Sunday, January 31, 2010

Question Number 3: Is it Time for Allah to Die?

In a recent post, I suggested that Muhammad created Allah as the Enforcer Muhammad needed to carry out his ambitions of greatness. Now I want to ask the question, "Is it time for this Allah to die?"

: this post is only to be read by non-Muslims and TM's.

No, TM does not mean a follower of transcendental meditation. A TM is a seriously Thinking Muslim, of whom I hope there are millions. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to decide whether or not you are one of them.

1. If you are determined to remain Muslim for the rest of your life, right or wrong true or false, just because you were born Muslim, you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

2. If you claim critics take verses of the Quran "out of context", when you yourself have no idea what the context of that ayah or surah really is, you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

3. If you accuse critics of lying about Muhammad when they present information about his life that you were unaware of because you have not studied the Sirah as well as they have, you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

3. If your immediate response to criticism of Muhammad or Islam is to assume the critic is "Islamophobic" (whatever that means) or "hates Muslims", you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

4. If you get really upset by a story of someone tugging on a Muslimah's hijab in a checkout line, but the news of a Muslim suicide bomber killing a dozen other Muslims in a mosque in Iraq leaves you cold, you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

5. If you think you understand Islam more correctly than Osama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their Shariah advisers, but have not even completely read the Quran, Hadith, and Sirah for yourself, you are probably not a Thinking Muslim.

If you have concluded from these questions that you are indeed a seriously Thinking Muslim, here is one more question. If Muhammad created Allah to carry out his dreams of power and ambition, and if this Allah is not producing prosperity in Muslim countries, peace in Muslim relationships, or freedom for individual Muslims to believe whatever they want, marry whomever they choose, and live their lives however they want, isn't it time for him to die?

I listened to a fascinating exchange a few months ago between Wafa Sultan and host Rashid on the Arabic TV show Daring Question. Both ex-Muslims, Rashid now encourages people to become Christians but Wafa follows no organized religion. During the discussion he asked her, "If you are asking people to leave Muhammad and Allah behind, what are you offering as an alternative?"

Her response was, "Rashid, you are trying to persuade Muslims to put on a clean shirt. But what if they are terrified to take off the dirty shirt they are wearing? What is the advantage of offering someone 100 new shirts if they cannot take off the one dirty shirt they are wearing? When they find the courage to take off the old shirt, then you can offer then alternatives."

Perhaps the time has come to take off the shirt, now 1400 years old, of Muhammad and his Allah. Maybe it is time to write Allah's obituary. It could read like this:

Here lies Allah ibn Muhammad
(Allah the Son of Muhammad)
Born 610 - Died 2010
Succeeded by an ever-decreasing number of admirers
May He Rest In Peace

Question Number 2: Did Muhammad Create Allah?

In a recent post I asked whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. By extension the same question asks, "If there is one true God, is it Allah?" My conclusion is No to both questions. If I'm correct, however, the next question is, "Where did Allah come from?"

I'm not talking about a pre-Muhammad historical study of the Allah who was probably one of the 360 idols in the Kaaba. I'm not interested in whether or not this Allah was the moon god worshipped by the Quraysh, although I do find it intriguing that the moon plays such a prominent role in Islam. I'm also not interested in a study of Allah's family, although again it is fascinating that he apparently had a female counterpart named Allat who was also one of the local gods (the letter "t" is used to feminize Arabic nouns, so Allat is the female Allah, perhaps even Mrs. Allah!). I'm not even talking about the possibility that Muhammad, longing for the father he never had, named his god after his father Abdallah, the servant of Allah. It is interesting to ponder, however, whether if Muhammad's father had been named after another local god, Abdalshams for example, the servant of the sun, the God of Islam might be Shams instead of Allah, and the sun might have the same significance in Islam that the moon does.

No, I'm not thinking about any of these local entities. I'm talking about the Allah of the Quran, of whom we know nothing except what Muhammad told us. Where did he come from?

According to historian Ibn Ishaq, the story of Muhammad does not begin with his birth, but several generations before when his ancestor Qusay married the daughter of the chief of the Quraysh in Mecca and subsequently assumed leadership of the tribe. Strategically located on the route that trade caravans took between Yemen and Syria, Mecca profited financially from these transiting caravans. Visiting merchants often visited the Kaaba that contained their idols with the result that Mecca, then as now, became a pilgrimage destination where people circumambulated the Kaaba, kissed its black stone, and proffered prayers and offerings to their gods.

Qusay's leadership passed to his son Abd al-Manaf and then to Hashim, Muhammad's great-grandfather. Hashim did much to develop the economy of Mecca and the Quraysh. He provided food to the pilgrims who visited the Kaaba and initiated both winter and summer trade caravans from Mecca instead of just once a year as had previously been the case. He married a woman from Medina, a city located a few hundred miles to the north. In contrast to Mecca which was largely inhabited by illiterate tribes that had emigrated from Yemen, Medina contained a flourishing educated Jewish population that had lived there for centuries. When Hashim's wife gave birth to a son, Hashim sent him to Medina to learn religion from the Jewish rabbis and horsemanship from his wife's family.

Hashim's young son learned several things from the rabbis that deeply influenced him and later his grandson Muhammad. One of these was that there was only one true God, and all the idols worshipped by the Arab tribes were an expression of ignorance and superstition. Another was that God approved leaders who ruled as both prophet and king. The prime example in Jewish history was King David, who was anointed and accepted by his tribe as prophet years before he was crowned king.

When Hashim died on a trade expedition to Gaza, his brother Mutalab was sent to bring the son back from Medina. As Mutalab and the young man entered Mecca with the son leading the camel on which his uncle was riding, people assumed he was a slave Mutalab had purchased in Medina and addressed him as Abd al-Mutalab, the slave of Mutalab. The name stayed with him the rest of his life.

Although he remained a monotheist, and with several friends formed a movement of like-minded people known as the Hanifs, Abd al-Mutalab recognized the financial value of the Kaaba and never destroyed its idols. He did however attempt to imitate the life of the Jewish prophet Abraham in numerous ways. As Abraham dug wells whenever he moved, Abd al-Mutalab claimed he had received revelation to redig the well it was believed Abraham had once dug in Mecca. And as Abraham was prepared to sacrifice a son, Abd al-Mutalab announced that if he was given ten sons he too would sacrifice one of them. When his tenth son was born, Abd al-Mutalab prepared to carry out his vow and was only stopped by shocked tribal members who persuaded him to sacrifice 100 camels instead. World history would probably be quite different if Abd al-Mutalab had made his original sacrifice, since the lots he cast to determine which son to kill fell on his young son Abdallah who later became the father of Muhammad.

Abd al-Mutalab loved his young grandson Muhammad, and several stories in Islamic history indicate that he recognized in the young boy signs of leadership. One of these stories is that Abd al-Mutalib would repeat to his children and grandchildren that if God ever chose to raise a leader of the Arabs, he would choose someone such as them. Another is that Muhammad was the only person who dared sit in Abd al-Mutalab's special chair in the Kaaba. When Abd al-Mutalab saw the young boy sitting there, he would pat him on the shoulder in affection rather than becoming upset.

Even though Abd al-Mutalab died when Muhammad was only eight years old, I believe his influence was great in Muhammad's life. The family had lost much of the power it held when Hashim ruled Mecca, and none of Abd al-Mutalab's nine surviving sons had the ability to gain it back. At the same time, many other Arab tribes were successful in forming local kingdoms. These included the kingdom of Hirah, the Ghassanid Kingdom, the Kingdom of Sheba, and numerous others. As their caravans crisscrossed Mecca, the young Muhammad would have heard stories of the accomplishments of their kings. Why was it only his tribe, the Quraysh, who were unable to form a powerful kingdom? Why were his people still locked in the ignorance of worshipping their flimsy idols, rather than a powerful god who could lead them to power and victory? And why couldn't he be the leader to do this?

But to accomplish his dream, he needed a model. What better example than that he had learned from his grandfather of a king named David who was a prophet before becoming a king? Why could not he, Muhammad, announce that he also was a prophet chosen to be a king? The god Allah was not merely the local idol the Quraysh believed him to be, he was the True and Mighty God who had chosen Muhammad to be his prophet and their ruler. Allah was the Enforcer, the Club, the Weapon that Muhammad needed to back his message. "I am a Prophet of Allah, and if you don't accept me Allah will be very angry at you. Your skins will roast in hell only to be replaced by other skins that will also burn off (Quran 4:56)!"

