Posts Tagged ‘Qur’an’

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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What the Koran Really Says

June 6, 2013

What the Koran Really Says is a somewhat misleading title for Ibn Warraq’s book since the subject is not Islamic theology or Koranic exegesis. What this book is instead, is an anthology of articles dealing with various aspects of the Koran’s origins, history, linguistics, and textual criticism. For a number of reasons, the Koran has not been subjected to textual and literary criticism nearly as much as the Bible and the papers reprinted in What the Koran Really Says help to fill that lack somewhat.

bk_KoranReallySays

There are political and cultural reasons that the Koran has not been as thoroughly analyzed as the Bible, but one of the main reasons has to be the simple fact that the history and language of the Koran is far more opaque that the Bible’s. The text of the Koran is often very hard to understand, even by native speakers of Arabic and the way the texts jumps from subject to subject within every sura and even within paragraphs suggests a haphazard and complicated history of composition and editing.

The Greek New Testament was written in the context of a highly literate culture with a historical and cultural background fairly well known to the historian. We know more about the events of the first century AD than about almost any other period in the ancient world. The Hebrew Old Testament is older and the circumstances of its composition are somewhat more obscure, but Palestine or Israel is on the cross-road between Asia and Africa and we can gain a fairly accurate idea of the history of the region from the records left by the Egyptians and the various Mesopotamian states, not to mention from the Israelites themselves.

The Koran, on the other hand, was created by a semi-literate people who lived on the fringes of the major civilizations of the time. We have few records of the Arabian Peninsula during the time of Mohammed and for the first century of the Islamic era, beyond traditional Muslim accounts that are difficult to verify. It is possible that almost everything that is said about the composition of the Koran, including the time and place it was revealed, is untrue and in fact, we cannot be certain that Mohammed actually existed or if he did the deeds attributed to him. The language of the Koran is Arabic, but again, many words in the text seem to have been derived from other Semitic languages, and it is not always whether the dialect is that of the Bedouins of central Arabia, as tradition states, or perhaps the language is closer to that of Northern Arabia, where the speakers might be more influenced by Syriac or Aramaic.

The articles presented in What the Koran Really Says deal with these questions and more. They are all very well done and thorough, however they are also intended for an audience of scholars and, as a layman, I sometimes had trouble following them. I think someone more knowledgeable of Arabic grammar and the text of the Koran would get more out of this book than I would. As it is, my attention wandered while reading about the fine points of grammatical constructions or the precise meaning of a sentence. The best and most interesting portions of this book were the introductions written by Ibn Warraq himself and I think he would have done a better service to his readers by writing a book which summarized and explained the arguments found in the various articles.

Still, I cannot complain if the book is not for me. I am certain that any scholar who wishes to study the origins and development of the Koran will find What the Koran Really Says to be a valuable resource.

Did Mohammed Exist?

September 2, 2012

For the last two centuries, secular and skeptical scholars have attempted to learn about the “historical Jesus”, the actual person behind the Gospel accounts, and to develop a secular explanation for the origin of Christianity. This effort necessarily involves some degree skepticism about the traditional accounts of the life and words of Jesus and the apostles found in scripture. There has not really been much of an effort to find the “historical Mohammed” and to reconstruct the early history of Islam.

The historian who wishes to investigate the origin of Islam suffers from two disadvantages that the historian of Christianity does not. First, while the evidence for Jesus’ life outside the New Testament is scanty, Jesus and the early Christians lived in a literate culture and the earliest Christians writings and non-Christian references to the new religion begin to appear within decades of Jesus’ death. Islam, on the other have, began in an almost completely illiterate, predominately oral, culture. The earliest written accounts of the life of Mohammed do not appear until more than a century after his death. These are largely those collections of Mohammed’s sayings and deeds called the Hadith, which were transmitted orally for several generations, and even Muslim scholars concede that many are spurious. The Koran is supposed to have been roughly contemporary with Mohammed, but there is good reason to suppose that it too was not collected until more than a century after Mohammed.

The second disadvantage that the skeptical scholar of Islam faces is the fact that he literally endangers his life by making inquiries that the followers of the religion of peace disapprove of. For this reason, several scholars are obliged to use pseudonyms or invest in security. Less daring investigators prefer to study less dangerous subjects, such as the origins of Judaism or Christianity, whose followers are noticeably less inclined to murder them when they are offended.

