Posts Tagged ‘Muhammad’

The Muslim Inquisition

February 6, 2015

At a prayer breakfast recently, President Obama admonished his audience that any religion, including our own, can be twisted into promoting the most atrocious behavior. As an example, the President cited the Crusades and the Inquisition.

I don’t think that there can be much doubt among those who have actually studied history that holy war has been much more typical of Islam than Christianity. The Crusades were a response to centuries of Islamic aggression against Christendom and the idea of a holy warrior was always somewhat controversial among Christians. In Islam, on the other hand, jihad is an integral part of the faith. Inquisitions seem to have been more of a Christian problem. One never hears of any Muslim Inquisition in history. Yet there was an organized Inquisition at least once in Islamic history.

In general Christianity lends itself more to the formation of something like an Inquisition and the punishment of heretics than Islam. In part this is because in Christianity salvation is not obtained by correct behavior as in Islam, but holding correct doctrine. What a Christian believes about God can have eternal consequences. This is not as unreasonable as it might seem to the modern mind. A doctor with incorrect information about the practice of medicine might kill his patient. A lawyer mistaken about the law cannot serve his client. In like manner, to the Medieval Christian, a priest or preacher who taught incorrect theology placed the souls of his flock in danger. We do not punish heretics, but we do prosecute people who make fraudulent claims and we can punish professionals for malpractice. The Medieval Inquisition, then, pursued cases of theological malpractice. I do not want to defend the Inquisition here, but I do think it is important to try to understand why such an institution was thought to be necessary during the Middle Ages.

The Muslims never absorbed the Greek passion for hair splitting philosophical discussion to the extent that the Christians did, so there is no equivalent in Islamic history to the furious debates over to what extent Christ was God or man or the precise relationship of the persons of the Trinity to one another. Islamic theology is relatively simple and straight forward compared to Christian theology, so there is less scope for heresy in Islam. Most disputes between Muslims have involved differences in legal jurisprudence or the correct succession to the Caliphate rather than fine points of doctrine. This is not to say that Islamic authorities were more tolerant of heresy. Denying a fundamental doctrine of Islam such as the existence of God or proclaiming oneself to be a new prophet with revelations that supersede those of Mohammed was always a good way to lose your head.

Another reason why there haven’t been Inquistitions in Islam is that unlike Christendom, church and state have never been separate entities. There has been no organized institutional church with a hierarchy of clergy as a separate source of political power and moral authority,to a greater or lesser extent opposed to the state in the Islamic world. The Caliph was always a religious leader as well as a political leader and laws were made by religious scholars based on Koranic principles. Among the functions of the state were the promotion of virtuous behavior and the propagation  of the faith. Heresy could be punished by the state and there was no need for a separate ecclesiastical institution for that purpose. Nevertheless, as I said there has been at least one Inquisition in Islamic history, though it was sponsored by the Caliph and its purpose was as much the suppression of his political opponents as the eradication of heresy. This Islamic Inquisition was called the Mihna and only lasted from AD 833 until 848.

This Mihna, the word means trial or testing in Arabic, was instituted by the Caliph al-Ma’mun for the purpose of imposing the beliefs of the Mutazilite school of philosophy on his government officials and judges. The Mutazilites or Rationalists were those philosophers and scholars who had studied Greek philosophy and sought to reconcile the teachings of such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle to the precepts of Islam. In particular, they adopted Greek ideas that the world is a rational place ruled by natural, logical laws that could be discovered through the use of reason. They even went so far as to teach that the nature God could be discovered by reason, supplemented by His revelations. To more orthodox or conservative Muslim thinkers, already suspicious of pagan learning, the idea that God could be known at all seemed close to blasphemy. A world ruled by natural laws seemed to infringe on the divine sovereignty of God.

al-Ma'mun is furthest on the left

al-Ma’mun is furthest on the left

The particular issue on which the Mutazilites and their opponents contended was whether the Koran was created by God or is the untreated, eternal Word of God. This may seem to be a trivial cause for argument, but the controversy helped to determine the course of Islamic theology and philosophy. If the Koran was created by God, than it does not necessarily possess the entirety of God’s perfection. Not every word of the Koran need be the literal Word of God. Some verses could be allegorical or influenced by some historical or cultural context. If the Mutazilites had prevailed, it is possible that the Islamic view of the Koran would be closer to the view held by many Christians on the Bible, inspired by God but with not every verse interpreted literally. On the other hand, if the Koran is uncreated and eternal, then, in a sense , it partakes of the essence of God. There can be no historical or cultural context. Verses which seem to relate to Mohammed’s life existed before Mohammed was born or the world created. Divine laws promulgated in the Koran are for all times and places.

The Mutazilite school was a movement of the intellectual elite rather than a popular movement and much of its influence came from the support of the Caliphs, especially al-Ma’mum who reigned from AD 813-833. In the year 827, al-Ma’mun using his authority as Caliph, proclaimed that the Koran was created. In 833, al-Ma’mun instituted the Mihna to compel acceptance of his proclamation. The Mihna continued after al-Ma’mun’s death the same year, through the reigns of his successors al-Mu’tasim and al-Wathiq. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the Mihna two years into his reign in the year 848. The Mihna, then, was not a permanent institution as the various European Inquisitions were, nor was its effects as immediately far reaching. The Mihna was primarily directed at government officials and Islamic scholars in the Caliph’s capital of Baghdad. Muslims out in the provinces and among the common people were not affected by this inquisition. The Mihna was still unpopular,  however, since the men targeted by it were widely respected religious scholars and jurists, including Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, one of the most famous Islamic theologians and founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. Like many such persecutions, the Mihna was a failure. The men targeted became martyrs and heroes of the faith. The Caliphs responsible were reviled as tyrants.

