Monday, December 28, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Slave Trading

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could trade the Jewish wives and daughters of the men he had just beheaded for weapons and horses, and be a prophet of God."

Following Ibn Ishaq's description of Muhammad's beheading 600-900 Jewish men in Medina and dividing up their children, women, and property among the Muslims, discussed here, the Islamic historian continued as follows, "Then the Apostle sent Sa'd bin Zayd al-Ansari, brother of Abdel Ashhal, with some of the captive Jewish women of the tribe of Beni Qurayza to Najd, and he sold them for weapons and horses."

I would guess that 95 percent of Western Muslims would accuse anyone who described Muhammad as a slave trader as being a liar. Arabic Muslims in the Middle East, who know their own history much better than Westerners, do not deny but justify it.

How many captive Jewish women were taken as slaves to Najd and sold for weapons and horses? History does not record the number, but analysis can give a fair idea. Families were large in those days, so imagine that the average family contained six people, half of whom were female. As many as 900 males were beheaded, so easily 5,000 women and children could have remained. Muhammad's share of the booty was twenty percent, so 1,000 women and children could have been his. The others were divided among all of his followers, with the result that each Muslim received only a few slaves. Muhammad could not possibly utilize 1000 female slaves, so it is very likely that his own captives were the ones sent hundreds of miles across the desert to be traded for weapons and horses.

This is not an unreasonable number, because Ibn Ishaq elsewhere describes very large numbers of slaves captured and held by Muhammad. Following the capture of Taif, in which Muhammad's warriors for the first time used the catapult and a movable protective covering known as the testudo, the author notes that Muhammad held "six thousand women and children, and sheep and camels innumerable which had been captured from them". The women and children were returned to their husbands only after they accepted Islam. It is incredulous to imagine that these conversions, proclaimed to the man who had just captured their city, killed their peers, appropriated their property, stolen their livestock, and taken captive their wives and children, were motivated by true faith in Muhammad and Allah, but Muslims seem to have no trouble reaching that conclusion.

In the final analysis, of course, it makes do difference if the number of women and children sold was ten or ten thousand. I cannot believe that any understanding of the Golden Rule, which is treating others as you would want them to treat you, would justify selling even one person, much less a much larger number, for weapons and horses, and I cannot believe that a man who would do this could be a prophet of God.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and the Jews of Medina

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could behead 800 Jewish men who had lived in his city for centuries for the simple reason they refused to accept him as their leader, and be a prophet of God."

Few people realize that Medina in Saudi Arabia once had a majority Jewish population, just as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv do today. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, which I've had the opportunity to visit and tours of which are often included in the itinerary of visiting Heads of State, does not even mention the word Jew in discussing the history of Medina before or after Muhammad's immigration there in 623 AD. In keeping with the Muslim practice of considering all pre-Islamic history as that of jahiliya or ignorance, hundreds of years of Jewish history in Medina were wiped out as completely as the history of 1500 years of Buddhism in Afghanistan. The Quran states in numerous verses including 3:85 that no other religion than Islam is accepted by Allah, and Muslim conquerors had no interest in preserving the cursed religious history and documentation of those they conquered.

The result of this is that only scattered historical fragments remain of the Jewish presence in Medina. The first Jews may have arrived in the area after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jews from Jerusalem in 586 BC. Successive colonies probably arrived after the Roman Emperor Pompey's attack upon Judea in 64 BC, the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD, and again following Hadrian's persecution of the Jews 70 years later. They developed prosperous settlements in the area later known as Medina, and were skilled farmers, merchants, and gold smiths. Two of their three main tribes traced their ancestry back to Aaron, brother of Moses, and their Rabbis and sacred scriptures kept their Jewish identify alive. Muhammad's own grandfather, Abdel-Mutalib, was sent as a young boy to learn religion from the Rabbis, and Muhammad himself referred to them as People of the Book in distinguishing them from their illiterate and uneducated Arab neighbors. These Arab tribes began to arrive in the region from Yemen in the two centuries before Muhammad, and would often raid and attack the Jews. In response the Jews would claim that a Prophet was coming among them who would help them gain revenge against their enemies, and this is what caused the first Arabs from Medina to become Muslims.

Islamic historian Ibn Ishaq describes it as follows: At the annual fair at Aqaba outside of Mecca, the Prophet met a number of the Khazraj tribe from Medina. They lived side by side with the Jews, who were people of the Scriptures and knowledge, while they themselves were polytheists and idolaters. They had often raided the Jews in their districts, and whenever bad feeling arose the Jews would tell them that a Prophet was coming and that when he came he would kill them all. When they heard Muhammad's message, the Khazraj said, "This is the prophet of whom the Jews warned us! Let's get to him before they do!" They then accepted his teaching and became Muslims.

Soon after, these same people invited Muhammad to come to Medina. He did so with the expectation that the Jews there would also accept him as a Prophet. When they did not he expelled the first two tribes and then beheaded 600-900 men of the final tribe in one day. The only males who escaped were young boys who showed no evidence of pubic hair. The Jewish women, children, and property were divided among the Muslims with Muhammad himself taking twenty percent.

At this link, I have described in more detail the politically-motivated conversion of the first converts from Medina. At Muhammad and the Jews, Parts One, Two, and Three, I have described in more detail Muhammad's dealings with the Jews in Medina. Muslims go to great lengths to justify this treatment, but the simple fact is they were exiled and slaughtered simply for refusing to accept him as a Prophet.

At this link is a very graphic video of a Muslim beheading a man in the name of Allah. It is amazing to me that any Muslim could watch this video, and then imagine Muhammad and his companions repeating this slaughter 900 times and throwing the heads of their victims into the trenches they had dug for them, and still revere Muhammad is a prophet of God. I cannot. I cannot believe that a man who would treat the Jews of Medina as Muhammad did for not accepting him as a Prophet could possibly be a Prophet from God.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Empire Building

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could call other men to follow him, and then watch them die one after the other in the battles he instigated to build his empire while giving them promises of the sensual Paradise that awaited them, and be a prophet of God."

The knowledge many Muslims have of Muhammad begins with his first claimed revelation in the cave of Hira when he was about 40 years old, but a better understanding of his personality and motivation comes with a study of his family's history beginning five generations earlier when his ancestor Qusay married the daughter of the Quraysh tribal leader and purchased the keys of the Kaaba for a flagon of wine and a camel. The Kaaba housed the tribal gods of many local tribes, and was a source of revenue as worshippers offered donations to visit the buidling and pray to their idols.

Qusay's leadership of the Quraysh and control of the Kaaba passed through the succeeding generations of Abdel-Manaf and Abu-Hashim. Abu-Hashim, who was Muhammad's great-grandfather, married a woman from Medina and sent their son Abdel-Mutalib to Medina specifically to learn horsemanship and religion from the Jewish rabbis who lived there. As a result of his time with the rabbis and his study of Jewish history, Abdel-Mutalib learned two principles that he in turned passed on to his young grandson Muhammad. First was a belief in monotheism, and second was the concept of the prophet-king exhibited by King David and other ancient Jewish rulers. To control both the religious and secular life of his subjects, a leader needed to be first accepted as a prophet and then as a king. Although Muhammad was only 8 years old when Abdel-Mutalib died, there are several Hadiths that indicate that Abdel-Mutalib preferred his young grandson even above his own ten sons, and recognized the potential of leadership in the young Muhammad.

The power and influence of the Beni Hashim had greatly decreased in the four generations between Abu-Hashim and Muhammad, and the young orphaned Muhammad only had memories passed through oral tradition of his family's past leadership in Mecca. At the same time, other Arab tribes throughout Arabia and Yemen were successfully forming unions and kingdoms (I have discussed this at this link). The year before Muhammad's first revelation, there was an unprecedented Arab victory over the Persians at Dhi Qar in present day Iraq, and about the same time a Yemeni tribe forced the Ethiopians from their territory in southern Yemen. It became apparent to Muhammad that a united Quraysh tribe could form a political entity that would challenge the surrounding kingdoms. It was for this reason that Muhammad promised his first converts in Mecca that if they followed him, the treasures of the Roman and Persian Emperors would be theirs.

Muhammad spent the first thirteen years of his career trying to find a tribe that would accept him, in the tradition of King David, as first a prophet and then a king. When the Quraysh refused, Muhammad approached tribes in nearby cities such as Taif and at annual tribal gatherings to urge them to accept him as their leader. He was finally successful when Abbas Ibn Ubada and some others from Medina accepted his leadership hoping it would give them an advantage over local Jewish tribes with whom they existed in enmity. When Abbas Ibn Ubada asked Muhammad what they would get for following him, Muhammad answered with one word, "Paradise."

Historian Ibn Ishaq in great detail gives the names of many of Muhammad's early followers, both from Mecca and later in Medina. He also carefully lists the names of those who died in Muhammad's battles at Badr, Uhud, and many other battlegrounds throughout Arabia and extending to Syria. Many of Muhammad's first converts, including his son Zayd, were dead within a few years.

Muslim and Muslim apologists defend these battles as defensive and necessary for the survival of the Muslim community, but it is impossible to read them carefully in the words of Islam's early historians and conclude they were in any way defensive.

Umayyah ibn Abu Salt, a contemporary of Muhammad whose poetry was both admired and copied by Muhammad into the Quran, never accepted Islam. While passing a graveyard where the Muslim victims of the battle of Badr were buried, Umayyah said according to the Hadith, "I cannot believe that a man who leads his own tribal members to death can be a prophet of God."

I agree. I don't believe that Muhammad was necessarily any better or worse than an innumerable number of other warlords, political leaders, or empire builders who have lived after him or who are alive today. But I don't accept them as prophets. I find it impossible to believe that a man who would lead his followers to battle and death as Muhammad did, while offering them promises of the Paradise awating them, could be a Prophet of God.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Mary the Copt

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could lie to his wife to get her out of the house so that he could sleep with the slave girl he had given her as a gift, and be a prophet of God."

