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Letters

May 22, 2007

Not all religions are equal

In response to Mali Mostoufi's "Same could also be said for any other religion":

Dear Mr. Mostoufi,

Not all religions are equal. There have been some truly evil religions – such as David Korish’s Branch Davidians and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple and Islam of Mohammad. All religions must be judged by their fruits. No matter how long a religion has sustained itself or how many followers it may claim, if a religion is barren of good fruits it will eventually be cut down.

On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XIV gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg on “Faith, Reason, and the University.” His main point was that reason, ‘logos,’ was an integral part of the nature of God and central to Christian beliefs, whereas the God of Islam is not bound by rationality or even his own word. He went on to say that violence and threats are unreasonable, and they are not needed to convince a reasonable soul and lead one to faith.

The Pope told his audience that he was reminded of this distinction when he recently read an account of a dialogue that took place in Ankara in 1391 between the Byzantine emperor Manual II Paleologus and an educated Persian. At one point in the discussion, the emperor said, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

In the wake of the lecture, pandemonium broke out all over the world:

· In London, 100 people demonstrated outside Westminster Cathedral. Anjem Choudary, the head of Al Ghurabaa, said, “Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment.”

· In Muslim Mogadishu, Somalia, Sister Leonella Sgorbati, 65, was murdered with 3 or 4 bullets in the chest, stomach, and back by two gunmen.

· In Pakistan, demonstrators from Jumat E Islami posted banners saying, “Mr. Pope – Be within your limits.”

· In Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal expressed “deep sorrow” at “the allegation that Islam was spread by the sword,” temporarily ignoring the scimitar emblazoned on his national flag.

· Turkish officials threatened to cancel the Pope’s forthcoming state visit.

· Later the Pope retreated slightly indicating he was deeply sorry about the angry reaction that was sparked by his speech and that the medieval text did not reflect his personal view.

But in all the reaction, no Muslim went on record with a statement of the “good things” Mohammed introduced. This was cogently picked up by Yashiko Sagamori at the AmericanCongressForTruth.com:

The appropriate response should have been very simple. It should have listed all those things that are unique to Islam; things that set it apart from Judaism and Christianity, but are neither evil, nor inhumane. And if Islam really is just another religion, then the list of those things, accumulated since the inception of that Abrahamic faith 14 centuries ago, must be long and widely known to both Muslims and us, the infidels.

We would all look through the list of all good things that only Islam could have brought into the world, and rejoice at the marvelous achievements of our [Muslim] brothers and sisters. . . .That’s what should’ve happened had Manual II been wrong in his assessment of Islam. Technically speaking, it would be sufficient to cite just a single example of what Mohammad brought that was new and, at the same time good and humane. No such example has been brought up.

If asked about what Jesus did that was good, a Christian would probably list such things as his many miracles, his radical advocacy of such things as loving ones neighbors and praying for those that persecute you, his substitutional sacrificial death on the cross, and his numerous prophesies that soon came true. Ironically, one of his grim prophesies was: “. . the time will come when anyone who kills you [Christians] will think that by doing this he is serving God.” (John 15:3) Even if one isn’t a Christian, it is plain that the recorded legacy of Jesus was clearly for the good and unquestionably humanitarian.

Given that Muslims don’t have time to read all of the anti-Muslim websites looking for rhetorical questions to answer, I took it upon myself to personally approach via the Internet several Muslim scholars and pundits who had written about the Pope’s lecture. I also contacted IslamOnLine.net (Ask about Islam) several times. To all of them I posed the question, What were the good things that Mohammed introduced?