In the longer run, the effects of the Mihna were devastating for the Mutazilites and perhaps for the Islamic world as a whole. The Mutazilites were seen, somewhat unfairly, as the sponsors of the Mihna and their faction and its teachings were increasingly discredited afterwards. By the year 1000, the Mutazilites were universally viewed as heretics, a judgment that has continued to this day. More unfortunately, Greek philosophy,with its emphasis on the use of reason was also discredited, which may have been a leading cause in the decline of science in the Islamic world after around 1000. In order to do science, the thinker must believe that the world is a rational place, governed by rational laws that can be discovered by the human mind. If one believes that the world is governed by the arbitrary dictates of a deity beyond human understand, then it may be possible to make chance empirical discoveries, but there is less motivation to try to fit such discoveries into consistent, logical world view.

It is strange that the Islamic Inquisition ended up doing more damage to Islamic progress than the longer lasting and more extensive Christian Inquisitions did to progress in Europe. The history of the Islamic world seems to be full of these sorts of wrong turns and I have to wonder whether there is something in Islam, perhaps less tolerant of free thought than Christianity ever has been, even at its worst. Or, perhaps the backlash against the intolerance of the Islamic Inquisition ended up being greater intolerance, while the backlash against the Christian Inquisitions was to ultimately  discredit the idea of religious coercion. Such questions, perhaps, are unanswerable.

Crossing the Line

January 23, 2015

DeWayne Wickham believes that the French magazine Charlie Hebdo has gone too far. They have crossed the line between free speech and toxic talk and thus is responsible for much of the violence committed by Muslims in France and around the world. He writes in USA Today;

Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.

In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.

Charlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of the prophet Mohammed — a repeat of the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office — predictably has given rise to widespread violence in nations with large Muslim populations. Its irreverence of Mohammed once moved the French tabloid to portray him naked in a pornographic pose. In another caricature, it showed Mohammed being beheaded by a member of the Islamic State.

While free speech is one of democracy’s most important pillars, it has its limits. H.L. Mencken, the fabled columnist who described himself as “an extreme libertarian,” said that he believed in free speech“up to the last limits of the endurable.”

French President Francois Hollande, apparently, disagrees. He defendsCharlie Hebdo‘s latest depiction of Mohammed by saying that protesters in other countries don’t understand France’s embrace of free speech.

But even as Hollande defends Charlie Hebdo‘s right to publish images of Mohammed that many Muslims consider sacrilegious and hateful, his government has imprisoned dozens of people who have condemned the magazine with talk the French won’t tolerate. Those arrested are accused of speaking in support of the attack on the magazine, and a separate assault on a kosher store in Paris by a lone Muslim gunman with links to the men who attacked Charlie Hebdo.

While the Obama administration condemned these deadly attacks, it probably wasn’t surprised. Two years ago, then-press secretary Jay Carney questioned the judgment ofCharlie Hebdo‘s editors when they published an offensive depiction of Mohammed. That came a year after the newspaper’s office was firebombed when it tauntingly named Mohammed its guest editor. That portrayal came with a caption that read: “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.”

 

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

If Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.

The principle that Mr. Wickham seems to be enunciating seems to be that freedom of speech is all very well unless someone is upset by what is being spoken or written, in which case, that speech should be suppressed. I wonder if he has really thought through the implications of this principle. If the idea that only speech that offends no one should be permitted is applied even-handedly, than only the blandest sort of platitudes can be allowed, given that there are so many people offended by seemingly innocent expressions. Of course, this principle of forbidding “toxic talk” cannot be even-handedly applied even with the best efforts. In practice, it will be those quick to use force, either violent or otherwise whose feelings will be spared. A pornographic portrayal of Jesus or Buddha is permitted. Christians and Buddhists do not usually respond to insults with bombs or guns. A pornographic portrayal of Mohammed is forbidden. Muslims often respond to insults with murderous rage.

Mr. Wickham justifies this sort of distinction by invoking the example of a man crying fire in a crowded theater. The editors of Charlie Hebdo knew that their cartoons would provoke violence that would create a clear and present danger to the peace. Therefore, their fighting words should be prohibited. He further accuses the French authorities of hypocrisy in defended Charlie Hebdo’s free speech rights while denying the rights of those who have called for violence against the magazine. I do not think that DeWayne Wickham really understands the meaning of the phrase inciting to violence nor does he appear to make a distinction between speech that someone may find offensive and speech that calls for violence against a person perceived to be causing offense. The former must be permitted or there is no freedom of speech. The latter must be forbidden or the violent will deny freedom of speech.

