‘Islam without extremes’ – by Mustafa Akyol. A Critique.

October 12, 2014

islamwithoutextremes

Perhaps you may think it an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that the World will be shaped over the next several decades predominantly by how it responds to the threat from Islamist extremists. More than simply a war between those groups like Hizb or ISIS and the rest of the World, more than a war for the freedom of human beings from the oppressive structures imposed by supremacists, this is a civil war within Islam for its future. Whether Islam comes out of that war as a religion for the individual; an inner, spiritual system of guidance, or whether it is to be defined as a political structure that extends beyond the individual and chains others to dictates, can only be decided by Muslims. Attempts within the Islamic community to provide counter-narratives to extreme illiberal Islamist dogmas are vital. We do see this through the important work of think tanks like ‘Quilliam‘, or groups like ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy‘. Writers can also have a lasting affect on how the war for Islam is shaped. I recently finished reading ‘Islam without extremes’ by Mustafa Akyol. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book here.

I have several criticisms and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. It is worth noting from the beginning that ‘Islam without extremes: A Muslim case for liberty‘ is an excellent attempt to dispel the myth that prevails in both Islamist quarters, and the Western far right, that groups like Hizb are in fact synonymous with Islam. They are not. Islam is a wide spectrum of belief that encompasses violent extremism, and secular liberalism. Akyol’s book presents a far more liberal, and secular strand of Islamic history that tends to get drowned out by Wahhabi interpretations in recent years. The book’s discussion of the back and forth fight for Islam over the centuries between traditionists and rationalists is compelling and fascinating reading. That being said, the book seems to present Islam less as a faith that promotes liberty, and more as a faith that is illiberal, and anti-secular, but a little bit less so than extremists suggest. And so as a ‘case for liberty’, it isn’t successful, and I’ll to give my reasons for that conclusion:

For example, after a brief discussion of pre-Islamic Arab society, in which women were not permitted the right to own property nor inheritance, Akyol says:

“… the Qur’an also decreed that females should receive a share of inheritance. It was only half of what their male siblings would get, but in a society in which men were considered to be responsible for the care of the whole household, this was a generous amount.”

– This seems to me to be a way to have it both ways. The very basis of Islamic belief, is that the Qur’an is the final message from God. It is the book of rules for all time. There will be no other message. It comes from a being that transcends time. He is able to give a new message, in more enlightened times if he wished, that ensures equal inheritance regardless of gender. But that isn’t the fundamental idea of Islam; that the Qur’an is the final message. ‘Rights’ are defined for eternity. And yet, more often than not, Muslims invoke the ‘context of the time’ excuse for illiberal Quranic rules. Akyol does that here. Whether the share of inheritance is nothing, or whether it is half that which men are to gain, it is illiberal. An improvement is irrelevant if it is to end at that improvement, and not be permitted further improvement toward equal treatment. In this case, the Quranic rule on inheritance is an institutional patriarchal structure, and worse than that, it is to be instituted for all time. Any further improvement would be an admission that the Islamic God was constrained by the time period, or that He was simply wrong. The ‘context’ excuse seems to me to be an attempt to placate in the mind of the believer, the suspicion that the Qur’an may not be all that liberal after all. A recognition that the individual believer has morally outgrown his/her God.

On page 67, Akyol says:

“The dhimma system was just one of the many implications of a basic idea that the Qur’an introduced: Humans have rights ordained by God, and no other human can violate those rights. This idea would allow Muslims to create a civilisation based on the rule of law”.

– I find these sentences to be self defeating. My rights have already been violated by other human beings, the moment those human beings decide for themselves that my life is to be chained to their faith and that the ‘rule of law’ is to be based on that one faith. Law is subsequently based less on evidence, if it contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the privileged religion (more often than not, the privileged religion tends to be very patriarchal and very heterosexual, and so – surprisingly – heterosexual men seem to benefit the most from upholding that system). Institutional privilege for one faith is not a good example of the ‘case for liberty’. Quite the opposite. It insists that anchoring moral standards to one place and one time, is an excellent base for law, and that all must abide by it, whether Muslim or not, whilst those who aren’t Muslim must pay a tax to uphold this system.

