How to Debate a Muslim? (Islam)

1. Do you know Aramaic or Hebrew?

Muslims in general have a tendency to disarm any criticisms of Islam and in particular the Koran by asking if the critic has read the Koran in the original Arabic, as though all the difficulties of their Sacred Text will somehow disappear once the reader has mastered the holy language and has direct experience, aural and visual, of the very words of God, to which no translation can do justice.

However, the majority of Muslims are not Arabs or Arabic speaking peoples. The non-Arabic speaking nations of Indonesia with a population of 197 million, Pakistan with 133 million, Iran with 62 million, Turkey with 62 million, India with a Muslim population of about 95 million, out- number by far the total number of native Arabic speakers in about thirty countries in the world estimated as 150 million. Many educated Muslims whose native tongue is not Arabic do learn it in order to read the Koran, but then again the vast majority does not understand Arabic, even though many do learn parts of the Koran by heart without understanding a word.

In other words, the majority of Muslims have to read the Koran in translation in order to understand it. Contrary to what one might think, there have been translations of the Koran into, for instance, Persian since the tenth or eleventh century, and there are translations into Turkish and Urdu. The Koran has now been translated into over a hundred languages, many of them by Muslims themselves, despite some sort of disapproval from the religious authorities. [1]

Even for contemporary Arabic –speaking peoples, reading the Koran is far from being a straightforward matter. The Koran is putatively (in fact it is very difficult to decide exactly what the language of the Koran is) written in what we call Classical Arabic (CA), but modern Arab populations, leaving aside the problem of illiteracy in Arab countries [2], do not speak, read, or write, let alone think in Classical Arabic (CA). We are confronted with the phenomenon of diglossia [3], that is to say, a situation where two varieties of the same language live side by side. The two variations are high and low. High Arabic is sometimes called Modern Literary Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic, and is learned through formal education in school like Latin or Sanskrit, and would be used in sermon, university lecture, news broadcast and for mass media purposes. Low Arabic or Colloquial Arabic is a dialect, which native speakers acquire as a mother tongue, and is, used at home conversing with family and friends, and is also used in radio or television soap opera. But as Kaye points out, "the differences between many colloquial and the classical language are so great that a fallah (= farmer or peasant) who had never been to school could hardly understand more than a few scattered words and expressions in it without great difficulty. One could assemble dozens of so-called Arabs (fallahin or peasants) in a room, which have never been exposed to the classical language, so that not one could properly understand the other." [4]

Though some scholars do allow for some change and decay, they paint a very misleading picture of the actual linguistic situation in modern Arabic speaking societies. These scholars imply that anyone able to read a modern Arabic newspaper should have no difficulties with the Koran or any classical Arabic text. They seem very insensitive "to the evolution of the language, to changes in the usage and meaning of terms over the very long period and in the very broad area in which Classical Arabic has been used." [5] Anyone who has lived in the Middle East in recent years will know that the language of the press is at best semi-literary [6], and certainly simplified as far as structure and vocabulary are concerned. We can discern what would be called grammatical errors from a Classical Arabic point of view in daily newspapers or on television news. This semi-literary language is highly artificial, and certainly, no one thinks in it. For an average middle class Arab it would take considerable effort to construct even the simplest sentence, let alone talk, in Classical Arabic. The linguist Pierre Larcher has written of the "considerable gap between Medieval Classical Arabic and Modern Classical Arabic [or what I have been calling Modern Literary Arabic], certain texts written in the former are today the object of explanatory texts in the latter." He then adds in a footnote that he has in his library, based on this model, an edition of the Risala of Shafi`i (died 204/820) which appeared in a collection with the significant title "Getting closer to the Patrimony." [7]

As Kaye puts it, "In support of the hypothesis that modern standard Arabic is ill-defined is the so-called ‘mixed’ language or ‘Inter-Arabic’ being used in the speeches of, say, President Bourguiba of Tunisia, noting that very few native speakers of Arabic from any Arab country can really ever master the intricacies of Classical Arabic grammar in such a way as to extemporaneously give a formal speech in it." [8]

Pierre Larcher [9] has pointed out that wherever you have a linguistic situation where two varieties of the same language coexist, you are also likely to get all sorts of linguistic mixtures, leading some linguists to talk of triglossia. Gustav Meiseles [10] even talks of quadriglossia: between Literary Arabic and Vernacular Arabic, he distinguishes a Sub-Standard Arabic and an Educated Spoken Arabic. Still others speak of pluri- or multi- or polyglossia, viewed as a continuum. [11]

The style of the Koran is difficult, totally unlike the prose of today, and the Koran would be largely incomprehensible without glossaries, indeed entire commentaries. In conclusion, even the most educated of Arabs will need some sort of a translation if he or she wished to make sense of that most gnomic, elusive and allusive of holy scriptures, the Koran.

You are asked aggressively, "do you know Arabic?" Then you are told triumphantly, "You have to read the Koran in the original Arabic to understand it fully." Non-Muslims, Western freethinkers, and atheists are usually reduced to sullen silence with these Muslim tactics; they indeed become rather coy and self-defensive when it comes to criticism of Islam; they feebly complain “who am I to criticize Islam? I do not know any Arabic.” And yet they are quite happy to criticize Christianity. How many Western freethinkers and atheists know Hebrew? How many even know what the language of Esra chapter 4 verses 6-8 is? Or in what language the New Testament was written? Of course, Muslims are also free in their criticism of the Bible and Christianity without knowing a word of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.

So let me summaries: You do not need to know Arabic to criticize Islam or the Koran. Paul Kurtz does not know Arabic but he did a great job on Islam in his book The Transcendental Temptation. [12] You only need a critical sense, critical thought, and skepticism. Second, there are translations of the Koran, by Muslims themselves, so Muslims cannot claim that there has been deliberate tampering of the text by infidel translators. Third, the majorities of Muslims are not Arabs, and are not Arabic speakers. So a majority of Muslims also have to rely on translations. Finally, the language of the Koran is some form of Classical Arabic [13], which is very different from the spoken Arabic of today, so even Muslim Arabs have to rely on translations to understand their holy text. Arabic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic, and is no easier but also no more difficult to translate than any other language. Of course, there are all sorts of difficulties with the language of the Koran, but these difficulties have been recognized by Muslim scholars themselves. The Koran is indeed a rather opaque text but it is opaque to everyone. Even Muslim scholars do not understand a fifth of it.

Endnotes below.

1. See Appendix, Bibliography of Translations, in Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, edd. Beeston, Johnstone et al, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p.502-520.