There was only one problem with Muhammad's plan; the Quraysh didn't buy it. His early followers were mostly slaves impressed by his promise that if they obeyed him he would give them the treasures of the Byzantine and Persian Empires. For the dream to come true, Muhammad had to find a tribe to accept him as their prophet. He tried to persuade other tribes, including those in the nearby city of Taif, but to no avail. Finally thirteen years later, he met some Arabs from Medina who were jealous of the prosperity of the Jews living there. They recognized that by accepting Muhammad as their leader and inviting him to Medina they might be able to gain the upper hand over their enemies. Muhammad gladly accepted their offer, naively assuming that these Jews would recognize him as the prophet of the One True God. He moved to Medina, the migration that marked the turning point of his life and Islamic history.

For the rest of his life, Muhammad continued to receive inspiration from the Allah he had created. The revelations progressed from the early warnings of hell file to detailed descriptions of how he was to engage in warfare. When Muhammad wanted to marry more women than the four he allowed his followers, his Allah came to his rescue. When he wanted his own son to divorce his wife so that he, the father-in-law, could add her to his list of sexual conquests, his Allah granted him permission. When he was unsure as to whether his wife Aisha had been unfaithful to him or not, his Allah assured him of her innocence. When the Jews of Medina did not accept him as their prophet, his Allah told him to expel and kill them all. When he promised his wife Hafsah he would not sleep with her slave Mary the Copt again, his Allah released him from the promise. The Allah created by the prophet served him well.

Question Number 1: Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

We've all heard the argument and have perhaps used it ourselves, "Christians and Muslims worship the same God." After all, the first words of the Quran are "In the name of Allah", and the Arabic Bible begins with the phrase, "In the beginning Allah". Each of these monotheistic religions acknowledges a powerful spiritual being who created and maintains the universe. For many people, that's enough. "Of course," they say, "They all worship the same God."

Archeologists who study ancient civilizations include the religious beliefs of those societies, because their beliefs influenced their behavior. People who believed their gods required child sacrifices sacrificed their children, and people who believed their gods wanted their rulers buried in pyramids buried their rulers in pyramids. As the saying goes, "Tell me what you worship, and I will tell you who you are."

On January 6, 2010, Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Nag Hamada were exiting their church after a midnight Christmas Eve Mass when Muslims driving by opened fire into the crowd. Eight young people were killed and others critically injured. Is it possible, is it even logical, to claim that the Muslims who believed they were obeying Allah in their attack against the kuffar, the unbelieving infidels, actually worship the same deity as their victims? The Christians were celebrating their most holy night of the year, the night in which they believe God descended to earth and was born as a child. This, along with the belief that this child later died for the sins of the world, is the defining doctrine of Christianity. The same belief is considered "shirk", the greatest possible sin in Islam. If the central belief of one religion is the greatest offense in the other, how can anyone claim they both worship the same God? It's like arguing that the John Smith who is a policeman in Minneapolis must be the same person as the John Smith who drives a truck in Phoenix because, after all, they have the same name.

One of the ways to decide whether or not the God of Christianity and Islam really is the same entity is to look at his characteristics as understood by Christians and Muslims, and determine whether they really do represent the same person. To do this, we will look at three aspects of the Christian and Muslim God that each receive much emphasis in both the Quran and the Bible. These are his power, his mercy, and his love (and with my apology to all who might prefer it otherwise, since both faiths have traditionally and emphatically described their God as masculine in gender, male pronouns will be used throughout).

Both Islam and Christianity emphasize that God is all-powerful; he knows everything and has the power to do anything. In Christianity this is called his omnipotence; the Arabic equivalent is "ala kulli shain qadir". There is, however, a distinct difference in how each religion views God exercising his power. The first stories in the Bible show God not stopping evil, even when he could have, when this was in conflict with the ability he had given humans to exercise freedom of choice. God could have stopped Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, knowing it would have disastrous consequences, but he did not. He could have stopped their first son, Cain, from murdering his brother Abel, but he did not. In theological language, it was not God's "divine will" for the couple to eat the fruit or their son to kill his brother, but he allowed it to happen.

Parallel to this is the Biblical concept that God acts in the midst of evil to produce good. This is seen in the story of Joseph, a young man who was sold as a slave by his jealous brothers. While in slavery, Joseph was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. Many years later he became the Prime Minister and eventually saved his brothers from famine. His comment to them was, "You meant evil against me, but God turned it into good."

Islam sees God's power quite differently. Everything that happens is God's will, good or bad. When a planned terrorist operation goes bad, the jihadists interpret it as God's will they were not to succeed this time (which goes along with the Islamic concept of "sabr" or patience; that is, they try again until successful). If a woman's husband divorces her it was "maktoub", ordained by God to happen. Many drivers in Saudi Arabia refuse to carry vehicle insurance because insurance indicates a lack of faith in the God who determines if and when they will have a accident. I was talking to a Muslim friend a few weeks ago when he spilled some coffee on his slacks. His immediate, and serious, response was, "God wanted me to spill that coffeee on my pants."

In summary, both Allah in Islam and the Christian God have the power to do anything, but in Christianity God often allows humans to commit evil that is not his will. In Islam, all that happens is the will of Allah. Are these the same deity or not?

The next characterization is "rahmah", or mercy, which can be theologically defined as showing kindness to an offender when it is within one's power not to do so. God's mercy, "rahmat-Allah"" is a very important concept in Islam. Muslims who perform the required salat five times a day repeat "in the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful One" seventeen times. The phrase is repeated before meals and speeches, and is a regular part of daily conversation. It is the opening sentence of all but one of the Quran's 114 suras.

The Bible also places much emphasis on mercy. The prophet Micah instructed his audience that God required only three things of them: justice, humility, and mercy. Another prophet, Hosea, taught that God preferred mercy to sacrifice. Jesus said in the Beautitudes, which are the introductory sentences to his Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

There is a difference, however, in the emphasis. In the Bible, God's mercy is extended to everyone and Christians are to do likewise. The Golden Rule is to treat people as you would like them to treat you, not to give them what they deserve. Jesus told his followers to do good to those who hated them, and to forgive their enemies. In Islam, God's mercy to the world extends to giving people the choice to accept Islam. In surah 21 of the Quran, Al-Anbiya, Allah stated in ayah 108 that Muhammad was sent as "a mercy" to all mankind. In the following verses, Allah defined his mercy. Muhammad was to invite people to Islam and warn them against associating anything with Allah (this was a specific warning to the Christians not to believe that Jesus was God). If they did not accept the invitation, Muhammad was to pronounce a declaration of war.

I noted above that 113 of the 114 suras of the Quran begin with the verse, "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful One." The only chapter that does not is chapter 9, Al-Taubah or Repentance, which contains Muhammad's final revelation before his death. This chapter contains the famous "Verses of the Sword" which give detailed instructions on how this war is to be carried out against those who refused the "invitation" to become Muslims.

Is the God in Christianity, who extends his mercy to everyone and asks those who believe in him to do likewise, the same deity as the Allah of Muhammad who expresses his mercy by giving people the opportunity to accept Islam or face warfare?

The final consideration is love. It is perhaps here that the difference between the Gods of Christianity and Islam is the most striking. The Bible not only uses the word "love" hundreds of time to describe the relationship between God and his people, it even insists that God is love. This in itself provides a theological problem to the Muslim purist, because to state that God is anything at all is impossible. Allah is above human knowledge and the Quran is an expression of Allah's will, not who Allah is.

The Arabic word for love "hubb" appears in the Quran numerous times, but usually in a negative sense. Quran 14:3 is one of a dozen verses that chastised people for "loving this world more than the world to come". Muslims hesitant to engage in armed jihad were warned in Quran 2:216 not to "love things" that were bad for them while turning away from warfare that was good for them. In Quran 3:119 Muslims were ordered to curse non-Muslims who pretended to love them while rejecting their faith. The Quran warned that God does not love sinners (Quran 2:190) and those who are corrupt (Quran 5:67). His greatest hatred, however, is reserved for all the kuffar, that is, Christians and Jews and everyone else, who did not accept the message and prophethood of Muhammad. Quran 3:32 is one of many verses that state Allah does not love those who do not obey his Apostle.

Muhammad's understanding of Allah's love is perhaps most clearly expressed in this Hadith recorded by Sahih Muslim (Book 032, Number 6373). Muhammad stated that when Allah decided to love someone, he would summon the angel Gabriel and say, "I love that particular person, and I want you to also love him." Gabriel would then begin to love that person and announce to all the angels of heaven, "Allah loves so-and-so, and all of you are to love him." The angels then, as the heavenly executors of Allah's will, would arrange matters so that honor was bestowed upon this person on earth and he or she would lead a blessed life.

If Allah, on the other hand, decided to hate someone, the same scenario would take place but with opposite results. God would tell Gabriel to hate that person, Gabriel would pass the message to the angels, and that person would be hated on the earth. Who knows, he might even be murdered in a remote Egyptian town as he walked out of a Christmas celebration on January 6, 2010.

The answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article, "Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?", is pretty clear to me. According to the most elementary rule of Socratic Greek logic, "A" cannot equal "non-A". It's possible to argue that the true divinity is the God of Christianity, the Allah of Islam, or take the atheists approach and say both of them are equally false. But it's really hard to claim they are both the same.

Acknowledgement: Some material from this post was adopted from the Arabic TV shows Daring Question and Removing the Veil with host Rashid.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Where are the Christian Suicide Bombers?

Today's guest on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman was Quratulain Bakteari, founder and director of the Institute for Development Studies and Practices headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan. When Amy asked if Quratulain expected a rise in suicide bombings in her country, she replied, "Yes, they will increase. What else does a young boy who has seen his family finished and everybody gone have to live for? There is nothing left for the people to live for if their near and dear ones are gone. They want to get back at the killer."

I hold nothing but admiration for Quratulain and many like her around the world who have dedicated their lives to improve the lives of the poor and weak. At the same time, I need to suggest that hers was a very Muslim answer. And Amy, like every other typical American journalist or interviewer, did not probe any deeper. I might have asked the question, "Why are all the suicide bombers Muslim?"

The Christian community in Pakistan is perhaps the poorest in the country, and many of its almost three million population live on the margins of society. They have been traditionally mocked as "rice Christians" based upon the accusation that they accepted Christianity only to receive material benefits from the Western missionaries who worked in what was then part of India during the last two centuries. Websites such as this document the atrocities Christians have experienced at the hands of Muslim extremists. Why have no Christian young men slipped into a mosque in Pakistan wearing an explosive vest and blown themselves up taking as many Muslims with them as possible? It hardly even makes the news anymore when Sunni Muslims do that in Iraq in attacks against Shia fellow Muslims.

Speaking of Iraq, probably no community in the world has suffered for its faith in the past decade as much as Christians there. The Iraqi Chaldean and Armenian churches are among the oldest in the world, stretching back to the first decades after Christ. Since the beginning of the current Iraq war, the church has been almost decimated. Christian neighborhoods have been wiped out, churches bombed, and priests murdered in cold blood. If there is any group of people that has lost everything it had to live for, in the words of Quratulain Bakteari, it is the Iraqi Christians. And yet not a single one of them has retaliated by blowing himself up in the midst of a crowded market filled with Muslim shoppers. Where are the Iraqi Christian suicide bombers?

On January 6, Christmas Eve for the Orthodox Church, a group of Muslims in the Egyptian town of Nag Hamada opened fire on Christian worshippers exiting a Christmas celebration at their church. Seven young men were killed, and others seriously injured. This was the 160th documented attack by Muslims on Christians in Egypt during the last 40 years. The Copts have not responded in violence a single time. Last year the Egyptian government killed hundreds of thousands of hogs raised by Christians, claiming this was to prevent swine flu even though it has been medically demonstrated the pigs had nothing to do with the disease. Muslims are not allowed to eat pork under Islamic law, but Egypt had for centuries allowed the Christians to raise pigs for their own consumption. Killing them was just another form of Egyptian government oppression. Again, there has not been any kind of violent Christian response to any of this persecution. Where are the Egyptian Christian suicide bombers?

Included in the militant Palestinian resistance movements is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, founded and led until his recent death by the Christian George Habash. This largely Christian organization has been active in many armed attacks against Israel over the years, including the aircraft hijackings of the seventies (PFLP leaders, by the way, are "Christian" in the sense they are secular, Marxist-educated people from a Christian background; they are not the "love your enemies and do good to those who hate you" people that Jesus talked about). But even with their espoused violence, not a single Christian member of the PFLP has ever blown himself or herself up in a suicide bombing. Where are the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers?

It is true that Roman Catholic priests and other Christians have been known to publicly commit suicide in protest against government-sponsored persecution of their Christian communities. But they have never tried to take their enemies with them.

I conclude with the question I wish Amy Goodman would have asked her guest from Pakistan. If so many people in the world seem to have lost their reason for living, why are the suicide bombers overwhelmingly Muslim?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Muslims and Others - A Little Respect

"Damn you! You're as stupid as a donkey! You bitch! You loser! You're like your mother the monkey - or is it your father the pig? You're the worst piece of crap on the face of the earth! Go to hell!"

Imagine a husband who used these words with his wife appearing as a guest on Dr. Phil's TV show and claiming that he respects her. The only problem in their marriage, according to this husband, is that she does not respect him!

Now imagine a self-proclaimed religious prophet using similar language in the book he left behind to describe the people who do not accept his message. Picture his followers 14 centuries later claiming that they respect the non-believers; the problem is these non-believers do not respect them!

Chances are your English translation of the Quran, with its toned-down language and notes written to impress Western readers, does not mention that Al-Fatihah, the first chapter of the Quran that is to be repeated by 1.5 billion Muslims 17 times a day, describes all the Christians of the world as wanderers who have lost their way and Jews as being under God's eternal anger. Any Arabic-speaking schoolboy from Morocco to Kuwait who has ever stepped inside a mosque knows exactly who his Prophet was talking about. The Hadith itself, as well as the leading Quranic commentators, leaves no question. One of several relevant Hadiths reads, "Ibn Masoud related that Anas reported that the associates of the Prophet said, Those who are under Allah's anger are the Jews, and those who have lost their way are the Christians."

Non-Muslims are not only whose who have lost their way and live under God's condemnation, they also are "the worst of all creatures". Surat al-Bayyinah, chapter 98 of the Quran, gives Allah's (read "Muhammad's" if you are not a Muslim) contrast between Muslims and everyone else. Those who disbelieve Muhammad and his message "will abide in the Fire of Hell and are the worst of creatures".

The worst of creatures...the scum of the earth...not worthy of respect or honor. And the Muslims? The following verse gives us Allah's answer: they are the best of creatures...and Allah will be well-pleased with them.

It's only a small step, of course, to move on to other perjorative language in describing "the worst of creatures". Al-Maidah, chapter 5 of the Quran, states in verse 60 that Allah changed some of the Jews into monkeys and pigs. Shaykhs argue to this day whether this transformation was physical or figurative, but what difference does it make? Simply using that language to describe a group of people clearly demonstrates your feelings toward them. Just to make sure the message is clear, the same metaphor is used to describe the Jews two additional times in the Quran.

If calling them pigs and monkeys is not enough to get the point across, how about dogs and donkeys? Quran 7, Al-Araf, describes the Jews in verse 176 as being like a dog lying around with its tongue hanging out. No matter what you do to the dog, it just continues to lay around. It is no wonder that a few verses earlier, in 167, Muhammad claimed that Allah would "send against the Jews those who will afflict them with a humiliating torment until Judgment Day". Al-Jumah (Quran 62) claims that the Jews are like a donkey carrying bags filled with books but understanding none of them (comment: this from the man whose own tribal society was largely illiterate).

It's little wonder that the Quran concludes in 9:28 that all these non-believers are "filthy" and thus not allowed to enter Muslim mosques. Can you imagine a sign outside every church and temple telling Muslims they are not allowed to enter because they are unclean?

Millions of Muslims every week are led by their Imams in the "Prayer of Piety" following the Friday sermon. Following is this prayer as given by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, probably Sunni Islam's best-known scholar:

"Oh you defeater of sects, defeat your enemies, the enemies of Islam. May Allah give us victory over the enemies of Islam. May God give us victory over the Jews, those infidels who are without faith. May God give us victory over the Christians, those filled with envy who plot against us. May God give us victory over the heathen, and over all those who refuse your Shariah."

Muslims were greatly offended when the Swiss recently voted to not allow new minarets in Switzerland. Swiss citizen Tariq Ramadan said he was "shocked", and Shaykh Qaradawi protested the ruling against this "beautiful symbol of Islam".
But none of them protested the fact that the one church recently built in Qatar for the hundreds of thousands of Christians working there has no steeple, no cross, nothing at all to indicate it is a house of worship. To not allow minarets is seen by Muslims as a lack of respect; to not allow a cross is to them completely natural (comment: I suspect that Qaradawi was not at all happy this church was even built, as it was Muhammad who first said Islam was to be the only religion allowed throughout Arabia. Since Qaradawi, who is Egyptian, lives in Qatar as an expatriate guest, I imagine he would be slow to criticize the decision taken by the government to allow the building of a church. Even Shaykh Qaradawi knows one does not bite the hand that feeds him!).

I wonder how many Muslims secretly suspect that the problem is not that others do not respect them, it is that their own texts and traditions do not allow them to respect others. I'm sure there are some.