For this reason, we have good reason to be thankful that Robert Spencer is willing to take on the subject of the origin of Islam in his latest book, Did Mohammed Exist?  Robert Spencer is not a scholar and offers no original research in writing Did Mohammed Exist.  Instead, he has presented the works of those scholars who have questioned the traditional origin story of Islam in a clear, easily understood manner and convincingly makes the argument that Mohammed, at least in the sense of being the prophet from Mecca, did not exist.

Did Mohammed exist?  It may seem an odd question to ask. Surely, there is as much evidence that Mohammed existed as Jesus or Socrates. Even a non-Muslim must concede that, even if he does not believe Mohammed is a prophet. In fact, as Spencer shows, the evidence for Mohammed’s life is sparse. As I mentioned above, Muslim accounts of his life are not found until more than a century or more after his death. Non-Muslim chroniclers, although they describe the invasions of the Arab armies, make no mentions of the Arab prophet or of the Koran. Coins minted by the earliest caliphs are more likely to show Christian symbols, rather than quotations from the Koran.

Spencer also notes that the Koran is a very strange book in that it is very disordered and many Arabic words don’t actually make any sense. This is due, in part, to the fact that the earliest Arabic alphabet did not make distinctions between certain letters and if some of the letters are changed, the text makes more sense. Spencer also notes that much of the Koran may, in fact, have been written in Syriac, a language closely related to Arabic, and again if some words are actually Syriac, than the text makes more sense. (For one thing, those virgins that martyrs are promised are more likely to be white raisins.)

As for Mohammed, that name only appears a few times in the Koran. The name means “one who is highly praised” and could be a title rather than a proper name. While it is likely that there was a warlord or prophet with that name or title, the Mohammed of Islam almost certainly did not exist. Spencer shows that the historical evidence simply cannot confirm the traditional accounts. There is much that is contradictory in these accounts and there is much that does not match what is known of the conditions in Arabia in the time that Mohammed is said to have lived. It seems more likely, according to Spencer, that the legend of Mohammed and much of the religion of Islam was created, out of Jewish and Christian traditions in the first century of the Arab Empire as an attempt to provide an Arabic religious ideology to unify the diverse conquered peoples. Whether the reader ends up agreeing with Robert Spencer’s thesis or not, they are sure to find Did Mohammed Exist? A thought provoking exploration of the story behind the origins of one of the largest religions.

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.

Apologies

February 27, 2012

By now the burning of Korans by US forces in Afghanistan is old news, as is President Obama’s apology, although the rioting and killings continue. As far as I am concerned an apology would certainly have been appropriate if a delegation of Afghans had peacefully approached the commander of the US base and explained to him that this action was not appropriate, etc. But, that is not what happened. Instead, the Afghans began rioting, probably incited by the Taliban. Under such circumstances, no apology from any American is warranted or should have been offered.

I think we need to make it very clear that desecrating a Koran does not justify taking the life of a single human being. In fact, the burning of a whole pile of Korans does not justify the murder of a single human being. To apologize while rioting is going on muddles the issue and tends to lend credence to the idea that the murders are justified. Not to mention making more dangerous for the troops serving there.

I would like to add that if Muslims are outraged by the desecration of the Koran, well, I am outraged by the contents of this “holy” book. I am outraged by the misogyny, the anti-Semitism, the calls for violence against the unbelievers, the description of unbelievers as the worst of people, and many, many other ideas and themes of that book. As far as I am concerned, The Koran belongs on my bookshelf right next to Mein Kampf, although I will say that Mein Kampf was better written.

I can’t tell the difference.

Chinese Korans

September 1, 2011

Although China has become one of the great exporting powerhouses and generally imports made in China are of decent quality, the Chinese have had occasional trouble with defective or tainted products. Nothing made in China could cause as much controversy as defective Korans, as this article from Jihad Watch relates.

Allan commands you to spray the unbelievers: Iran furious at cheap Chinese-made Qur’ans said to be riddled with typos

On second thought, maybe that’s where all this “misunderstanding” of Islam is coming from! Now, Islamic interest groups can blame bad Chinese reprints. “Iran says cheap “Made in China” Qurans full of typos,” by Patrick Winn for Global Post, August 31:

Iran’s Organization of the Holy Quran is scolding Iranian publishers who’ve outsourced production of the holy book to Chinese printers.

