theirs)
This verse that commands battle is all about theology and practice. It says nothing explicit about a real and physical harm done to Islam. People of the Book had three options: (1) fight and die; (2) convert to Islam; (3) or submit and pay the second—class—citizen jizya tax for the alleged privilege of living under Islam. The third option may not technically force conversions, but it comes as close to force as any policy can. It certainly permits violence and is the opposite of 'charity and kindness and peace' bringing people to Islam, which 'speaks for itself.'
Mr. al—Buthi, the direct connection between terrorist acts today and many violent verses in the Quran is unclear to me. However, I understand how violent radicals appeal to these and many other such verses, especially in Sura 9, to justify their attacks. Violent radicals aside, tolerance is not the only story about the spread of Islam. Sometimes the sword speaks for your religion.
(5) For your Point d, you write:
If I understand this point correctly, you essentially claim four things. For clarity I label them with letters. (A) You say that the Creator looks out for the welfare of our souls, so he would send us a message that provides guidance; (B) 'Muslims are the only people who even claim they are in possession of such a message'; (C) 'historical evidence' indicates that 'the Quran that [Muslims] are now reading is the same precise words that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad'; and (D) 'neither the Jews or Christians can make such a claim' . . . .
(A) As for your first claim, I have no quarrel that the Creator cares for our souls, but based on the list in my first reply, I do not believe that the Quran contains entirely that caring and loving message, which 'makes us happy' (your words). Let me boil it down in modus tollens (denying the 'then' clause), in an if—then argument:
To judge from the list of practical policies and legal decrees taken from the Quran itself in part one of my reply, above:
(1) If the Quran is God's final message to us, then he must want to abuse us physically, and he hates us.
(2) But God does not want to abuse us physically, and he loves us.
(3) Therefore, the Quran is not God's final message to us.
(B) You say that Muslims are the only people who believe that they have a message of love and welfare. Though I am neither a Sikh nor a Latter—Day Saint (Mormon), these two religions have holy books that appear long after the Quran. Nanak, founder of Sikhism, and his successors have the Guru Granth Sahib. And Joseph Smith has the Book of Mormon, believed to be brought down by an angel, as well as the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine of Covenants. They believe that God cares for them so much that he sent them their messages or holy books. Also, Christians believe that the New Testament offers the true message of God in a way that the Quran does not. Thus, Muslims are not the 'only people who even claim that they are in possession of such a message' of love and welfare from God.
(C) Does 'historical evidence' say that the Quran today really is 'the same precise words that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad'? I already cited four reasons in Part Two why this is not true, though Muslims are taught this from childhood. I repeat some of the reasons here since our multipart dialogue is so long.
To begin, this hadith (or sacred tradition) from Bukhari (a highly reliable collector and editor of hadith) says that Uthman ordered that different versions of the Quran be burned, throughout the Islamic empire.
. . . 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. (Bukhari)
It is one thing to prepare the final version (if one exists of the Quran), but burning alternate versions? He destroyed a rich textual history that the New Testament enjoys. Now scholars cannot cross—check these fragments and manuscripts to establish whether the present—day Quran is the right one.
Next, this is an interesting modern discovery: a 'buried' version of the Quran, found in 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana'a, in Yemen.
Since the early 1980s more than 15,000 sheets of the Yemeni Korans have painstakingly been flattened, cleaned, treated, sorted, and assembled; they now sit ("preserved for another thousand years," Puin says) in Yemen's House of Manuscripts, awaiting detailed examination. That is something the Yemeni authorities have seemed reluctant to allow, however. "They want to keep this thing low—profile, as we do too, although for different reasons," Puin explains. "They don't want attention drawn to the fact that there are Germans and others working on the Korans. They don't want it made public that there is work being done at all, since the Muslim position is that everything that needs to be said about the Koran's history was said a thousand years ago." (Source)
I asked in Part Two: 'Why won't the authorities allow its publication? What are they hiding?' These questions still stand.