I have noticed that the notes and commentary contained in English translations of the Quran intended for Western audiences are much different than explanatory notes found in Arabic editions of the Quran intended for readers in the Middle East. One notable example is the explanation given to surah 66 of the Quran, entitled Prohibition, which I discussed in a related posting here. This is the chapter in which Muhammad responds to a marital conflict (which in itself is an interesting phrase; "marital conflict" usually refers to a disagreement between a man and his wife - what do you call it when it is a man at disaccord with a dozen wives?) by reminding his wives that if he divorced them all, Allah would probably give him a better set the second time around.

The cause of this conflict is what I find interesting. English translations of Prohibition quote a Hadith in which Aisha explained that Muhammad stayed overtime one day with wife number six Zainab because she had some honey he really liked. Aisha, Hafsah, and the other wives, who were jealous about the amount of time he spent with Zainab, agreed among themselves that when the prophet came to them they would claim the honey had given him bad breath. When they did this, Muhammad promised he would never eat honey again. That night, however, Allah came to his rescue with surah 66, releasing him of his promise to not eat honey and adding the threat that these complaining wives could easily be replaced with some who were better.

It's really quite a silly story, but accepted as truth by millions of non-Arabic speaking Muslims who know little of their own history and have never read the original accounts of Muhammad's life written by the first historians. The actual account, as written by historian Ibn Sa'd and noted in Arabic renditions of the Quran, is quite different. It has a lot to do with sex, deception, lies and threats, and nothing at all to do with honey.

As Muhammad's armies succeeded in one raid after another against the Arab tribes of Arabia, he was finally able to put into plan the dream he had harbored since the first days of announcing his Prophethood. One of his initial messages to his early converts was that if they followed him, the treasures of the Roman and Sassanid Empires would be theirs. When Muhammad reached the point of being able to put his plan of expansion into action, he began writing letters to the leaders of neighboring countries giving them the choice of either accepting Islam or preparing for invasion.

Muhammad's letter to the Roman ruler in Egypt, known as Muqawqas, contained the following, "I invite you to accept Islam if you want security. If you refuse to do so, you will bear the burden of the transgressions of all the Coptic Christians." Since the Quran had already stated in 5:72 that all who believed Jesus was the Son of God were kafirs or infidels, the transgressions of millions of Christian Copts over 600 years would have been quite high.

In his response to Muhammad, Muqawqas diplomatically declined the offer to accept Islam, and informed the Prophet he was sending him as a gift two young girls who came from noble Coptic families (incidentally, Muqawqas paid dearly for his refusal to accept Islam; within a dozen years Muslim armies had invaded and conquered Egypt). Muhammad was smitten with the black hair and fair skin of one of them, Mary, and gave her as a slave to one of his wives, Hafsah.

Historian Ibn Sa'd relates the rest of the story. Muhammad went to Hafsah's room one day and was again overwhelmed with the beauty of Mary the Copt. He informed Hafsah that her father, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, wanted to see her and Hafsah left for his house. After she arrived there and realized that Muhammad had lied to her, Hafsah returned to her room to find the door locked. When the door was opened, it was apparent that her husband had just had sex with her slave. Muhammad responded to her anger by promising her he would never do this again, but warned her not to repeat the story to any of his other wives. In disobedience to Muhammad, Hafsah informed Aisha of the incident. Muhammad found out and very quickly received the surah of Prohibition, which not only absolved him of his promise to not again sleep with Mary but also threatened all of his wives with divorce if they did not shape up.

Muslims have no problem with this story from the life of their Prophet, seeing nothing in his behavior to shake their belief in him as the perfect man. I see it differently. I cannot believe that a man could treat Hafsah and Mary the way Muhammad did and be a prophet of God.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Zainab

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could encourage his own son to divorce his wife so that he, the father, could marry her, and be a prophet of God.

There is perhaps no incident in the life of Muhammad that more clearly demonstrates the difference between the way Muslims and non-Muslims think than in the events surrounding Muhammad's marriage to his cousin, daughter-in-law, and sixth wife Zainab.

The story as recounted by historian al-Tabari in his book The History of Peoples and Kings and other early Muslim historians is quite straightforward. A boy named Zayd was captured in an Arab intertribal war and given as a slave to Muhammad's first wife Khadijah. After Muhammad married Khadijah they adopted Zayd and he became known as Zayd Ibn Muhammad, Zayd the son of Muhammad. Zayd's father eventually found him and wanted to take him to his original home, but Zayd preferred to stay with Muhammad and Khadijah. Zayd, along with Khadijah, was one of the first converts to Islam. He married a woman and had children with her, but divorced her and upon Muhammad's advice married Zainab, who was the daughter of Muhammad's aunt and thus his first cousin.

Zainab was not happy about marrying Zayd, and the union was not a happy one. Islamic commentators have speculated that she, coming from one of the leading families of the Quraysh tribe, thought it was beneath her dignity to marry a freed slave.

Zayd and Zainab were among the Meccan immigrants who went to Medina with Muhammad. One day Muhammad went to Zayd's house to speak to him, but Zayd was not at home. The wind blew a curtain aside and Muhammad saw Zainab "hasirah" or "uncovered". She quickly dressed and invited Muhammad into the house, saying to him, "Come in, Oh Prophet of God, for you are as my father and my mother to me." This was in keeping with Arabic tribal tradition, where a daughter-in-law was regarded by the parents of her husband as their own daughter.

Muhammad was flustered by having seen Zainab undressed to the point that it was apparent to her. He refused to enter the house, mumbled something unclear under his breath, and then rushed away repeating, "Praise God who changes the hearts of men. Praise God who changes the hearts of men."

Zainab told her husband of the incident when he arrived home. Zaid realized his father had been affected by seeing Zainab undressed and immediately went to Muhammad to ask if he should divorce Zainab so that he could marry her. Muhammad initially refused and told Zayd to remain with her. A short time later, however, Muhammad informed his wife Aisha, who was now about 14,that someone should be sent to Zainab with the good news that she was about to marry the Prophet. Aisha was fearful about the union, since Zainab was known for her beauty even though at 39 she was 25 years older than Aisha, but Muhammad was not one to put the concerns of his wife above the commands of Allah. Muhammad married Zainab, freeing Zayd to become a commander in Muhammad's army. A few years later he was killed in Muhammad's first raid against non-Arabs, the Byzantine army at the Battle of Mutah.

A Muslim might object to my description of Zayd as Muhammad's son and Muhammad as his father by saying, "He was not Muhammad's son, he was only an adopted son." Comedian and religious critic Bill Maher says that when Biblical-literalist Christians are confronted with the story of Jonah and the whale their first response is, "It wasn't a whale, it was a big fish!" In reality, there is no difference. Friends of mine who have adopted children see no difference between the adopted children and their natural offspring. They love and treat them both the same.

A Muslim believes that the Quran is the perfect book, and Muhammad is the perfect man. The starting point in any Muslim's thinking, whether an uneducated villager or a world-renowned scholar, is what the Quran says. In the case of Muhammad and Zainab, there is an entire string of verses that not only allowed but practically forced Muhammad to marry his daughter-in-law. Zayd is the only "sahaba", whose who emigrated from Mecca to Medinah with Muhammad, whose name is mentioned in the Quran, and Zainab is the only woman concerning whom Muhammad received a direct order from Allah to marry.

Although Muhammad (or Allah, as a Muslim would say) in Quran 4:3 limited the number of wives for Muslim men at four, he himself received a special dispensation that gave him sexual and marital access to an unlimited number of women. A Quranic verse amazing to the sceptic, 33:50, says, "Oh Prophet, we have allowed for you the wives for which you paid a dowry, the slaves given you by Allah (including women taken as prisoners of war in Muhammad's many raids), your first cousins who emigrated from Mecca (including Zainab), and any believing woman who offers herself to you and with whom you wish to have sex." Here as in many cases, the individual who is able to read the Quran in Arabic has a great advantage over the person who is forced to rely on translations that deliberately tone down the blunt meaning of the original. The Arabic word used for "to have sex", istankah, means exactly that. The English translation "whom the Prophet wishes to marry" does not appear at all in the original.

The next relevant verse, Quran 4:23, in a long list of women that Muslim men were not allowed to marry, includes "the wives of your biological sons".

In respect to Zainab, the Quran had thus far taken care of the problem of her being Muhammad's daughter-in-law (Zayd was not his biological son), her being his paternal first cousin (those were allowed to him), and her becoming wife number six (he could have as many as he wanted). The only thing left was the socially sticky matter of her being the wife of his adopted son. In one fell swoop, the Quran dealt with that by declaring that adoption was no longer legal. Quran 33:4,5 states that just as no man has two hearts and no man has two mothers, so no man can have both natural and adopted sons. Those who had been adopted previous to this verse were to revert to the names of their biological fathers. In the case of Zayd, he was no longer known as Zayd bin Muhammad; he was henceforth called Zayd bin Harith.

Having removed all the roadblocks, the Quran now delivered its coup de gras. God next commanded Muhammad to marry Zainab. Quran 33:37 informed Muhammad that Allah had given him the wife of Zayd, and that Allah's command must be obeyed. Within a few days, Zainab was in Muhammad's bed.

An interesting sideline to the story is that Aisha's fears about Zainab proved true. Zainab never tired of reminding Muhammad's other wives that she was the only one God had commanded the prophet to marry.

The non-Muslim is not bound to limit his or her thinking to what is written in the Quran. As I analyze the story of Muhammad and Zainab, I cannot believe that a man who would do what Muhammad did with his daughter-in-law could be a prophet of God.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and His Raids

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted, "It is impossible that a man could finance his religious and political community by robbing the trade caravans that passed through his area on their annual trips between Arabia and Syria, and be a prophet of God."