There is officially a cheap Chinese knockoff of everything.

Apparently, their copies of the Quran are riddled with typos, according to the Tehran Times.

“These tableaus are made quite cheaply in China but are sold for much more than they are really worth to make that much more profit,” said an official with the organization who monitors and evaluates Qurans available in Iran.

The official even urged importers to halt future Quran shipments from China, the Times reported….

They should look on the bright side. I doubt if the Chinese Korans tell people “Thou shalt commit adultery” like the Wicked Bible does.
Who is “Allan” anyway?

Ramadan

August 11, 2011
A green version of http://commons.wikimedia.or...

Image via Wikipedia

I have been remiss in not noting the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and devout Muslims fast during the daylight hours throughout the month. This means that they may not eat, drink, smoke, or have intercourse while it is light outside. Traditionally, it is light when one can distinguish between a light thread and a dark thread. Ramadan started August 1 in our Gregorian calendar and will end on August 29 this year.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. Unlike the solar Gregorian calendar, The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the Moon. There are twelve months of 29 or 30 days with extra days added in a thirty year cycle to keep the calendar in phase with the Moon. The problem is that twelve Moons add up to 354 days, eleven days shorter than the solar year. Most cultures with lunar calendars add a leap or intercalary month every few years, the exact cycle depending on the calendar. Moslems, however do not add an intercalary month. There is even a verse in the Koran that forbids adding an extra month.

The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year)- so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred: that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein, and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves

Verily the transposing (of a prohibited month) is an addition to Unbelief: the Unbelievers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one year, and forbidden another year, in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah and make such forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their course seems pleasing to them. But Allah guideth not those who reject Faith. Koran 9:36-37

For this reason the Islamic calendar is not synchronized with the seasons. The year cycles through the season every 33 years. It is as if Christmas were in winter one year, autumn six years later, summer even later, and so on. Because the Islamic calendar is not synchronized with the seasons it cannot be used for agricultural purposes. A farmer couldn’t plant, harvest, etc on the same date or month as the previous year because they would not correspond to the proper seasons. Nowadays, outside of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic calendar is used only religious purposes. For other purposes, the Gregorian calendar is used.

The calendar seems impractical compared to the Gregorian calendar but it does have one advantage, in that the fast of Ramadan cycles through the seasons so that for at least part of the 33 year cycle, the fast is held in the cooler, winter season with shorter days. But, then, for part of the cycle, including this year, the fast is in the summer with the longest days of the year.

Mustafa Akyol

July 27, 2011
Taken from Mustafa Akyol site"

Mustafa Akyol

Over at National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish Muslim who wrote a book titled, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.  In his book and interview, Aykol makes the case for an Islam more receptive to Western ideas about liberty and freedom. He does not believe that it is necessary to abandon Islam in favor of westernization but argues that Islamic traditions and scriptures favor freedom.

LOPEZ: You ask, “Could authoritarian Muslims be just authoritarians who happen to be Muslim?” But isn’t it a huge obstacle that they have as much Islamic material to work with?

AKYOL: Sure, there is a lot of material in the classical Sharia that Muslim authoritarians of today can refer to — as they do. But I am showing that those materials were also products of authoritarians who happened to be Muslim a millennium ago. One of my basic arguments is that most authoritarian elements within the Sharia come from post-Koranic (i.e., “man-made”) parts of Islam. I also show that the more liberal strains within this “man-made” tradition were suppressed by the more rigid camp, which we face in the modern world, in its purest form, as Wahhabism.

So, essentially, he argues that Islam, in its purest form is not an authoritarian ideology, but rather that authoritarians in the early, formative years of Islamic law strongly encouraged the development of authoritarian strains in the laws and traditions of Islam. I like how he implies that the supposedly ultra-conservative Wahhabis are, in fact, innovators.

Naturally, he contends that the worst practices associated with Islam are based more in culture than in anything the Koran commands

LOPEZ: Honor killings and female-genital mutilation: Even if in your reading the Koran doesn’t prescribe them, does it matter when this seems to be a growing or widespread — or at least not uncommon — problem among Muslims?