I will try to explain what I mean. If I am addressing a rally of the Ku Klux Klan and I state that everyone in the audience should go out and kill an African-American ( I know what word they would really use, but nevermind.) that would clearly be an incitement to violence. If someone actually did kill someone afterwards, I might be considered legally responsible. I would certainly be morally responsible. Clearly, such speech ought not to be allowed. If, on the other hand, I made the statement that African-Americans were all stupid, that would not be an incitement to violence, even if such a statement would certainly be offensive to an African-American reporter covering the rally. If that reporter jumped up onto the podium and punched me in the face, he would be arrested and charged with assault. The fact that he found my speech offensive would not be considered justification for his action, although a jury might not convict him. The Black reporter would be responsible for his action, not me. The statement that African-Americans are all stupid is protected speech, even if the statement is offensive and even hateful.

In like fashion, Charlie Hebdo is not responsible for the actions of Muslims who find its cartoons offensive. They do not have to read the magazine. They can publish their own magazine mocking the sort of people the cartoonists and editors are likely to be. To blame Charlie Hebdo for their actions is really rather insulting since it implies that those people are savages who cannot really be responsible for their actions. To argue that this magazine should be in any way suppressed because of the threat of violence is giving the violent a veto over our speech and thus ending the concept of free speech. One might think that the dean of a school of journalism would understand that.

 

Je Suis Charlie

January 11, 2015

That’s what everyone is saying in support of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Right now everyone is standing up for the editors and cartoonists’ right to satirize and ridicule whatever they choose even in the face of violence. I am afraid, however, that once the dust settles and the shock and memory of the recent attack fades, there is going to be an almost irresistible temptation for some people to blame the victim and propose craven counsels. The cartoonists and editors brought their trouble upon themselves, the argument will run. They should have known better than to mock the prophet of such an easily offended and potentially violent following. Certainly, they have a right to print whatever they want, but surely they should exercise some degree of  prudence and only mock safe targets, like the Pope.

Consider this partial transcript of a White House press briefing, provided by Breitbart.com,  from a earlier time when Charlie Hebdo published offensive cartoons way back in September 19, 2012.

REPORTER: The French government has decided to temporarily close their embassies and schools in several Muslim countries after a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Is the White House concerned that those cartoons might further fan the flames in the region?

CARNEY: Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.

In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.

Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence. Now, we have been staying in close touch with the French government as well as other governments around the world, and we appreciate the statements of support by French government officials over the past week, denouncing the violence against Americans and our diplomatic missions overseas.

Sure, they have a right to publish what they want, but they shouldn’t if what they publish leads to violent objections. As a call for freedom of speech and the press, this is somehow not quite as bold as Voltaire’s apocryphal, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, or even Patrick Henry’s, “Give me liberty, or give me death”. It seems more like, “Give me liberty, unless someone is offended enough to shoot or bomb me.” Ian Tuttle has some more recent examples of this rush to blame the victims, National Review Online.

The reason that Muslim terrorists attack publications like Charlie Hebdo is because they have good reason to believe that such attacks will be successful in achieving the goal of silencing criticism of Islam. This strategy wouldn’t work if the political elites in Europe and America really believed in freedom of speech or at least had any real courage in confronting the threat that Islam poses  to Western civilization. As it is, they are all too ready to condemn any criticism of Islam as racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia. The Terrorists hardly needed to bother with shooting anybody. Given time, I am sure the French government or the EU would have been happy to shut down Charlie Hebdo for its hate speech.

220px-Charliehebdo

The problem with this sort of censorship against commenting on an increasingly obvious threat is that it cannot work in the long run. The average French, German, or British citizen is aware that there is a problem, no matter how much his betters try to reassure him. If the mainstream parties and politicians of Europe will not address the problem with reasonable solutions, European voters might well turn to the people who will talk about it, the real racists and fascists. Their solution is not likely to be reasonable or pretty, though perhaps more desirable than a Islamized Europe.

A Bug or a Feature?

May 24, 2014

Some recent events in Africa, the death sentence for a young woman from Sudan for being a Christian, and Boko Haram‘s kidnapping of more than two hundred schoolgirls has elicited condemnations from people around the world, including some in the West who believe that any criticism of Islam counts as islamophobia. I suppose that would be too much to hope that these people will finally make the connection and realize that we, the civilized world, really do have a problem with Islam. No doubt they will mouth the usual platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace and explain that these detestable deeds are the actions of ‘extremists’ such that are found in any religion. Well, people of virtually every religion have committed atrocious deed in the name of their gods, yet somehow these days, this seems to happen far more often among the practitioners of one particular religion, Islam. The question that needs to be answered is whether violence , terrorism and intolerance are bugs, problems with misunderstanding the teachings of religion, or features, understanding the teachings of the religion all too well.

Before going any further, I would like to deal with a particular idea that I have seen in various places, the idea that Islam is where Christianity was several centuries ago. This notion has more to do with vague ideas about moral progress than with any serious study of the comparative histories of the two faiths. The idea seems to be that there is a definite direction to history in continuing moral improvement. This seems true enough. We no longer have slavery or burn witches. Still, I am not convinced that there has been any real change in human nature. We do not have slaves because we have machines. If our machines were to fail us, slavery, or some form of unfree labor would make a swift comeback. The history of the doctrines of every religions alternate between periods of comparative laxity and rigor. The more rigorous periods do not necessarily coincide with violence and intolerance. It is difficult to imagine a religious revival among the Jains or the Quakers producing suicide bombers. The idea that Islam is somehow behind Christianity and less morally developed is condescending and doesn’t really explain why Islamic rigor is more associated with violence than Buddhist or Christian rigor.

