James M. Arlandson
After reading or skimming my articles at this website, maybe a few readers wonder why I bother to write about this religion, especially in such a hard-hitting way. After all, 9/11 is so long ago.
Here are five major reasons that explain my motives, for what theyre worth.
1. Violence must be exposed.
Before 9/11, I had not paid much attention to Islam, other than a few facts in my old Humanities courses, such as its contribution to science in the Medieval Age, even though current thought is now questioning the extent of Islams contribution, as seen here: , , . I was careful to protect historical Islam in these courses, though I wondered privately how this religion and Christianity could be reconciled in some basic doctrines, such as the deity of Christ (see no. 2, below).
That was before 9/11.
After 9/11, I decided to read through the Quran. I did it from Friday afternoon through Sunday. I was shocked at the violence I found.
Two examples from the Quran, and one from an early biography.
First, Muhammad wishes for the death of his uncle Abu Lahab and his wife, who opposed him in Mecca (Sura 111). Its a short sura (chapter), so here is all of it:
May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined. May he be ruined too! Neither his wealth nor his gains will help him: he will burn in the Flaming Fire, and so will his wife, the fire-wood-carrier, with a palm fiber rope around her neck." (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Quran, Oxford UP)
In the interest of Comparative Religions, Christians read this passage and may ask, "What would Jesus do about resistant family members?" Their likely answer: "He would have forgiven them or overlooked their error and moved on. He would not have condemned them to hell, with extra-special punishments." This answer is in fact what happened (Mark 6:1-5), and finally Jesus family follows him later.
The second example is when Muhammad promises he will fight Jews and Christians, the People of the Book (Sura 9:29):
Fight those People of the Book who do not believe [truly] in God and the Last Day . . . (Haleem).
Note how Haleem supplies the word "truly" in brackets. It implies that Muhammad will leave true Jews and Christians alone. It is as if Haleem cannot bring himself to admit that Muhammad will actually fight any and all People of the Book, which are the historical facts, unless they convert to Islam or pay a "protection" tax.
These tiny cover-ups and whitewashes permeate Islamic scholarship and translations, believe me. Ill return to them in a moment (see no. three).
The bigger picture is Muhammads violence. I had always heard that Islam was and is the religion of peace. But I was wrong. Violence permeates the Quran and Muhammads life.
Third, after the Quran the next book I read from original Islam is Ibn Ishaqs Life of Muhammad (trans. A. Guillaume, Oxford UP, 1955). Ibn Ishaq died in AD 767, and he collected data on Muhammads life and put them in his biography. He is a valuable source for modern scholars, though they may dispute over his chronology and miracles. Muslims like him when he depicts Muhammad as heroic and noble, but they dont like him when he makes Muhammadwell, when he is less than heroic and noble.
Ibn Ishaq reports this violent episode. Abu Bakr, one of Muhammads chief companions, barged into a Jewish school, led by two Rabbis. Abu Bakr called on one of the Rabbis
[T]o fear God and become a Muslim because he knew that Muhammad was the apostle of God who had brought the truth from Him and that they would find it written in the Torah and the Gospel.
One of the Rabbis sassed him, saying that Allah must be poor, if Muhammad has to borrow money from the Jews. Enraged, Abu Bakr struck him hard on the face, telling him:
Were it not for the treaty between us I would cut off your head, you enemy of Allah!
The story ends with the Rabbi denying to Muhammad that he sassed Abu Bakr (note how the Jew is not only a blasphemer, but also a liar), but the prophet got a revelation that the Rabbi had mocked Allah (Sura 3:181). Thus, Abu Bakr was justified in using physical violence in response to disrespectful words. He is a Muslim hero (Ibn Ishaq, p. 263).
Violent incidents like these three examples fill the source documents of early Islam.
To put this in human terms, the face of Islam wears a permanent grin, and its eyes twinkle. Its left hand offers candy to the uninformed. This is the seductive side of Islam. But its right hand hides a sword behind its back, ready to cut off the head of anyone who criticizes it or leaves it.