Finally, after two months of soliciting responses, I got a reply from a moderate Muslim in Canada, whose name will be withheld to avoid embarrassment. He also deserves some generosity because he acknowledged that he wasn’t an Islamic scholar and that he was just trying to answer my question off the cuff. After chiding me for not asking the right Muslims and for probably reading biased, secondary sources on Islam by such people as Bernard Lewis and Robert Spencer, he said there were scores of good things Mohammed introduced, but he would give me seven specifics:

1. Mohammed’s final sermon. According to the Canadian, it provided a wealth of guidance on leading a good life, including an absolute prohibition on any sort of racial discrimination. Based on my own reading of that sermon in Al Tabari’s History, the main points Mohammed made were settling debts but forbidding usury, amnesty for bloodshed occurring in pre-Islamic days, preserving the Islamic calendar (which is 11 days short of the solar year), treatment of wives “like domestic animals,” ordaining the Koran and the Sunnah as basis for Laws, and establishing that Muslims are brothers of one another and so taking their property is forbidden. There is no statement about racial discrimination in Mohammed’s final sermon. (al Tabari, Vol IX, pg 112)

2. Mohammed’s call to Muslims to remember their own accountability, qiyyamah (the Last Day). The is not a Muslim innovation, as it can be found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Examples: Micah 4:1 “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it.” The Gospel of John quotes Jesus saying,  “He that rejects me and receives not my words, has one that judges him: the words that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:48)

3. Mohammed’s system of justice as practiced in Medina. By any western standards, this system was hardly just. The testimony of a woman was counted as one-half of a man’s testimony (Surah 2:282), and punishments included cutting off hands and feet (Surah 5:33 and 38) and stoning people to death (Bukhari Vol. 2, No. 413). Neither was the system of justice reasonable. A market place prank resulted in a scuffle in which a Muslim was killed by a Jew. As a result the entire tribe, the Banu Qaynuqa where the Jewish man came from, was put under siege for 15 days and forced to leave Madina. (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. xxviii) Later, the excuse was fabricated that they were banished because they took to arms against the Muslims. (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 85)

4.  Mohammed’s everyday life showing countless examples of kindness, for example not attacking one particular woman who would hurl abuse and refuse on him whenever he passed her house. This incident of ‘kindness’ occurred in Mecca, when Mohammed was relatively powerless. (al-Tabari, Vol. VI, pg. 114). On the other hand, after Mohammed achieved a powerful status in Medina, he was ruthless with those who opposed him – calling for the assassination of the following people: Ka’b b. al-Ashraf (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 94), Jews in general (“Whoever of the Jews falls into your hands, kill him.” (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 97),  Abu Rafi (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 100), Abu Sufyan b. Harb (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 147), and  Sallam ibn. Abu’l-Huqayq (Ishaq, p. 482), just to name a few.

5. Mohammed’s example of sincerity of niyaat, or intention, wherein an accidental failure to meet a religious requirement (such as fasting) will be excused if the intent was sincere. This is hardly an Islamic innovation.  The statement in the New Testament book of Hebrews was written over 500 years before Mohammed: “The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where the soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and intents of man’s heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

6.  Mohammed’s unparalleled honesty and integrity, being trusted even by the pagans in Medina.  When Mohammed was annoyed by the Jewish poet, he asked, “Who will rid me of Ibnu’l-Ashraf?” Muhammad b. Maslama said he would do it, but he would have to lie. Mohammed told him, “Say what you like, for you are free in the matter.” (Ishaq, pg. 367) Mohammed’s raiders broke the long-standing Arab tradition of not attacking caravans during the holy months. At first Mohammed said he did not order the raid on the Quarish caravan, but then he received a verse from Allah (2:217) saying, “To fight in this month is a grave offence ; but . . . idolatry is worse than carnage.” So, after the fact, the raid was justified. (Ishaq, pg. 288) The Treaty of Hudaybiyah between Mohammed and the Meccan Quraysh is another example of his duplicity. This was a 10 year peace agreement, but within a short time Mohammed broke the treaty by refusing to return some Quraysh women who left Mecca without permission. (Ishaq, pg. 754)  After two years, Mohammed ignored the agreement entirely and occupied Mecca. (Ishaq, p. 617)

7. Mohammed’s practice of communal prayer, where all worshipers are equal. There are two glaring exceptions to this statement. In Medina, Mohammed’s apartment adjoined the mosque, so he could actually do his communal prayer from his own apartment. (al-Tabari, Vol. VII, pg. 5)  The other exception is that attractive or young women may not pray together with men. (al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler, f12.4) During Mohammed’s life the women would pray with the men and then leave first so as not to disturb them. However, Mohammed’s wife Aisha said, “Had the Prophet seen what women do now, he would have forbidden them the mosque as the women of Bani Israil were forbidden.” (Buhkari, Vol. 1, Nos. 825 and 828)

I also received an answer from the Islamic Awareness website as follows:

Well, there are lots of good things which Muhammad and Islam brought to the mankind.