In an attempt to promote Muhammad as a friend of Jews and Christians, Akyol tells us – on page 60-61 – that the Prophet spared the frescoes of Jesus and Mary when he stormed the Ka’ba, and that the Qur’an granted the right of Christians and Jews to live and practice their faith… under the rule of Islam. You will perhaps note several problems with trying to argue the case for liberty within a faith whose leader destroys the Gods of other faiths, saving only those that are depicted in the Qur’an, and then has the nerve to “grant the right” for others to live according to their own conscience… under the rule of Islam. This is not liberty. A man fighting for any concept of liberty would not have destroyed the Gods of others, nor have believed himself divinely ordained to decide upon the rights and the lives of others. I may dislike the Christian & Islamic God, I don’t then destroy Churches and Mosques. We rightly prosecute those who do.

Muhammad – by Akyol’s own admission – has now destroyed the Gods of other Pagan systems of belief. If I were to claim to have received a revelation from God, and proceeded to destroy shrines to other faiths proclaiming “truth has come! Falsehood has vanished!” – which, along with many other Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet significantly negates the ‘no compulsion’ line – whilst telling Muslims that my new God has granted them certain rights, I would expect to be told that I do not get the privilege of handing out rights according to my own personal beliefs alone whilst destroying the right of others to believe according to their own conscience. The lives of others, are not mine to control or define. The same is true here. Muhammad was not promoting liberal values, he was assuming for himself a significant position of privilege to control the lives of others. Akyol then seems to accept that Muhammad instituted a sort of semi-theocracy with new liberties thrown in. He quotes Karen Armstrong who said:

“Muhammad could not produce a full-blown individualism to satisfy our present Western liberal ideas, but he had made a start.”

– The word ‘start’ should be replaced with the word ‘end’, because again, the Qur’an is the final message. She is right that Muhammad could not produce a full blown liberal, secular, democratic society protecting the civil liberties of all, at that moment and place in time. We as atheists must accept that he was just a man – impressive at times, flawed and disastrous at others – but believers who attempt to promote Islam as a faith that enshrines liberty – as Akyol attempted to do – have the uneasy burden of accepting that their God transcends time, and so the rules He sets out, and the man whom he chooses to empower with that message, must be the perfect form of liberty, and must not be rules that others over the centuries will try to mimic, causing misery across the globe. This is the problem of foresight – a subject I wrote on here – shared by the God of all the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, those rules – if they are to extend beyond the individual in any way – must protect and empower men and women, muslims and atheists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, of all ethnicities, without prominence or privilege to any sect of any faith, otherwise it is simply a book of oppression and no amount of redefinition can fix that. And whilst Mustafa Akyol’s book certainly provides a narrative that takes the more extreme elements of recent years away from the faith, it fails to produce a narrative that its title – ‘A Muslim case for liberty‘ – suggests, and fails to tear Islam away from political ideology by entertaining the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for Muslims to define the rights of non-Muslims.

The conclusion I came to after reading Akyol’s book – and getting past the predictable religious tendency to blame everyone else except religious dogma for its deficiencies – was that Islam is by its nature illiberal, it is just a little less illiberal than the extremists believe, and was a little more liberating than previous Theocracies centuries ago. A leap forward once upon a time perhaps, but thoroughly archaic today.


Dr Naik and the muddled Islamic story of creation.

January 13, 2014

Wikimedia Commons. Author: Ashfaq403

Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Ashfaq403

It is often the case that believers of Islam go to great lengths to thoroughly manipulate the words of their text to fit a modern narrative. Words are suddenly interpreted entirely differently to however they were interpreted for centuries previously, the moment a new scientific discovery is made, in order to make the Qur’an fit that new understanding. The historical context is abandoned. It is the religious equivalent of painting a 21st outfit onto Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and then claiming it was like that all along. Dr Zakir Naik is an expert in this most curious and disingenuous form of manipulating the words of the Qur’an to mean something that they clearly don’t. In this article, I will look at Dr Naik’s claim that the Qur’an’s description of the creation of the universe perfectly corresponds to modern scientific understanding.

The softly spoken, suited Dr Naik is loved by many Muslim apologists. For the rest of us, he’s a bit of a mad Televangelist who thinks 9/11 was orchestrated by President Bush, believes apostates who ‘speak out’ against Islam should be put to death, and that evolution was originally a conspiracy against the Church, and is now “only a hypothesis”. Ridiculous. He is essentially the Jerry Falwell of Islam. Nevertheless, he is taken seriously by a large number of Muslims, and so I thought I’d focus on him today.