My goal is to walk behind this smiling and beguiling figure (keeping a swords length away) and to warn everyone about the sword.
The unpleasant facts about unjust and excessive Islamic violence and intolerance must be made public so that everyone understands ALL of Islam, not just the benign Five Pillars. Though I have theological disagreements with each Pillar, none of them harms me materially or physically.
But the Quran-supported violence does harm everyone materially and physically, so they must be forewarned. Im a warner, to borrow one of Muhammads favorite words about himself. But I warn people about Muhammad.
2. Christianity must be defended and explained.
Sadly, nominal Christianity is dying out in Europe, though Evangelical Christianity is growing. Vibrant, evangelical Christianity is still comparatively strong in the US, thankfully. Around the globe, it is growing by leaps and bounds, as seen in this large gathering in Africa and this one in Pakistan that filled a football stadium that holds 100,000 people. Here in the West it must be revived even more, and the internet is one small way of doing this.
Most people in the West believe that all religions are pretty much the same. Some dazed and confused Christians go so far as to convert to Islam, and this is heartbreaking.
As it turns out, these similarities exist by and large only in down-to-earth ethical matters (e.g. do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, and so on), though even on this level differences exist as seen here, to link to only one example of Islams confusing marriage laws about adultery.
But the similarities disappear in many heavenly matters. These differences must be brought out to the public.
Christianity and Islam have irreconcilable differences. For example, Muhammad is confused in his Quran about Jesus. After all the confusion, though, Muhammad demotes Jesus. Muhammad denies the Sonship and divinity of Christ, whereas the New Testament everywhere affirms his divinity and Sonship.
Here is one passage from the Quran, representing others (the first addition in brackets is mine; the second is the translators):
3:58 We [Allah] relate to you [Muhammad] this revelation, a decisive statement. 59 In Gods eyes Jesus is just like Adam: He created him from dust, said to him, "Be," and he was. 60 This is the truth from your Lord: do not be one of those who doubt. (Haleem)
From the point of view of Bible-educated Christians, this passage is filled with many errors, but three stand out.
First, Muhammad clearly says that he gets his information from revelation, not from simple research, so this means that he is susceptible to error since he ignores or plays down reason and facts. He did not have a qualified Christian to explain who Jesus really was. Muhammad picked up ideas about him, here and there along the trade routes in Arabia. He doesnt know what hes talking about, so he frequently retreats into dubious claims of having received this information through revelations.
Second, Muhammad says Jesus is like Adam, created from dust. This "revelation" flatly contradicts the New Testament, which says that Jesus was involved in creating the entire universe and was himself uncreated.
Third and finally, but even if Muhammad had listened to a qualified Christian, then Muhammad still would have demoted Jesus to a mere prophet. Why? Among other reasons, Muhammad must be the best and last of the prophets. He had to maintain his own highest status, so Jesus could not be the Son of God, while Muhammad was a mere human and mortal messenger (Sura 3:144). So Muhammad had a human and selfish motive to get this revelation and demote the eternal Son of God.
For more on Muhammads confusion over Christ, go the Conclusion of a long article dealing with the implications of Muhammads inconsistent doctrines on Christ.
On the other hand, Christians are to test doctrines by Christs and the Apostles standards, because teachers would arise and deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God:
22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichristhe denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father. (1 John 2:22-23)
Did Jesus himself say he was the Son of God just so he could seem better than everyone else? Where is the evidence for this selfish motive? Who specifically was he trying to surpass? A Pharisee? He deliberately kept his true identity out of public knowledge for the most part, and accepted the popular (but ultimately inadequate) titles of Prophet or Teacher or Rabbi. But he revealed his true identity as the Son of God to his core twelve disciples and sometimes to those outside of his inner circle. He went out of his way not to boast about his true nature.