This idea also ignores the very real differences in the teachings of the two faiths. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Mohammed agreed and added that dying by the sword in the cause of Allah was the greatest fate any man could hope for. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Mohammed was a political and military leader as well as a prophet. A Christian who commits an act of terror is acting against the teachings of his Savior. A Muslim who commits an act of terrorism is following the instructions of his prophet.

I don’t recommend that you take my word for this. Consider that Sudanese woman. She has been sentenced to death for apostasy, leaving Islam. Almost everyone in the West finds any punishment at all for apostasy to be an infringement of religious liberty. In the Middle East, the death penalty for apostasy enjoys wide support.  Here is a defense of the death penalty for apostasy from what seems to be a fairly reasonably religious authority. Read the Koran. It is full of incitements to violence, especially Sura 9.

Consider these stories about Mohammed and his companions.

The apostle said, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”  Thereupon Muhayyisa leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him.  Huwayyisa was not a Muslim at the time, though he was the elder brother.  When Muhayyisa killed [the Jew] Huwayyisa began to beat him, saying, “You enemy of God, did you kill him when much of the fat on your belly comes from his wealth?”  Muhayyisa answered, “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you I would have cut your head off.”  This was the beginning of Huwayyisa’s acceptance of Islam… [Huwayyisa] replied exclaimed, “By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvelous!” and he became a Muslim. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 554)

When he asked who I was I told him that I was one of the [Muslims].  Then he laid down beside me and lifting up his voice began to sing: “I won’t be a Muslim as long as I live, nor heed to their religion give.”

I said (to myself) ‘you will soon know’ and as soon as the badu was asleep and snoring 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 sound eye, then I bore down on it until I it out at the back of his neck. (al-Tabari 1440)

When he [Muhammad] asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr bin al-Awwam, “Torture him until you extract what he has.” So he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad bin Maslama and he struck off his head.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 764)

Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes,” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka’b). “The Prophet said, “You may say it.” (Bukhari 59:369)

There are man, many more. These stories are from the hadiths, anecdotes about Mohammed’s sayings and deeds. These stories were transmitted orally for over a hundred years before Muslim scholars began to write them down. There is no way to know if any one of these anecdotes is a true account, if the story has become corrupt after numerous retellings, or if it has simply been fabricated. The scholars who collected these hadiths were aware of this problem and rejected many that they believed to be spurious. Even the ones that they collected were felt to have varying degrees of reliability. It doesn’t matter, though. The important point here is that these were actions that the first generations of Muslims believed to be worthy of approval and imitation. Violence in the name of Islam was something approved of and even part of the attraction of the faith. Read that first story again. Huwayyisa was so impressed by the willingness of his brother to kill a family friend that he immediately converted. (Either that or he was afraid his brother would kill him if he didn’t convert.) To the early Muslims, fighting was a way to get plunder in this life and paradise in the hereafter. Mohammed approved of violence and since he is considered to be the ideal for every Muslim to emulate, his followers ought also to approve of violence.

To answer the question then, violence and intolerance are features of Islam, not bugs.

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The Story of Mohammed, Islam Unveiled

March 28, 2014

After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, many of our political leaders took pains to assure us that Islam is a religion of peace. The nineteen men who committed the atrocities on that date were said to have followed an extreme version of Islam, a version not shared by the vast majority of peace loving Muslims. Many people, however, cannot help but wonder whether a religion whose adherents are responsible for most of the terrorism in the world today might not promote violence in its teachings. Being a religion with more than one and a half billion followers, contemporary Islam is of course very diverse. There are many, many Muslims who are indeed peaceful, and many who are not. How, then, can we determine whether the doctrines of Islam promote peace or violence?

One way, might be to go back and look at the founder of the religion. After all, a tree is known by its fruits. The Prophet Mohammed in Arabia founded Islam more than fourteen centuries ago. To this day, Muslims look upon him as a perfect man to be emulated. Stories of his sayings and deeds, known as the Hadiths, are second only to the Koran as a guide to Muslim behavior. So then, learning whether Mohammed was a man of peace or of war should go a long way in determining whether Islam is a religion of peace or of war.

That is just what Harry Richardson has done with his book The Story of Mohammed, Islam Unveiled. Mr. Richardson tells the story of the life of Mohammed using Islamic sources including the Koran. Along the way, he shows how Mohammed’s example is used by terrorists to justify their actions. For, Mohammed was not a man of peace. He and his religion were peaceful enough when they were a small sect in Mecca. After the move to Medina, where Mohammed took power, the new religion quickly became very violent and intolerant. Under Mohammed’s rule, any atrocity or betrayal was justified if it furthered the cause of Islam. As Mr. Richardson shows, this same ends justify the means mentality is still used by all too many people in the Islamic world.

islam

Harry Richardson covers most of the same ground as Robert Spencer does in his books about Islam. I think though, that Richardson’s approach is more accessible than Spencer’s. He begins with the assumption that the reader knows little or nothing about Islam and explains the results of his own research referring to his sources. Although Mr. Richard may have begun his studies knowing little about Islam, he was clearly spent a lot of time and effort educating himself. He is also less confrontational than Robert Spencer often has been.