One reader responded, "You have truly written a bad article and when taking information from books and sources that are clearly against the clear and peaceful message of Islam, it should be taken with a grain of salt and a lot more integrity and respect for honesty because most of what you have written is lies and your own opinion."

I have noticed that when Muslims are presented with the bare and unvarnished facts of Muhammad's life as presented in the original sources of Islam written 12 to 14 hundred years ago, they respond as people do when one of their friends or relatives has committed a violent crime. The first response is to deny that the accused could possibly have done such a thing. The next step is to challenge the motivations of the authorities; the police must have doctored the evidence or had it in for the accused. If the evidence presented is inconvertible, the final stage is to argue there must have been a justification for his action; it was an accident or done in self defense. There is no way, according to their thinking, that their loved one could simply have committed a cold-blooded crime.

There is no place this is more true in Islamic history than when looking at the raids that Muhammad began less than a year after moving to Medinah and continued for the rest of his life. One early biographer of Muhammad, Al Wakidi, simply entitled his book "Kitab al-Maghazi" - The Book of Raids. Another biographer, Ibn Hisham, began many of his chapters with titles such as "Ghazwat at-Tabuk" - the Raid against Tabuk. One Arabic writer commented that Muhammad's ten years in Medinah could be summarized in the phrase "ghazawatahu wa zawjatahu" - his raids and his wives. In the English translation of Ibn Ishaq's "Sirat Rasul Allah", The Life of the Prophet, the raids begin soon after Muhammad's arrival in Medinah on page 281 and continue uninterrupted until his final illness and death on page 678.

What is most striking about these original accounts, whether in Arabic or English translation, is that they are simply presented as historical fact with no explanation or justification. Bear with me as I quote Ibn Ishaq's description of the first raid led by Muhammad:

The apostle came to Medina on Monday at high noon during the month of First Rabiah, when he was 53 years old, and remained there for almost one year. Then he went forth raiding in Safar at the beginning of the 12th month from his coming to Medinah, and continued until he reached Waddan. The Beni Damrah there made peace with him through their leader Makhshi bin Amr al-Damri. Then he returned to Medinah without meeting war and remained there for the next two months.

A few months later Muhammad sent a commander named Abdallah to raid a camel caravan carrying dry raisins, dates, and other merchandise. Ibn Ishaq writes, "The raiders encouraged each other and decided to kill as many as they could and take what they had. Waqid shot Amr bin al-Hadrami with an arrow and killed him, and Uthman and al-Hakam surrendered. Abdallah and his companions brought the captured caravan and the two prisoners to Medinah where they gave the Apostle a fifth of the booty and divided the rest among his companions."

I wonder how Amr bin al-Hadrami felt as he looked up from the back of his camel and saw Muhammad's warriors swarming down upon him waving their swords and shouting "Allahu Akbar". Was his terror any different than that experienced by the young businesswoman on the 80th floor of the Twin Towers as the aircraft piloted by Muhammad's followers crashed into her office space on 9/11?

The non-Muslim historian is free to look at Muhammad's raids objectively, seeing in them the pattern of intimidation and conquest and source of revenue that has been part and parcel of Islamic history for 14 centuries. Muslim historians, unfortunately, do not have this luxery of freedom. Forced to think of Muhammad as the perfect leader and guide for all humanity, they are required to justify his raids in any way possible.

One can look at any number of recent books written by Muslims to see how they attempt to do this. In No God but God, Reza Aslan argues that the raids were a type of spring-time sporting activity that all the Arabian tribes engaged in. It's impossible to believe that Muhammad's first victim Amr bin al-Hadrami could have thought of the raid that cost his life as a type of spring fun.

Tariq Ramadan justifies the raids in The Footsteps of the Prophet by saying they were to take back the equivalent of the properties in Mecca that were expropriated from the Muslims who migrated to Medinah with Muhammad. In the first place, this is like saying if someone from Philadelphia stole my car, I could steal the vehicle of another Philadelphian in retaliation. I wonder how far that would get me in court! But even more serious is that Tariq's claim is without any historical documentation. It is important to understand that there are only a few extant writings of the early history of Islam. Their well-known authors include Ibn Hisham, Ibn Ishaq, Al-Wakidi, Ibn Sa'd, and al-Tabari. Apart from that, there is nothing. If what Tariq said was true, it would have been recorded by these early historians. It is easy for Tariq to claim to unknowing and gullible Westerners that the properties and belongings of the immigrants were stolen after their departure, but it is only his speculation, his attempt to justify Muhammad's raids.

In the Life of Muhammad, author Muhammad Haykal takes an even more fanciful approach. He agrues that the raids were really intended to make peace with the Quraysh and other enemies of Muhammad. The Muslims had to show themselves strong, according to Haykal, to entice the other tribes to seek peace with them.

Behind all these justifications is the claim that Muhammad's raids were somehow a form of self-defense. It is impossible to read them in the original Islamic source documents - not the apologies written by Aslan and Ramadan and others 14 centuries later - and conclude they were in any way undertaken in self-defense.

The camel caravans were the economic life-line for the Arab tribes in Muhammad's day. The goods that were bought and sold in destinations such as Damascus provided the foodstuffs and supplies that enabled the Arabs to live. It is impossible for me to see Muhammad's continual raiding of the Arab tribes for the last 10 years of his life as anything other than common highway robbery to build and enrich his own kingdom at the expense of his fellow Arabs. And it is impossible for me to believe that a man who would do this could be a prophet of God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad and Aisha

At Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, I posted,"It is impossible that a man in his mid-50's could engage in sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old child, possibly damaging her physically so that she never became pregnant, and be a prophet of God."

On reader responded as follows, "It seems that you have misinterpreted and have been misinformed a lot about the The Prophet Muhammed(pbuh). Regarding his marriage with Aisha, they were engaged when she was about 9-12 years old (Scholars opinion differ greatly) However the marriage was not consummated until she was of the age of puberty. I do not have to tell you that spanning different cultures and religions that the most appropriate age for marriage varies greatly as well. Also just as many Buddhist religions of peace may be interpreted as cults or Mormonism may seem as strict or controlling you have painted the picture that Islam is violent. I would imagine that if a person or religion were under attack that they would be able to defend themselves, you afford Islam and the Prophet Muhammad no such luxury to even be able to fight back when they are being attacked."

I've recently realized something interesting. I believe that modern Muslims writing to a Western audience deliberately misrepresent historical Islam to make it attractive to the Western mind. I would argue, as I did in "Why Aysha is Important", that Muslims in the Middle East have no cause not to believe, as they have believed for the past 14 centuries, that Aisha was telling the truth when she said in the Al-Bukhari Hadith Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64, "that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death)."

In Al-Bukhari 5:234 Aisha describes herself as a little 9-year old girl, playing on the swing in her yard, when Muhammad came for her on the wedding day. In Al-Bukhari8:151 she describes playing on the floor with her dolls and her friends in Muhammad's house after her marriage.

It is well-known that Aisha, at the age of six, had been given in engagement by her father Abu Bakr to a man named Jubayr, son of Abu Bakr's friend Mutim, before Muhammad asked for her hand. When Muhammad did so, Abu Bakr broke the engagement with Jubayr and promised Aisha to Abu Bakr's prophet Muhammad.

Fourteen centuries later, biographer Muhammad Haykal writes in "The Life of Muhammad" that Aisha was eleven whem Muhammad consumated his marriage with her. Tariq Ramadan writes in "In the Footsteps of the Prophet" that Aisha was engaged to Muhammad when she was 9, but the marriage took place "several years later". Numerous other modern writers argue that she "must have" been older than nine. There is no new evidence; it's just the realization that the older Aisha is, the easier it is to justify to a Western audience Muhammad's behavior with her.

In one sense, it doesn't matter whether Aisha was 9, 11, or even 13 when she married Muhammad. The broader and much more important question to me is, How did Muhammad honor her? How did he honor the innocence of her childhood by forcing her into a sexual relationship with him when he was at least 40 years older than she was? What freedom of choice did she really have, as a young girl living in a patriarchal society where her father would give her in engagement to first one man and then another? Muhammad always made it clear that obeying him was the same as obeying God and disobeying him was disobedience to God; what choice was left to Aisha when Muhammad told her father he wanted to marry her? How could Abu Bakr have refused the request of his Prophet? How did Muhammad honor Aisha by taking her as a wife soon after he had married another woman, Sawdah? How did he honor her by marrying numerous other women soon after her?

As a father myself, I cannot imagine giving any of my daughters to be the sexual partner of a man in his mid-50s whether they were 9 or 19. I do not accept the argument that since sexual and social mores in 8th century Arabia were different then they are today, the behavior of Muhammad was acceptable. If Muhammad were truly a prophet, he would have risen above those cultural norms. Muslims see him as the model for behavior for all time. I don't. I cannot believe that a man who would do what Muhammad did with Aisha can be a prophet of God.

Insulting Muhammad

Several readers of my recent post Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task criticized me for not providing sources for the material that I presented. One asked what I got out of "insulting the man billions look up to without any references", and another speculated I had taken my information from books and sources that "were clearly against the clear and peaceful message of Islam".

I would like to respond to these legitimate questions by presenting the authentic Islamic sources, the Quran, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad and his close associates) and the Sirah (Muhammad's original biography)for the information that was given. One reason I did not do this in the initial posting is that this information is common knowledge among Muslims of the Middle East, where I lived for 15 years. I am constantly surprised by how little Muslims in the West know of their own history. Any schoolboy in Saudi Arabia knows the story of the Jews of Khaybar, the poetess Asma bint Marwan, and the marriage of Muhammad to his daughter-in-law Zaynab. The schoolboy might interpret and justify those stories differently than I would, but he is at least aware of them. Muslims in the West are, for the most part, ignorant that they even exist.