2. In Egypt, the rate of illiteracy is placed as high as 49.8 %; see Information Please Almanac, Boston, 1997, p.180

3. Charles Ferguson, Diglossia, Word, Vol.15, No.2 pp325-340, Aug.1959; William Marçais, La diglossie arabe, L’Enseignement public –Revue Pédagogique, tome 104, no 12, 1930, pp.401-409; Alan S. Kaye,Arabic, in The Major Languages of South Asia, The Middle East and Africa, ed. Bernard Comrie, London, Routledge, 1990, p.181

4. Ibid., p.173.

5. B.Lewis, Islam, and the West, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993, p.65

6. It is in fact becoming more and more westernized, i.e. de-semitized under the influence of the international news agencies.

7. P.Larcher,Les Incertitudes de la Poesie Arabe Archaique, in La Revue des Deux Rives, No.1, 1999,p.129

8. Kaye, op. cit. p.183.

9. P.Larcher, La Linguistique Arabe d’Hier a Demain: Tendances Nouvelles de la Recherche, Arabica, tome XLV, 1998, pp.409-29.

10. Gustav Meiseles, Educated Spoken Arabic and the Arabic Language Continuum, Archivum Linguisticum, vol. XI, Number 2, 1980, pp.118-142;quoted in P.Larcher,see note 10 above.

11. A.S.Kaye, Formal vs. Informal in Arabic: Diglossia, Triglossia, Tetraglossia, etc., Polyglossia –Multiglossia Viewed as a Continuum, ZAL, 27, 1994, pp.47-66.

12. P.Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation, Prometheus Books, Amherst, 1986

13. There seems to be some controversy as to what the language of the Koran really is, see my introduction to What the Koran Really Says., Prometheus Books, Amherst, 2002.

2. Out of context

Let us now turn to another argument or defensive tactic used by Muslims: the “you have quoted out of context” defense. What do they mean by “You have quoted out of context”? This could mean two things: first, the historical context to which the various verses refer, or second, the textual context, the actual place in a particular chapter that the verse quoted comes from. The historical context argument is not available in fact to Muslims, since the Koran is the eternal word of God and true and valid for always. Thus for Muslims themselves there is no historical context. Of course, non-Muslims can legitimately and do avail themselves of the historical or cultural context to argue, for instance, that Islamic culture as a whole is anti-woman. Muslims did contradict themselves when they introduced the notion of abrogation, when a historically earlier verse was cancelled by a later one. This idea of abrogation was concocted to deal with the many contradictions in the Koran. What is more, it certainly backfires for those liberal Muslims who wish to give a moderate interpretation to the Koran since all the verses advocating tolerance (there are some but not many) have been abrogated by the verses of the sword.

Out of Context Argument Used Against Muslims Themselves:

Now for the textual context. First, of course, this argument could be turned against Muslims themselves. When they produce a verse preaching tolerance, we could also say that they have quoted out of context, or more pertinently (1) that such a verse has been cancelled by a more belligerent and intolerant one, (2) that in the overall context of the Koran and the whole theological construct that we call Islam (i.e. in the widest possible context), the tolerant verses are anomalous, or have no meaning, since Muslim theologians ignored them completely in developing Islamic Law, or that (3) the verses do not say what they seem to say.

For instance, after September 11, 2001, many Muslims and apologists of Islam glibly came out with the following Koranic quote to show that Islam and the Koran disapproved of violence and killing: Sura V.32: “Whoever killed a human being shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind ”.

Unfortunately, these wonderful sounding words are being quoted out of context. Here is the entire quote: V.32: “That was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as a punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as though he had saved all mankind. Our apostles brought them veritable proofs: yet it was not long before many of them committed great evils in the land. Those that make war against God and His apostle and spread disorder shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or are banished from the country.”

The supposedly noble sentiments are in fact a warning to Jews. Behave or else is the message. Far from abjuring violence, these verses aggressively point out that anyone opposing the Prophet will be killed, crucified, mutilated, and banished!

Behind the textual context argument is thus the legitimate suspicion that by quoting only a short passage from the Koran I have somehow distorted its real meaning. I have, so the accusation goes, lifted the offending quote from the chapter in which it was embedded, and hence, somehow altered its true sense. What does “context” mean here? Do I have to quote the sentence before the offending passage, and the sentence after? Perhaps two sentences before and after? The whole chapter? Ultimately, of course, the entire Koran is the context.

The context, far from helping Muslims get out of difficulties only makes the barbaric principle apparent in the offending quote more obvious, as we have seen from Sura V.32 just quoted. Let us take some other examples. Does the Koran say that men have the right to physically beat their wives or not? I say yes, and quote the following verses to prove my point:

Sura IV.34”: As for those [women] from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge [or beat] them”

This translation comes from a Muslim. Have I somehow distorted the meaning of these lines? Let us have a wider textual context:

Sura IV.34: “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. God is high, supreme.”

If anything, the wider textual context makes things worse for those apologists of Islam who wish to minimize the misogyny of the Koran. The oppression of women has divine sanction; women must obey God and their men, who have divine authorization to scourge them. One Muslim translator, Yusuf Ali, clearly disturbed by this verse adds the word “lightly “in brackets after “beat “even though there is no “lightly “in the original Arabic. An objective reading of the entire Koran (that is the total context) makes grim reading as far as the position of women is concerned. There are at least forty passages in the Koran that are misogynistic in character.

Finally, of course, many of the verses that we shall quote later advocating killing of unbelievers were taken by Muslims themselves to develop the theory of Jihad. Muslim scholars themselves referred to sura VIII.67, VIII.39, and Sura II.216 to justify Holy War. Again the context makes it clear that it is the battle field that is being referred to, and not some absurd moral struggle; these early Muslims were warriors after booty, land and women not some existential heroes from the pages of Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre. Let us take another example: Sura IX. Here I have tried to use where possible translations by Muslims or Arab phone scholars, to avoid the accusation of using infidel translations. However, many Muslim translators have a tendency to soften down the harshness of the original Arabic, particularly in translating the Arabic word jahada, e.g. Sura IX verse 73. Maulana Muhammad Ali, of the Ahmadiyyah sect, translates this passage as: “O Prophet, strive hard against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be firm against them. And their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.” In a footnote of an apologetic nature, Muhammad Ali rules out the meaning “fighting” for jahada. However, the Iraqi non-Muslim scholar Dawood in his Penguin translation renders this passage as: “Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate.”