For reference, I am using the English translation of the Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem. Haleem was born in Egypt, he learnt the Qur’an off by heart at a young age, and he is now Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His translation, according to ‘Muslim News’ is:

“One of the best to have appeared in recent times.”

Similarly, suhaibweb.com calls the translation:

“…one of the most genuine and refreshing translations in contemporary times.”

– I trust this translation. It sits on my shelf, and I use it for most articles I write on Islam.

Onto the topic. Here is Dr Naik trying so very hard to suggest that the Qur’an mentions the theory of the big bang.

Let’s examine the verses of the Qur’an mentioned here by Dr Zaik:
Chapter 21 Verse 30:

“Are disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart…

– No. Disbelievers are not aware of this, because this isn’t reality. The verse is quite clear. The heavens and the Earth – not the raw material that eventually forms planets, but the Earth itself – were joined. This creation idea is not unique to Islam. It is worth noting that the idea of the pulling apart of the Earth and the sky at the moment of creation, is known itself as the ‘World parent’ myth of creation. It is a common myth. The sky is usually depicted as the male, and the Earth as the female in these myths, with both existing tightly packed together before splitting apart in primordial state of being. The Egyptian deity Shu split the Earth from the skies, for example. The Qur’an mixes elements of the World parent myth, with elements of an ex nihilo variety of myth creation, with Allah bringing the Earth and sky into existence with speech, by forcing them apart. This also, is common. It is important therefore to note that the Qur’an follows earlier creation myth building perfectly, and offers nothing new or impressive. This does not in any way relate to modern cosmology, because it is entirely related to earlier myth creation, which itself was a way to try to explain our origins at a time in our magnificent history, when our species had absolutely no idea what was going on.

The Qur’anic verse above implies that space and the Earth were ripped apart at the same moment. We of course know that the big bang happened around 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The atoms that eventually became the Earth spent 9 billion years as other forms of matter. For most of the history of the universe, the matter that formed the Earth, was not, and will not be the Earth. The explosion of a star around 5 billion years ago, its remnants colliding with a gas cloud, that eventually formed our solar system. The heat from the supernova helped to form clusters of matter that eventually created enough gravitational pull to form the sun, which naturally became inconceivably dense and violently hot that it pulled surrounding objects into its orbit. Those surrounding objects eventually lumped together to form the Earth and other planets and moons. The matter that makes the Earth, will eventually create another form of matter, when the planet and the sun and solar system die out. The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. It was not once joined to the ‘heavens’ in the way the Qur’an implies.

A plethora of Islamic apologists – including Adnan Oktar – seem to suggest that the Qur’an actually means “matter” and not “the Earth” with verses like that of the one above. But that’s not what the words actually say. This represents one of those moments where Muslims insist every word of the Qur’an is exactly as it was revealed to Muhammad… until they decide it needs changing.

It is also worth pointing out that the materials required to create the Earth were created long after the big bang. For example, stable hydrogen atoms required the cooling of the universe over hundreds of thousands of years before it began to form. This of course, isn’t present in the Qur’an. Just “We ripped them apart”.

Also not present in the Qur’an; the infinitesimal singularity, there is no mention of matter, of atoms, of how planets form, of how gravity warps spacetime, no mention of the cooling period of the early universe and the creation of stable hydrogen atoms, no densely packed inconceivably hot energy in the early state of the universe, no quantum physics, no mention of the importance of the core of a star, no mention of how galaxies form, or of energy. There is no mention of these key aspects of the beginning of the universe because those who wrote the Qur’an were unaware of it all, relying instead on earlier myths. Had this been a ‘revelation’ from the divine, and given that the Qur’an goes out of its way to care enough to mention creation, I would have expected far more information, and a leap forward for scientific endeavour, rather than regurgitating legends of old. Instead we’re treated to cryptic nothingness that wouldn’t have been considered ‘advanced’ scientific knowledge, had it been ‘revealed’ 500 years earlier.