Acknowledgement: some of the material above was adopted from the Arabic TV program "Removing the Veil" with host Rashid.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yusuf Estes - Stump the Christian!

I was pushing my way through the crowd at the Batha Souq in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, known locally as the Filipino Souq, headed for Manila Plaza to buy a pair of jeans when my attention was drawn to a khutbah, or Muslim sermon, blaring out in English over loudspeakers from the Dawah Center strategically placed on the corner of the main street where thousands of TCN's (Third Country Nationals) from countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Pakistan pass by to do their afternoon shopping. I decided to stop in for a visit, and was greeted by a smiling young man from Indonesia who informed me his name was Yusuf; it had been Joseph before he converted from Catholicism to Islam eight years before. Before I knew it I had a shopping bag full of gifts including a free Quran, books with titles such as "Islam is your Birthright", and a DVD containing a sermon by "Former Christian Minister from Texas USA Sheikh Yusuf Estes".

As soon as I got back to my house I put the DVD in the player and settled back on the couch to watch. It was recorded in the same Dawah Center I had just visited when Yusuf had himself been in Riyadh. Like most American converts to Islam, he opened his sermon with a few ringing accented Arabic phrases. Assalam alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatahu! Bismallah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim, Rubb al-Aalameen! As soon as his Arabic ran out he switched to English for the rest of his sermon punctuated periodically with a Ma Sha Allah or Subhan Allah At-Ta'alah!

It was probably good that he spoke in English, because the young men listening to him likely did not know much more Arabic than he did. They were among the thousands of migrant workers who find their way to Saudi Arabia to do the menial jobs the Saudis are unwilling or unable to do. Often separated for years from their families, they work long days to send a hundred dollars or so each month to even poorer families in the countries they come from. Many of them are Muslim, but others are also from Hindu and Christian backgrounds - hence the Dawah or Muslim Evangelization Center.

Yusuf began his sermon by giving the Muslims a question to ask their Christian friends. The question was, "How many sons does God has?" If the unsuspecting Christian replied that God had one Son, Yusuf quoted a few verses from the Bible describing God as having "many sons" and - voila! - the Muslim had stumped the Christian.

I thought it was rather silly. The New Testament uses many metaphors to describe Jesus - he is the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, etc. How many lights does God have? How much bread? How many shepherds? Gotcha!

Yusuf then moved on to his next point, which is that Islam is an easy religion. God did not want to burden mankind with multiplied regulations that were impossible to keep, so he kept it simple. All he requires is that we repeat the same prayer five times a day in a language most Muslims don't understand, spend one month of the year eating all night instead of during the day, give some of our money to feed the poor, and fly to Mecca once during our lives. Gone forever are the much harder challenges to love your enemies, treat everyone else the way you would like them to treat you, and not even bother to say your prayers if you have an unresolved conflict with another person that you have not tried to settle.

At the end of his sermon, Yusuf reached his moment of glory - he himself would initiate a Christian into Islam! Just like the old-time evangelists he must have seen in Texas during his youth - and for all I know was one himself - Yusuf called a young man to the front of the audience to "repeat this prayer after me". It's just that the words were different. Instead of repeating, "Jesus, forgive my sins and come into my heart", the new message was, "I testify there is no God but God and Muhammad is his Apostle".

As I watched this, I felt extremely sad. I compared it with the many stories I had heard and read of the intense spiritual struggle Muslims go through when they decide to leave Islam. The decision often costs them their jobs and families, and many are forced to leave their countries for the safety of their own lives. To watch the reverse seemed shallow to me.

Yusuf did say one thing that made me smile. He warned his audience to stay away from the chat room Paltalk. That's the site where Father Zakariya Boutros and his associates have led an untold number of people away from Islam. I can understand Yusuf wanting his admirers to avoid that site!

A few days later I was in a car with one of the drivers for the company I was working with, a Christian from the Philippines. I asked him if he knew any Filipinos who had converted to Islam in Saudi Arabia, and why they did it. He replied that life was much easier in that country if one converted. Money was given, apartments were found, jobs were secured, and brides were available. I asked him if he had ever thought of converting. "How could I leave Jesus?" was his reply.

I asked the same question to another of our drivers, a Hindu from India. He said when he first came to Saudi Arabia he had worked for several years for the same Saudi employer. The day after a Hindu-Muslim confrontation in India resulted in loss of life, his employer told him he was fired. He could have kept his job if he had converted to Islam, but he also had too much character to do that.

I would imagine that Yusuf Estes is quite pleased with the number of people he has persuaded to become Muslims, and would claim that these conversions were all based upon a sincere conviction that Islam is true and Muhammad is indeed a Prophet of God. Personally, I'm not so convinced.

Rashid's Daring Question: Shia Christian Convert Ali Bazzi

The guest on this week's Arabic TV show Daring Question was Ali Bazzi, a Muslim convert to Christianity from Lebanon, and host Rashid commented this was his first Shia Christian visitor. When asked about his background, Ali said he grew up in a religious family, and was encouraged by his father to memorize the Quran and the Hadith. He had a desire even as a child to be close to God, and when his father wanted to find him he was often in the local mosque. Ali was especially close to an uncle named Muhammad who taught him much about his faith and the emphases of Shia Islam.

Noting that Lebanon is unique with its 17 official religious denominations, Ali grew up realizing they all needed to live together. Nevertheless as a Shia he felt superior to all the others. When Rashid asked why, Ali commented it was perhaps because they were a minority. He felt superior to the Sunnis because of the Shia affection for Muhammad's nephew Ali bin Abu Talib, and he considered the Christians dirty, impure, idolaters, and infidels (comment: this was not just his description; his words "najiseen, ghair tahireen, mushrikeen, and kuffar" are the words the Quran and Islam have always used to describe Christians). All he knew of Christians was what he learned from Islam; they were unclean, had corrupted their Holy Book, and would go to hell because "the only religion God accepts is Islam" (Quran 5:3).

Two significant events then took place in Ali's life. His father left his mother for a younger woman, leaving Ali responsible for his mother and four siblings. He wondered how Islam could allow a man, in a moment of anger or lust, to simply repeat three times the phrase "You are divorced" and tear apart a family? His sister next took the rebellious step of marrying a Christian, and Ali gradually became friends with the person who was the best man at her wedding. This man was serious about his faith, in contrast to other nonpracticing Christians Ali knew, and following one conversation showed Ali the first copy of the New Testament he had ever seen. The friend encouraged Ali to read it and Ali responded, "This is called the New Testament, so there must be an Old Testament. You want me to read the New Testament, not the Old, so the New must be better than the Old. But we have the Quran, which came later and is the best of all!" Ali left the conversation feeling he had won that round, but they continued their discussions with the friend emphasizing that Jesus had come to the world as a Savior. Ali was attracted to Jesus but argued that the New Testament had been corrupted from its true copy, which contained the same message as the Quran. When the friend asked for evidence of this corruption, Ali's only answer was that was what he had learned from Islam.
His friend did not argue with him, but continued to present the person and message of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Ali's attraction to Jesus continued, but he entered what he described as "the great problem for all Muslims; how to believe that God took on the person of a human being". He began to find it difficult to repeat the Muslim prayers, but at the same time felt that if he left Islam the entire world would be pulled out from under his feet.

Ali next began to read the New Testament himself for the first time, skimming from one book to the next in a search for any contradiction that would enable him to leave it all behind and continue life as a Muslim. He reached John 14:8, where one of Jesus' disciples asked him, "Show us who God is, and we'll be satisified." Ali says, "I said to myself, Here is someone who had the same problem that I have. I closed the book immediately, went to my friend and told him he had failed in his mission. When he asked why, I asked him how much time this disciple had spent with Jesus. He replied it was about three years, and I told him that if this person had been with Jesus all that time and still did not know who God was, how was I supposed to know? My friend asked if I had read Jesus' response, and I replied I had not. I then read Jesus' reply, 'Have you been with me all this time, and you still don't know who God is? Anyone who has seen me has seen God.' When I read that verse, something calmed inside me and I felt as if all my questions had been answered."

Ali described to Rashid the internal struggle that he next experienced. Was he prepared to leave his life, his community, his family for Jesus? Wouldn't it be easier to just remain a Muslim, especially since Islam taught him that no matter how he lived his life he would be forgiven by God if he simply repeated the Shahadah, or statement of faith that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, two times before he died? Ali finally concluded he wanted to publicly follow Jesus and was baptized in a local Lebanese Christian church.

As usual, Rashid interspersed Ali's story with the comments of viewers who called in to the program. When one viewer asked about the Shia practice of self flagellation during the month of Ashura, Ali compared his former and present faiths by noting that Muslims place great emphasis on trying to "irda Allah", or satisfy God, whereas the message of Christianity is that God has reached out to us.