The third and final example comes from the reliable hadith collection Sahih Muslim, which says that an entire sura, having over a hundred verses, is missing from the Quran.
. . . We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara'at [Sura 9, which has 129 verses]. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it: "If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust." (Muslim no. 2286; see the four hadiths above this one)
Please see this webpage that has many links to articles and hadiths on the corruption of the Quran. If the Quran really is the precise words revealed to Muhammad, then the long list (see my reply (1), above) says that too many of the words command oppressive policies. So what is the advantage of reading these 'precise words' revealed to your prophet?
(D) As for the fourth sub—point, you again challenge the reliability of the New Testament. (I forego a discussion on the Old Testament, though its manuscript traditions are first rate.) It must be admitted—and no reputable scholar attempts to hide the fact—that the manuscripts that make up the New Testament have traveled through time. Therefore, they have received some light bumps and bruises, so to speak (and so do all ancient texts, including the Quran). However, there are thousands of manuscripts, ranging from fragments to partial and to complete books or sections and the entire New Testament. This means that qualified scholars can cross—check and compare them and eliminate any scribal and incidental errors. Thus, these slight historical, textual 'wounds' have not altered the essential message of the Four Gospel and the rest of the New Testament. This means, in turn, that the following assessment of these scholars reflects textual reality. I again quote from Part Two, which has more information:
The overwhelming majority of the text of the Greek New Testament is firmly established. Where uncertainties remain, in no case is any doctrinal matter at issue. (D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. Zondervan, 2005, p. 30)
The New Testament manuscripts far outnumber other manuscript traditions of ancient texts, and the chronological gap between the New Testament manuscripts and the events themselves and original writings is much, much shorter. This short article has a comparative Table.
Open Letter to Congress (continued):
JA: I have two questions: 1. You briefly recount the origins of your reform movement. What did the Wahhabi reform movement do to the Shi'ites and their shrines in Kerbala in 1802?
JA: 2. You say that 'the essential concepts underlying the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were born' with the Wahhabi reforms. What are the historical reasons for the image of a sword sitting on the flag of Saudi Arabia?
JA: I have only two comments on this part.
(1) One of the purposes of your Open Letter is to show that Wahhabism is kinder and gentler than popular opinion (wrongly) believes. In fact, you do not like the label. You are simply Sunni Muslims who adhere strictly to the Quran and the proper teachings of Islam, especially in the Sunnah.
However, destroying shrines belies your efforts to present a better version of your Islamic monotheism. Let's assume that some Muslim devotees who appeared at the shrines indeed practiced some form of light shirk (associating anything with Allah), according to the strict purists. Then religious freedom is still better than repression, regardless of what an ancient sharia rule may decree, written centuries ago.
Next, you say that the destruction of the shrines was 'not because they belonged to the Shiites.' However, James Wynbrandt in A Brief History of Saudi Arabia (Checkmark Books, 2004), p. 135, says that humans, the Shi'ites, were slaughtered along with the destruction of their shrines.
With peace prevailing along the border between the Hijaz and Najd . . . [in] March 1802 Karbala's citizens were slaughtered and its sacred places destroyed, including the great dome of Husayn.
Normally, it would be only fair to point out early American abuses. (Read about the Trail of Tears here, which says the government forcibly removed an Indian tribe in the early nineteenth century.) But this short news report in 2001 connects the Saudi government to the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. So the intolerance continues today, throughout the Islamic world, not just in or near Saudi Arabia.
Here is the hard—learned lesson of history in the West. A few Christian reformers in the sixteenth century sometimes destroyed things in their zeal, but now this is generally viewed as misguided. If a Christian performed a ritual that a zealous reformer did not like, such as praying to a saint or burning incense before a statue, then the reformer should have let freedom reign, however much he disliked the ritual. He should not have destroyed the statue nor harassed the devotee. The ritual does not harm anyone else physically or materially. The zealous reformer may proclaim by words alone his version of Christianity and godly purity, but he should not destroy things or whip or imprison people for (perceived) violations of religious rituals or theology.