AKYOL: When you show believers that what they consider God’s commandment is just the tradition of men, you have a better chance of convincing them to abandon the terrible elements in those traditions. (Jesus, too, criticized the Pharisees for holding fast to “the tradition of men,” while leaving “the commandment of God.”) Horrors such as honor killings and female-genital mutilation are such terrible traditions, which come from patriarchal taboos, not Islam. (Female-genital mutilation has no place in the Koran. As for honor, the Koran also considers adultery a grave sin, but finds the male and the female equally guilty, and yet I have never seen a boy or a man falling victim to an “honor killing.”)

LOPEZ: Is this book a call for a Muslim reformation?

AKYOL: Well, if that is a reformation with a capital R, as in Christianity, no. For, as I have said, we don’t have a central religious authority in Islam that we can reform. But I certainly argue for renewing our understanding of Islam, rather than preserving it as it was interpreted 1,000 years ago. The medieval division of the world into “House of War” and “House of Islam,” for example, is totally irrelevant today, for many Muslims feel much safer in lands that are ruled by non-Muslims.

Good point about honor killings. I have a feeling that  that practice would end quickly if it were applied to men. I am not sure how any Muslim scholar could reliably differentiate between the teachings of God and the teachings of men. As far as I know, everything in the Sharia is supposed to be of God.

It is interesting that many Muslims would feel safer in non-Muslim countries. Back during the Crusades, many of the Muslim population of the Holy Lands preferred to live under the rule of the Crusaders, to the disgust of Muslim chroniclers. It would seem that the Crusader tax collectors were not as rapacious.

LOPEZ: Should Muslims and non-Muslims be able to work together on the issue of religious freedom? We are facing some serious threats to individual conscience rights of religious people here in the U.S. Could there be a real coalition?

AKYOL: Of course. Actually, many pious Muslims will be positively surprised to learn that there are Westerners who really care about religion and want to cooperate for the rights of all religious believers. For historical and geographic reasons, most Muslims know the West only from Europe, which is, as you know, thoroughly secular. That is, in fact, one of the reasons that many pious Muslims reject any reform in their tradition. Once a prominent Islamic intellectual in Turkey told me, “We don’t want to begin with concessions, in order to end up like those godless people in Amsterdam.” He probably would find more common ground with people from America’s Bible Belt.

I thing that Akyol is absolutely right about this. I don’t imagine that our incredibly vulgar popular culture is winning us many friends in that part of the world. Conservative Christians and Muslims probably would get on well together if it weren’t for the ‘kill the infidel’ thing and the anti-Semitism.

LOPEZ: You don’t appear to have a problem with Sharia courts in England. This isn’t a matter of religious intolerance but justice and practicality: How can a country with dual legal systems possibly work?

AKYOL: I look at that as I look at the Halakha of Orthodox Jews. The British “Sharia courts” actually evolved from the same arbitration courts that Orthodox Jews also have used for decades. And their scope is limited to issues such as settling financial and family disputes. If they violated any basic human right, such as ordering a corporal punishment, I would certainly oppose them. But there is no harm, I believe, in allowing conservative communities to settle some of their disputes according to their traditions, as far as they remain under the umbrella of the law of the land. This is not a dual legal system, which had its merits in the pre-modern times, but a sub-level system under a single national law.

Another example might be canon law, which governs the Catholic Church. I don’t the precedent though and I think it is only a matter of time before Sharia courts in Britain begin to demand jurisdiction in criminal cases.

LOPEZ: The issue of Israel is one that seems to be an irresolvable one in the Middle East. As a Muslim, do you believe there is a realistic peace plan?

AKYOL: Sure. It is commonly known as the two-state solution. And, on both sides, there are people who would settle with that solution, along with people who have more maximalist goals. On both sides, I support the minimalists.

Here, let me also add that I don’t see the Palestinian–Israeli conflict as a religious one: It is a land dispute between two nations. Yes, Jerusalem is sacred for Muslims, as it is to Jews and Christians, but, as a Muslim, I am not horrified to see it under the Israeli flag as long as the Dome of Rock is open to Muslim worship — as it is now. I value Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem as well, but out of a respect for their national aspirations, not any theological necessity.

He’s right but he misses the essential point. Until the Muslim world abandons the Islamic version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, Muslim territories must be Muslim forever, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is going to continue.

LOPEZ: You’re a fan of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he’s moved the country a little more Islamist than some would like, hasn’t he?