How do we settle the meaning of this verse? The whole context of Sura IX indeed makes it clear that “make war “in the literal and not some metaphorical sense is meant. Let us take another verse from this Sura, Sura IX.5: “Then, when the sacred months have passed away, kill the idolaters wherever you find them …” These words are usually cited to show what fate awaits idolaters. Well, what of the context? The words immediately after these just quoted say, “and seize them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them.” Ah, you might say, you have deliberately left out the words that come after those. Let us quote them then, “If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.” Surely these are words of tolerance, you plead. Hardly: they are saying that if they become Muslims then they will be left in peace. In fact, the whole sura, which has 129 verses (approximately 14 pages in the Penguin translation by Dawood), in other words, the whole context, is totally intolerant; and is indeed the source of many totalitarian Islamic laws and principles, such as the concepts of Jihad and dhimmis, the latter proclaiming the inferior status of Christians and Jews in an Islamic state. All our quotes from the Arabic sources in Part One also, of course, provide the historical context of raids, massacres, booty, and assassinations, which make it crystal clear that real bloody fighting is being advocated.

First, the idolaters, how can you trust them? Most of them are evildoers (IX. 8); fight them (IX. 12, 14); they must not visit mosques (IX. 18); they are unclean (IX. 28); you may fight the idolaters even during the sacred months (IX. 36). “It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin after it has become clear they are people of hell-fire.” (IX.113) So much for forgiveness! Even your parents are to be shunned if they do not embrace Islam: IX. 23 “O you who believe! Choose neither your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you takes them for friends, such are wrong-doers.” In other words if you are friendly with your parents who are not Muslims, you are being immoral.

The theory of Jihad is derived from verses 5 and 6 already quoted but also from the following verses:

IX. 38 - 39: Believers, why is it that when it is said to you: ‘March in the cause of God ’, you linger slothfully in the land? Are you content with this life in preference to the life to come? Few indeed are the blessings of this life, compared to those of the life to come. If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men.

IX. 41: Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of God, with your wealth and with your persons. IX. 73: Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal harshly with them.

The word that I have translated as fight is jahid. Some translators translate it as go forth or strive. Dawood translates it as fight, as does Penrice in his Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran, where it is defined as: To strive, contend with, fight –especially against the enemies of Islam. While Hans Wehr in his celebrated Arabic dictionary translates it as “endeavor, strive; to fight; to wage holy war against the infidels.”

As for the intolerance against Jews and Christians, and their inferior status as dhimmis, we have IX verses 29 –35:

“Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.

“The Jews say Ezra is the son of God, while the Christians say the Messiah is the son of God. Such are their assertions, by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are!

“They make of their clerics and their monks, and of the Messiah, the son of Mary, Lords besides God; though they were ordered to serve one God only. There is no god but Him. Exalted is He above those whom they deify besides Him!

“It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters may dislike it.

“O you who believe! Lo! Many of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar men from the way of Allah; they who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings of painful doom …”

The moral of all the above is clear: Islam is the only true religion, Jews and Christians are devious and money-grubbing, who are not to be trusted, and even have to pay a tax in the most humiliating way. I do not think I need quote any more from Sura IX, although it goes on in this vein verse after verse.

3. Go to the Original Sources

When you do debate with a Muslim make, sure you are armed with all your references from the original Arabic sources. The major sources are all available in English, and are the Koran, the Sira or the Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, and the Hadith, the sayings and deeds of the Prophet and his companions. You must make the effort to familiarize yourself with these. Start with the Koran. It is not a very long text, about four hundred pages in the Penguin translation. Acquire at least four different translations, at least one of which should be by a Muslim. Yusuf Ali and, despite his name, Marmaduke Pickthall were Muslims, and their translations are easily available in paperbacks. At least one should be by someone whose mother tongue was Arabic, such as N.J.Dawood, an Iraqi scholar whose translation is quite readable. If you read French, I strongly advise you to acquire and read Regis Blachere’s translation - it has copious footnotes, which reveal the opaqueness of the Holy text, and the grammatical errors of the original Arabic.

If you have read the Koran, you are already better informed of its contents than the majority of Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims have been genuinely surprised when I have apprised them of the verses preaching war, intolerance, hatred of Jews and Christians, misogyny, cruel punishments, etc. When you do read the Koran, read it with a highlighter in hand, and mark or underline the passages which preach intolerance, or which reveal injustice, cruelty and violence, absurdities, insults to women, contradictions, anti-Semitism, homophobic attitudes, superstitions, and, to be scrupulously fair, passages which teach morally acceptable principles. Someone has already undertaken just such a task at: Our diligent skeptic found 511 passages of injustice, 384 of intolerance, 320 of cruelty and violence, 46 insults to women and just 60 passages of morally acceptable principles.

Here are some anti-Jewish sentiments from the Koran:

II.61: ….Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon them (that is, the Jews), and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah’s revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression.

IV.44-46: Have you not seen those who have received a portion of the Scripture? They purchase error, and they want you to go astray from the path. However, Allah knows best who your enemies are, and it is sufficient to have Allah as a friend. It is sufficient to have Allah as a helper. Some of the Jews pervert words from their meanings, and say, ‘We hear and we disobey’, and ‘Hear without hearing,’ and ‘Heed us!’ twisting with their tongues and slandering religion. If they had said, ‘We have heard and obey,’, or ‘Hear and observe us’ it would have been better for them and more upright. However, Allah had cursed them for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few.

IV.160-161: And for the evildoing of the Jews, We have forbidden them some good things that were previously permitted them, and because of their barring many from Allah’s way. In addition, for their taking usury which was prohibited for them, and because of their consuming people’s wealth under false pretense? We have prepared for the unbelievers among them a painful punishment.

IX.29-31: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture [Jews and Christians] as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute [poll-tax] readily, and are utterly subdued. The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah,” and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” Those are the words of their mouths, conforming to the words of the unbelievers before them. Allah attacks them! How perverse they are! They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords besides Allah, and so too the Messiah son of Mary, though they were commanded to serve but one God. There is no God but Him. Allah is exalted above that which they deify beside Him.

IX.34: O you who believe! Lo! Many of the (Jewish) rabbis and the (Christian) monks devour the wealth of humankind wantonly and debar (men) from the way of Allah. They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings of a painful doom.

V.63-64: Why do not the rabbis and the priests forbid their evil-speaking and devouring of illicit gain? Verily evil is their handiwork. The Jews say, “Allah’s hands are fettered.” Their hands are fettered, and they are cursed for what they have said! On the contrary, His hands are spread open. He bestows as He wills. That which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase the arrogance and unbelief of many among them. We have cast enmity and hatred among them until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they light the fire of war, Allah extinguishes it. They hasten to spread corruption throughout the earth, but Allah does not love corrupters!

V.70-71: We made a covenant with the Israelites and sent forth apostles among them. However, whenever an apostle came to them with a message that did not suit their fancies, some they accused of lying, and others they put to death. They thought no harm would follow: they were blind and deaf. God is ever watching their actions.

V.82: Indeed, you will surely find that the most vehement of men in enmity to those who believe are the Jews and the polytheists.