I would also like to comment on the accusation that I "insulted" Muhammad. The common Arabic expression that is usually translated as "insulting the Prophet" is "museeat an-nabi". The noun "museeat" which literally means "to speak bad of", is derived from the verb "saah" which means "to be bad". The expression means to speak "bad" of someone, or to say something about someone that is not "good."

There is a major difference, however, between the Middle Eastern and the Western understanding of what it means to "speak bad" of someone. In the West, slander is commonly understood as saying something about someone that is not true. If Tiger Woods, for example, who has been in the news recently for alleged marital infidelity, were innocent of any transgression he could successfully sue for slander the media personnel making the accusations against him. If Tiger is guilty, however, he has no legal grounds for bringing a case against them.

The Middle East is much different. To "insult" or "slander" someone is not based on whether or not the accusation is true, but on whether or not the accused person would be pleased with what you said. A journalist in any Arab country writing the details about his President or King or Emir that were written about Tiger Woods would be thrown in prison before his ink was dry, even if what he wrote was completely true.

The same holds true about Muhammad. Muslims consider it to be "insulting the Prophet" or "speaking badly of Muhammad" to say things that Muhammad would not want said of him, whether or not the information is true. Anything said about Muhammad that Muslims do not want to hear is considered by them to be insulting him.

In the coming days I'll revisit each item mentioned in Muslims and Muhammad - the Impossible Task, and present the documentation for each one. We'll begin with number 1 - Aisha.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Muslims and Muhammad: The Impossible Task

I've reached the conclusion that Muslims face an impossible task. Simply put, their entire faith rests upon defending a man - Muhammad - who is indefensible.

Wafa Sultan expressed it best when she said, "It is impossible that a man who did the things Muhammad did could be a prophet of God."

It is impossible that a man in his mid-50's could engage in sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old child, possibly damaging her physically so that she never became pregnant, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could finance his religious and political community by robbing the trade caravans that passed through his area on their annual trips between Arabia and Syria, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could encourage his own son to divorce his wife so that he, the father, could marry her, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could lie to his wife to get her out of the house so that he could sleep with the slave girl he had given her as a gift, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could call other men to follow him, and then watch them die one after the other in the battles he instigated to build his empire while giving them promises of the sensual Paradise that awaited them, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could behead 800 Jewish men who had lived in his city for centuries for the simple reason they refused to accept him as their leader, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could trade the Jewish wives and daughters of the men he had just beheaded for weapons and horses, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could be so fearful of criticism that he would send a man at night to kill the mother of a nursing child because of the poems she had written against him, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could sentence a woman to death by having her limbs attached to camels that moved in opposite direction pulling her apart, then behead her and parade her severed head through Medina, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could torture a young Jewish tribal leader to death to obtain his money, and then "marry" his 17-year old widow the same night, and be a prophet of God.

It is impossible that a man could allow his followers to have sex with their female slaves as well as their prisoners of war, whether or not they were married, and be a prophet of God.

For the past several months on Al-Hayat TV, Father Zakariya Boutros has been discussing the dozens of stories Muhammad "stole" from the Old and New Testaments, as well as from the Midrash and other ancient Jewish documents, and inserted into the Qur'an as revelations from Allah. Zakariya makes a clear distinction between "plagarism", which is the Arabic word "iqtibas", and "theft". He points out that Muhammad did not merely copy and paste stories from these documents into the Qur'an, but essentially changed their meanings in the Qur'an to indicate that he, Muhammad, was not merely similar to but essentially superior than the individuals such as Adam, Moses, and Abraham whose stories he stole.

For the first part of his 90-minute program Zakariya presents his evidence, and then opens the lines for people to call in. His live programs do not contain the 10-second delay to block out explicit language found in American programs such as the Larry King Show, which means the listener gets to hear exactly what the caller says. More than one call has a sequence similar to this:

Moderator: Our next caller is Abdul Rahman from Bahrain. Hello, Abdul Rahman.

Caller: You bastard, you son-of-a-bitch, you son of a whore, you MF'ing infidel...

Zakariya Boutros: Thank you, may God bless you and forgive you...

Very rarely do the callers actually challenge the information presented by Zakariya, because they cannot. No-one can.

Muslims in the West tend to follow a different approach in trying to defend Muhammad. They simply present information about Muhammad in a way that ignores the reality of his actions. Reza Aslan for example, in No God but God, describes the raids led by Muhammad as a type of "spring games" engaged in by everyone of the era. Tariq Ramadan in The Footsteps of the Prophet acknowledges that Muhammad was engaged to Aisha when she was six, but then says that Muhammad married her "several years later". That sound better than saying he raped her when she was nine. Tariq also admits that Muhammad allows men to "beat their wives" in the Qur'an, but claims that Muhammad himself "never struck a woman", and is therefore a model worthy of emulation in his relationship with women. Tariq ignores the hadith where Aisha herself says that Muhammad "struck me on the chest with such force that it hurt me", when she made the mistake of following him outside the house one night.

P.S. "Rape" is a highly emotive word that is extremely offensive to Muslims when used in the context of Muhammad and some of his sexual partners, and is not used lightly. Looking at the situation objectively in a male-dominated paternalistic society where women had little freedom of choice, what other word can describe the sexual conquest of a 9-year-old child given away by her father to the man her father believed to be a Prophet from Allah? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of a 17-year-old Jewish girl, Sofiah, the same day this Prophet tortured and killed her husband? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of a young Christian slave girl, Mary the Copt, in the house of her mistress Hafsah, one of Muhammad's wives? What other word can describe the sexual conquest of female slaves and prisoners of war taken in battles instigated by this Prophet and his followers?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tariq Ramadan: In the Footsteps of the Prophet

I'm reading "In the Footsteps of the Prophet - Lessons from the Life of Muhammad", by Tariq Ramadan. As usual, one needs to read books like this very carefully, with the book in one hand and access to original accounts of the sayings and life of Muhammad (the Hadith and the Sirah) in the other. There is no other way to verify the truth or untruth, as well as the intention and the purpose, of what appears in the book.

In the case of Tariq's book, examples appear on almost every page. Here is just one from the first page of chapter 5, which is entitled "The Message and Adversity". Tariq writes, "The number of converts slowly grew as a result of the Prophet's own discreet preaching and the very determined involvement of Abu Bakr, who was always ready to speak about the new faith and take action for its sake: he would buy slaves from their masters and set them free in the name of Islam's principles stressing the equality of all human beings."

To the university professor and her students, the newspaper journalist and his readers, the TV reporters and their viewers, government officials and all those who voted them into power, military commanders and their soldiers, and all regular Joe Six-Pack and Judy Soccer-Mom Americans, statements like these seem so impressive. No wonder Paul Donnelly described Tariq Ramadan as "a Muslim Martin Luther" in the Washington Post, according to the cover jacket of Tariq's book. No wonder millions of Americans believe these "facts" must be true - Muhammad really was against slavery, and his followers set slaves free in the name of Islamic principles that stress human equality.

The only way to verify the information given is to examine the original Islamic sources. As is often the case, they show another side of the story.

It is true that many of Muhammad's first followers in Mecca, the early converts to Islam, were Meccan slaves. But did they follow him because of his message of love and justice, or was their another reason? Sayyid al-Qimni, in his Arabic book "Islamiyat", writes that Muhammad's message was attractive to slaves because he promised them that following him would make them rich. There were at the time two great empires in the region, the Byzantine Roman Empire and the Persian Sassanid Empire. Their leaders were known as Caesar and as Khosrau. Muhammad promised his followers in numerous authentic hadiths that if they followed him, "Khosrau will be ruined, and there will be no Khosrau after him, and Caesar will surely be ruined and there will be no Caesar after him, and you will spend their treasures in Allah's Cause."

The message was simple - "If you follow me, you will become rich." It is very possible that this promise of wealth was what caused slaves of Mecca to follow Muhammad. It is also possible that this fermented rebellion from those slaves against their masters, and this - not Muhammad's teaching that Allah was the only true God - is what caused the merchants of Mecca to punish the slaves and turn against Muhammad.

Is there more behind Abu Bakr's "buying slaves from their masters and setting them free" than Tariq Ramadan chooses to tell us? In the original "Life of Muhammad", Ibn Ishaq recounts the incident of Abu Bakr freeing a Muslim slave named Bilal as follows: One day Abu Bakr passed by as Bilal's owner was mistreating him. Abu Bakr said to the owner, "Have you no fear of God that you treat this poor fellow like this?"

The owner replied, "You are the one who corrupted him, so you save him."

"I will do so," said Abu Bakr, "I have got a black slave who is tougher and stronger than he, who is a heathen. I will exchange him for Bilal." The transaction was carried out, and Abu Bakr took Bilal and freed him.

The story could not be clearer. Abu Bakr was himself a slaveholder. He did not purchase Bilal's freedom with his own money; he merely exchanged him for a non-Muslim slave. A "strong black slave" who was "a heathen", was of less value than a convert to Islam. And is it really plausible that the slave was "corrupted" by merely being taught the name of the true God was Allah?

Islamic history records Abu Bakr as freeing seven Muslim slaves, five women and two men. Apart from Bilal, the other male was named Amir. Amir was killed in one of the battles Muhammad instigated, as were many of Muhammad's other early followers, without ever having the opportunity to "spend the treasures of Khosrau and Caesar".