Further, the verse suggests that the Earth is now separate from the sky, and that separation occurred at the moment they were “ripped apart”. Whilst this is in keeping with World parent myth creation, in reality it doesn’t resemble truth at all. There is no separate “sky” and “Earth”, they are both part of the same system, with the Earth forming around 9 billion years after the initial expansion at the big bang. There was simply an expansion. There was no ‘before’ the big bang in which the Earth and the sky were in a different state of being, unless you accept the primitive creation myths in which a primordial state of being existed whereby the Earth and sky were joined. None of this is mentioned in the Qur’an, just a simplistic “We ripped them apart”. Let’s stop pretending this is credible, or scientific, or representing some sort of advanced knowledge. It isn’t. It is a simple, and primitive creation myth.

Chapter 41, Verse 11 (a chapter that tenderly takes a brief time out – a couple of sentences – from describing the painful eternal torture awaiting us non-believers, to discuss ‘creation’, before launching into more violent descriptions of our imminent punishment):

“Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

– Again it is worth noting that the use of God’s voice to bring into being everything, is not new. Everything springs from a creator after a thought, or words, or breath. Secondly, the mention of ‘smoke’ is not a new idea, having been propagated by the Greeks centuries earlier, as a potential state prior to the creation of the Earth. Aristotle, for example says To rest the entire idea of the Qur’an mentioning the state of the early universe on ‘which was smoke’ shows just how incredibly weak the claim is. There was no smoke at the conception of the universe. In fact, the early state of the universe cannot be said to resemble smoke – defined as ‘a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance’ – in any form. Carbon itself would not exist for a few million years. Stable hydrogen atoms also took a very long time to form. The early universe was a very dense, incredibly hot, lightless mass of energy. Not smoke. Nothing like smoke. Again, it takes very creative language manipulation to try to claim the word ‘smoke’ can be used to describe the early universe. It just can’t.

Much like the previous quoted verse, this verse suggests that the Earth and sky came into being at the same time, at the moment in which they were “ripped apart”, and again, this is wrong. Indeed, not only does Chapter 41, Verse 11 of the Qur’an absolutely contradict our understanding of the cosmos and the formation of the universe and Earth, but also, lazily, contradicts itself over the previous two verses. The preceding verses of Chapter 41, from verse 9-10 state:

“[9]Say ‘how can you disregard the One who created the Earth in two days? How can you set up other gods as His equals? He is the Lord of all Worlds! [10]He places solid mountains on it, blessed it, measured out its varied provisions for all who seek them – all in four days.[11]Then He turned to the sky, which was smoke – He said to it and the Earth, ‘come into being, willingly or not,’ and they said, ‘we come willingly…”

– So, from verse 9 and 10 we get creation of the Earth. The inclusion of the word ‘then’ at the beginning of verse 11, implies that God turned His attention to the sky, after already forming the Earth. By verse 11 the Earth has been created with mountains and ‘provisions’. There is no sky at this point, despite the fact that the earlier chapter 21 implies they were created at the exact same moment in which they were “ripped apart”. Provisions and mountains exist, but the sky is just smoke. But then, oddly, God turns to both and demands they come into existence together. Which they do, confirming the earlier chapter, but contradicting the previous verse.

An earlier myth from Memphis in Egypt tells us that the God Ptah simply thought the World into existence, and gave everything its essence, through his words. As noted earlier, the use of divine speech – important to this Quranic verse – to bring everything into existence is not new. As well as appearing in countless creation myths, it appears in the Torah too: “And God said; ‘let there be light!'”

So, if we take Chapter 21, Verse 30, along with Chapter 41, Verse 11, as Dr Naik does, we come to the conclusion that the Earth – complete with mountains and ‘provisions’ – was created first, the sky was then created. They were joined. They were then ripped apart. It is very similar to Genesis, with a few tweaks here and there. It corresponds wonderfully to earlier primitive creation myths that speak of the sky and Earth pulled apart at the moment of creation. But it doesn’t correspond in any conceivable way to reality, without a thorough rewording, and creative reinterpretation of what the text actually says. Dr Naik is attempting – unsuccessfully – to rescue a dying and failed ‘science’ from its inevitable demise, by recreating what it actually says. It is a very defensive form of apologetics. I am yet to find any scientific peer reviewed thesis in relation to the origins of the universe and planet formation that references the Qur’anic story. It isn’t difficult to see why.