V.51: O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who takes them for friends is one of them.

V.57: O you who believe! Choose not for friends such of those who received the Scripture [Jews and Christians] before you, and of the disbelievers, as make jest and sport of your religion. However, keep your duty to Allah of you are true believers.

V.59: Say: O, People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]! Do you blame us for aught else than that we believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed aforetime, and because most of you are evildoers?

V.66: ….Among them [Jews and Christians] there are people who are moderate, but many of them are of evil conduct.

XXXIII.26: He brought down from their strongholds those who had supported them from among the People of the Book [Jews of Bani Qurayza] and cast terror into their hearts, so that some you killed and others you took captive.

V.60: Say:‘ Shall I tell you who will receive a worse reward from God ? Those whom [i.e. Jews] God has cursed and with whom He has been angry, transforming them into apes and swine, and those who serve the devil. Worse is the plight of these, and they have strayed farther from the right path.’

Then pass onto the oldest source on the life of the Prophet, the Sira by Ibn Ishaq as quoted by Ibn Hisham. It is also available in an English translation. Again, read it, with the same skeptical attitude and a highlighter in hand. It makes for very depressing reading. The biography is full of violence, cruelty, intolerance, and anti-Semitism. Here are some of the passages from the Sira revealing Muhammad’s hatred of the Jews:

1. “Kill any Jews that falls into your power” said the Prophet: p.369

2. The killing of Ibn Sunayna, and its admiration leading someone to convert to Islam: p.369

3. The killing of Sallam ibn Abu’l –Huqayq: pp.482-483

4. The assassination of Ka‘b, who wrote verses against Muhammad: pp.364-369

5. The raid against the Jewish tribe of the Banu‘l-Nadir, and their banishment. pp.437-445

6. The extermination of the Banu Qurayza, between 600-800 men. pp.461-469

7. The killing of alYusayr. pp.665-666

Finally, pass onto the Hadith or Traditions, which are also, fortunately, available in English. The collection by Bukhari, who died in 870 C.E., is the best place to start. The Hadith or the Books of Tradition are a collection of sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet and traced back to him through a series of putatively trustworthy witnesses. Apart from what Muhammad did and enjoined these traditions include what was done in his presence that he did not forbid, and even the authoritative sayings and doings of the companions of the Prophet. These traditions serve as the theoretical basis of the Sharia or Islamic Law, and hence of Islam itself. Here you will find all that you suspected about Islam but were not sure where to look for. Jihad, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and the usual litany of violence and cruelty. Bukhari’s collection is highly regarded by the Muslims.

Thus furnished with precise references to and quotes from the Koran, the Sira, and the Hadith, you are well-equipped to criticize Islam, and ready to debate any Muslim.

Ibn Warraq

Islam, The Iron Ceiling? (Islam)

Muslims claim that the West has become a godless society filled with immorality and perversions. Of course, the West could respond that their failings are more public due to the freedom of the press in Western democracies, a freedom absent in nearly every Muslim populated country. However, it is true that without ethics a society would lack a safety net.

Numerous studies have indicated that ethics functions as both a safety net and a ceiling for the possibilities of human nature. Without ethics, individuals would lack a safety net to prevent themselves or others from acting upon their impulses. The result? Individuals are prone to disorders of impulse i.e. addictions, crimes of impulse (theft, rape, murder), suicide, etc. However, an overly rigid ethics; will cause a stifling of creative impulse and the higher functions of human nature that arise out of the freedom of impulse. Individuals become authoritarian, rigid, lack creativity, etc.

The problems of the West arise because it has drifted from its ethical foundation. Muslims countries have not drifted so far from theirs. Thus, disorders of impulse (which are on the rise in Muslim populated countries) are not yet rampant. However, the oppressive legalism of Islam stifles human nature so much that nearly every higher creative impulse has been destroyed or submerged. It has become a desert religion that creates an intellectually oppressive desert of the human mind and soul.

What great intellectual achievement has come from a Muslim country since the middle Ages, scientific, artistic, philosophical, or otherwise? Answer: None! Nearly every scientific advancement has come from the West. Muslim populated countries have had to import Western talent or have had to send their best and brightest students to the West for a true education that is something more than rote memorization. Many of these Muslim students when out of a Muslim country yield to impulses because their ethical safety net has not been internalized or integrated into their individual personality and character.

Only one Muslim writer has received the Nobel Prize in literature, Naguib Mahfouz. The Muslim brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimun) first loved him, and then turned against him. He was stabbed. Salman Rushdie is on the cutting edge of magical realism, an exciting new development within literature. He had to go into hiding so Muslims would not kill his creative freedom. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe we think Islam does not provide the moral safety net to the degree. More likely, the ethical safety net of Islam includes attacking that which is creative and different. Perhaps the purported ethical strength and superiority of Islam really hides a deeper fear that their strengths cannot withstand human creativity. Does this mean that the ethical strength of the system purportedly created by Allah crumbles in the presence of a mere human exercising the creative impulse? Sad!

Islam fears individuals acting upon freedom and the search for meaning and identity. It is the height of rigidity. This is seen in the prescription for apostasy. An individual who tires of the stifling nature of Islam and who desires to exercise her/his mind and heart to find God as God reveals God’s self to her/him must stop, return to Islam, or die. Why? The great fear of a rigidly ethical system is freedom. Individuals submit to a huge array of destructive oppressive ideologies because they fear freedom. While there may be no compulsion in Islam neither is there freedom. The result? You do not have to become a Muslim, but you are not free not to be a Muslim (if you are one). just are a Muslim—not subject to the ravages of giving into one’s impulses (at least not when you are in a Muslim populated country), but not blessed by the development of higher intellectual and creative impulses.

In the book of Job within the Bible, God says to Job, "gird your loins, be a man. I ask the questions, you come up with the answers." We humans do not like that freedom and responsibility. We do not want to have to be that courageous. We want to ask the questions and have someone else give us the answers tell us what to do. If we were to create a religion, we would create one with all the answers about every aspect of life a stifling absence of freedom and the possibility to develop a creative intellectual nature. We would create something like Islam a complete way of life devoid of freedom and true responsibility (and creativity). We would call creativity bid’ah and denounce the "innovation." Our only responsibility would be to do what we were told to do (a religion for children). Hence, that is the very proof of the human origin of Islam.

It is sad! Muslims are correct! The problems of the West are due to the rejection of its ethical foundations. The problems of the Islamic world are due to the presence of theirs.

Equality for All in the Ummah? (Islam)

Many Muslims claim that one of the attractive features of Islam, the reason why many embrace that religion, is the radical equality of all people in Islam. People definitely love that kind of talk. Deep down they appear to resonate sympathetically to the notion that "everyone is created equal" and that there should be "liberty and justice for all." However, what they see around them is quite different. Thus the people long for the reality of equality but that longing remain unfulfilled.