Tariq Ramadan does not mention what Muhammad did with his female slave captives after he beheaded 800 Jewish men from the Beni Qurayza tribe in Medinah for the crime of refusing to accept him as Prophet and Leader. Ibn Ishaq recounts that, "The apostle sent Sa'd al-Ansari with some of the captive women of Beni Qurayza to Najd, where he sold them for horses and weapons." Tariq forgets to add that the Quran itself in 4:3 allows Muslims to have sex with as many of their female slaves as they like, and the hadiths specify it makes no difference whether or not the women are married. It also slips Tariq's mind to inform us that Muhammad himself had slaves throughout his life. Again, an authentic hadith records Umar as saying, "Allah's Apostle was staying in an attic room, and a black slave of Allah's Apostle was at the top of the stairs. I told him to inform the Prophet that Umar bin al-Khattab wanted to see him, and he did so."

The point of this post is not to give a detailed study on Islam and slavery, or the attitude of Muhammad towards slaves. It's simply a reminder to be careful when reading defenses of Islam written by Muslims or Muslim apologists. Things are not always quite what they seem.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Good Soldiers - David Finkel

The Good Soldiers is the most moving book I've read in years. When I tried to read a passage over the phone to my daughter in California, I could hardly make it through the page. She immediately went to the bookstore to purchase a copy, and texted me from the bus on her way home, "This is not a book to be read in a public place."

I was in Baghdad for two years, but my experiences do not begin to compare with those of the author who was there during some of that same time. I was living in the relative safety of the Green Zone; he was on patrol with soldiers near Sadr City. I spent many hours in bunkers waiting for the All Clear following incoming rockets and mortars, but he was in Humvees attacked by Improvised Explosive Devices and lived with the soldiers who both survived and succumbed to those attacks. The magic of the book is that the author tells their story, not his.

One paragraph in the book that literally took my breath away, however, was not another emotional description of an injured or dead soldier. It was when battalion Commander Ralph Kauzlarich blurted in frustration, "The whole religion of Islam is supposed to be a peaceful religion, in which the jihad is supposed to be that internal fight to be the best person you can be. I mean the Iraqi people, they're not terrorists. They're good people."

The second part is true. Iraqis, and Saudis, and Moroccans, and Bangladeshis, and Afghans, and Pakistanis, and Palestinians, and American Muslims living in DC and LA, are wonderful people. Not all of them, of course, but many. Just like Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, People Who Haven't Yet Figured Out Exactly What They Believe, and People Who Just Know They Don't Believe The Way They Did Five or Ten or Twenty Years Ago.

But the first part of his statement is not true. Islam, as designed and practiced by Muhammad, is not a religion of peace, and jihad is not an internal spiritual struggle. Let's look at both propositions, the second one first.

From Jerusalem to Monterey CA, I've heard people argue that jihad has a primarily peaceful meaning. I was astonished to hear the response of an "expert on Islam" when asked pointblank by a Turkish student during a lecture at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey to define jihad. The expert reminded us that the Arabic noun in sentences such as "He put forth his best efforts" is "juhud", the plural for "jihad". He repeated the "weak hadith", which means it is not considered authoritative and which I've never once heard in hundreds of hours listening to Arabic TV, when Muhammad commented while returning from a raid that his followers had just completed the "lesser jihad", and were now to engage in the "greater jihad" of becoming more spiritual Muslims. The statistical fact is that jihad is mentioned well over 100 times in the Quran, and more than 95% of all those references refer to the primary meaning of jihad which is to remove all obstacles to the spread and domination of Islam. Jihad has this same meaning in the authoritative hadiths, and in Islam throughout history.

The first proposition is also not true. Islam, again as envisioned and practiced by Muhammad, only becomes a religion of peace when it is dominant and Muslims as well as non-Muslims live in quiet submission under their Muslim leaders, whether they are just or tyrants. Hundreds of people were killed during Muhammad's lifetime, both among his followers and those they attacked, in his campaigns to build his empire. Thousands of people were killed in the months following his death in the "Ridda" wars led by his first successor, Abu Bakr, when they discovered they could not leave Islam as easily as they had entered. And untold millions of people have died since in battles in which Muslims killed Muslims. Even in my lifetime examples include the war between Egypt and Yemen under President Nasser, the conflict between East and West Pakistan leading to the creation of Bangladesh, the long struggle between Morocco and Mauritania over the Southern Sahara, the Iran-Iraq war, the fight between Libya and Chad, the slaughter in Algeria, and the current conflict between the Houthis and government forces in Yemen.

What is happening now is even more tragic, because American solders are dying by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan to try and stop Muslims from killing other Muslims. In the final analysis, that is all that is happening. Al-Qaidah Sunni Muslims are killing Awakening Movement Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Muqtada Sadr Shia loyalists are killing rival Shias, and the Shia and Sunnis are killing each other. The conflict in Afghanistan is between competing tribal factions. Muslims are doing what Muslims have always done, and we are caught in the middle. And our only response is to blurt out in frustration with Ralph Kauzlarich, "Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace." Why? Because that is what we have been taught by Muslim apologists and defenders.

In 2006, Wafa Sultan was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World following her appearance on Al Jazeerah TV in which she challenged an Islamic scholar. In 2009 her very important book, A God Who Hates, was bypassed by the same media. Why did she go from the poster child "bad girl of Islam" to being ignored in only three years? The reason is she crossed the line that American academics, political officials, and media personnel are unwilling or afraid to cross. She came to the same conclusion that I reached after two years in Iraq and serious study of the original texts of Islam, the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sira (Muhammad's biography). During those two years I moved from believing the problem was Islamic terrorism to Islamic extremism to political Islam to...well, just Islam.

Chances are Ralph Kauzlarich has never heard of Wafa Sultan and won't read "A God Who Hates." And he'll probably never find the answer to another question he pondered in The Good Soldiers:

"Sometimes Kauzlarich would wonder exactly what the Iraqis hated about the American soldiers. What were they doing, other than trying to secure some Iraqi neighborhoods? What made people want to kill them for handing out candy and soccer balls, and delivering tankers of drinking water to them, and building a sewer system for them, and fixing their gas stations, and never being aggressive except for rounding up the killers among them?"

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Changeable and the Unchangeable in Islamic Sharia

A simple but adequate definition of Sharia, commonly referred to as “Islamic law”, is the application to Muslim communities or societies of all that Muhammad said or did. This comprises the Quran (although Muslims believe that Allah and not Muhammad was the author), the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and the Sira (his biography). These elements collectively are known in Islam as the “Sunnah” and their application to Muslim society is the “Sharia”.

The subject of a recent edition of Al-Jazeera’s weekly program “Sharia and Life” was what elements of Sharia can or cannot be changed. As is often the case in such programs, what was left unsaid was more interesting than what was said.

The guest scholar was Syrian Dr. Wahbah al-Zuhaili, a member of the International Islamic Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) Academy. He introduced the subject by defining the three distinguishing characteristics of Sharia: it is sacred, it is intended as a guide for human behavior, and it is Allah’s final message. Sura 5 of the Quran specifies, “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”

Dr. Wahbah emphasized that the “essential elements” of Sharia can never be changed. Quran 6:115 says that no-one can change the words of Allah, and Quran 33:62 adds that no-one can change the way of Allah.

There are, however, “partial elements” of Sharia that are open to interpretation and change. These are seen as “amendments”, items that are “attached” to the essential elements, and can be changed for numerous reasons. During the lifetime of Muhammad, these changes appeared in the Quran as “abrogations”, revelations that opposed and cancelled out earlier revelations. Abrogation ceased with the death of Muhammad, but was followed by the principle of “ijtihad” in which learned scholars adapted elements of sharia to an ever-changing world. In recent years, for example, scholars have ruled that Muslims who are flying during prayer times can pray quietly in their seats on the aircraft and are not required to kneel towards Mecca as Muslims normally do. According to Dr. Wahbah, these rulings are based on two complimentary principles. One is the rule of “taysir”, or making things easy for Muslims. The other is “darura” or necessity. When necessary, things that are “haram” or forbidden can become “halal” or allowed. As an example, Quran 2:173 allows Muslims to eat pork during extenuating circumstances.

When the interviewer asked a second participant, Dr. Kamal Imam from Egypt’s University of Alexandria, what could be changed in the Sharia, Dr. Imam was adamant that the text of the Sunnah, that is the words of the Quran and the authentic hadith, was not open to modification or change. All that could be changed were rulings that earlier scholars had made on those texts. Although not disagreeing with Dr. Kamal, Dr. Wahbah noted that some of the hadith, even if authentic, were not applicable to modern life.

Dr. Wahbah emphasized that Muhammad was both a prophet and a political leader. As a prophet, what he said and did was not open to abrogation or change. As a political leader, however, his ideas could be advanced and developed. Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab, for example, developed the details of the Muslim kingdom far beyond the basic principles laid by Muhammad.

Frankly speaking, the interview did not seem to give much leeway to any substantial change or reform in Islamic thought. Examples given of ijtihad or change were as always trivial, limited to whether or not one needs to face Mecca when praying in an airplane. Serious matters that are considered essential elements of Western society, such as the choice to believe whatever one wants, to marry whomever one chooses, to have equal legal standing regardless of one’s gender or religion, seem to be untouched by the elements that are open to change in the Sharia.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Harsh Reality

Recently my daughter and I took a Muslim friend of my daughter with us to see the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The film affected my daughter's friend quite deeply. On the way home she repeated several times, "But she was innocent! They stoned her to death for adultery, and she hadn't even committed adultery. She was innocent."

She then added a very significant statement. "I'm Arab and I'm Muslim, and I believe in Sharia. If she had committed adultery, she should have been stoned. But she was innocent."

This is not a terrorist speaking, not an extremist, not a radical. It's someone who is studying for an advanced degree at one of America's best universities, and who will return to her country to become a well-respected university professor. And she believes that women in the year 2009 should be stoned to death for adultery. Why? Because she believes in Islam, and she believes in Islamic law.

