Why I don't convert to Islam (1)

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:

14:35 Remember when Abraham said, 'Lord, make this town [Mecca] safe! Lord, preserve me and my offspring from idolatry . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Quran, Oxford UP, 2004)

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:

2:127 As Abraham and Ishmael built up the foundation of the House [Kabah] [they prayed, 'Our Lord, accept [this] from us' . . . . (Haleem)

This final verse says that Abraham nearly sacrificed a son, though never mentioning Ishmael by name.

37:102 When the boy was old enough to work with his father, Abraham said, 'My son, I have seen myself sacrificing you in a dream. What do you think?' He said, 'Father, do as you are commanded and, God willing, you will find me steadfast.' (Haleem)

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:

[A]nd [the Jews] said, 'We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.' (They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to him. Those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him . . .)  (Haleem)

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:

O Prophet, We have made lawful to you those of your wives, whose dowers you have paid, and those women who come into your possession out of the slave—girls granted by Allah, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts, and of your maternal uncles and aunts, who have migrated with you, and the believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet may desire her. This privilege is for you only, not for the other believers . . . . (Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur'an (six volumes), vol. 4, p. 111, emphasis added).

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.

Anas bin Malik said, "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven). (Bukhari) See the parallel hadiths herehere, and here

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.

This article examines Muhammad's special privileges. This one has a list of his wives, and this one has even a longer list.

(4) The Quran allows a Muslim to be polygamous with up to four wives.

Sura 4:3 says:

And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife, or marry those who have fallen in your possession. (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 305)

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.

I heard Allah's Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, 'Banu Hisham bin Al—Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don't give permission, and will not give permission unless Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me.' (Bukhari)

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:

They ask you [Prophet] about [distributing] the battle gains. Say, 'That is a matter for God and his Messenger, so be conscious of God and make things right between you. Obey God and His Messenger if you are true believers' . . . (Haleem)

Then he gets a revelation that says that he gets to keep twenty percent, to distribute as he sees fit. Sura 8:41 says:

Know that one—fifth of your battle gains belong to God and His Messenger, to close relatives and orphans, to the needy and travelers, if you believe in God and the revelation We sent down to Our servant . . .

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.
(Muslim no. 2313)

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.

The Prophet said, "I give to Quraish [large tribe in and around Mecca] people in order to let them adhere to Islam, for they are near to their life of Ignorance (i.e. they have newly embraced Islam and it is still not strong in their hearts . . .)." (Bukhari and read the ones above and below this link)

Finally, the Quran itself in Sura 9:60 (a late sura, if not the final one) says:

Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. (Yusuf Ali; insertions are his, and 'bondage' means 'slavery')

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:

. . . If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (Haleem, emphasis added)

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:

'He [Muhammad] struck me [Aisha] on the chest which caused me pain.' (Muslim no. 2127)

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:

. . . 'As soon as we heard the message of guidance [the Quran], we believed in it. Now whoever believes in his Lord will have neither fear of loss nor of injustice.' And that: 'Some of us are Muslims (submissive to Allah) and some deviators from the Truth. Those who have adopted Islam (the way of submission) have found the way to salvation, and those who have deviated from the Truth will become fuel for Hell.' (Maududi, vol. 6, p. 91)

In Sura 72:8—9 the jinn say that shooting stars lie in wait for them, if they try to eavesdrop:

'We searched the heavens and found it filled with guards and shooting stars . . . Before this we used to find a seat in heaven for eavesdropping, but now if someone tries to eavesdrop, he finds a shooting star lying in ambush for him' (Maududi, vol. 6, pp. 87—88)

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.

This index explains the jinn more fully. This lecture  by a scholar of a previous generation is useful.

(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:

1 O Prophet, when you (and the believers) divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting—period and count the waiting—period accurately . . . 4 And if you are in doubt about those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, (you should know that) their waiting period is three months, and the same applies to those who have not menstruated as yet. As for pregnant women, their period ends when they have delivered their burden. (Maududi, vol. 5, pp. 599 and 617, emphasis added)

This hadith says that Aisha was only six when she was betrothed:

. . . [T]hen he [Muhammad] wrote the marriage (wedding) contract with Aishah when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed [sic, consummated] that marriage when she was nine years old. (Bukhari; see the parallel hadith here, here,  and also look at no. 3311)

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.

The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for 'Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said 'But I am your brother.' The Prophet said, 'You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry.' (Bukhari)

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.

. . . [M]y mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, 'Best wishes and Allah's Blessing and a good luck.' Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah's Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Bukhari; see a parallel hadith here)

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.

When I got married, Allah's Apostle said to me, 'What type of lady have you married?' I replied, 'I have married a matron.' He said, 'Why, don't you have a liking for the virgins and for fondling them?' Jabir also said: Allah's Apostle said, 'Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you might play with her and she with you?'  (Bukhari; see parallel hadith here and here.)

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 jamesmarlandson@hotmail.com.