Then enters a Islam and it claims to be the one and only way, the God-created way, to make the people ideal a living reality.

If only it were true! Unfortunately, there are the passages of inequality in the Qur’an. For example, (2:228): and they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them.” Muslims attempt to show how the superiority of men over women really means the equality of men and women. They note that the "degree" is "quiwama" meaning maintenance and protection. Men have the responsibility (superiority) to maintain and protect women because women, "the weaker sex" are entitled "to protection." They further maintain that legally, men and women are equal in Islam.

Nice try! Legally democracies have declared everyone to be equal. That is called "de jure" equality, but the reality is inequality among some people, "de facto" inequality. Therefore, de jure in Islam men and women are equal; de facto (biologically, psychologically, and ontologically) men and women are not equal. In Islam women are held to be weak, needing protection and maintenance. So what Islam is really saying is that while men and women are not equal, before the law they will ignore that fact and treat them as equal, except when it comes to inheritance, or serving as witnesses in court, or functioning as the head of state, etc.

Now that I think about it, the reality in Islam seems to be de facto inequality of men and women, "declared" de jure equality of men and women, but an actual de jure inequality of men and women.

However, let’s be fair here. Muslims goes on to say that religiously (and legally) women actually have certain advantages over men, they are superior to men in advantages. People sure would like the sound of that, sounds like affirmative action to them. What do Muslims mean by that? Muslim says "women are exempted from the daily prayers and from fasting during her menstrual periods and 40 days after childbirth," and Friday prayer is optional for her but mandatory for the men. Wow! Let me get this straight. The most beloved pillars of the faith, the very means for gaining entry to heaven—the purportedly beautiful means that Allah in his mercy has given to humans, those great privileges, women don’t have to do. How is it an advantage to be exempt from religious practices that are supposedly so beautiful and enjoyable to perform? Help me with that one. When I love and enjoy something, I don’t want to be exempt from it, I want to do it more. That would be kind of like if when I was a teenager and enjoyed driving around in my car, my dad and mom called me into the living room one day and said, "We know you love to drive your car so much that we are exempting you from driving it for a 40 day period." Boy, would I have been excited about that one; I would really feel equal to my friends who had the obligation to drive around in their car and enjoy themselves.

Look, Muslims, you may fool some people who may be disgusted with their way of life that they will latch onto anything. But gladly, I also know enough people who think before they act and they will just say, "We have been there, done that, and don't want to go back—no matter what name it's called, including Islam."

Oops, I did it agan! (Islam)

In fiqh, “shubah” refers to “a mistake that leads a man to have intercourse with a woman unlawful to him.” There are “mistakes of contract” = shubhat aqd and “mistakes of act” = shubhat fil. It is written that Abu Hanifah extended the meaning of the latter to include situations such as when “a man hires a woman for some work and then fornicates with her... the two will not be penalized for fornication because of his ignorance that his hiring does not include this act.”

If a woman is working in a business establishment or a factory and the proprietor of such establishment copulates with the her believing this to be one of the benefits which accrue to him as a result of hiring her, the act will not be termed fornication, but will be considered ‘a mistake.’”

WHAT!!! We have all heard of unethical businesspersons who disgustingly take advantage of female employees. It is sexual harassment, and the woman can sue for damages. We don’t call it a mistake; we call it illegal and immoral. If the man claims it was a mistake, we all know he is lying and is just trying to avoid punishment.

A mistake is when you carelessly do something, e.g., wash a red blouse with white shirts, dial a wrong telephone number, take someone’s umbrella because it looks the same as yours, etc. It is impossible to see how a manager at McDonald’s thinks that when he hires Khadija that the contract includes arriving at work on time, taking customers’ orders, making a Big Mac, and copulating with the manager. GET REAL!!!! That isn’t a mistake. Either the manager is an utter idiot or utterly immoral, but in no way is having sex with Khadija a slip up, a foible, an oversight, a confusion, a faux pas, a peccadillo, or a mistake.

Muslim says that Allah through the Prophet Muhammad elevated women. Sure, no longer do Muslims bury unwanted daughters in the sand. No, they let them grow up so male Hanafi employers can mistakenly copulate with them because the poor testosterone poisoned male just can’t remember the terms of the employment contract.

On a more serious note, the most disgusting part of this entire issue is the assumption beneath it. Muslims jurists claim that men can’t help it; it is their nature. It is their nature to be sexual predators. Acting upon that ridiculous assumption, the jurists can claim that out of love for women and in the desire to protect them from Y-chromosome predators women should stay in the home away from those dangerous men who might attack her.

This argument is just another form of naturalistic fallacy, arguing that “what is” is “what ought to be.” Because some men sexually prowl does not mean this is what they ought to do, nor does it demonstrate that such is man’s nature. Operating out of this false assumption, male jurists limit the freedom of Muslim women because the religion defines men in such a disgusting way that it fails to hold men responsible for their actions.

The structure of the argument is simple and erroneous. An unproved assumption is accepted as fact (men cannot control their sexuality; that is their nature). They then posit that society would be chaotic and dangerous if there were no safeguards for the sexually crazed males. Since there are only males and females in society, females must be isolated for their protection. Therefore, females must lose freedoms because of an unproved assumption. Moreover, although the deficiency is attributed to the males, females are called the weaker sex. In fact, it would seem that the poor women carrying the moral responsibility for the out of control males are in fact the stronger sex. But then again, the mind is an amazing thing. The same mind that attributes such a disgusting nature to males can in the next sentence hold that women are the weaker sex.

Islam cannot come from God. Only men would devise a system that permits accidental fornication without calling it sin. Only men would define their nature in such a way that women must be denied freedom and then this repression be called the straight path.

Islam is completely and totally a religion devised by men for men. The common Muslim strategy here is to get some Western female convert to Islam and have her write her story, the “I was a repressed liberated Western white girl who discovered the gem of Islam and when I covered my body I found true liberation and peace of mind and soul.” That proves absolutely nothing. When Muslim women convert to Christianity that does not prove that Christianity is superior or right. People convert for all kinds of reasons. It is the content of the propositions in the religions that determines rightness and wrongness, not “I found the truth stories.”

Islam is a religion made by men for men, that some women experience this man-made religion as liberating means nothing. There are men who are rational; there are women who are rational; there are men who are irrational; there are women who are irrational.