You've perhaps already watched the youtube video in which Rifqa Bary expresses her fear that if she is returned to her family in Onio she will be killed by her family because of her Christian faith. There is no doubt that Muslim leaders will be quick to publicly deny this could ever happen because, as Obama Islam advisor Eboo Patel proclaimed on CNN just the other day, we all know that Islam is a religion of peace. But how many Muslims secretly believe, even if they perhaps wouldn't publicly acknowledge it as quickly as my daughter's friend, that Sharia really is to be followed by Muslims today, even in America? That people who leave Islam, just like people who commit adultery, really should be put to death.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Masjid Al-Aqsa

The heart of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle is the city of Jerusalem, and the heart of Jerusalem, at least for the Muslim, is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslims believe this to be Islam’s third most holy site, following only the Haram Mosque in Mecca and the Green Dome in Medina.

Muslims believe that Muhammad took a miraculous night journey from Mecca to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where he met with Jesus and other prophets and received special instructions from Allah concerning the establishment of Islam. The fact that the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was not built for another 80 years and Muhammad never physically visited Jerusalem does not seem to be important in Muslim thinking.

A literal translation of Quran 17:1 says, “Glorious is the one who took his servant by night from the Haram Mosque to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Muslim translators disingenuously add “to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem” even though the Arabic says nothing about the Al-Aqsa Mosque being located there.

In a recent study on Al Hayat TV, Zakaria Boutros presented convincing evidence from Islamic sources that the Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to in Sura 17 was a literal mosque located not in Jerusalem but a few miles outside Mecca. His evidence follows:

In the Book of Raids, early Muslim historian and biographer Waqidi described Muhammad’s stay in the village of Jiranah a few miles outside Mecca. He wrote, “The Prophet arrived in Jiranah on Thursday, and remained 13 nights. He then departed Jiranah after praying at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the shore of the river bed. The Prophet used to pray there whenever he came to Jiranah.”

Another early historian, Azraqi, described in his book Mecca and its Antiquities a discussion between two men named Muhammad ibn Tariq and Mujahid. Muhammad said, “Mujahid and I agreed on Jiranah, because he informed me the Prophet used to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the shore of the river bed. The other nearby mosque, the Al-Adna Mosque, was built by a man from the Quraysh tribe.”

Al-Aqsa in Arabic means “the farthest point”, and Al-Adna means “the nearest point”. The two mosques were simply named according to their location. The nearer one was the Al-Adna Mosque, and the farther one was Al-Aqsa.

Another early Mecca historian, Ibn Ishaq al-Fakihi noted in his book Ancient and Modern Mecca that Muslims who wanted to perform the Umrah (Minor Pilgrimage) would first purify themselves at the neighboring villages of Tanim and Jiranah. The Al-Adna Mosque in Tanim was significant because Muhammad’s wife Aisha had purified herself there, and the Prophet himself had prayed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jiranah

Hadith historian Abu ‘Ali recorded in Masnad Abu ‘Ali that Umm Salmah heard the Prophet say, “Whoever prepares for the Umrah by purifying himself in the Al-Aqsa Mosque before he goes to the Haram Mosque in Mecca will have his sins forgiven before he even commits them.”

The above sources all indicate that the Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to by Muhammad in Quran 17:1 was the mosque in Jiranah. The famous mosque known today by the same name in Jerusalem was built almost a century later.

The Bookseller of Istanbul

The young bookseller in the Sultanahmat neighborhood of Istanbul reminded me that Muhammad's only miracle was the Quran. "Other prophets performed other miracles," he informed me, "But Muhammad's miracle was the Quran. No-one else could create anything equal to it."

My response was that no-one else had a chance to. "Muhammad killed poets he saw as threats," I said. "When Muhammad entered Mecca after ten years in Medina, he gave orders to kill those who had written against him."

He was quite offended. "That's not true," he replied. "Muhammad conquered Mecca without killing a single person. You don't need to try to teach me Islamic history."

But he was the one who didn't know his history, or at least knew it only from the perspective it had been taught him. Historian Ibn Ishaq informs us that Muhammad had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted him, except a small number who were to be killed "even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Kabah". One might wonder what horrible crimes these individuals had committed that demanded their deaths. Were they serial murderers, child rapists, or inveterate bank robbers? Not quite. Abdallah bin Sad was to be killed because he had been a Muslim and wrote down the revelations of the Quran before he aposticized from Islam and returned to Mecca from Medina. (What was it about recording the messages given to Muhammad from Allah that caused him to lose his faith?) Another was Abdallah bin Khatal, who was a Muslim but left Islam after killing another Muslim. Abdallah had two "singing girls" who used to sing satirical songs about the Apostle, so Muhammad "ordered that they should be killed as well."

Several others were included in the list. Although some of them had actually committed murder, such as Abdallah, they all shared one thing in common - they had aposticized from Islam. If they had remained in Islam, chances are much greater their murders would have been forgiven them. That would especially be true if their victims had been non-Muslims, since according to Islamic law Muslims are not put to death for the murder of non-Muslims.

They all shared the same "crime" - they had left Islam, and they had publicly expressed criticism of Muhammad. Some Muslims today argue there are "no verses in the Quran" that command the killing of people who leave Islam. This ignores the reality that there are two things in Islam just as important as the Quran as a guide for Islamic life - the Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and the Sira, his biography. Reading the Sira makes it abundantly clear that those who wrote critically of Muhammad could not expect to live long. It doesn't take much imagination to realize the fate of someone who would write something that Muhammad saw as a challenge to the Quran.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leaving Muhammad Behind

A commenter at this blog recently asked me if I had personally met any Muslims who abandoned their faith in Muhammad and Islam. By chance or good fortune, since then I've met three. Each of their stories was unique.

The first was at a restaurant in California, where I met for the first time a young man from Yemen. When he introduced himself as "Dave", I assumed that either he was from a Yemeni Jewish family or had taken the common practice of anglicizing the Arabic name Da'ud. To my surprise, he informed me that he had been born and raised Muslim. Nine years in California, however, had been enough to completely change his way of thinking. He described himself as non-religious, an agnostic at best, but one who no longer believed in Islam or Muhammad.

At one point in the conversation, he queried why Muslims couldn't just "get along with Jews". "We are cousins," he said, "And even in Arabic we describe them as Ibn 'Am (the son of my uncle). Why can't we just live together in peace?"

My response to him was, "The reason you think this way is because you no longer believe in Muhammad. You've left him behind. That's why you think differently about the Jews." He agreed.

A few weeks later I was on a boat on the Mediterranean, just off the southern coast of Turkey. A young lady from Istanbul was also on the boat, and told me of her plans to go to London at the end of the summer for a two-year university course in creative writing. I asked her, "Suppose in London you fell in love with a British man who was not a Muslim. Would you consider marrying him?"

Her answer was immediate. "Of course," she replied. "I'm Turkish and my ID card says I am Muslim, but I don't believe in any of it. I don't think Muhammad was a prophet, and I don't believe in the Quran."

A week later I was sitting with my daughters in a lovely outdoor restaurant on the Asian side of Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphoros, and struck up a conversation with an elderly Turkish man who had spent his childhood years in Washington DC and still enjoyed speaking his American-accented English. His story was similar. He said that as a young boy his grandfather warned him against the men who came out of the mosque, describing them as "bad people". Since then, he told me, he has not believed.

Kamal Ataturk, the secular leader of Turkey following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, also tried to leave Muhammad behind. But there's a problem with that. Unless you really make a clean break with Muhammad, he always catches up to you and wraps his arms around you. Ataturk might have made the break personally, but he was unable to influence his country to do the same and, sure enough, Muhammad is alive and well in much of political Turkey today. It takes a lot of courage to really leave him behind.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I was initially unimpressed when my daughter suggested that I accompany her and her sister on a vacation to Turkey this summer. Even their offer to pay for my airline ticket didn't increase my enthusiasm, especially when I realized they wanted to stay there for three weeks. My daughter still reminds me of my initial reaction, "Turkey? That's boring."

I couldn't have been more wrong. The weeks flew by, and I'd love to go back again. An Egyptian friend of my daughters who came to join us was amazed at the differences between Cairo and Istanbul. It is a vibrant, modern city with a lot to see and do. A full-day trip up the Bosporos to the mouth of the Black Sea was spectacular. As one who is interested in early Islamic history, I'd often heard of the "keys of the Kabah", possessed even before Islam began by whichever ruler was in charge of Mecca and the famous building that was the center of pre-Islamic idolatry and post-Islamic worship. It was one thing to read of these keys; it was another to actually see them at the Topayka Palace as they were owned by various Ottoman Emperors during the centuries of their empire.

Following a week in Istanbul, we flew south (domestic airlines are quite inexpensive) for a quiet week on the beach. There's no need to join the thousands of tourists who throng to see the Greek ruins of Ephesus, as those of Olympus (where we were almost the only people there) are just as spectacular if smaller and more compact. An overnight bus ride (again on comfortable and well-maintained buses) took us to Capadocia, where Christians over a thousand years ago built their homes and churches out of caves and rocks and drew beautiful iconic images that are still vibrant today.

In short, I'd encourage anyone to visit Turkey. I'm glad I did.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Bahai and the Mormon

I've been thinking and writing lately about two related matters. First is that Muslims in the West present a sugar-coated version of Islam that would scarcely be recognized in the heartland of the Middle East. Second is that Muslims in both the East and the West easily throw out "facts" that the average person is unprepared to counter.

Both of these subjects can be seen in this recent discussion on Egyptian TV. A well-respected Shaykh argued that Bahais anywhere and everywhere should be killed. For him, the matter was simple. Muhammad said that anyone who changed his religion should be killed. The Bahais had abandoned Islam for a new religion, and for that reason should die.