The Gnostics & The Qur’an

December 28, 2013

qurannag

As an Atheist with an interest in all things religious, I often get asked “Why focus on religion so much if you don’t believe it?” It always seemed a rather odd question to me. It is unlikely that one can understand the World we live in, and the social history that produced us, without a fundamental understanding of the overwhelming power that organised faith has had upon the World across the brief history of mankind. Religion has sparked wondrous works of creative genius, and terrible moments of oppressive atrocity. It is woven into the fabric of human history. It is this that fascinates me.

Subsequently, as a non-believer, I am drawn to the mysteries surrounding Holy texts and from where they sprung. As Atheists, we dismiss the idea that Holy texts are divine in any sense, and so we must seek to provide more plausible explanations for their existence. For me it is impossible to deny that the Qur’an is a fascinating historical document.

I am quite certain that the Qur’an was written down for the sake of empire. It is an imperial book, and it has control at its core. As noted in a previous article, the earliest Quranic manuscript we have dates back to the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, a ruler who embarked on a massive imperial PR campaign – continued by his son – with the purpose of solidifying his fledgling empire, by linking it back to the founder of the faith. Muhammad’s name starts to appear on coins in 686 – a year after al-Malik’s accession, he oversaw the building of the Dome of the Rock, and it was during his reign, that the state and the new faith become one and the same. The Arabic empire, becomes an Islamic empire.

But let’s for a moment entertain the idea that the Qur’an came entirely from the mouth of Muhammad over the space of twenty years. It is important to note that we non-believers are quite certain that the Qur’an offers nothing new in terms of explanation or advancement in the sciences, nor anything that couldn’t have been produced without the need for a God. Even in the 7th Century. It then follows that the stories in the Qur’an must have came from elsewhere. Once we have evidence for this, the divinity of the Qur’an becomes entirely unnecessary.

A couple of stories in particular feature in the Qur’an, that also feature elsewhere, and prior to the Qur’an. The subject of Jesus’ youth was an important issue for early Christianity, and spawned plenty of different tales, mainly due to its omittance from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One later Gnostic story in particular features in Qur’an 3:49:

“And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of clay the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.”

– Similarly, Qur’an 5:10 says:

“When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by My permission, then thou didst breathe into it and it became a bird by My permission …. but those of them who disbelieved said: This is nothing but clear enchantment.”

– The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – a Gnostic text written between between 140ad and 170ad – first referenced by Irenaeus and later by Origen, tells a very similar story:

“Then he (Jesus) took from the bank of the stream some soft clay and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him.
But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the Sabbath day, went presently away and told his father Joseph,
Behold, your boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profanes the Sabbath.
Then Joseph came to the place where he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day?
Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while you live remember me.
So the sparrows fled away, making a noise.
The Jews seeing this, were astonished and went away and told their chief persons what a strange miracle they had seen wrought by Jesus.”

– The link is clear. Jesus creates birds out of clay, and miraculously brings them to life, as a sign to non-believers. Of course, it is prudent to note that similarity does not necessarily mean a plagiarised copy. He might have known nothing of these stories, and God revealed them. It was just coincidence that the same stories happened to be invented centuries earlier by Christians in Greece/Syria. We would need evidence that Muhammad had access to these stories, to entirely eliminate the divine explanation. So then, do we have evidence that Muhammad had access to these stories? Well, yes. By way of traditional biographies of the Prophet:

“[Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird.

– This is from Ibn Ishaq, who notes that the ‘Family of Imran’ – the third Chapter of the Qur’an – was revealed just after the delegation of Najrān Christians spoke to Muhammad. This delegation included Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, who had been lavished with gifts and money from the Christian Kings. You will note, that the first quote from the Qur’an I used in this article, is from Chapter 3 of the Qur’an. So it would appear that according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad just happened to have a revelation confirming new stories on the early life of Jesus he’d just heard from Christians telling him about the early life of Jesus. If this doesn’t strike you as a little suspicious, not much will.