Despite what Islam teaches about women and despite Abu Hanifa’s disgusting doctrine of accidental fornication, when the Taliban was overthrown in some key cities in Afghanistan, the women threw off their covering (they must not have experienced it as liberating), men shaved their beards (they must not have thought it drew them closer to the example of Muhammad), men wore shorts to play soccer (and no sex crazed fans ravaged them), and music was played everywhere (and no one saw angels flying out of Afghanistan). Many people had grown tired of this man-made religion. It is not fornication as defined by Abu Hanifa that is the mistake; Islam is the mistake.

Islam means peace? (Islam)

Islam means peace through submission to Allah, so Muslims tell us non-Muslims. They frequently go further and say that this peace really denotes peace within a person and that this peace radiates outward to be instantiated as peace within a society, a nation, and eventually the world. What a beautiful thought, but is it the reality?

Fundamentalist Muslims inspired by their love of Islam with Qur’ans in their suitcases hijacked nonmilitary planes boarded with civilians and cowardly crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon… Islam means peace!

Thousands of innocent non-muslims who love their families and who believe that fundamentalist Muslims have the right to worship as they wish within mosques were cowardly killed by fundamentalist Muslims inspired by their love of Islam…Islam means peace!!

Palestinian Muslims inspired by their love of Islam took to the streets in Israel cheering the murder of non-muslim children by Muslim fundamentalists inspired by their love of Islam…Islam means peace!!!

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, all "so-called" Muslim countries maintain relations with known Islamic terrorist groups who inspired by their love of Islam want to kill non-muslims…Islam means peace!!!!

The Islamic Councils rhetorically denounced the cowardly terrorist acts done out of love of Islam. In the same article, they tactlessly used the opportunity to boast about the spread of Islam in the world…Islam means peace!!!!!

The peace of Islam preached by fundamentalist Muslims inspired by their love of Islam, the Islam of the Qur’an, is not peace. In reality, this Islam is a religion that sprang from a depraved soul and the souls that embrace this Islam become depraved. This Islam degrades human souls such that they are incapable of peace, even worse, these souls confuse treachery for peace.

The rhetoric of fundamentalist Muslims to make their Islam look like the peaceful answer to life’s problems was exposed the moment they committed atrocities against humanity. That Islam butchered defenseless civilians. That Islam murdered children.

That Islam has rendered the claims of Islamic da’wah devoid of credibility or intelligibility. That Islam has been morally exposed and been found guilty.

This brand of demonic religion from the mind of a demon was exposed to the world by cowardly Islamic terrorists who acted under the inspiration of their love of Islam. They found inspiration reciting their Qur’an. They found solace for their deeds by following the Sunnah of their brand of Islam.

No longer does the world need to respond to this Islam. All that is left is to expose this Islam for the utter degradation that it is. Muslims inspired by this Islam need not respond. You have given up the moral right to be heard until you condemn this Islam.

More is better (Islam)

One of the "proofs" Muslims offer for the rightness or superiority of Islam over other religions is that Islam is the fastest growing religion in some parts of the world. The structure of the argument is as follows:

Claim: Islam is superior to all other religions

Support: Islam is the fastest growing religion

Warrant/Assumption: The fastest growing religion is the superior religion

The warrant or assumption in this argument is arguable and really needs backing (the term for arguments in support of the warrant). Clearly, Muslims need to respond to the question, "Why do you believe that the fastest growing religion is the superior religion?" The answer is not obvious and necessitates a well-developed argument. I have never received such an argument from a Muslim, but I invite them to produce just that. In the meantime, let me offer several reasons for doubting the warrant.

1. McDonalds, the fast-food chain, has grown rapidly. Nearly every little town has at least one set of golden arches. Granted, there is no accounting for taste; however, few individuals would confuse McDonald’s rapid growth with culinary superiority. McDonald’s has spread so rapidly because it is cheap, fast, entertaining to children, and the food, while bad and allegedly unhealthy, isn’t awful. Perhaps the same could be said for Islam.

2. When viruses spread in a host, they often initially spread very quickly and then frequently mutate to a less virulent strain. Does this indicate the superiority of a virus over the host? Yes, but merely in terms of rapid growth and adaptability. Would we, however, want to claim that the virus is ethically, spiritually, or intellectually superior to the host? This is patently absurd. The most it shows is that the virus grows well in a particular kind of host.

3. Western culture and capitalism have spread throughout the Islamic world. Does that mean that Western culture is, therefore, superior to Islamic culture? Western television, technology, music, movies, etc., are nearly ubiquitous in the Islamic world. Islamic cultures were colonized by Western cultures. Using the Muslim argument, Western culture, and capitalism must be superior to the culture designed by Allah!

I could produce countless such demonstrations of how ridiculous it is to claim that rapid growth logically implies superiority.

Islam may be spreading everywhere, but so is McDonald’s, and so is AIDS! Islam, McDonald’s, and AIDS—does this prove that more is better?

Some might complain this was comparing apples and oranges, and in the category of religions, the highest growth rate still implies truth and superiority.

In this case, a more relevant counterexample is that there are several other religions within the United States that have grown more than Islam has grown in the past 10 years. During the period from 1991-2001 (according to the World Almanac) the Muslim population in the US held its own at approximately six million. However, the Jehovah Witnesses grew by 26% in that time period, the Unitarians grew by 20%, and the Mormons grew by 18%. Would Muslims have us believe that within the United States the Jehovah Witness, Unitarian, and Mormon religions are the true faiths over Islam? If the Muslims are true to form, they will respond that you can’t believe the statistics produced by the Zionist controlled World Almanac. The "Christian-Zionist" conspiracy theory is frequently invoked when the numbers don’t support their claim. Oh, well...

The Science of Hadith or the Anthropology of Hadith (Islam)

A hadith is described in terms of its matn (content) and isnad (chain of transmission). Supposedly, there is a science for both. Let’s look very briefly at the purported science of isnad.

Muslims love to claim that a sound hadith is reliable in large part because of an unbroken chain of reliable transmitters. They take great pride in the "fact" that the compilers of the hadith scrutinized the moral character of the transmitters and thus contemporary Muslims can rest assured that no additions or deletions to or from the words or actions of Muhammad have invaded the hadith corpus.

Muslims assume that if the transmitters of the hadith have good character that this to a large degree guarantees that the content of their testimony is reliable (assuming the content in no way contradicts the Qur’an.)

There are some major logical problems with the Muslim assumptions and the "science" of hadith.

1. An unbroken, sound chain of good characters does not guarantee truth. The content of a hadith is true if and only if the content corresponds to reality. Whether the content corresponds to reality is unrelated to an isnad. The most a sound isnad guarantees is the minimization of the possibility that something was added or deleted from the original report. However, if the original report is defective, then we get an unbroken line of transmitters of a lie, a distortion, a hallucination, false consciousness, etc.