1. Unity of God, a clear doctrine that does not require wishy washy philosophical and irrational defense.
2. Unity of people under the banner of one God, and not under any tribe, race or country.
3. Importance of cleanliness which encouraged good and healthy habits.
4. Giving every individual, whether it be male or female, his or her due. This means both males and females in family receive inheritance, right to own property and right to choose their spouses

5. Abolishing the practice of burying female child. and the list is huge.

Clearly this abbreviated list has some problems. The Unity of God was established by Moses with the Ten Commandments, some 2000 years earlier. Unity of Muslims under one banner broke down when Mohammed died leaving the Sunnis and the Shiites jousting each other for power ever since. As far as giving very individual his due, that due under Islam is hardly equal – women receive 1/5  of their male counterparts and non-Muslim dhimmis generally have no legal recourse against Muslims. Yes, Muslims are very concerned about cleanliness, but the emphasis is entirely superficial, whereas Jesus was concerned with inner cleanliness. (See Matthew 15:11-20 and Matthew 23:27-28). And yes, Mohammed forbade Muslims from burying their female children alive, but this was also the point of Moses’ Sixth Commandment.

In October, 2006, an open letter addressed to Pope Benedict XVI was published over the signatures of 38 imams who were in positions of Grand Mufti and other high places in countries around the world. The list included Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr from Georgetown University, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller representing the Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (U.S.A.), and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of the Zaytuna Institue (U.S.A). Their four page rebuke of the Pope included the following paragraph, titled “Something New?”

You mention the emperor’s assertion that “anything new” brought by the Prophet was “evil and inhuman, such as his alleged command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” What the emperor failed to realize—aside from the fact (as mentioned above) that no such command has ever existed in Islam—is that the Prophet never claimed to be bringing anything fundamentally new. God says in the Holy Qur’an, Naught is said to thee (Muhammad) but what already was said to the Messengers before thee (Fussilat 41:43), and, Say (Muhammad): I am no new thing among the messengers (of God), nor know I what will be done with me or with you. I do but follow that what is Revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner (al-Ahqaf, 46:9).Thus faith in the One God is not the property of any one religious community. According to Islamic belief, all the true prophets preached the same truth to different peoples at different times. The laws may be different, but the truth is unchanging.

Given the collective weight of authority of these 38 Islamic scholars, this statement would seem to come as close to the official Islamic statement on “good things,” as one could hope for. In Islamic tradition, Mohammed was one of 124,000 prophets sent by God, but he was the final one, the “seal of the Prophets.” For God to continually send more prophets with merely the same message which must have been previously ignored seems to be a waste of time and effort. It would also imply that God continues to use the same approach even though it had failed to be effective in the past. That behavior would hardly fit anyone’s definition of an omniscient and all-powerful God.

Perhaps the reason the Islamic scholars avoided mention of any “good things” is that there are so few to be found in the documented histories of their Prophet. Most of these accounts, by such notables as al Waqidi, al Tabari, and Ishaq, were written during the 8th Century when Islam was in its ascendancy and needed to glorify not the goodness of Mohammed but rather his ruthlessness and his call to jihad. Ishaq records that Mohammed personally took part in twenty-seven raids (Ishaq, pg. 659) in 10 years, or about one every four months. Mohammed’s first sermon in Medina, as recorded by al-Tabari, mentions fear 8 times and beware 2 times. (al-Tabari, Vol VII, pg. 3). Frozen forever in time, these accounts now appear to be horrific by Twenty-first Century Western standards. The Islamic scholars knew better than to go there.