I can strongly recommend that anyone interested in what is going on in the world of Islam read this book and then go on to read the Koran and other Islamic scriptures. If we are to prevent more attacks, we need accurate information about those who regard us as the enemies of Allah. Our leaders are not interested in telling us the truth about Islam, so we must educate ourselves. Harry Richardson’s book is a good place to begin.

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More on Mohammed

April 30, 2012
Muhammad riding the Buraq; a 16th-century Pers...

Was he real?

I see that Robert Spencer‘s new book, Did Mohammed Exist?, is now available for the Kindle. That’s great! I will get it as soon as I can. Meanwhile I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the one-starred reviews. As I mentioned once before, the best way to judge the quality of a book on a controversial subject is to take a look at how hysterical the one-starred reviews by liberals who haven’t actually read the book get. By that criterion, Did Mohammed Exist? is really good.

As of this writing there are seven one-starred reviews. Here are the first two.

This is pure garbage from some Islamaphobic ignorant moron!
Throw as much BS out there and hopefully the layman or even better an uneducated hate spewing follower will believe this trash..

SPENCER go back to your hole and the rest of the new generation on Nazism

There is no merit to a book about the Prophet Muhammad unless it’s written by a serious objective scholar that has been peer-reviewed. Mr. Spencer has no such qualifications. He purports to use the works of other scholars to support his claims, so he provides no original sourcing or research. Rather, he cherry-picks scholars to support his own biases and prejudices, and then markets the book as the “best-selling book on Islam on Amazon.com.” After reading this distinctly amateur effort, I discovered that I, too, can write a book on a subject that I have no expertise and have it marketed on Amazon.com as the “best-selling book on Widgets.” There are people who want to read about Islam to justify their hatred of specific religions and there are people who want to learn about specific religions for a better understanding of the world they live in. Mr. Spencer’s book appeals to the former. Read Esposito or Armstrong for the latter.

Notice that neither reviewer actually refutes anything Spencer had to say. I don’t know who Esposito is but Karen Armstrong is somewhat notorious for white washing many of the more unpleasant aspects of Islam. I would say then, that if you want to learn more about a theological and politic system that is a threat to our freedom, read Spencer. If you want to read comforting lies, read the other two.

I’ll go on with the next two.

This book was written by a layman. The author purports to be an Islamic scholar but has no academic credentials to claim scholarship. In fact, Mr. Spencer has no university degree whatsoever in Islamic studies. His writings have never been peer-reviewed. Mr. Spencer does not read Arabic, which is a basic requirement for Islamic studies. Yet here is a writer who takes a provocative position on the existence of the Prophet Muhammad and we are suppose to believe his work. This book was written solely for readers who are seeking to reinforce their prejudices and bigotry against Muslims. It will satisfy and justify those individuals’ bigotry. A cursory inspection of Mr. Spencer’s website clearly demonstrates his own bigotry and utter lack of respect for the Muslim community. If you like what he writes on his website, you will love the book. If you want serious scholarship with an objective view of Islam, try an established Muslim or non-Muslim scholar.

Robert Spencer is an islamophobe and a long-time ally of anti-Muslim mainstay Pamela Geller. He spends all of his time spewing hate messaging and compares Muslims to the Nazis. This book is pure rubbish and doesn’t even try to logically refute some of the historical facts noted in history. Don’t waste your time or money on this one.

Spencer may well have a lack of respect for the Muslim community (he would disagree), but where exactly is he wrong? No he does not read Arabic, but he knows those who can and translations of Moslem scriptures are available. I gather that, for this book, he uses historical accounts from the peoples the early Moslems conquered. Did he have to learn to read Byzantine Greek, Persian, and Syriac as well?

As for the second reviewer here, perhaps he is unaware of the connections between the Nazis and Arab nationalists before and during the Second World War. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem happened to be a good friend of Hitler’s regime. The theme of the book is to question whether the person known as Mohammed happened to exist. The historical facts seem to suggest that there is a good chance he did not. If the reviewer knows better, he should write his own book refuting Spencer’s thesis without name calling.

Here are some more.

The book is not even worth reading because the title itself proclaims the author’s ignorance.

What is your next book? How about: “Is the earth flat?”

Or, “Did Christ exist?”

Or, “Did Moses exist?”

And, no, I am not a Muslim.

And, no, I did not read the book. The title is enough.

And, yes, I support the author’s right to freedom of expression, even if it is based upon ignorance.

And, yes, I am very familiar with the author and his views and his Web site.

And, yes, I have heard the author summarize his book on the radio.

At least he is honest. He hasn’t bothered to read it but he can review it. As it happens, the questions of whether Jesus or Moses existed has been much discussed by scholars. Why shouldn’t the question of whether Mohammed existed be discussed? Why is that question automatically a sign of ignorance and hate?

The last two.

THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT IS TAKEN FROM LOONWATCH: “Spencer is hawking his new book, which he is pushing as a “scholarly work” about how Muhammad didn’t exist. His home page boasts that Robert Spencer is “[t]he acclaimed scholar of Islam”, “[a] serious scholar”, and “a brilliant scholar.”

I have pointed out in the past that Spencer is not a scholar of any sort-especially not on anything related to Islam. He simply does not have the academic qualifications to claim this. What other “scholar” do you know of that doesn’t even have a master’s or PhD degree on the subject he claims to be a “scholar” of? He only has a one-year master’s degree in “the field of early Christianity”. How does that make him an “acclaimed scholar of Islam”?”