Further, the same Sura 3 – revealed after Muhammad meets Christians who have their own Gnostic traditions – mentions a legend of Mary, also prominent in Gnostic texts.
Quran 3:37:

“Her Lord graciously accepted her and made her grow in goodness, and entrusted her to the charge of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah went to see her in her sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He said, “Mary how is it you have found these provisions?” and she said, “They are from God: God provides limitlessly for whoever He wills.” ”

– The Protevangelium of James says:

“(1) And her parents went down, marveling at and praising and glorifying the Lord God because the child had not turned back to look at them. (2)While Mary was in the temple of the Lord, she was fed like a dove and received food from the hand of an angel. (3) When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. (4)What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?” (5) And they said to the high priest, “You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.” (6) And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, “Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. (8) And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.”

– With variation in editorial detail, the story is the same. Mary lives in a sanctuary, Zachariah is prominent in her life in the sanctuary, and she is given “provisions” from a divine source.

Another story, this time from The Arabic Infancy Gospel says:

“He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.”

– This story of Jesus speaking, as a baby, from the cradle is echoed in the Qur’an:

“But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they dispute.”

– Two things to note here. Firstly, the link between Jesus as a baby in the cradle speaking philosophically about his role, with his mother close. The Arabic Infancy Gospel requires Jesus to echo Christian thought, whilst the Quranic version echoes Islamic thought. Secondly, The Quranic verse seems to note that this is a story not accepted by mainstream Christianity: “…which they dispute“. This suggests that the story most certainly pre-dates the Qur’an, was well known as a dispute within the Church, and given that we Atheists insist that the Qur’an was not divine; it is more evidence that Muhammad had heard or read the Infancy Gospels in some form, and was thoroughly inspired by them.

So, we know that at least three stories from the Qur’an are reflected in early Gnostic Christian texts, written far removed from the life of Jesus, and that have no credible base in historical reality. We know that Muhammad had dealings with Christians (Khadijah’s cousin ‘Waraqa’ was a devout Christian). We know that Muhammad conversed with gnostic-leaning Christians who believed that Jesus created birds from clay and brought them to life and that Muhammad had a revelation concerning Jesus and clay birds around that exact time, the same is true for the story of Mary. From this, it seems to me far more plausible that Muhammad – if we are to indulge the idea that the Qur’an indeed came from his mouth – framed the Qur’an from a plethora of Gnostic texts and sects that already existed, rather than from revelation. Whilst again, it is true that similarities do not necessarily mean plagiarism, they do offer plagiarism as an alternative explanation, and a plausible one. Natural explanations will always be more plausible than supernatural explanations. There is certainly enough within the context of the Gnostic texts and the Qur’an for any reasonable mind to seriously doubt the story of revelation.

It is this intriguing history; these few short years in the Arabian desert regions and the subsequent power and influence over generations of human beings from Mecca to Edinburgh, Medina to Beijing, that as an Atheist, keeps me enduringly fascinated by the subject of religion.


Atheism, Aisha, and Answering a Critic

October 25, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: ~crystalina~ (Flickr).

I’ve commented a couple of times on Islamic blogger, and occidentalist Hakeem Muhammad’s obsession with presenting every critical comment of Islam, as a product of racism. I wrote here taking point by point Hakeem’s claim that Atheism itself, is a product of white supremacy. Indeed secularism – all belief treated equally under the law – he considers a white supremacist plot. What I’ve come to understand by Hakeem’s obsession with ensuring that every criticism has a racial element to it, is that he considers the criticism and the critic as a threat to an unearned, unjustifiable religious privilege that simple ‘belief’ has allowed believers to enjoy for so long. It is the only reason that his most recent attack on me (though I do like the picture he used, I scrub up well when I try), contained the word “white” 15 times. And every one of those times, to reiterate just how terrible critics of Islam are, if they happen to be white. “Racist white men”, “misogynistic white men”, “Patriarchal white men”, “white saviour complex”. It is quite insulting to be reduced to what colour my skin is, rather than the content of my argument.