Another viewer asked about the response of Ali's family after he left Islam. Ali replied that his uncle Muhammad, the man who had taught him Islam as a child, was extremely angry and stated that he could issue a fatwa ordering Ali's death because he was now a murtadd, or apostate (comment: Muslim leaders in the West often deny that Islam allows death for apostasy, but many converts from Muslim contries have shared Ali's experience). Ali informed his uncle that God, not the uncle or his fatwas, would determine his future. Ali noted that after becoming a Christian, it became impossible for him to even hold conversations with religious family members. The simple fact he had left Islam made him no longer worthy of their respect. Soon afterwards, Ali and some family members who followed him in his faith emigrated from Lebanon to Australia.

Other viewers called from countries such as Kuwait and Yemen to say they had also left Islam to follow Jesus. One young Kuwaiti said she had gone to another country to be baptized, and then returned to Kuwait. Rashid's programs often include many callers who phone in merely to argue or criticize, but this one was unique in that hardly anyone called for that purpose. Most people seemed to be sincerely moved by Ali's story. I know I was.

At the end of the program, Ali commented there are three types of Muslims. First are those determined to remain Muslim until they die, no matter what. Second are those who begin to doubt Islam and eventually leave it, but also lose all faith in the Divine and live as atheists or agnostics. Third are those who also question Islam, but are looking for a belief system to replace it. For those, both he and Rashid offer their own experience.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Quran-only-ites, and All-Too-Common Conversations

I recently watched a discussion on Arabic television about an emerging movement within Islam led by the "Quranieen" or "Quran-only Muslims". Most Muslims follow both the Quran and the Sunnah of Muhammad, which includes his sayings (the Hadith) and biography (the Sirah). Recognizing that the violence of the Sirah is too hard to defend (hands flying for theft, heads flying for unbelief, women torn apart by camels driven in opposite directions, poetesses killed in bed for their poetry), and the foolishness of many of the Hadiths is too much to believe (Q-When can a woman work in an office with men? A-After she breastfeeds each of them five times; Q-Why don't you need to worry if a fly drops in your soup? A-Because even though one wing carries harmful bacteria, the other wing carries the cure; Q-Why do some children resemble their mother and others look like their father? A-If the mother reached orgasm first, the child will look like her. If it was the father, the child will look like him), these Muslims have chosen to jettison both the Hadith and Sirah, and follow only the Quran.

One of the leaders of this movement is Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansur from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The episode of "Daring Question" that I viewed played an excerpt of Dr. Mansur discussing the movement on an Egyptian TV channel. When host Rashid asked guest Mark Gabriel - who was a PhD graduate from Al-Azhar in Islamic history before he left Islam and changed his name - for his comments, Mark replied that Dr. Mansur had been one of his professors when he was a student in the 1980's. What Mark remembered about Dr. Mansur was his violent attacks on Sufis and Sufi philosphy. "I could never have imagined," continued Mark, "That the day would come when Dr. Mansur would deny the Hadiths and lead the Quran-only movement."

When Rashid asked why someone would change his mind to this extent, Mark replied, "He was a professor of Islamic culture and history, and I think the same thing happened to him that happened to me. I always say, Woe to the person who specializes in Islamic history or culture, because he will eventually find himself forced to take one of two paths. Either he will take the path of radicalization and extremism, such as the Blind Shaykh Dr. Umar Abdel Rahman, or he will begin to question the Quran, or the Hadith, or Islam as Dr. Mansur has done. I believe that Dr. Mansur stopped halfway, in denying the Hadith but clinging to the Quran. I now deny both the Quran and the Hadith because it has become clear to me that neither of them are divine revelations."

Following his usual pattern, Rashid discussed the subject of the week for 30 minutes or so, and then opened the phone lines up to the viewers. The first caller was Fadil from Kuwait:

R(ashid) - Hello.

F(adil) - Greetings, brother Rashid.

R-Greetings, Fadil, and welcome.

F-Brother Rashid, here is my first question. The Quran says, There is no compulsion in religion. You cherrypick specific verses from the Quran and the Hadith and quote them on television just to stir up sectarian conflict and cause problems among Muslims.

R-How much do you know about the verse, There is no compulsion in religion? Don't you know it is one of the verses that have been abrogated and replaced by later verses? Many scholars including Quran expositor Ibn Kathir say this verse applied to the Ansar (the Arabs who converted to Islam in Medina). Before the arrival of Islam, if an Ansari woman could not give birth to a child who lived, she would vow that if she had a child who lived she would raise him as a Jew. When the Beni Nadir (one of the three main Jewish tribes in Medina) were exiled from Medina, some of these children born to Ansari women were living among them. The Ansar were unwilling to abandon their children, and God revealed the verse that they were not to be forced to convert to Islam (comment: meaning that rather than being a verse of religious tolerance and coexistence, this verse actually forced Muslim mothers to leave their children with the Jews).

F-You are just making that up. It is not an abrogated verse.

R-I took this evidence from the Muslim scholars, my friend. The verse "there is no compulsion in religion" has been abrogated. Sir, I am not going to teach you your religion. Go to your scholars, and you will find that information. What is your second question?

F-We know that there was a long period of time between the Prophet Jesus and the Apostle Paul, and we know that Paul founded the Christian religion. Therefore the Christianity that exists today is not the religion of Jesus but of Paul. Jesus has nothing to do with this religion. My third question is, where can I purchase some indulgences from my sins?

R-What is your evidence that there was a long period of time between Jesus and Paul? How long was it?

F-It was a hundred years.

R- One hundred years! That shows your knowledge of Christianity.

F-You say that Paul was one of the disciples of Jesus.

R-Sir, this shows your ignorance of Christianity. You need to read the Gospels. We will take another call, because I have nothing to say. You do not know your own history, because you are unaware that this verse was abrogated, and you do not know Christianity because you say there was 100 years between Jesus and Paul. Salem, how are you?

S(alem)-Greetings, Professor Rashid, can you hear me?

R-I hear you clearly, sir. Go ahead.

S-Greetings to you, Rashid, and greetings to your guest.

R-Greetings to you, sir, and thank you. Go ahead.

S-You know, sir, it is a big problem when someone does not understand, but does not realize that he doesn't understand and thinks that he understands. That is the problem.

R-That is a good summary.

S-The problem is when someone does not understand, but does not realize that he doesn't understand and thinks that he understands. I object to your saying the verse "there is no compulsion in religion" is abrogated. I wish you understood the essense of Islam. If a verse is from the Quran, or if a Hadith is authentic, it cannot be abrogated. Secondly, I do not believe that your guest Mark was ever a student at Al Azhar University. I heard him say he was a student of that Professor, and he pronounced the word "student" using the wrong vowel (comment: Arabic words take different vowels depending on their grammatical position in a sentence; Mark pronounced the word "student" as if it were the subject and not the object). A high schooler at Al Azhar would not make that mistake. How can you come on television like this and lie to the people?

S-OK, Mr. Salem, let's take this one question at a time. I said that some scholars say the verse "there is no compulsion in religion" was abrogated, and others say it applied to the Ansar living in Medina. It was the custom at that time for some of the Ansar to allow their children to live with the Jews in Medina. When Muhammad brought Islam, they had to choose between bringing their children back and forcing them into Islam, or leaving them with the Jews. So some scholars say the verse was abrogated, and others say it applied to the Ansar. What do you say?

S-You are an ignoramous. You don't understand, but you don't realize that and you think you understand.

R-Don't just repeat the same phrases over and over, but answer my question.

S-You don't understand...

R-That's enough of these linguistic games...

S-These are not linguistic games...

R-Then what is your reply to my question? The Quranic exigesis I quoted was made by Ibn Kahtir, and al-Qurtabi, and Tabari, and al-Razi.

S-You say you are quoting al-Qurtabi. Let's read al-Qurtabi together and see what he has to say.

R-Fine, go ahead and tell me what al-Qurtabi said.

S-You don't understand but you think that you understand. You are playing on the ignorance of the general public.

R-Don't try to run from my question. Tell me what the expositors said about this verse.

S-I'll teach you something about the expositors. There are different ways of looking at issues, Rashid.

R-Just give me a clear answer to my question. Was this verse abrogated, or did it apply to the Ansar?

S-It was not abrogated.

R-So was it intended especially for the Ansar?

S-The Quran is intended to be followed; it is not necessary to know the reason verses were revealed. Do you understand that principle?

R-No, I want to know why the scholars say that verse was revealed.

S-There are principles of Quranic exigesis. I told you that your problem is that you do not understand.

R-Your problem is that you do not want to answer the question. I'll let Dr. Mark comment on your second question. Thank you for your call, even though you only called to argue. Thank you, sir, and Mark, go ahead.