INDEED, SPENCER HAS NO FORMAL EDUCATION IN ISLAMIC STUDIES. HE CANNOT SPEAK, WRITE, READ NOR UNDERSTAND ARABIC!!! YET HE IS A SCHOLAR?

I PUT IT TO YOU… SINCE WHEN DID A SCHOLAR OR ACADEMIC OF CLASSICS NOT REQUIRE TO BE FLUENT IN THE GREEK LANGUAGE? IN THE ABOVE LINK YOU WILL SEE HOW SERIOUSLY FLAWED SPENCER’S SO CALLED ‘SCHOLARLY’ WORK IS. A COMPLETE JOKE!

ENJOY!

The twisted, completely uneducated, culling of material from sources, and patching it up to support a hate theses, shouldn’t even qualify this to be a book. Can’t understand how someone with absolutely no credentials on this topic can be seen as an authority.

The blind leading the blind.

There is no more to be said about them. They don’t refute anything Spencer said. They only indulge in name calling and irrelevancies. I don’t think that any of these reviewers, except perhaps the last, are actually Moslems. They probably think they are being liberal and tolerant and politically correct. The irony here is that is any country under Sharia they would be among the first to get their throats cut.

Did Mohammed Exist?

April 27, 2012

Although skeptics and scholars have been exploring the concept of the “historical Jesus”, that is the “real” Jesus behind the figure in the Gospels, for some time now, few have been willing to examine the “historical Mohammed“. Most likely the reason for this has been a combination of fear and the simple lack of solid historical information on the early years of Islam. The investigator of early Christianity has the advantage, first that no church will issue a fatwa calling for his death, no matter how skeptical he is, and second, although historical information about Jesus of Nazareth outside the New Testament is rather scanty, we actually know quite a lot about first century Judea. The early Christians lived in a relatively literate culture and the earliest writings about Jesus were produced within a generation of his death. The same cannot be said of the early Moslems, who lived in a largely illiterate backwater. As far as anyone can tell, the Koran did not take shape until several decades after Mohammed’s death. The earliest writings about Mohammed were not written until more than a century later. The first biography of Mohammed was written by Ibn Ishaq about 130 years after his death. The Hadiths were not written down until about 200 years after his death. So, there is not much information available to confirm or reject the tradition Islam view of Mohammed’s life and teachings. Added to that, scholars who inquire too closely or skeptically about such matters are apt to find their lives in danger, and the Saudi government seems determined to see that no archaeological evidence of Mohammed’s time survives.

Therefore, Robert Spencer, is doing us all a great service by peeling back the layers of legend and tradition to get at the historical Mohammed, in his latest book, Did Mohammed Exist?. As the title suggests, Spencer has good reason to suspect that Mohammed, at least the supposed founder of Islam, did not, in fact, exist. I hope that Spencer has the very best security personnel working for him.

I have not yet read this book since it is not available on the Kindle. I hope it will be very soon. If not, I might have to order the hardback edition. Since I have not read it, I will have to refer you to Zombie’s excellent review on PJMedia. I’ll quote a few excerpts but you really have to read the whole thing, then go and get Did Mohammed Exist?

The Evidence

To tackle such a big subject, Spencer focuses on five potential sources of information about Muhammad:

1. Documents from the era (7th and 8th centuries) written by independent (i.e. non-Muslim) outside observers;
2. Documents from the era written or created by Arabs/Muslims themselves;
3. The Qur’an itself;
4. The Hadiths, Islamic commentaries and sayings collected in the 8th and 9th centuries; and
5. The first biography of Muhammad, written by Ibn Ishaq over a century after Muhammed’s lifetime, on which all subsequent biographies are based.

Over the course of 200 pages, each category is carefully examined for solid evidence of Muhammad’s historicity, and each category is found wanting.

Of particular interest to a skeptic like me is the first category, because it is the only one that counts as a truly independent source. I simply assume that Islam, like most religions, boasts sacred texts which are self-referential and self-confirming (turns out I was wrong, but more about that later).

So: What did non-Muslims have to say about Muhammad and Islam, during his lifetime, and for 60 years afterward?

Nothing.

They made no mention of Muhammad or Muslims or Islam at all, at least until around the start of the 8th century. In case you’re thinking that there’d be no reason for outsiders to mention the religion of some obscure far-off tribe, remember that starting with the date of Muhammad’s purported death in 632, Arabs galloped out of the desert and conquered or captured almost the entirety of the Near East, the Middle East and North Africa in just a few decades. They encountered many cultures and civilizations, but none of those conquered peoples seem even to have heard of Islam or Muhammad.

Now remember, Tacitus refers to the Christians being persecuted by Nero in the 60’s AD, within 30 years of the death of Jesus. Josephus mentions Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, written around AD 94. The passages are disputed and almost certainly in part an interpolation, still most scholars believe they are, in part, genuine. The fact that there is no written mention of Mohammed 60 years after his death is suspicious.

Here is some more.

