Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Kafir and the Believer

“I’m a kafir,” I said to my Somali friend as we sat and talked around the swimming pool last evening, “Because I don’t believe Muhammad was a Prophet of God. The Quran says I’m going to hell.”

“No, no,” he protested vehemently. “You are not a kafir. Kafirs are people like Buddhists and Hindus, those with made up religions. You are a Christian, right? You are one of the People of the Book. Christians and Jews are not kafirs.”

A year ago, that would have been the end of the conversation. Was he right, was I right, who knows? It’s true that some of the Quran’s most poetic language is devoted to the suffering of the kafirs in hell, whose skin is burned off only to be replaced by new skin which is again burned off (4:56), but would I be one of them? Or was it only the poor Hindus?

To find the answer, I would have had to search the Quran, or the many volumes containing the thousands of hadith, or scour the 815 pages of Ibn Ishaq’s “The Life of Muhammad”. Not anymore. The Center for the Study of Political Islam has published accurate but condensed copies of these books. Ibn Ishaq’s masterpiece is an easily readable 160 pages. And it only took me a minute to find the answer on page 74:

“There were three tribes of Jews in Medina . The Banu Qaynuqa were goldsmiths and lived in a stronghold. Mohammad said they had broken the treaty signed when Mohammad came to Medina . How they did this is unclear.

Mohammad assembled the Jews in their market and said, “O Jews, be careful that Allah does not bring vengeance upon you the way he did to the Quraysh. Become Muslims. You know that I am the prophet that was sent to you. You will find that in your Scriptures.”

They replied, “O Mohammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Don’t fool yourself. You may have killed a few merchants of the Quraysh, but we are men of war and real men.”

Allah's instructions to Muhammad in the Quran were, “Say to the kafirs, “Soon you will be defeated and thrown into Hell, a wretched home!”

So...the People of the Book are kafirs and bound for hell, according to the Quran. I’ll have the answer for my friend in our next conversation. I still need to do some research, however, for the next subject that came up. I commented that Muslim men were allowed to marry Jewish and Christian women, according to Muhammad, but Muslim women could not marry Christian men. “Not so,” he quickly replied, “The Prophet didn’t say it was permitted but he also didn’t forbid it. Lots of Somali women marry foreigners. Didn’t Iman marry David Bowie?” I didn’t have a ready answer for that one.

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