Further, based on this New Testament passage in 1 John, written by the Apostle John, what are Christians supposed to conclude about Muhammads denial that Jesus is the Son of God? Dazed and confused Christians must not trade in the eternal Son of God for a dazed and confused human messenger: Muhammad (Sura 3:144).
Muhammad says that he has improved on Christianity and that God could have destroyed the Messiah to demonstrate how wrong Christians are about Jesus (Sura 5:15-17).
The New Testament disagrees, so I disagree.
Thats why I write my articles. I would like to present the New Testament view of Christto remind everyone who is concerned and who reads my articles what basic Christian doctrine says.
3. Truth must win out over errors.
I have been discovering that too much (not all) of Islamic scholarship in the West is filled with tiny, brief, barely detectable, but significant errors or omissions. They seem to be deliberate and are calculated to cover up some embarrassing facts and to present Islam as winsome so that people would possibly convert to Islam. But sometimes the errors and omissions are large and blatant.
This must be exposed.
Two examples that illustrate small errors:
First, as noted in the first point, Haleem adds the modifier "truly" in Sura 9:29, implying that Muhammad targeted only untrue Jews and Christians, not the "true" believers. Haleem translates two other verses that indicate that true believers are those who submit, a key concept in Islam (Sura 3:19 and 85). Apparently, his intent is to show that true Jews and Christians "submit," so they are Muslims of sorts. But how is Muhammad supposed to sort out the true believers from the untrue when he waged wars on them? Historical reality says that he didnt sort them out.
So Haleems tiny, brief, barely detectable addition of "truly" is designed to make Muhammad seem fair and just in the eyes of unsuspecting Westerners. But it skips over the big picture: why would Muhammad wage war on Jews and Christians in the first place, if he was creating the religion of peace?
Second, Haleem fails to translate a key word in a violent Quranic verse. The historical background of Sura 8 is the Battle of Badr (AD 624), in which Muhammad and about 320 Muslims won a surprising victory over about 1000 Meccans. Muhammad celebrates the death of the Meccans (the addition in brackets is mine):
8:17 It was not you who killed them [the Meccans] but God . . . .
In Arabic the sentence repeats the word "killed" (root is q-t-l) after "God." Hilali and Khan are hardline Muslims, so they are not embarrassed by the severity of the Quran. The verse should read:
8:17 You killed them not, but Allah killed them . . . . (Hilali and Khan, The Noble Quran, Riyadh: Darussalam, 1996).
Why does Haleem omit this last violent word "killed"? He doesnt offer a manuscript variant. Maybe, just maybe, he has to protect Islams reputation from any idea that Allah kills people directly (and I would add) six hundred years after Christ came and showed us a better way. After all, Haleem is communicating Islam to English speakers in his translation of the Quran. The temptation to exclude the last violent word must have been strong, in order to make the Quran palatable to speakers of English who live in cultures having Christianity as their background.
Sometimes the omissions and distortions are not tiny, brief, and barely detectable, but blatantwhich is worse because these errors are bold and therefore much more deceptive; theyre hiding in plain sight, so the uniformed reader reasons to himself that surely Muslim scholars would not commit blatant errors, would they?
Two examples suffice to illustrate blatant errors:
First, Muhammad harassed the Meccan caravans after his Hijrah or Emigration from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, but two Muslim scholars (among others) distort Muhammads aggression and make him appear on the defensive. After Muhammad left Mecca, the Meccans sent their caravans loaded with goods along trade routes. But which trade routes? Ones that led to harassing Muhammad in Medina? True, some caravans were protected by some soldiers (a frequent policy by the tradesmen), but on which paths were they traveling? Two Muslim scholar-apologists are inaccurate when they assert that the caravans "passed through" (note their words) Medina, adding that the poor and helpless Muslims haphazardly sought for whatever spoils they could in their raids, whereas the Meccans mobilized for war (Ismail R. al-Faruqi and Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, The Cultural Atlas of Islam, New York: Macmillan, 1986, p. 134).