M(ark)-The Bible speaks of people who have ears but do not hear, and have eyes but do not see. The verbal games he was playing go against his own interests, and the interests of the viewers.

R-He was saying that the fact you were mixing your Egyptian dialect with formal Arabic means you could not have been a student al Al-Azhar University.

M-Well, I've been living in the West for 14 years and most of my interaction is not in Arabic....

R-and your books are in English...

M-My books are in English. I think that this person's communication style won't produce any results. Nothing will become clear to him.

R-Just so our viewers won't doubt you, could you give us the names of a few of the professors you studied with al Al-Azhar?

M-Dr. Abdel Fatah al-Shaykh was the President of Al-Azhar when I was a student there, and he was succeeded by Dr. Muhammad Tayyib al-Najjar. The Blind Shaykh Umar Abdel Rahman was my professor, as well as Dr. Ahmad Mansur, Dr. Muhammad Zaytun, and Dr. Abdel Aziz Ghranim. And of course my studies were in the field of Islamic history and culture, not in the Arabic language...

Professors of sociolinguistics can unpack conversations such as these and turn them into scholarly articles or even complete books. I'm not that skilled, but I would like to make a few observations:

1. Both callers called to argue, not for a real discussion.
2. None of the callers wanted to discuss the subject for the program, which was the "Quran-only" movement.
3. Neither caller could give answers to Rashid's questions to them.
4. The second caller quickly moved into personal attacks; "You are an ignoramous; he didn't really attend Al Azhar University."
5. Neither caller wanted to listen.
6. Both callers, like 90 percent of those who call in, were male.

Multiply these two calls by hundreds of others I've listened to, almost all similar, and you get the impression that very few Muslims, at least Arab-speaking Muslims living in the Middle East, are willing or able to respond to serious questions about their faith.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Muhammad's Hatred for the People of the Book

The other evening I joined probably several million Arabic-speaking Muslims throughout the Middle East and around the world in watching the weekly television show "Daring Question" with host Rashid. He opened the program by expressing condolences to the families of the Christian Copts in Egypt who were killed in a drive-by shooting as they were leaving a Christmas Eve mass on the Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on 7 January. He added that Nigerian would-be bomber Umar Farouq Abdel-Mutalab (whose name includes both Islam's second Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, and the Prophet Muhammad's grandfather Abdel-Mutalab) also planned his attack on Christmas Day. Why, wondered Rashid, would Muslims deliberately plan attacks to take place on the Christian's most sacred day of the year?

Rashid noted that Muslim governments, scholars, and media always respond to attacks such as these by saying they are isolated incidents, or the results of conflicts between individuals, or caused by programs such as his which criticize Islam. He played a clip in which Shaykh Yusuf Qardawi said that America itself was fully to blame for the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

He then posed his "daring question" of the week, "Muslims always blame these events on TV programs such as mine, or America, but they will never say that Islam is the reason. Where was America, and where was Hayat TV when Muhammed expelled the Jews from Medina and the Christians from Arabia 1400 years ago? Why are Muslims unwilling to look at the Quran and the Hadith for the roots of their hatred for Jews and Christians?"

He next challenged his listeners, "How would you feel if the verses that are in the Quran and the Hadith about the Jews and the Christians were instead in their Scriptures and prayers and sermons about you? Let's look at what Islam says about them, but substitute the word MUSLIM every time you see CHRISTIAN or JEW, and think about how it would make you feel."

"Let's begin with the prayers," Rashid continued, "The Muslim repeats 17 times a day this sentence from the first chapter of the Quran, 'Guide us in the straight way, the way of those who have earned your grace, not in the way of those who earned your anger or who have gone astray.' We all know, because we were brainwashed from childhood, that the straight way refers to the Muslims, whose who have earned your anger are the Jews, and those who have gone astray are the Christians. What if the Christians repeated continually in their prayers, Oh God, guide us in the straight way of the Christians, not in the way of the Sunnis who have earned your anger, or the Shia who have gone astray? How would you feel?"

He followed with more examples, "Sahih Muslim said in the Hadith that the Apostle said, Do not greet the Jews or the Christians before they greet you, and if you meet any of them on the road force them to the most narrow part. How would you feel if Jesus told Christians not to greet Muslims, and to force them to the other side of the road?

"Aisha recounted that in his final illness the Prophet said, Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians because they took the graves of their Prophets as places for worship. First of all, there is no historical evidence that the Christians or Jews ever did this. And secondly, this is what the Muslims themselves have done. The Prophet's Mosque in Medina, one of the most sacred sites in Islam, is built upon Muhammad's grave. What if the Apostle Paul wrote, and Christians repeated ad infinitum, Cursed are the Muslims because they took the grave of their Prophet as a Mosque?"

He continued from another Hadith, contained in both the Bukhari and Sahih Muslim collections, "The Prophet said, May Allah curse the Jews, because Allah made fat illegal for them but they prepared and sold it for a profit. How would you feel if the Christians and Jews said, "May God curse the Muslims, because he made pork illegal for them, but they sold it?"

His next example was, "Umar ibn al-Khattab heard the Apostle say, Expel the Jews and Christians from Arabia, and do not leave anyone but Muslims. What if people in the West expelled all the Muslims who live there? Would that not be an example of racism and hatred? What else can you call it?"

Rashid then turned his attention to the Quran, "Quran 5:17 describes the Christians as infidels because they say that Allah is the Messiah, the Son of Mary. What would your response be if the Bible said, "The Muslims are infidels because they say, May the peace and blessing of Allah be on Muhammad?

"Quran 5:73 says, They are infidels, who believe that Allah exists in Trinity. What if the Bible said, They are infidels, who believe that God has blessed his Apostle (Muhammad)?"

He continued with more verses, "The Quran says in 9:30, God's curse is on the Jews because they say that Ezra is the son of Allah,and on the Christians because they say the Messiah is the son of Allah. What if Christians repeated every day based upon their Scriptures, God's curse is on the Muslims, because they say that Muhammad is an Apostle of Allah? The verse before that says you are to fight (the Christians and the Jews) until they pay the jizya tax and feel themselves subdued. Where do the books of the Jews and the Christians tell them to fight you?

"In 5:51, the Quran tells Muslims not to take Christians and Jews as friends. How would you feel if their books told them not to be friends with you? And it says in 62:5 that the people who were given the Torah have become like donkeys. How would you feel if their books described you who have been given the Quran as donkeys?"

Rashid next challenged the almost omnipresent Islamic "conspiracy theory" that the West is always plotting against Muslims and wants to destroy them, "The Quran says in 2:120 that the Jews and the Christians will never be happy with you unless you accept their religion. No wonder you think they are conspiring against you! Can you imagine Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis always warning their people that you will never be happy with them until they accept your religion? Quran 2:109 promotes this same mentality, saying that out of envy the Christians and Jews were conspiring to turn Muslims away from your faith. How would you feel if their Scriptures warned them that you as Muslims were always conspiring against them?"

Rashid's final example was from another Sahih Muslim Hadith, "The Apostle said that on Judgment Day, Muslims can come with sins as high as a mountain. God will forgive all their sins - no matter how serious and how many - and pile them upon who? You guessed it, the Jews and the Christians. Do we still wonder why so many Muslims hate Jews and Christians? The answer is in the Quran and the Hadith."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Last Night of a Damned Soul and the Reluctant Fundamentalist

I recently read two post 9/11 books of fiction, both by Muslim authors, describing the "radicalization" (politically correct for jihadization) of two young men living in the United States. Although both books were well-written, I thought one of them was excellent and the other was less than honest. Not unsurprisingly, the one I found disingenuous was given rave reviews by the American media and the one I liked was largely ignored.

The first was The Last Night of a Damned Soul by Algerian novelist Slimane Benaissa. The setting is southern California, where young Lebanese American Raouf has been hit hard by the death of his father. A Palestinian associate introduces Raouf to Muslims who convince him that the emptiness he feels is due to his having left the essential elements of his faith, and Raouf gradually conforms to their understanding of Islam. First to go is his gold watch and silk ties (God does not like men who adorn themselves in gold or silk), followed by his beloved Black Labradour Keytal (the Prophet had a dislike for dogs in general and black dogs in particular), and then his girlfriend Jenny (a non-Muslim wife only holds one back from following God wholeheartedly). Step by step, and in great detail, the book presents the arguments from the Quran and the life of Muhammad used by the Imams whose sermons Raouf takes to heart as they lead him closer and closer to fully embracing the concept of jihad as taught and practiced by the Prophet. Raouf is eventually persuaded to sacrifice his life as a martyr for Allah by taking part in a terrorist operation intended to bring down an American aircraft. While waiting to board the plane with his team of fellow martyrs, Raouf suddenly has a change of heart and bolts from the airport. His arrest comes at the end of the book.