Still, the question of the new things introduced by Mohammed is a very important topic. The very definition of good and evil in Islamic theology is based on what ‘the Lawgiver’ (Allah or his Prophet) permitted or asked it to be done vs. what he forbade (al Misri, paragraph a1.4). Mohammed is quoted in Bukhari Vol. 9, No. 391, “If I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do it as much as you can.” In fact, Misri goes on to specify that good and evil are not determined by what reason considers good or bad, but only the “Lawgiver’s” sacred law.

According to the most reputable of the Hadith collectors, Bukhari, Mohammed actually claimed to have some “gifts” which were given to none of the other prophets:

Allah's Apostle said, "I have been given five things which were not given to any amongst the Prophets before me. These are:

1. Allah made me victorious by awe (by His frightening my enemies) for a distance of one month's journey.

2. The earth has been made for me (and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform Tayammum (purification with dirt when water isn’t available) . Therefore my followers can pray wherever the time of a prayer is due.

3. The booty has been made Halal (lawful) for me (and was not made so for anyone else).

4. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation exclusively but I have been sent to all mankind.

5. I have been given the right of intercession (on the Day of Resurrection.)

(Source: Bukhari Vol. 1, No. 429)

I don’t think any Islamic scholar would defend that statement in the context of today’s values. Gift #1 is an acknowledgment of the effectiveness of terrorism. Gift #2, that one can purify oneself with dirt, defies common sense. Gift #3 contradicts the Eighth Mosaic Commandment – thou shalt not steal --,  and it is expressly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention on Warfare and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And the final two “gifts” were actually copied from Jesus’ own words – see Acts 1:8, and Matthew 10:33.

By default, the Byzantine emperor Manual II Paleologus’s accusation against the Prophet still stands. The emperor mentioned one “evil and inhuman” thing, Mohammed’s command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. This is confirmed by the Qur’an where it says, “When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way.” (Surah 9:5) “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and Allah’s religion shall reign supreme.” (Surah 8:40) Muslim apologists will argue that this wasn’t true, citing the examples of Malaysia and Indonesia (the most populous Muslim country) which converted to Islam through the work of Indian trader/missionaries. However, these countries were populated by natives who had a subsistence economy and animistic religious beliefs. There was nothing for Islamic armies to plunder or tax, and imposing a theistic religion where there was none before is much different than forcing the conversion of Christians and Jews, as occurred in the former Roman and Byzantine empires.

But there is a much longer list of new things Mohammed introduced which were evil and inhuman. There were also some old practices that were revitalized by him – having multiple wives, taking captives for ransom, driving out people with differing faiths from the community, marrying the wife of one’s own son, and denigrating women. These evils are as old as time.

What were the new things Mohammed introduced? Many readers of the histories could come up with their own top picks, and so the list below isn’t comprehensive or final. These are just the ones that are most atrocious to this writer:

1.     Rape of Captives – After the battle of Khaybar, the captive women were distributed to the Muslims. Mohammed told his followers that, with regard to the captive women, it was unlawful for them to mix their seed with another man’s, or to “take her” until he has made sure that she is in a state of cleanness, i.e., not having her period. (Ishaq, pg. 512) Clearly, all other liberties were permitted.

2.     Denial of remarriage to his own widows -- One of the Qur’an verses received by the Prophet concerned his own wives: “You must not speak ill of God’s apostle, nor shall you ever wed his wives after him: this would be a grave offence in the sight of Allah.” (Surah 33:54) This would not seem to be so important, except that Mohammed had 9 wives when he died, and five -- Aisha, Hafsa, Rayhana, Juwayriyya, and Safiyya -- were only in their early 20’s. This verse condemned them to be widows the rest of their lives.  Mohammad Asghar has recently published a fascinating article on FaithFreeedom.Org titled, “The Greatest Manipulator and Sadist of the World,” in which he contends that Mohammed was actually impotent and he put this restriction on his wives to prevent them from being tempted to find more suitable mates.

3.     Death for apostasy – Because Islam from the beginning was not only a religion but a political allegiance to the ruler, the first being Mohammed himself, anyone who rejected Islam was considered more than an apostate, he was a possible traitor to the community. Therefore, Mohammed ordered, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” (Bukhari, Vol. 9, No. 57) This is still the practice today in many Muslim countries.