2. The original observer of Muhammad’s words or actions had to interpret those words/actions. Thus rather than a hadith being a description of an event/person, the content is an inference about, an interpretation of, the meaning of a description. No hadith is a description; every hadith is an inference or an interpretation. The good character of the original observer does not guarantee the reliability of his/her interpretation. Those individuals with good character were subject to superstition, cultural bias, ignorance, etc. What has been transmitted is valuable as a look into the mind of individuals in that culture at that time. That is fascinating indeed, as anthropology. It just doesn’t guarantee truth.

3. One might claim that the isnad of most hadith is more of a cable than a chain. There are multiple lines of transmission rather than a single, unbroken chain of transmission. For rhetorical purposes, let’s grant that the isnad is more a cable than a chain. Now all that Muslims have are multiple lines subject to the same problems of cultural bias, superstition, and ignorance. Most people from similar cultural backgrounds interpret events in similar ways.

So….we have Muslims who dip both wings of a fly into their soup, scrape their teeth with a tree twig, break their fast with an odd number of dates, refrain from breathing into their glass of water, stay up late praying during the last few nights of Ramadan to get a crack at the Night of Power, and otherwise keep themselves busy with minutiae and all because of some inference or interpretation of an event that has been handed down via very fallible individuals with all their deficiencies. Wow!

Reminds me of the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was kept busy pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again. Unfortunately, the activity got him nowhere and it had absolutely no meaning. Muslims following hadith, so sad!

Are Divinity and Humanity Irreconcilable? (Islam)

A Muslim once said, "Just as the ocean cannot be contained in a tea cup, the infinite God cannot be contained in the finite body of a man."

This is one of the basic assumptions of Muslims used to "refute" the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. More philosophically, the assumption can be stated as, "If the content of a proposition is apparently logically contradictory, then the reality denoted by that content is ontologically/metaphysically impossible."

Like most Islamic arguments about things Christian, the Islamic assumption sounds good on the surface, but only so long as one stays on the surface. Just a little digging and the fallacious thinking is patent. Just a little digging revealed the following about this Islamic assumption:

1. Modal terms such as "possible," or "impossible," apply to propositions only, not to beings. This was the gist of Kant’s refutation of Anselm’s ontological argument in the Proslogion. Thus, it makes no sense to say that the bodily finite Jesus is the infinite God is impossible. Jesus is not merely a proposition; and God is not merely a proposition.

2. The logical and the ontological realms are discrete. Muslims fail to demonstrate that the one realm must necessarily operate under the same rules as the other.

3. Since Muslims apparently believe in a God who is all-powerful, why do they attempt to constrain that God by logical rules that apply to propositions only? Is God merely a proposition, or is God bound by those logical rules? Of course, a Muslim could claim that Allah bound Allah’s self by those logical rules. Where is the proof for this claim?

4. In the hadith qudsi it says, "Our Lord (glorified and exalted be He) descends each night to the earth’s sky when there remains the final third of the night… [Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Malik, at-Tirmidhi, and Abu Dawud]. To descend is a movement through space. Only a physical entity can move through space. Thus, even the hadith has a non-physical God act in physical ways. Sounds contradictory or impossible to me. Guess Muslims believe that the infinite Allah can act in finitely physical ways only under certain circumstances. God can enter space and time, but not flesh. God can do some impossible things, but not others. Do I have that right? Sounds arbitrary to me.

Why do I have the feeling that Muslims will respond by saying that some language is metaphorical and other language is not. When we say that Allah descends that is metaphorical. In addition, how do we know that? Well, it is obvious, Muslims have decided that Allah can only act in the ways Muslims have decided that Allah can act. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a Salafiyyah Muslim who said that Allah has an arm, eyes, foot, and a throne (I hope I have those parts correct). When I asked whether the arm and the throne were physical, his response was, "I only know what the Qur’an says. I know there is a throne, but I don’t know whether it is a physical throne or not." I did not say it, but I was wondering what a non-physical throne would be, an imaginative throne (one that is not there; Allah is sitting on a throne that is not there), a spiritual throne (and how does a spiritual throne differ from a physical throne?) Wouldn’t Muslims find life much more logical if they granted that Allah could do whatever Allah wills to do, even if that will looks to us like a contradiction or a breaking of the rules of metaphysics?

The Qur'an, Bible and the Vedas (Islam)

The Qur'an argues in various passages that it is from God BECAUSE it is in harmony with the earlier scriptures. It calls the Jews and Christians to believe in the Qur'an BECAUSE it says the same thing as the earlier prophets. This is a proper scriptural principle. It is the same as in the Bible; later prophets are to be judged based on the already established revelation. You cannot judge the former by the latter.

Muslim response: This is silly. So as a Christian, you would never think of using the Bible to judge the truth of the Vedas.

This comparison has nothing to do with the issue. The Bible at no point claims harmony with the Vedas. It does not say it is a successor of the Vedas or that it comes from the same source as the Vedas. The Qur'an on the other hand says that it comes from the same source as the revelations to Moses, David, Jesus etc. i.e. the prophets sent to the children of Israel. The Qur'an appeals to them to believe its message “because” it is in the same tradition and in harmony in its message. That is the reason Muhammad expects to be believed. Therefore, there is all reason to measure the Qur'an by its own claim.

No claim connects the Vedas with the Bible.

However, this is very much a claim of the Qur'an and based on this claim and the fact of irreconcilable contradictions between the Qur'an and the Judea-Christian scriptures, the Qur'an fails its own test for divine origin.

Surat-ul Maida (5):49-50 exhorts the Christians: And in their footsteps, we sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein is guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: guidance and an admonition to those who fear God.

Let the People of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed therein.

In addition, by doing exactly that, one would have to reject the Qur’an, reason being Qur’an contradicts the Gospel.

The "Incarnation Fallacy" (Islam)

Christians believe that Jesus is God who became man.

The usual Muslim approach is to point to a number of New Testament verses, which clearly show that Jesus is a man. Then to conclude: Therefore, he is not God.

However, obviously this argument misses the boat. Christians do believe that Jesus is a man. Therefore, the Muslim has not shown them anything new. The issue is the selective reading of the Bible by the Muslim. Obviously, the Christian understanding is the result of observing in their scriptures that Jesus is described with both human and divine attributes. Telling Christians about the human ones does in no way obliterate the divine attributes. The claims to deity by Jesus are the verses the Muslim needs to deal with, not those attesting to Jesus' humanity.

This example is the most prominent in this category, which is the reason that I chose it to give this fallacy a name.

However, it is the same fallacy when arguing about the Trinity. Christians do not believe that God is three in one. However, God is ONE. Every Christian will affirm this and defend this. If the Muslim shows Biblical verses that clearly state that God is one, then they have affirmed not contradicted the Christians. The evidence Muslims needs to deal with is those verses that show the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The step from "God is one" to "therefore he is not three in one" is the logical fallacy.