The Bahai movement began in Iran in the 19th century. They follow a new prophet, Bahaullah, with sacred texts and teachings they see as complimentary to Islam. Their relationship to Islam is similar to the relationship of Mormons in America to Christianity. Mormons also follow a 19th century prophet with a new scripture they see supplementing the Bible. Just as Bihais see themselves as completed Muslims, Mormons believe they are following the true version of Christianity. And just as many Muslims are reluctant to accept Bihais as Muslims, conservative Christians are unwilling to see Mormons as just another Christian denomination.

The comparison stops here. I haven't yet heard any Christian leader arguing that all Mormons should be killed. But here's my problem; I also haven't heard Muslims in America argue that all Bihais should be killed, even though they are as aware of Muhammad's punishment for apostasy as are Muslims in Egypt. Why does the Muslim academic in America not proclaim the same Islam as the Muslim scholar in Cairo?

In the same TV interview, another Shaykh argued that Bahaism cannot be true because no prophet prophesied the coming of Bahaullah. True prophets, the Shaykh claimed, always announce the prophets who will come after them. Moses prophesied the arrival of Jesus, and Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad.

There's the "fact", so casually thrown out and believed by hundreds of millions, that simply is not true. As usual, the Muslim begins with the Quran and then tries to prove his assertion with evidence from outside the Quran. According to Quran 61:6, Jesus said:

Oh children of Israel, I am the Messenger of Allah to you,
Confirming the Torah which came before me,
And giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me,
Whose name is Ahmad.

For the believing Muslim, that's enough. "Ahmad" and "Muhammad" both come from the Arabic root H-M-D, which means to praise. Even though Ahmad and Muhammad are different names, they both mean "The One Who is Praised". That's close enough for the Muslim to be convinced that Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad.

(There is a slight problem for the Muslim even with this verse. Although the name "Muhammad" was common among the Arabs before Muhammad, there is little evidence of the name "Ahmad" being used. The many derivatives of H-M-D that are common Arabic names today including Ahmad, Hamed, Hameed, Hamdi, Hamudi, and Mahmud only began to be widely used after Muhammad).

The Muslim who wants to convince the sceptic from extra Quranic sources next enters the slippery road of Islamic apologetics. In John 14:6 and related verses, Jesus promised that "the Comforter" would come after he left. This has been universally understood by Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit who arrived with miraculous signs upon the early Church in Jerusalem soon after the departure of Jesus.

The Greek word used for this Comforter is "paracletos". The problem for the Muslim is that this word has no linguistic relationship to "Ahmad" or "The One Who is Praised". There is, however, a similar Greek word "periklutos" which does mean praised. Muslims conclude that "periklutos" must have been in the original test but was changed to "paracletos" by nefarious Christian scribes to deliberately obliterate Jesus' reference to Muhammad. The fact that no early Christian text, nor any text at all for that matter, contains "periklutos" in reference to Jesus' prophesy of the Comforter, is unfortunately irrelevant to the Muslim scholar.

Muhammad and Death

My Islamics professor at Temple University, Sayyid Hussein Nasr, once told us that Muslims face death with more courage than people in the West.

A Muslim scholar recently presented "The Details of Death", in which he presented a glowing picture of the experience of death for Muslims in contrast to the horrors of death for the nonbeliever. The question to be asked is, "Why did Muhammad package death in such an attractive way for his followers?"

The simple answer is that Muhammad called men to die. Included in their willingness to follow him was the belief that dying for him would give them rewards from Allah.

One of Muhammad's early disciples, Abbas ibn Ubada, understood this well. He and his associates realized that following Muhammad would mean fighting and death. When they asked Muhammad what their reward would be, Islam's prophet gave a one word reply, "Paradise."

Ibn Ishaq's full biography of Muhammad, which I would guess not one Muslim in a thousand has read, gives a detailed history of the many raids that Muhammad either led or sent his followers to fight. It is impossible to carefully read the account of these battles and honestly conclude they were in any way defensive. Story after story begins, "The apostle stayed only seven nights in Medina before he himself made a raid against Beni Sulaym", or "After the apostle returned from the raid of Al Sawiq, he stayed in Medina for the rest of the month and then raided Najd", or "From Al Ula, the apostle sent his forces to Syria where they met with disaster at Muta."

Hundreds of men died in these battles. They sacrified their lives for Muhammad's dreams of expansion and power. What better way to motivate them than giving them promises from Allah of the paradise awaiting them if they died? What better way to manipulate people today to follow the same Muhammad than by promising them a glorious experience of death in contrast to the horrible fate that awaits those who do not obey him?

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Devil and the Jew

In God's Problem, author Bart Ehrman states that the inadequate Biblical explanation of suffering is what led him from Christianity to agnosticism.

Is is possible to take the flip side of that argument to suggest that the presence of evil is evidence of a personal Satan? Before you dismiss this as a completely whacky idea, let's look at one example of what I see as evil - the unchanging hatred of Islam for the Jews.

(I need to present a big alibi before I even begin. I'm not insinuating that all Muslims hate Jews. I am talking, however, about core teachings of Islam that affect the attitudes and actions of hundreds of millions of people).

I've long wondered why Islam harbors such hostility for the Jews. Many Muslims in the west claim this is linked to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Muslim clerics and educators in the Middle East are much more honest. The speaker in this interview, addressing a group of young children, states clearly "our hatred towards the Jews is perpetual and continuous" because they did not accept Muhammad as a prophet. contains dozens of similar interviews.

In 1986 I went to Tunisia and tried to learn the Tunisian dialect of Arabic. An oral storyteller named Abdallah Laroui had lived earlier in the century and recorded hundreds of Tunisian folk stories that were played every day on Tunisian radio. I used to record and listen to them. Some of them were about the Tunisian Jews; Tunis had large communities of Jews who had lived there for centuries before they were forced out following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the disastrous Six-Day war of 1967. Whenever Laroui would mention the word "Jew", he would immediately follow it with the expression "hashek". This is similar to the English "God forbid", as in, "If you ever get cancer, God forbid", but means more than that. It has the additional connotation of "may this never happen to you", or "may you never become one of them". Laroui would repeat "hashek" every time he mentioned something distasteful, like a pig...or a Jew. "There was a Jewish shopkeeper living in La Goulette, hashek (may Allah never allow you to become one of them)."

Why did Laroui repeat this word after every reference to a Jew? It had nothing to do with 20th century politics, but was a reflection of long-held social attitudes towards Jews. It is similar to the call-in shows to Arabic TV shows that I have listened to where older Saudi women without hesitation use the word "kalb" (dog) to describe Jews, or just use both words as a noun-adjective phrase, "hathal-kalb al-yahudi" (that Jewish dog).

At Muhammad and the Jews, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, I described the experience of the Jews of Saudi Arabia as the result of their refusal to obey Muhammad. One could argue that Muslim hatred for Jews is the result of that refusal. But could there be an additional spiritual, supernatural element?

Traditional Christian theology is that Satan tries to destroy what God builds. Some theologians even see the activity of Satan in the first two verses of the Bible. Instead of, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void," they prefer, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth became without form and void" (after Satan got his hands on it and messed things up). Genesis 3 contains the story of Satan in the form of a snake, again trying to destroy what God had built.

Now the story starts to get interesting. God informed the snake (or Satan) that he would put enmity between "the seed of the woman and your seed". Although one could argue this is the reason many women do not like snakes, the story is usually interpreted to mean there will be two lines of people, the people of faith and the people without faith (or, the people of false faith). Several chapters later, Abraham is chosen by God to be the father, or ancestor, of the people of faith. The line is further narrowed down when Abraham has two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Again, Isaac and his descendants become the chosen people of faith, with Ishmael and his offspring left outside the covenant. The descendants of Isaac were the Jewish people from whom Jesus was born, and the descendants of Ishmael were the tribes of Arabia from which Muhammad was born.

Back to the idea of Satan the destroyer; nothing is more destructive than imitation. Nothing destroys the value of a hundred dollar bill more than a counterfeit bill. What if there was a real, personal Satan who tried to imitate what God did by producing a counterfeit that would not only deceive, but would also enable Satan to destroy the true? If Abraham and his seed were the people of faith, why not create a counterfeit that would not only be close enough to deceive many but would also help obliterate the true?

How could one do this? First of all, by imitating the original story as closely as possible, but applying it to another person. The Bible says Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God; the Quran says it was Ishmael. The Bible says Abraham gave Isaac the blessing of the favored son; the Quran says Abraham and Ishmael went to Mecca where they built the kabah. The Bible says the descendants of Isaac were the chosen people; the Quran says the descendants of Ishmael are "the best of peoples". The Bible presents David as the Prophet-King; Muhammad dreamed of the same role. The Bible describes Jesus as the God-man; the Quran presents Muhammad as the Perfect Man.

A sinister plan carried out over thousands of years by a personal Satan to counterfeit and destroy the plan of God? It's an interesting idea.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Considering Islam? Watch

If you are an intelligent, clear-thinking person contemplating Islam, I recommend, a program intended to guide you in that direction. Is this because I want you to convert? No, it's because watching the show for a while will keep you from making that fatal mistake. Notice I said if you are "intelligent and clear-thinking". There are apparently many muddled ex-pastors and others out there who have never given up their search for the perfect religion and the perfect book. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

A recent program was entitled "The Five Main Misconceptions About Islam". If you have the time, we could turn this into a classroom exercise. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and watch the 40 minute presentation. If you can counter the "Five Misconceptions", you don't need me. If you can't, or thought they were convincing, read on.

* * * * * * * * * * * (did you watch the entire video?) * * * * * * * *

The top five misconceptions, from 5 to 1.

Misconception number 5: The Quran copies stories from the Old Testament.