Even though I found the book extremely interesting and informative, I have the impression that far too few Americans have the necessary patience to carefully read the sermons, quotes, and commentary from the Quran and the Hadith that were influential in moving Raouf from being an ordinary non-religious American Muslim to one who was willing to kill both himself and others for the sake of Islam. Most people, like the reviewers from Entertainment Weekly, the New York and London Review of Books, the Washington Post and the New York Times, much prefer book number two.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid also describes the radicalization of a Pakistani student who was living in New York City when 9/11 took place. The venue of the story is a restaurant in Lahore, where young bearded Changez strikes up a conversation with an American stranger. As they sip tea and have dinner together over the next few hours, Changez relays how he went to Princeton University as a foreign student, graduated near the top of his class, and landed a prestigious job with a financial company in New York City. He had several unpleasant post-9/11 experiences (someone called him a Fucking Arab and it took him longer than his non-Muslim friends to get through airport security), and a business trip to South America convinced him that American interests were working to destroy the economic well-being of other countries. He grew his beard, stopped doing his job with the result that he was fired, and returned to Pakistan persuaded that he needed to do something to "stop America". The book ends mysteriously with the possibility that Changez killed the American he was talking to, or conversely that the American killed Changez.

Why has this book been so well-received in the West? I believe it plays to a very popular current theme - everything that happens to America in the world is America's fault. Just as President Obama during his Cairo speech named three reasons Muslims around the world dislike America - and apologized for each one - so this book essentially blames America for the events of 9/11 as well as Changez's becoming a "reluctant fundamentalist". America is responsible for India's "aggression" against Pakistan, America is at fault for the failed economies of other countries, America is to blame for the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. My WTF moment in this book was the author's statement that America was "unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you".

There is hardly a word in the book about Islam, jihad, the Quran, or Muhammad. The author is attempting to teach Americans what it is about themselves that almost forces others to attack them. It's the perfect book for people looking for introspective answers as to why Muslims become radicalized.

Perhaps without realizing it, the author revealed more of himself than intended when he described the great sense of happiness Changez felt when he first learned about the 9/11 attacks. I believe this happiness was shared by hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. I also believe the reason goes back to the attitude held by Muhammad about the world of the non-Muslim 1400 years ago that has been inculcated into the fiber of the Muslim mentality ever since. In essence, Muhammad held that the wealth and possessions of non-Muslims consisted of spoils of war that were to be taken by Muslims in raids against them. During Muhammad's life, this began with the raids against his own tribe, the Quraysh, followed by other Arab tribes and then the Jewish communities that had lived in Arabia for centuries. It was then followed by attacks on the Byzantine and Persian Empires, and has never stopped. The entire experience of Changez in America could be seen as an extension of the same raid mentality. He did not come to America to give but to take. He first took his education, and then his salary. At the appropriate time he left, determined to "stop" the same America that had given him opportunities he never would have had in his own country. In the final analysis he was nothing more than a raider, no different than his Prophet before him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Muslims and Muhammad and Sex with Slaves

At Muslims and Muhammad: the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could allow his followers to have sex with their female slaves as well as their prisoners of war, whether or not they were married, and be a prophet of God."

Rumors persist to this day that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both Heroes of our Nation, fathered children born of slaves. If they did not, certainly many other Americans did. And it is a fact that King Solomon, writer of both the Book of Proverbs and the love poem "The Song of Songs" in the Bible, had hundreds of wives and concubines. So what is the difference, one might ask, if Muhammad also had sex with slaves?

I think the differences are significant. Even though Americans admire many qualities of their Founding Father, we do not look back with pride at their slave-holding practices. And no Christian pastor or Jewish rabbi would give the marital example of Solomon as a model for young men today. The Bible itself records that in his later years Solomon's wives "led him astray" from the God and faith of his youth.

One of the best-known facts of Islam is that it allows Muslim men to have four wives. Much less understood, however, and one of the many Quranic expressions that is easily glossed over by careless readers, is the reality that immediately after Quran 4:3 allows men four wives, it also authorizes them to have sex with their female slaves. The verse states that if men fear they could not equally treat four wives justly they should marry only one, or "the possessions of your right hand", that is, their slaves. Apparently the need to treat female slaves equally was not taken into consideration, and there was no limit to the number that a Muslim man could enjoy.

This was not just a theoretical statement, but a practice carried out by both Muhammad and his followers. All the early Muslim historians, including Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa'd, and al-Tabari, describe Muhammad's sexual relationship with slaves or female captives such as Mary the Copt and Safiya the Jewess. The authentic hadiths give Muhammad's instructions to his warriors about the rules for sex with the females they captured in their battles. Sex with pregnant captives was not allowed, since according to Muhammad it was not proper for his men to "mix their seed" with that of the man who had impregnated the women who were now their slaves. Coitus interruptus was also discouraged because according to the Prophet it made no difference whether a man ejaculated inside or outside the woman, since "Allah has already determined who he will or will not create".

It is interesting that these instructions were given when Muhammad's men complained to him that it was difficult for them to remain faithful to their wives during their raids, especially when they were capturing beautiful Arab and Jewish women. Rather then encouraging them in fidelity, he simply laid the ground rules for casual sex (we would call it rape today) with the captured women whose husbands had often just been killed by the same men who wanted sex with them. There was no stipulation or expectation that the men would marry or have any social responsibility towards these women, and they were often sold as slaves soon afterwards.

Muslims today easily defend or justify this information about their prophet. I can't do that. I cannot believe that a man who would both practice and authorize casual sex with captive female slaves could be a prophet of God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Muslims and Muhammad and Khaybar

At Muslims and Muhammad: the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could torture a young Jewish tribal leader to death to obtain his money, and then "marry" his 17-year old widow the same night, and be a prophet of God."

The city of Khaybar, located about 90 miles north of Medina in Saudi Arabia, was once a prosperous Jewish city. Unlike Medina, which contained both a Jewish and Arab population, history indicates that Khaybar was fully Jewish. The citizens were a rich community of traders as well as farmers, raising grapes, dates, vegetables and grain. They produced silk garments that were sold and known throughout the region, and also manufactured metal work implements and weapons.

The population of Khaybar increased significantly when Muhammad expelled the Jews from Medina, allowing them to take only what they could carry as he appropriated their wealth and property. As soon as Muhammad established the treaty of Hudabiya with the Quraysh of Mecca, thus eliminating them as a threat, he directed his army toward Khaybar. Islamic historians describe in detail how the Muslim army surprised the farmers of Khaybar early in the morning as they were heading to their fields to work, and how Muhammad captured one settlement after another with their rich supplies of grain and livestock.

A young man named Kinana was rumored to have some of the treasure that the Beni Nadir tribe had managed to take from Medina. Muhammad ordered Kinana to be tortured by lighting a fire on his chest to reveal where the treasure was located, and then had him beheaded. It is interesting that Muslim apologists defend Muhammad's earlier raids on the Quraysh by claiming the Quraysh had confiscated property left behind by Muhammad's followers when they emigrated from Mecca to Medina. How do they justify their Prophet stealing the little wealth that the Jews were able to carry with them after they were exiled from Medina to Khaybar?

Rather then removing the Jews from Khaybar or killing them, as he had done with the Jews of Medina, Muhammad allowed them to remain on their land with the provision that they give him fifty percent of all its produce. This is the first example of the well-known jizya tax, where non-Muslims are required to pay their Muslim rulers for the privilege of being allowed to stay alive. It is also the first instance of the dhimmi status, described by Muslims as "protection", granted to these second-class citizens who choose not to accept Islam. Muhammad made it clear to the Jews of Khaybar they would only be allowed to live there as long as he chose. After he gave his farewell sermon announcing that Islam would be the only religion allowed in Arabia, it did not take long for his successor Umar Ibn al-Khattab to forcibly send all the Jews of Khaybar to exile in Syria and Palestine. It is no wonder that the Jews of Fadak, a town near Khaybar, quickly sent emissaries to make peace with Muhammad, who allowed them to live under terms similar to those of Khaybar until they were also exiled by the Caliph Umar.

The murdered Kinana had a beautiful 17-year old bride named Safiya. Her father and brother had both been beheaded by Muhammad in Medina during the slaughter of the Beni Qurayza. Upon Kinana's death, Safiya was brought to Muhammad. Although another Muslim had first claimed her, Muhammad wanted her for himself and traded the other man two women for her. Muhammad then took Safiya to his tent, and had sex with her that night. He discovered in the morning that one of his warriors had spent the night guarding the tent. When Muhammad asked why he had done this, the soldier replied that he was concerned Safiya might try to harm the man who ravaged her sexually after having killed her father, brother, and husband.