There are many puzzling details which tend to cast doubt on the standard narrative of Islam’s early years — that is, Muhammad’s life, and the decades immediately after his death when Arabs conquered the Middle East under the banner of their new religion, Islam. For example, a record exists of what was essentially a religious debate between a Christian in Antioch and an Arab commander at the height of the Arab conquest of the region, but, as Spencer notes,

In it the author refers to the Arabians not as Muslims but as “Hagarians” (mhaggraye) — that is, the people of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine and the mother of Ishmael. The Arabic interlocutor denies the divinity of Christ, in accord with Islamic teaching, but neither side makes any mention of the Qur’an, Islam, or Muhammad.

Imagine debating a “Christian” about religion, and he never mentions the Bible, Christianity, or Jesus. You might begin to doubt that he was a Christian at all.

And, jumping to the book’s conclusion, that’s exactly what Spencer posits: That the 7th century Arabs may have practiced a sort of nonspecific monotheism, loosely syncretized from pre-existing Judaic and Christian beliefs; but this new religion at first did not have a name, did not have a supposed “founder,” did not have a sacred text, and did not have rigid rituals. All of those were added much later, but fashioned in such as way as to retroactively assert their own 7th-century origins.

Surprising even for me was the book’s revelation that even among Arabic documents and artifacts, there is no mention of or example of any Qur’anic text until the year 691, a full 80 years after Muhammad supposedly started dictating it, and 60 years after it was completed and purportedly became the central text of Arab society. And even that 691 appearance — an inscription on the Dome of the Rock — may not have been a copy of Qur’anic text. From Spencer’s book:

This Qur’anic material is the earliest direct attestation to the existence of the book — sixty years after the Arab armies that had presumably been inspired by it began conquering neighboring lands. … Given the seamlessly mixed Qur’anic / non-Qur’anic nature of the inscription and the way the Qur’an passages are pulled together from all over the book, some scholars, including Christoph Luxenberg, have posited that whoever wrote this inscription was not quoting from a Qur’an that already existed. Rather, they suggest, most of this material was added to the Qur’an only later, as the book was compiled. … It may be that both the Dome of the Rock and the Qur’an incorporated material from earlier sources that contained similar material in different forms.”

Did Muhammad Exist? is essentially one big hoisting of Islam by its own petard. A religion that purports to be “revealed,” and perfect and unchanging from its inception, has a serious burden of proof; but as Spencer shows, Islam fails to supply that proof.

While the book goes into great detail about the literary and philological evidence for and against Muhammad’s existence, some readers may ask themselves, “But what about the archaeological evidence?” Unfortunately, Spencer does not address that side of the argument, primarily because there’s basically nothing to say: The Saudi government (as well as the Islamic Waqf controlling the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) has gone to great lengths to suppress or destroy any archaeological remains which might shed light on Islam’s earliest days. All the legendary sites associated with Muhammad in and around Mecca and Medina have been intentionally and irretrievably disturbed, eradicated and/or built over, so any rigorous archaeological investigations confirming or undermining Islam’s origins are now impossible. One suspects that the Saudis have obliterated Mecca’s history intentionally, fearful that impartial evidence may undermine Islam’s various historical claims. While this is not a significant omission, the book’s argument would have been slightly strengthened if this confirming detail had been discussed, if even for just a paragraph or two.

Did Muhammad Exist? is a popular book for a popular audience. Put another way: Spencer makes no claim to have uncovered original research. All he has done, yet done quite effectively, is marshall the findings of dozens of scholars from the last hundred years, including people like Günter Lüling, David Margoliouth, Patricia Crone, and most notably Christoph Luxenberg, the philologist whose recent work challenging the very linguistic basis of the Qur’an as an Arabic document has caused such a sensation that for his own safety he must work under a pseudonym. Spencer draws all these threads together to make a convincing case that, when one examines all the evidence these experts have uncovered and ponders all the theories which might explain that evidence, the currently dominant theory (that Muhammad existed) is the least likely to be true. Much more in line with the known facts is the theory that Islam slowly coalesced from earlier monotheistic Judeo-Christian beliefs, and that most of the historical details about the evolution — including and especially the existence of a prophet from Mecca — were later concocted to retroactively give a veneer of official sanctity to the new religion.

There is no controversy when scholars examine the historicity of Jesus. Biblical archaeologists work freely, with no danger to their persons or their careers. Even if some literalist Christians find the scholarly conclusions distressing, no death threats are issued. Christianity has survived all critiques of its origins, relying on the strength of its message and not the provability of historical details. One would hope that Islam reacts similarly.

They won’t.

I am going to have to get this book.

Let the Wookie Win

March 6, 2012

Because droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose.

 

I think of that scene from Star Wars whenever I see a story like this one from The Christian Institute courtesy of Jihad Watch.

The head of the BBC, Mark Thompson, has admitted that the broadcaster would never mock Mohammed like it mocks Jesus.

He justified the astonishing admission of religious bias by suggesting that mocking Mohammed might have the “emotional force” of “grotesque child pornography”.

But Jesus is fair game because, he said, Christianity has broad shoulders and fewer ties to ethnicity.

Mr Thompson says the BBC would never have broadcast Jerry Springer The Opera – a controversial musical that mocked Jesus – if its target had been Mohammed.

He made the remarks in an interview for a research project at the University of Oxford.

Mr Thompson said: “The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction, particularly a comic or demeaning depiction, of the Prophet Mohammed might have the emotional force of a piece of grotesque child pornography.”