In spite of the fact that dozens of stories from the Bible are repeated in the Quran hundreds of times, Dr. Sabeel insists they were not copied because Allah is the author of every word in the Quran. If they were copied, according to him, they would have been exactly the same. Here are a few things to consider:

1) Muhammad's society was an illiterate one, where stories were passed by oral tradition at poetry fairs and around caravan campfires. It's inconceiveable that stories in the Quran would appear exactly as they were in their original sources. I'm amazed that someone would argue that the fact that stories do not appear in the Quran exactly as they were in the Old Testament indicates they did not come from that source.

2) Muhammad deliberately changed the Old Testament stories because he had a specific reason for telling them. Every story told by Muhammad about the Biblical prophets contained the same basic theme. The prophet was calling his people back to God, and if they did not obey they would be punished. This was to confirm Muhammad's claim that he was a prophet just like them and Allah would punish those who did not follow him. As an example, the story of Abraham in Quran 60:4 speaks of the enmity between Abraham and his people because the people had rejected him, and as a result the people were under the judgment of Allah. The earlier Biblical account contains nothing of this, but simply gives the historical account of Abraham moving from Iraq to Palestine. Muhammad altered the story for his own purposes.

3) Imagine a story that contained all the elements of a good tale: a beautiful woman, sex, family drama, and mystery. Now imagine men repeating this story around campfires for hundreds of years. What do you imagine the result would be? It doesn't take much imagination to realize the salacious elements of the story would increase with the telling. Next compare the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 and Yusuf (Joseph) in Quran 12. The Biblical story is almost boring in its simplicity. An attractive young man was sold by his brothers as a slave to Egypt, his master's wife tried to seduce him, he refused her advances, she told her husband he had tried to rape her, and the angry husband threw him in prison.

Now read the story in sura 12 of the Quran hundreds of years and thousands of campfires later. It contains numerous senusal details that never appeared in the original. The wife rips the shirt from Yusuf's back and throws a dinner party for her friends to impress them with his attractiveness. When they see him, they all lose control and cut their hands with their knives. Muslims believe this literally happened, in spite of the fact that it is difficult to believe the wife of an ancient Egyptian official would host a dinner party to show off the man she desired, and the guests would really cut their hands with knives.

4) The reality is the Old Testament is not the only source of the stories Muhammad copied into the Quran. One of the most nonsensical stories in the Quran is that of King Soloman and the magic bird Hudhud. The reason it is nonsensical is that parts of it were copied almost word for word from a pre-Islamic Jewish Aramaic childrens story called "The Second Targum of Esther" (or, Targum Sheni). The Muslim response to the Targum, of course, is to insist it must have been written centuries later after the Quran. The abundant historical proof this could not be true is available online; googling the above subjects will give both the historical evidence and the Muslim counter-claims.

4. Misconception number 4: The word "Allah" was an Arabic god or the moon god.

The word "Allah, according to Dr. Sabeel is the Arabic word for "the Creator", and Allah has always been the one true God.

This is an example of what I have previously posted; Muslims easily present "facts" without proof that can require the serious student hours of research to confirm or deny. Google "the history of allah" and carefully read the scientific and historical information available. Agricultural societies tended to worship the sun, and pastoral societies preferred the moon. Muhammad's was a pastoral society, and the moon god Allah was very important to them. This god, by the way, even had a female counterpart. Words are feminized in Arabic by adding a "t". The Arabs worshipped Allah and Allat (Mr. and Mrs. Allah!). Seriously, Allat was probably the daughter and not the wife of Allah.

There are additional psychological tidbits worth thinking about. Muhammad's father was "Abdallah", the servant of Allah. Muhammad had other relatives named after other local gods; Abdel-shams and Abdel-manaf. Did Muhammad emphasize the god Allah in memory of the father he never had? If his father had been Abdel-shams, would the god of the Muslims today be Shams, the sun god?

If there is no connection between Allah and the moon, why is the moon so important today to Muslims? The months of the Arabic year and religious holidays are all based upon the cycle of the moon. Mosque minarats by the thousand show the symbol of the crescent moon. The Arabic Red Cross is the "Red Crescent".

Muslims actually have a far greater challenge to face than who was Allah. Arab historian Jawad Ali in his book Mufasil Adyan Al Arab Qabal Al Islam , The Religions of the Arabs Before Islam, examines the 360 idols that were located in the kabah. These idols included Wudd, Rahman, Rahim, and many more. In his desire to attract the worshippers of these idols, Muhammad simply took them and inserted them into the Quran and the "99 names of God". All but one of the chapters of the Quran begin with Allah, Rahman, and Rahim. The god Ya-sin even had an entire Quranic chapter named after him! Why did Muhammad incorporate the idols of the Arabs into the Quran?

How do Muslims counter the above historical evidence? Denial.

3. Misconception number three: Jihad means Holy War.

Muslims love to argue that because the expression "holy war" (Al Harb Al Muqadasah) does not occur in the Quran, jihad is not related to fighting.

Rather than go into a detailed discussion of the meaning of jihad, let me give a few quick comments. Having just returned to the US after six years in the Middle East, I'm amazed at the way Islam is presented in the west as opposed to how it is interpreted in the Arab world. Dr. Wafa Sultan writes at length how Muslims change the definition of words to suit their audiences. Jihad is presented to the American audience as an inner spiritual struggle to improve oneself. Reference is often made to a weak hadith (that means, one that has been discredited by Arab historians and you would never hear quoted in the Muslim world) where Muhammad said the "greater jihad" was spiritual self-improvement, and the "lesser jihad" was fighting. The statistical fact is that 97 percent of the references to jihad in the Quran and the hadith mean only one thing: opposing the unbeliever to remove obstacles to the spread and domination of Islam. This jihad can take many forms, including fighting, money, and writing, but its only goal is to spread Islam.

2. Misconception number two: Women in Islam are Oppressed Because they Wear the Scarf.

The real question here is not "to veil or not to veil"; it is "does Islam honor women"?

Let's begin with the women in Muhammad's life. How did Muhammad honor his late mother Amina by refusing to pray at her grave? How did he honor his first wife Khadija by adopting no craft or profession? When they married, she was rich; when she died, they were poor. How did he honor her by not helping raise their children? There's not a word in Islam about Muhammad the father.

How did Muhammad honor the innocence, the childhood of Aisha by having sex with her when she was nine years old? How did he honor her by marrying many more women soon afterwards? How did Muhammad honor Aisha by suspecting her of adultery when she was innocent? Her own words were, "If I lied and said I did it, you would believe me; when I tell the truth and say I didn't, you don't believe me."

How did Muhammad honor his daughter-in-law Zaynab by encouraging her to divorce his son so that he, Muhammad, could marry her? Why didn't he use his influence as a "prophet" to help save, rather than destroy, their marriage? (for any women reading this, what would you honestly think if your father-in-law tried to get you to divorce his son so that he could add you to his list of conquests?). How did Muhammad honor his wife Hafsah when he lied to get her out of the house so he could sleep with the Christian slave girl he had recently given her? How did Muhammad honor Sofiya, the 17 year-old Jewish girl he took as a wife after he tortured and killed her husband? One of Muhammad's associates first claimed her, but Muhammad offered the associate two other women so that he, Muhammad, could have her.

If that is Muhammad's "honor" to his wives, you can imagine his mercy to his opponents. How did Muhammad honor the Jewish women who had lived in Medina for centuries? Within a few years of his arrival, they were all gone, sent out with only what they could carry while he appropriated all their wealth and property. Many hundreds of them were now widows, after he beheaded from six to nine hundred of their husbands, brothers, and sons in one day.

Muhammad honored Muslim women, you say? How did he do that when the Quran states that a man must perform ablutions after he has gone to the bathroom or touched a woman (Quran 4:43)? How is putting a woman on the level of feces honoring her? How did Muhammad honor women by stating that three things can invalidate the prayer of a man: a passing dog, donkey, or a woman? How is putting her on the level of a dog or a donkey honoring to her? How did he honor women by stating they were deficient in intelligence and religion? Can you really not see the connection between that and the fact that hundreds of millions of Muslim women today are functionally illiterate because education has been denied them?

How did Muhammad honor women when he stated that most of the inhabitants of hell are women? Muslims argue these are only "bad women". Well, bad women do things with bad men. Why aren't the men in hell?

How did Muhammad honor women by stating that, "Heaven for women is at the feet of their husbands."? Muslims love to quote the hadith that "Heaven is at the feet of mothers". The Muslim heaven must have a lot of feet. By the way, most Muslim women are mothers. How can heaven be at their feet if the majority of them are in hell?

How did Muhammad honor women by telling them their husbands could divorce them at any time with a word, or take other wives without informing them? How did he honor them by describing them as possessions of their husbands (Quran 4:3)?

The most basic human rights for a woman include the freedom to believe what she wants, and marry who she chooses. These rights are denied her in Islam. Although Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women, the Muslim woman does not have that choice. And neither of them have the right to not believe in Muhammad.

1. Misconception number one - Islam is synanamous to violence and terrorism.

Islam, according to Dr. Sabeel, is a peaceful religion.

I'll concede the point, to an extent. Islam was peaceful until Muhammad first began to mock the gods of the Quraysh. Ibn Ishaq describes Islam's first incident of violence in "The Life of Muhammad" as follows:

"Sad ibn Abu Waqqas was praying with a group of the prophet's companions, when a group of polytheists came and rudely interrupted them. They blamed them for what they were doing, until they came to blows. Sad smote a polytheist with the jawbone of a camel, and wounded him. This was the first blood to be shed in Islam."

That was a few pages into Muhammad's official biography. The rest of the biography is violence and jihad. So statistically, the peaceful stage lasted about 2 percent of the book. The remaining 98 percent is conflict.