To be honest, when I read the words "passed through," I was shocked. "Did I read what I just read?" I read it again to make sure. I find these kinds of errors all the time in Muslim scholarship, but this one was published by Macmillan, a reputable western company.
In contrast, the widely respected historian and Islamologist W. Montgomery Watt paints a more accurate picture of these early raids before the Battle of Badr (AD 624), saying that the Muslims took the offensive, long distances from Medina:
The chief point to notice is that the Muslims took the offensive. With one exception the seven expeditions were directed against Meccan caravans. The geographical situation lent itself to this. Caravans from Mecca to Syria had to pass between Medina and the coast. Even if they kept as close to the Red Sea as possible, they had to pass within about eighty miles of Medina, and, while at this distance from the enemy base, would be twice as far from their own base. (Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p. 2)
Thus, the Meccan caravans were not waging war on Muhammad at Medina, but they were going about their business, traveling (mostly) along a trade route by the coast. Traveling eighty miles takes about two or three days in seventh-century Arabia; thus, the Meccans were not on the Medinans doorstep, and certainly not with a small contingency of soldiers. Watt correctly implies that the Meccan caravans were worried about attacks from Muslims, not about attacking the Muslims in Medina. Islam was not fighting for its survival against the Meccans, and Muslims were not waging "just wars" of self-defense after the Hijrah (AD 622). Rather, they were following the dubious Arab custom of raiding. Hence, seeds of violence have been planted into the early soil of Islam. It is only natural that the Quran would reflect this violence.
The uninformed Westerner could conclude from Faruqis Cultural Atlas that Muhammad and the Meccans were in a constant state of war, and that the Meccans were always aggressive. Thus, any military action by Muhammad would appear defensive and therefore just. But this is false. The Meccan caravans never "passed through" Medina. Muhammad was on the warpath.
Here is the second example that shows a Westerner omitting some unpleasant facts about Islam.
In the book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims reclaim their faith (ed. Michael Wolfe, Rodale, 2002, 2004), the editor in the Introduction asks, "Why now?" Why write a book on Islam at this time after 9/11? His answer: to present Islam as a peaceful, tolerant, forgiving and compassionate religion in the face of the Islamic terror attacks. But how far does this presentation go in whitewashing and omitting facts?
Karen Armstrong, a former nun and well-spoken and prolific author on Islam, perpetrates the whitewashes and omissions in her article for the book, "Is Islam violent?" She says that when Muhammad conquered Mecca in AD 630, the city "voluntarily opened its gates to the Muslims, without bloodshed" because he had ingeniously and bravely built a peaceful coalition of tribes (p. 28).
In reply, however, she omits four facts.
First, Muhammad had waged and provoked so many wars and sent out so many raids on the Meccans and their caravans that the city was weakened. Muhammad was ready to conquer, and Mecca was ripe to be conquered.
Second, during the conquest, Muhammad appeared outside of Mecca with 10,000 jihadists. Just before the conquest, he ordered his holy warriors to light bonfires so that the army would appear even more numerous and powerful. So did the Meccans "voluntarily" open their gates?
Third, Muhammad ordered his men to enter the city in four columns from four directions, in order to crush any resistance, even though he offered the Meccans general amnesty. The Meccans indeed surrendered their city, so resistance was small.
Fourth, however, Khalid al-Walid, a competent but bloodthirsty commander of one of the columns, claims he encountered resistance and killed twenty-eight men. (Two others were killed when they ran into a group of conquering jihadists.) Did Muhammad rebuke Khalid and dismiss him? How could he, when Khalid said he encountered resistance? Also, Khalid carried out a lot of the dirty business in early Islamdestroying a building here, subduing a tribe there. Routine work in early Islam. So why would Muhammad get rid of him?