Unbelievably, Muslims see this entire story of theft, torture, murder and rape as a wonderful example of Allah giving their Prophet victory over his enemies. To this day, Muslims at anti-Israel rallies in the West love to chant in Arabic, "Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Jahud, Jaysh al-Muhammad sa Yaoud." Translated, this is, "Remember Khaybar, Oh you Jews. The army of Muhammad will return."

I would encourage any Muslim woman reading this to put herself in Safiya's position, having no choice but to surrender sexually to the man 40 years her senior who had beheaded and tortured her father, brother, and husband. Can you really accept this man as your Prophet?

I cannot. It is impossible for me to believe that a man who acted as Muhammad did in Khaybar could be a prophet of God.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Muslims and Muhammad and Umm Qirfa

At Muslims and Muhammad: the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could sentence a woman to death by having her limbs attached to camels that moved in opposite direction pulling her apart, then behead her and parade her severed head through Medina, and be a prophet of God."

The story of Umm Qirfa has been dramatized at this link. For the historian, what is of significance is not the dramatization of her death, but its documentation in Islamic history.

In a lengthy account of all the raids led or ordered by Muhammad, historian Ibn Ishaq reports that the Prophet sent a force led by Zayd bin Haritha against the Beni Fazara tribe. It is interesting that Ibn Ishaq now describes Zayd as "the freed slave" of Muhammad; earlier in his book he had identified Zayd as "Zayd bin Muhammad", or Zayd the son of Muhammad. This changed when Muhammad claimed he had received a revelation making adoption illegal so he could marry Zayd's wife Zainab and adopted sons could no longer carry the names of their adopted fathers. At any rate, some of Zayd's soldiers were killed in the battle and he himself was wounded and carried from the field. Zayd swore he would not rest until he had gained revenge on the Beni Fazara, and as soon as he recovered from his wounds he again attacked them. This time he was successful and killed or captured the members of the tribe. One of the prisoners, described by Ibn Ishaq as "a very old woman", was Umm Qirfa whose family led the tribe. Ibn Ishaq limits himself to saying that "Zayd ordered Qays to kill Umm Qirfa, and he killed her cruelly". Historian al-Tabari adds the detail that "Qays put a rope to her two legs and to two camels, and drove them apart until they tore her apart". Muslim historian Kamel Najar informs us that Umm Qirfa's head was presented to Muhammad, who ordered it to be paraded throughout Medina.

A Muslim warrior named Salama took the beautiful daughter of Umm Qirfa as a captive. When Muhammad saw her, he asked Salama to give the girl to Muhammad's uncle Hazan. Hazan then "married" her and she gave birth to a son.

There are numerous other examples in Muhammad's life where wantom cruelty was expended on his enemies. One such account is given by a man named Amr bin Umayya, who was sent by Muhammad to kill arch-enemy Abu Sufyan before Abu Sufyan himself became a Muslim and subsequent leader of the Muslim armies. Amr and his companion tried to approach Abu Sufyan's house in Mecca, but were recognized and forced to flee for their lives with their Meccan pursuers close behind. They made their way back to Medina travelling by day and spending the nights in caves. Ibn Ishaq continues the account with Amr speaking as follows:

I went into a cave, and while I was there a one-eyed man also came into the cave with a sheep of his and asked me who I was. When we discovered we were from the same tribe, he laid down and began to sing, "I will not become a Muslim as long as I live." I said to myself, "I'll teach you", and as soon as he fell asleep I got up and killed him in a more horrible way than any man has been killed. I put the end of my bow in his one eye, and pushed it down until it came out at the back of his neck. After I left the cave, I came across two Meccans whom the Quraysh had sent to spy on the Apostle. I killed one of them, and bound the thumbs of the other together with my bow string and took him to the Apostle. When the Apostle looked at him, he laughed so hard you could see his back teeth. He asked my news, and when I told him what had happened he blessed me.

Another well-known incident of cruelty occured during Muhammad's raid upon the Jews of Khaybar. Believing that a young man named Kinana had access to hidden treasure, Ibn Ishaq writes: The Apostle asked Kinana where the rest of the treasure was, but he refused to produce it. The Apostle then gave the order to Zubayr to torture him until they extracted what he had. Zubayr kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the Apostle delivered him to Muhammad bin Maslama, who cut off his head.

Still another incident is contained in the authoritative Bukhari collection of Hadiths. A group of eight men from the Ukil tribe came to Medina and professed to accept Islam. When they complained to Muhammad that Medina's climate was not good for them, Muhammad advised them to join the city's camel herders so they could regain their health by drinking an abundance of fresh camel milk. The men followed his advice but then murdered a herder, stole his camels and fled. Muhammad quickly pursued and captured them, and in punishment cut off their hands and feet, branded out their eyes with hot nails, and left them to die without water in the desert outside Medina.

There are some Muslims who recognize that these stories are troublesome. On an Egyptian talk show a few years ago one participant noted that militant Muslims such as the late Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi justified the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl because Muhammad himself beheaded people. The participant then said, "The problem is that the Ulema (Islamic scholars) have no answer for the militants who base their violence on Muhammad's actions. When these people say that Muhammad himself branded and plucked out the eyes of the thieves and cut off their hands and legs, what is the response (of the Ulema)? And this is what Muhammad did in some small peacetime conflict. What would he do in war?"

It's a good question, and one that can be answered by seeing what Muhammad's followers do to each other, let alone to the enemy, in places such as Baghdad where for months the Shia Jaysh al-Mahdi would bind the hands of their Sunni enemies behind their backs before drilling holes into their skulls, shooting them in the back, and dumping their bodies into the streets. It doesn't take much analysis to understand how they justify their actions based on the example of their Prophet.

I can't do that. It is impossible to me that a man who would treat his opponents with the cruelty that Muhammad did could possibly be a prophet of God.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Muslims and Muhammad and Asma bint Marwan

At Muslims and Muhammad: the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could be so fearful of criticism that he would send a man at night to kill the mother of a nursing child because of the poems she had written against him, and be a prophet of God."

I have written about Asma bint Marwan in three different contexts here, here, and here. For those unfamiliar with the story, she was a Jewish poetess whom Muhammad had killed because he felt threatened by her poetry.

What I find interesting, beyond the story herself, is how Muslims today react to it. An essential element of propaganda is to tell only certain sides of a story, leaving out information the propagandist does not consider conducive to the point he or she is trying to get across. A good example of this can be found at this Islamic website, where the author writes, "Any student of Islam knows that the life of Prophet Muhammad(saw) has been described in detail in what we call the “Ahadith”. Ahadith in whole are basically collected stories, events, actions of the Prophet(saw). However not all the stories transmitted down by a chain of narrators are 100 percent true. There are many sahih, hasan, da’eef (weak) ahadith. For Muslims it was very important to develop a science of hadith to separate truth from falsehood."

Author Ibrahim Saifuddin goes on to say that the account of Asma bint Marwan is only found in a few "weak" hadiths, and can therefore be discarded as a forgery.

There are four important things to keep in mind here. First is that the starting point for a Muslim in any discussion is the conviction that Muhammad is the perfect man. Any story that detracts from that image, such as that of Asma bint Marwan, must be either defended or denied.

The second point is that the "propagandist", in this case Ibrahim, deliberately presents only some factual information and leaves out other material that would weaken his case. The full account of Muhammad's raid against Asma bint Marwan is found neither in the Quran nor in the Hadith but in his Sirah or biography, which along with them forms the third authoritative source for information about him. An entire chapter of Ibn Ishaq's biography is entitled, "Ghazwat Umayr bin Uday al-Khatmi ala Asma bint Marwan", or the Raid of Umayr against Asma bint Marwan. The entire story is clearly told, from Muhammad's ordering Asma's death and then congratulating Umayr after he drove a spear through the poetess as she was sleeping with her nursing child, to Muhammad's caustic comment that she was not worth "two goats butting their heads together". My Arabic account adds the footnote, in case there was any doubt, "the Prophet was saying she was without significance".

The third thing is that Asma bint Marwan was not the only poet or critic killed by Muhammad. She was not an exception, but part of a pattern.

The final point is that nothing has changed in 1400 years. Just as Muhammad was unable to tolerate the criticism of a Jewish poetess during his lifetime, Muslims are incapable of handling criticism of their Prophet today. Whether it is the Danish cartoons, short movies such as Fitna or Submission, or anything related, the response is always the same. Muslims cannot see their Prophet as anything less than perfect, and criticize anyone who looks at him differently than they do.

I'm not limited by those restraints. As I carefully read the story of Asma bint Marwan, I cannot believe that the man who ordered her murder could be a Prophet of God.