AKYOL: Well, I would not define myself as a “fan” of Erdoğan, though I value the political change that Turkey has gone through under his party, the AKP. I also see the AKP as the most important experiment of democracy within the Muslim cultural sphere. (The Turkey before AKP, which was kept hyper-secular by a bunch of sinister generals, did nothing but give a bad name among Muslims to the secular state.)

Meanwhile, though I disagree with Michael Rubin and his very pessimistic outlook on Turkey, I do see problems in Erdoğan’s style, such as his confrontational tone and intolerance of criticism. But these are issues with his personality, and problems with Turkish political leaders in general. (As I once said, “AKP is not too Islamic, it is too Turkish.”) Personally speaking, my ideal Turkish leader is President Abdullah Gül, whose worldview is similar to Erdoğan’s, but whose tone is much more conciliatory, modest, and nuanced.

LOPEZ: What was your lesson from seeing your father in jail for writing? It might have made some young boys look for a different career.

AKYOL: I think it showed the eight-year-old me that there are tyrants in the world, and they can hurt your beloved ones for no reason. It also taught me, as I figured later, that secularism is no guarantee for freedom or democracy. (It was the all-secular Turkish military, after all, which imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Turks and tortured many of them.)

Here is another point: In the past decade, Americans have repeatedly heard the stories of ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, explaining how they, in their childhood, were oppressed by some ruthless cleric in a radical madrassa. My story reminds them that Muslim kids can be oppressed by some ruthless officer in a secular garrison as well. When people see both of these stories, perhaps, they might feel that the problem with tyranny is not a direct problem with Islam.

LOPEZ: Does it worry you that there is as much court action by the Turkish government against journalists as there is?

AKYOL: Yes, it does worry me. But I was more worried in the ’90s, when death squads, on the orders of Turkey’s overbearing generals, were assassinating journalists. What I mean is that press freedom has always been attacked in Turkey, and things are actually better now than they were before. This should not minimize today’s problems, but it should put them in context. The basic trouble is that we have illiberal laws about “insulting state officials” or “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and courts are often aggressive in executing them.

Moreover, the recent impression that whoever criticizes the AKP goes into jail is simply not true. A few journalists are in custody (wrongly in my view) for allegedly taking part in coup schemes, whereas most others are accused for pro-PKK propaganda, or membership in Marxist-Leninist terror groups.

LOPEZ: The murder last year of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese doesn’t suggest everything is as peachy for Christians in Turkey as you paint it, does it?

AKYOL: No, it is not peachy at all. Not just Bishop Padovese, but also Fr. Andrea Santoro and three Protestant missionaries were brutally killed in Turkey in the past decade. But please note that these murders were committed by ultra-nationalists, not Islamists. (In Turkey, the Islamist movement has been largely peaceful, whereas violence has been a hallmark of Kurdish separatists, Turkish fascists, and the Communists.) It might be worthwhile to note that some of the people suspected of arranging the killing of the three missionaries in eastern Turkey were also the same people who are on trial for conspiring a military coup against the AKP.

It is a good, and forgotten,  point that the military rulers of Turkey were not exactly paragons of human rights. I am far less confident than Aykol is about Erdogan and the AKP. I think there is a good chance that Turkey will go the way of Iran under the AKP, though I’m sure Aykol knows far more about Turkish politics than I do.

LOPEZ: Would you encourage full transparency in the building of mosques? Would you be supportive of communities asking questions — such as, who is funding this? — before permits are issued? A board member who supports Hamas, for example, would understandably be an issue.

AKYOL: I would care more about the content of the preaching in a mosque, than about its financial resources. As for supporting Hamas, well, I condemn the terrorist actions of that organization, but I see that it is also a political party with hospitals and charities. (Had they been more strategic about it, they might have made the IRA/Sinn Fein division that the Irish nationalists did.) So, any support for terrorist acts is of course intolerable, but holding someone responsible for donating to, say, a Hamas-related hospital or kindergarten, and opposing a mosque for simply getting money from that same donor, might be too much.

In Turkey, we have similar questions regarding the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group. My take is to condemn the violent acts of the PKK, but also to understand that it has a political wing and many social networks, which I don’t oppose. I actually think that tolerating the peaceful side of a quasi-militant movement might be a better strategy for its moderation, rather than blocking it by all means.

I am not for letting Hamas off the hook quite so easily as that. Bad people do good deeds for all sorts of reasons, good public relations, salving consciences, etc. Hitler was nice to his dog and his secretary.