These four facts fill out Armstrongs omissions and whitewashes, and demonstrate that the conquest, though it could have been more violent, was done by a large army. Mecca did not "voluntarily" open its gates to peaceful pilgrims, but to a large army that was ready to storm the city, if it had not surrendered. Also, the reason Muhammad was able to build coalitions at this late date (and even before) was due to his army lurking in the background shadows or standing in the foreground. Mecca and many individual surrounding tribes were too weak to fight, so some tribes joined the coalition. Finally, although twenty-eight deaths do not amount to a bloodbath, they are a long way from Armstrongs whitewash that Muhammad conquered Mecca "without bloodshed." In Khalids section of Mecca, blood flowed.
These errors and omissions and whitewashes and all the spin-doctoring happen time and time again in this book alone and in many other sources promoting Islam. Apparently, Islam must appear and sound pleasing to the eyes and ears of Westerners, so that they believe its not all that bad. Its a world religion, after all. Enough said.
However, enough has not been said. ALL of Islam must be exposed to the world, and so must biased and tendentious Muslim and western pro-Muslim scholarship that shaves off the unpleasant aspects of this religion with the possible goal of converting unsuspecting seekers.
4. The Enlightenment says to think and analyze critically.
The West has benefited from the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason (c. 1600-1800+) in many ways (though not all). A heavy dose of critical thinking and reason has been injected into our education and science. (Though the Enlightenment thinkers would not like to admit this, reason was highlighted in the Medieval Age, notably by St. Thomas Aquinas, but thats another article). This is why the western world has long bypassed and surged ahead of the Islamic world in such areas as technology, and this is the cause of many problems.
Sadly, Islam has not gone through such an Enlightenment. This is why no one dares challenge Muhammad or the Quran. For example, one of the oddest and unsubstantiated beliefs in traditional Islam is that Muhammad was sinless, even though the facts and his own words contradict this belief. But in traditional Islam, belief has been exalted high above critical thinking and sound reason and plain evidenceeven from the original source documents in Islam.
As a child of the Enlightenment (as all Westerners are), I have one motto that Ive adopted in my analysis of Islam: Let the facts guide me and let them fall where they may, for then Ill be safe.
It seems that the majority of Muslims dont have this motto because they either ignore or explain away basic, indisputable, unpleasant facts that appear in the original source documents in Islam. Most likely, the vast majority of Muslims have never read these source documents, so they believe what theyve heard from their leaders who cover up or withhold these facts about Muhammad. With the internet, however, these hard truths will come out.
My goal (and that of others) is to make sure these truths come out, so we know about ALL of original Islam.
The Enlightenment has produced skeptical, hard-hitting scholarship in religion, as well.
Though the New Testament everywhere affirms the divinity of Jesus, when some Enlightenment intellectuals embarked on the (in)famous quest for the historical Jesus, they took out all supernatural elements. Who emerged from their biographies? A winsome teacher of love, or an itinerant Rabbi with a radical call to an uncompromising commitment to the kingdom of God. Regardless of these deficient and incomplete results of these biographies, one thing is certain: a violent and lustful man could not be found in Jesus of Nazareth.
On the other hand, what would happen if Muhammad underwent the same scrutiny? The Quran nowhere gives Muhammad a divine status, so would a non-violent preacher with only a radical call to an uncompromising commitment to Allah and his messenger emerge? Would he seem peaceful and unlustful? He trafficked in violence, and he didnt live an exemplary life sexually. Maybe this is what Islamic leaders fear. But the truth will come out about all of this.
The Enlightenment produced at least two big themes.
First, the Enlightenment brought us tolerance. The US was founded at the height of this intellectual movement, and the First Amendment in the Constitution says we all have the right to worship (or not) as we want without interference. This means that Islam has the legal right to settle here in the US (and elsewhere in the West), though Islamic countries often persecute Christians, as in Saudi Arabia or in Indonesia, as seen in this article, where three women are put on trial for starting a non-Muslim Sunday School. Peaceful Muslims should not be harassed, but violent and criminal Muslims should be reported and arrested.
However, what about analyzing the truth-claims of Islam and examining Muhammad himself, despite this tolerance coming from the Enlightenment? This brings us to the second theme.