After establishing that there is only one God, do we still have to ask what kind of God is it. A Unitarian or a Trinitarian God?

Preservation and the truth (Islam)

Often times my question "How do you know the Qur'an is from God?" is met by Muslims with a response like this: No disrespect intended but I really do not see how you can make a stronger claim for the Bible to be a book of God. ... On the other hand, there is no debate or doubt as to whether the Qur'an that we have today is the same as was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (or if there is it is minimal). The whole tradition in which the Qur'an was compiled as compared to the Bible would make it a more accurate historical/religious text.

This obviously completely misses the mark and does not answer at all the question I posed. It confuses the following two questions:

1. Is the text of the Qur'an accurately preserved?

2. Is the Qur'an true? Is the Qur'an from God?

In addition, those two questions are logically independent. The answer to the first question will tell me nothing about the answer to the second question. Let me illustrate this with an example.

There is a movement that is denying that the Holocaust [the murder of 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany] has ever happened. Those people write books and distribute them. Those books are available in libraries, for example, the library of congress, the British Library, and other libraries, which stock basically all books ever published.

In 200 years, [if judgment day has not come by then] these books will still be the same. They will still be accurately preserved. However, obviously their content will be just as wrong as when it was first written and accurate preservation does not make it any truer.

If the Qur'an was not originally from God, then all the most accurate preservation will not make it into the word of God. That is what my question was about. How do we know that the Qur'an was from God in the first place?

The preservation question will never answer the truth question.

To extend the illustration, let us look at the normal process about most university textbooks that go through several editions. The first edition might still have some inaccuracies; it is not dealing exhaustively with some topics, which should be included. Nevertheless, it is a successful textbook. Soon a reprint is necessary. There is no time to change all that should be changed. However, the author makes sure that the so far discovered misprints are corrected. For the next print run, he reworks some of the topics where inaccuracies have been found and corrects mistakes of content as well as further misprints that were pointed out to him. For the third print a major overhaul is done, a new chapter on a topic so far omitted is added, more inaccuracies are corrected as well as more of the misprints reported up to date.

In the first illustration, we have seen that completely accurate preservation does not not imply truth. In this illustration, we see that change of the text can actually improve truth and make something true, which was wrong before.

Both examples together should make it completely clear that the issue of preservation will never give us an answer to the question whether the content of the book is true.

To add a last thought, if a book is totally true in the beginning is then through many stages of copying by hand has undergone slight changes because it is impossible not to make mistakes when copying by hand, but apart from these scribal errors it is basically the same as the original, then obviously this book will still be true.

Preservation questions are important, but they will never answer the question of truth. For both the Bible and the Qur'an we can show that there are textual variations as they come with any book that is copied by hand for centuries. For both the Bible and the Qur'an we can show that they are essentially the same today as they were in the second and 8th century respectively. We can indeed have the confidence that both texts accurately represent what was the original.

The Completely Human Way of Life (Islam)

One of the most common claims Muslims make about Islam is that it is a complete way of life. Of course, the assumption behind this is that as a complete way of life Islam is superior to all other religions because those religions do not prescribe and describe a complete way of life. Of course, one could respond to this claim by showing that Islam indeed fails to be complete in a number of ways; however, I think the trouble with this approach is that it fails to question the problematical assumption, namely, that a complete way of life is a superior way of life, or worse, a complete way of life is a divinely inspired way of life. This short article attempts to show that what Muslims set forth as an unarguable assumption is actually highly debatable.

Assumption 1: If a way of life is complete, then it is divinely inspired.

This assumption holds that being a complete way of life is a sufficient condition for something to be divinely inspired. Consider the following arguments demonstrating that this assumption is fallacious.

Argument 1: Schizophrenics can have a comprehensive delusional web of beliefs and practices (a way of life), but surely no one would want to claim that a schizophrenic way of life is divinely inspired. Comprehensiveness or completeness is not synonymous with being divinely inspired. Being a complete way of life is not a sufficient condition for being divinely inspired.

Argument 2: One could out of sheer academic interest look at every aspect of life covered by Islam. Then one could develop alternative forms for each aspect and thereby have a theoretically complete way of life (assuming that Islam is indeed a complete way of life). However, the alternative way of life, although complete, would obviously be a humanly inspired way of life. Again, being a complete way of life is not a sufficient condition for being divinely inspired.

Assumption 2: The very concept of divine inspiration includes the concept of being a complete way of life.

This assumption holds that the concept of divine inspiration logically entails, or analytically includes, the concept of being a complete way of life. Consider the following argument against this assumption.

Argument 3: If "complete" means "having all the necessary components to function," then one could quite justifiably claim that their car is complete but it is certainly not divinely inspired—despite what auto manufacturers may claim. Only if one really means by complete way of life that it is a perfect way of life (whatever that may mean) would the possibility of divine inspiration arise since one might argue that a perfect entity could arise only from the divine. I encourage Muslims to develop this approach since it might prove more profitable for them than trying to squeeze the mark of divine inspiration out of completeness. The point here, however, is that it is clear that completeness does not logically entail or include divine inspiration by definition.

Assumption 3: If a way of life is not complete, then it is not divinely inspired.

This assumption holds that being a complete way of life is not a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary condition, for it to be divinely inspired. Consider the following argument demonstrating how this assumption too is fallacious.

Argument 4: Assumption 3 holds that the qualities of the divine must be in whatever the divine creates. It holds that since the divine is complete, the way of life established by the divine must be complete. This is absurd! Everything created by the divine is contingent, i.e., dependent and incomplete. Assuming Allah established Islam as a way of life, then that way of life would of necessity be incomplete. Only the way of life of Allah (as lived or experienced by Allah) would be complete in a divine sense - having the mark of divinity. Surely, Muslims would not assert that life in the Islamic state mirrors Allah’s life in heaven. This would have shirk be a condition for tawhid…interesting indeed!

The bottom line is that completeness is not synonymous with divine inspiration! If Islam is a complete way of life, there is no proof that God had anything to do with it at all!

Of Truth (Universal)

WHAT is truth? said jesting Pilate,and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men’s thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural, though corrupt love, of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie’s sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?

One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum, because it fireth the imagination; and yet, it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men’s depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last, was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. First he breathed light, upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light, into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light, into the face of his chosen. The poet, that beautified the sect, that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.

To pass from theological, and philosophical truth, to the truth of civil business; it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear, and round dealing, is the honor of man’s nature; and that mixture of falsehoods, is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding, and crooked courses, are the goings of the serpent; which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice, that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood, and breach of faith, cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal, to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men; it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.

Francis Bacon