Further, after the Puritans (note the word 'pure' in Puritan) crossed the Atlantic and reached the shores of America in the seventeenth century, they were sometimes intolerant. They physically punished people who sinned. They forced external holiness and conformity on to people. Eventually, however, the Founders of our nation took a more tolerant path in the eighteenth century. People are now allowed to worship as they want. Thus, the Founders progressed. They showed wisdom. They were right.
If Saudi Arabia is compatible with modernity, as you say in your Open Letter, then is not religious freedom essential? This is true, no matter how distasteful the rituals performed by another Muslim or a member of another religion may be, according to a strict Muslim purist.
If you distrust the West about its 'hard—learned lesson' on religious freedom, then do not be surprised if the West distrusts your Open Letter to a western government when the Letter says that Saudi Arabia is compatible with modernity.
Fortunately, this report says that the Saudi government may be relaxing its opposition to Sufism after September 11. But before that date:
When the al—Saud family that would later come to rule Saudi Arabia took over Hejaz [western region] in the 1920s, the Wahhabis banned mawlids [celebrations of birth and life of Muhammad] as a form of heresy and destroyed the historic shrines of Khadija, Fatima and the prophet's companions, fearing they would lead to idolatry and polytheism.
The article shows a photo of Salman al—Odah, a strict and popular Saudi cleric (according to the report), accepting an invitation from Sufi cleric Abdallah Fadaaq. Expanding tolerance is a positive development. But will this expansion include other Muslim sects and even other religions?
(2) As for the Islamic confession of faith (the Shahadah) and the sword sitting on your flag, I thought of this hadith from Sahih Bukhari. It says that the Prophet of Islam has been ordered to fight (= the sword on the flag?) until people acknowledge that Allah is the right deity and Muhammad is his messenger (= the Shahadah on the flag?). The people must also give the messenger their money. If they do these things, then their lives and property are kept safe.
Allah's Apostle said: "I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah." (Bukhari ; see a parallel hadith here)
Does this hadith and its parallel, plus Suras 9:5 and 9:29 (quoted above), capture the essence of the words and the sword on the flag?
Mr. al—Buthi, let's step back and look at the big picture seen in the overarching mission of Jesus and Muhammad. I choose this topic to conclude with, because you believe that Islam presents the message of Jesus as it 'truly was.'
You assert in your Open Letter to Congress that Muhammad was called to lead people towards a new law that superceded the paganism of Arabia in the seventh century. Implied in this belief is that he was another lawgiver, like Moses (except your Prophet's laws are fuller and more complete). He intended to establish a new order here on earth. In contrast, it is often believed among Muslims that Jesus was a spiritual leader whose kingdom was not of this earth. He was not a new lawgiver. He was 'heavenly minded.'
In reply, however, part of this is true. Jesus said that he was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36—37). But the more I study Islam, the happier I am that he never made specific pronouncements on many policies, such as 'Cut off the hands of thieves! Divide the inheritance to give men a double portion over that of women! Women's testimony counts half of men's! Whip sexual sinners one hundred times! Husbands may hit their wife or wives! Crucify highway robbers, or cut off their alternate hand and foot! I shall fight you until you acknowledge me as Lord, pray my way, and give me a 'charity' tax! My harsh decrees will make you happy, in the end! If only you could see this!'
His silence on such legal decrees and violent policies does not imply that we should interpret his message in dubious ways, for that would violate his entire ministry. He honored and gave dignity to people, especially to sinners. But he loved them too much to leave them unchanged from the inside out. Rather, his silence means that we can use our sound reason to figure things out, such as how to divide an inheritance, or why women's testimony counts equally as men's testimony.
Nor, especially, do we need revelations in a bygone and culture—bound holy book that commands that we should carry out these harsh decrees and laws.
Mr. al—Buthi, you and millions of Muslims believe that the Quran is the final revelation to all of humanity, but I disagree.
For me, down—to—earth reality in the messages and practices of Jesus and Muhammad breaks the deadlock between the competing abstract claims and doctrines of Christianity and Islam.
This is Part Three in a series.