The Enlightenment also brought us critical thinking and skepticism (e.g. Hume, Voltaire, Nietzsche and a long list of others). Christianity was analyzed skeptically, and it survived remarkably intact, largely because of Jesus. To repeat, apart from the supernatural side of his life, the Enlightenment concluded that he was a good and righteous Jewthough the New Testament affirms his divine nature.
In the same way, Islam must be analyzed skeptically. It must be placed under the Enlightenment microscope. The facts emerging from my study of Islam so far indicate that it has a shaky foundation of violence and bad behavior from its founder. This article predicts the death of Mohammadanism (defined in the article as Muslims beliefs about Muhammad) because of the information superhighway on the web. No longer can the secrets in Muhammads life stay hidden or be explained away since more and more reasonable and reasoning people will have access to the truth. Then Muhammad will not look so good.
This analysis may hurt the feelings of devout Muslims, but they must understand the Western tradition. We investigate. We criticize. We dissect texts into pieces, even sacred texts. Ockhams razor demands that we eliminate convoluted explanations and prefer the straightforward and plain ones. We hold on to basic and clear facts. Muslims must remember that theyre the ones who have brought and are bringing Islam over to the West. They may not be used to such hard-hitting analyses because Islamic countries have laws that order death to anyone who criticizes Muhammad and the Quran and even Islamic law itself. But that does not (or should not) make fact-based analysis of Islam grind down to a halt in the West.
All of this talk about the Enlightenment may sound highflying, but I take the intellectual movement seriously. As far as Im concerned, Islam does not get a free ride when it comes over to the West, especially when it claims that it is the ultimate truth, and especially when Muslims are called to spread it aggressively.
Islam must not get a free pass, and others in the West who take the Enlightenment seriously must challenge this religion.
Whats so surprising is not that I and only a few others (so it seems) challenge Islam, but that a thousand other scholars have not used their critical thinking even to question it.
5. Western freedoms must be preserved.
One of the hallmarks of the West is freedom.
The West allows freedom of speech, whereby we can criticize religious truth-claims. Islamic law says that critics of Muhammad, the Quran, and Islam must die.
The West keeps the state away from the church (at least in the US), whereas Islam does not make this distinction.
The West allows freedom of worship so that we do not have to live under sharia (Islamic law), but Islam teaches submission, even for the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) (Sura 9:29). If they keep their religion, they must pay a tax for the alleged "privilege" of living under Islamic "protection." But this Islamic tolerance has been questioned of late, notably by Robert Spencer in his book, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance.
The West allows freedom of conscience. Islam forces holiness on all of us from the outside in. Thats why sharia has harsh laws and punishments like stoning adulterers and whipping drinkers and gamblers. See this article: "Top ten reasons why sharia is bad for all societies."
These just freedoms flow out of Christianity (scroll down to "Christianity") when it is properly understood. By proclamation alone, Christianity seeks to win people from the inside outa spiritual transformation.
However, if people dont choose this path, then Christianity allows them to go their own way. God will judge them in his way and his time, not ours. Islam, on the other hand, forces them to conform.
I write to preserve, in my own small way, the best parts of the West.
Islam must not get a free pass as it settles here in the West. It must be examined according to the Enlightenment standards of scholarshipand scholarship has become tougher and more skeptical as it moves into the twenty-first century. Aggressive Islam can also be challenged best by a well-explained and thoughtful Christianity. For example, we can compare laws that came out of the earlier religion with those coming out of Islam. Freedom must prevail in the West and around the world.
Simply said, I will not stop my critique until I have written enough articles to feel safe from aggressive Islam. The truth must come out about ALL of Islam.
A few have been telling the truth about Islam for years (long before I started writing), but many others, religious or secular, must join the cause. They must rigorously examine the truth-claims of Islam and Muhammads life.
Their freedom may depend on it.
For these five major reasons, I write hard-hitting but fact-based articles on Islam.
This article has a companion piece that may be read here.
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