I hope that Mustafa Akyol is successful in his efforts, both for the West’s sake and the Middle East’s. I can’t say that I am very optimistic though and I think that he downplays just how difficult modernizing Islam is likely to be. At the very least the Sunni Muslims are going to have to reopen the door of Ijtihad, or Islamic jurisprudence that was closed around a thousand years ago. This will not be easy or safe as anyone who proposes new interpretations of the Koran or Sharia stands a good chance of being labeled an apostate or heretic.

Reading the Hadith

June 27, 2011

A while back I mentioned that I was starting to read the Hadiths of Sahih al-Bukhari. I thought I would write a post now and then over what I have been reading. It would be nice to try something like David Plotz‘s Blogging the Bible which he later expanded into “The Good Book“, or Robert Spencer’s Blogging the Koran, but I don’t have the time or energy for such an ambitious undertaking. Instead, as I said, I will write about some of the more interesting things I come across.

The Hadith of al-Bukhari is divided into nine volumes. There are 93 books divided according to subjects, mostly issues of behavior or jurisprudence. There are some books about Islamic beliefs, and Mohammed’s actions, which, of course, serve as an example to Moslems to this day. I have already described the structure of each hadith, the isnad or chain of narrators and the matn or actual anecdote, etc.

Incidentally, there is a former Moslem over at Islam Speaks who is featuring some of the sillier or objectionable stories from Islamic scriptures, especially the Hadith, but he is not reading it from beginning to end.

Back to the Future 2

June 23, 2011

I can hardly wait for the Caliphate to be established. According to Shaykh Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni, I’ll be able to go right down to the slave market and buy me a slave girl whenever I feel the need.

When a slave market is erected, which is a market in which are sold slaves and sex-slaves, which are called in the Qur’an by the name milk al-yamin, “that which your right hands possess” [Qur'an 4:24]. This is a verse from the Qur’an which is still in force, and has not been abrogated. The milk al-yamin are the sex-slaves. You go to the market, look at the sex-slave, and buy her. She becomes like your wife, (but) she doesn’t need a (marriage) contract or a divorce like a free woman, nor does she need a wali. All scholars agree on this point–there is no disagreement from any of them.

These are called slaves. The Prophet (PBUH) talked about them in the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari in his Book of Jihad:  “Allah is delighted at a people who enter the Garden in chains.” Also as narrated by Abu-Dawud:  “They are led to the Garden in chains.” Naturally, many people might not understand someone being jerked along in chains in order to enter the Garden. This is because all people, even the worst of the unbelievers, say the garden is for them and no others. They run to the Garden without anybody pulling them in chains.

The meaning of the hadith is this:  these slaves were in a religion other than Islam. However, when they were conquered, and defeated, and taken prisoner, they came to live in the land of Islam. Then when they witnessed the justice, compassion, and mercy of Islam, they became Muslims. These did not convert to Islam except in the chains of war. If they had not been chained, bound, and had their freedom taken from them, they would not have converted to Islam. Therefore this hadith is referring to these slaves.

I am very shocked and surprised at those who say that we permit slavery. We don’t call people to become slaves. In fact, there are vows to free the necks (i.e. slaves). The same Islam which permits us to take slaves, also urges us to free their necks.

Oh, joy. I can go on jihad and take booty and prisoners.

When I want a sex slave, I just go to the market and choose the woman I like and purchase her. I choose the man I like, one with strong muscles, or if I want a boy to work in the house, and so forth. I choose one, and pay him a wage. I employ him in a variety of different tasks, then I sell him afterwards. Now, the country that I entered and took captive its men and women–does it not also have money, gold, and silver? Is that not money? When I say that jihad–offensive jihad–with the well-known conditions that I already mentioned from the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), from the hadith of Burayda in Sahih Muslim, the coffers of the Muslims were full. Would someone who is pious and intelligent–would he say that this is a type of poverty? Or that it is a type of wealth? No–this will fill the coffers of the Muslims with riches and wealth, but as we said, with the recognized conditions. [...]

I think I will avoid the rush and convert to Islam right now. Then, I’ll start to work on repealing the thirteenth amendment, against the Koran you know.

Come to think of it, so is the first amendment. How can the dhimmis feel properly subdued if there is freedom of religion. And freedom of speech only invites blasphemy. Oh brave new world…


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