4.     Jizyah (or the poll tax for non-Muslims) – Mohammed’s small party of 100 emigrants were outcasts and unemployed when they arrived in Medina. Their principal source of revenue was from raiding caravans and taking booty from the Jewish tribes they drove out of Medina. One of the outlying Jewish tribes, however, consisted of farmers. Mohammed determined it was better to extract an annual share of the crops than to take over their houses and land. This was the beginning of jizyah. While Mohammed was still alive he was even requesting tribute from neighboring countries in exchange for peace. (al-Tabari, Vol. VIII, pg. 107)  The first American military engagement was to put an end to the tribute being imposed on the U.S. by the Ottoman Barbary Pirates in 1805 – memorialized in the words of the Marine Song, “to the shores of Tripoli.” The amount of jizyah varied by time and country, but it was often so burdensome that Christians and Jews ultimately gave up their religions out of financial hardship.

5.     Dhimmitude (the protected but very subordinated status of non-Muslims) -- When some non-Muslims vowed to die rather than convert to Islam, Mohammed granted them to pay the jizyah and abide by certain restrictions in exchange for being allowed a “protected” status. The Qur’an states that the goal is that “they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” (Surah 9:29) In practice, it meant that the dhimmis had to kneel at the sultan’s feet and pay the tribute personally to show their subordination. The Pact of Umar with the Christians of Syria, late 7th Century, gives an indication of the scope of the dhimmi regulations:

We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, churches, convents, or monks' cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.

We shall keep our gates wide open for passersby and travelers. We shall give board and lodging to all Muslims who pass our way for three days.

We shall not give shelter in our churches or in our dwellings to any spy, nor bide him from the Muslims.

We shall not teach the Qur'an to our children. [Presumably, for fear that some of the more onerous verses would be taught.]

We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it.

We shall show respect toward the Muslims, and we shall rise from our seats when they wish to sit.

We shall not seek to resemble the Muslims by imitating any of their garments, the qalansuwa (skullcap), the turban, footwear, or the parting of the hair. We shall not speak as they do, nor shall we adopt their kunyas (Arabic prefix indicating “mother of” [umm] or “father of” [abu]).

We shall not mount on saddles, nor shall we gird swords nor bear any kind of arms nor carry them on our persons.

We shall not engrave Arabic inscriptions on our seals.

We shall not sell fermented drinks.

We shall clip the fronts of our heads.

We shall always dress in the same way wherever we may be, and we shall bind the zunar (belt) round our waists

We shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead. We shall not show lights on any of the roads of the Muslims or in their markets. We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims.

We shall not take slaves who have been allotted to Muslims.

We shall not build houses overtopping the houses of the Muslims.

Whoever strikes a Muslim with deliberate intent shall forfeit the protection of this pact.

6.     The institution of Temporary Wives -- Due to the frequency of raids on outlying towns and caravans, Mohammed made accommodation for the sexual needs of his fighters by permitting them to have temporary wives (mut’a) This is justified by the Qur’an: “Give them their dowry for the enjoyment you have had of them as a duty; but it shall be no offence for you to make any other agreement among yourselves after you have fulfilled your duty.” (4:25) Of course, this practice is quite controversial today among married Muslim women because it is, in effect, religiously sanctioned prostitution. Some Islamic scholars will argue that this verse in the Qur’an was abrogated by other verses, but other scholars, particularly among the Shiites, insist that it is perfectly legal.  It is still practiced widely in Muslim countries, and religious authorities do nothing to stop it.

Scholars of Islam and Islamic history might list additional cruel and inhuman innovations attributable to Mohammed. But is there a list of credible positive innovations by Mohammed? Not all religions are equal. There have been some truly evil religions – such as David Korish’s Branch Davidians and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. All religions must be judged by their fruits. No matter how long a religion has sustained itself or how many followers it may claim, if a religion is barren of good fruits it will eventually be cut down.

Sincerely

Amil Imani

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