Nobody cares if Christians are offended because we don’t blow people up or riot.

Liberated

January 10, 2012

Liberated is the name of a blog I learned about from Jihad Watch. The author is a woman who is a former Moslem. She lives in an unnamed predominantly Moslem country and has studied her religion and has decided that she could no longer believe in Islam. Since apostasy carries the death penalty in Islam, she cannot tell anyone about her decision. Perhaps I should let her speak for herself.

I was born in a very typical Sunni Muslim household, not very conservative like the Arabs, but nevertheless religious enough. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan to a very respectable Mohajjir family (mohajjirs are immigrants from India from the time of the partition in 1947). I moved to another Muslim country with my parents when I was just 10 years old and still live there.

I really wish there were a way I could freely live in a free society where I could follow the religion that I want without any compulsion. So far, I am not really sure what I am. I just know that I am not an atheist, because I do believe in a God, but that God cannot be the Allah of Mohammed. God is kind and merciful, not evil, cruel, mean and sadistic, as is Allah.

Go read more of what she has to say and give her moral support.

The reason I am bringing this up is because of a comment she made a little later in that post.

Have you ever read the Quran in English? I never did, I mean all my life I just recited the Quran in Arabic without understanding a single word until August of this year, when I purchased a copy of the English Quran and read the translation for the first time. Previously I had read some parts of it in English, but never the whole thing. But this year in August I read it from cover to cover, and then also read other references on the internet. Then I finally reached the conclusion that this book is the most evil thing on the face of this earth. It teaches nothing else except hatred and violence. I can no longer be a part of a cult which subjugates its followers, making them mere blind puppets with no mind of their own.

There is an interesting contrast between Christianity and Islam on the question of translating their scriptures. While Christians have endeavored to translate the Bible into every language on Earth (and off, some Trekkies with way too much time on their hands have been translating the Bible into Klingon), Moslems have generally resisted translating the Koran into any language other than Arabic. The main reason for this is that Moslems consider the Koran to be the literal word of God in Arabic. A translation into English wouldn’t be The Koran. At best, such a translation could only be a rough approximation or interpretation of the Koran.

Only about twenty percent of Moslems are native speakers of Arabic. This means that although many Moslems have memorized large portions of the Koran and all Moslems use Koranic verses in their prayers, many have only the vaguest idea of what they are saying. I have to wonder how much of the Koran even native Arabic speakers understand. the Koran was written in the seventh century and languages change over time. The plays of Shakespeare and the King James Bible were written only about four hundred years ago and already they sound old fashioned. Thirteen hundred years ago, English was a dialect of Old German spoken by the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain. I suspect that Arabic has changed more slowly over the centuries, since they have the Koran as a standard, but it has still been a long time.

I have read the Koran a number of times, in English translation, and I have even listened to recordings of the Koran being recited. When they recite the Koran, they do not just read it aloud, instead they chant the words, almost singing them. The result is compelling and more than a little hypnotic. I can understand why the Arabs of Mohammed’s time, with their love of oral poetry might have been attracted to the recitation of the Koran. When translated into English,  however, I get quite a different impression. The contents of the Koran, when not vicious, are banal, repetitive, and incoherent. There is endless boasting by Allah on how great He is. There are curses and maledictions against the unbelievers and anyone who happens to have opposed Mohammed. There are stories from the Bible, or at any rate with Biblical figures,  repeated with a maddening lack of any context. If the reader is not already familiar with the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, they would never know from the Koran who any of these people are. There are no distinguishing features for any of the prophets mentioned. They all have the same message, which happens to be the same as Mohammed. All of this material is given in no logical order. And, then there are the calls for violence against the infidel.

I am not inclined to believe in a supernatural origin for the Koran. It seems to me more likely that a very fallible human being wrote it. If I were so inclined, however, I would sooner believe that a devil was responsible for this book than the almighty Creator of the universe.

Australian Sentenced to 500 Lashes

December 7, 2011

More happy news from the Magic Kingdom, home of the Religion of Peace.

SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian man has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in a Saudi Arabian jail after being convicted of blasphemy, officials said Wednesday.

The 45-year-old man, identified by family members as Mansor Almaribe of southern Victoria state, was detained in the holy city of Medina last month while making the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj. Family members told Australian media that Saudi officials accused him of insulting the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, a violation of Saudi Arabia’s strict blasphemy laws.

Australia’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia has contacted Saudi authorities in a bid for leniency, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. Consular officials are providing support for the man and his family in Australia.

“The Australian government is universally opposed to corporal punishment,” the department said in a statement.

Almaribe was convicted of blasphemy on Tuesday and initially sentenced to two years in jail and 500 lashes. The court later reduced his jail sentence.

Almaribe’s son Jamal told The Age newspaper that his father was reading and praying as part of a group when he was arrested.

Almaribe’s son Mohammed said he feared for his father’s well-being. “Five hundred slashes on his back, and he has back problems. I wouldn’t think he’d survive 50,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

I don’t see how anyone could survive 500 lashes. I don’t think that they would give him all 500 at once, but even if they stagger the lashings over several days, the cumulative damage would surely kill even the healthiest person.They might as well

This is why we need to build the pipeline to the Athabasca Oil Sands. I’m sure the Canadians don’t give people such barbaric punishments.


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