Let’s begin at the start:

“Here is futiledemocracy’s basic argument: Ayesha, who lived over 1,400 years ago, was a victim of sexual assault, and I, as a white male, need to save her. ”

– No it isn’t. This has never been my ‘basic argument’. The article in question can be seen here. My argument was quite clear, allow me to reiterate what I said, and what Hakeem completely misrepresented:

“Therefore the Prophet – when it comes to his marriage to a young girl – cannot be judged entirely by today’s standards. He is anchored to the cultural context of the period in which he lived. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that had I lived back then, and in that region, I would have felt the same way as I do today. Of course I wouldn’t, because I am constrained by the context of the time. But Hakeem fails in his basic premise, when we flip the argument back around to face him. The Prophet Muhammad, to Hakeem, was in touch with the eternal. He was in touch with a being that transcends time. He is not restricted by the cultural context of 7th Century Arabia, and in fact for Muslims, the Prophet is there to change the context of the time period. He certainly isn’t restricted by it.”

– My argument was structured upon the concept of ‘objective’ morality as offered by the religious, and how that static concept hinders progress. In other words, how anchoring your sense of moral justice to a 7th Century text might cause some problems in the future. I never claim the Prophet is a paedophile in the modern sense, and don’t consider it right to do so. I also don’t believe he was a Prophet, nor heard the word of God, and therefore Muhammad is just another human being constrained by the social context of the time in which he lived. However, it is the enshrining of that one particular time period into a system that is claimed to be timeless and unchanging and taught as truth to young and impressionable minds, that I find repulsive and dangerous. I do not claim Muhammad, or Aisha’s father could at that time rationalise that promising a young girl in marriage at such a young age to an old man, locks her into a life without her considered consent and is in fact abuse. Of course they didn’t understand the effects of child abuse, 1400 years ago.

Similarly, those who wrote and later edited the Old Testament books were writing from the context of their time, and so the buying of selling of slaves as advocated in Leviticus 25:44-46 is completely redundant today, and called out for the horrifying “objective” moral cancer that it is. And whilst Christians continue to chirp the same “we have a book of objective morality” nonsense, they eerily discard those passages that no are no longer acceptable to modern life. And so, Muslims and Christians have in fact out grown and progressed beyond the “morality” of their own Gods.

I thought I would comment on Aisha’s age, because it has become a relatively new form of apologetics, mainly by Western Muslims, who feel a sense of shame that their Prophet might have consummated his marriage to a child. It is they who abuse the memory of the history of their religion by trying to twist it to fit a modern narrative. They tend to present that modern narrative, disregarding the historical consensus for the story of Muhammad and Aisha, to seem more presentable to a global audience that has come to understand child abuse for what it is; a cancer. So I will focus here on Hakeem’s highlighted point:

“Ayesha was an adult when the marriage was consummated”

– This is by no means an established Islamic truth (it certainly isn’t an established reality-based truth). In fact, according to muslim.org, the first person to suggest that Aisha may not have been 9 years old when the marriage was consummated, was Maulana Muhammad Ali, in the 1920s. For 1200+ years, this wasn’t even questioned. And from my reading, the new 20th Century interpretations are almost all based on very weak guessing games and conjecture, rather than the actual testimony of Aisha…. the testimony of whom Hakeem places great importance upon… until it doesn’t go his way. No evidence is progressed for why the testimony of Aisha is wrong. It’s just ignored, despite the fact that the well respected and authentic source sahih al-Bukhari is quite clear on the matter:

“Narrated Aisha:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became All right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age.
Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234:

– And in fact, again, in sahih al-Bukhari:

“Narrated Hisham’s father:
Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed there for two years or so and then he married ‘Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consumed that marriage when she was nine years old.”
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 236.

– If these verses are considered to be entirely wrong by the apologists, why is everything else supposedly collected by Muhammad al-Bukhari not considered just as questionable? Indeed, Hakeem himself, in his article references al-Bukhari and tells us that only a “white misogynist” (why race has anything to do with misogyny, is beyond me) would disregard the testimony of Aisha, and then goes on to use her testimony in al-Bukhari to support his point. He then completely ignores her testimony when she gives her actual age (he must be a white supremacist). Not only that, but Muhammad al-Bukhari’s findings are confirmed by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, whose Hadith are considered second in authenticity only to al-Bukhari:

Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: “Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.”
Sahih Muslim 8:3310

– Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his wonderful Quranic commentary ‘Tafsir al-Tabari’ also appears fine with the age of Aisha at the point the marriage was consummated:

“I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old. Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me.”
Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 131

– The fact that Aisha was a young child is repeated through many more verses, including Abu Dawud 41:4915:

“Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) married me when I was seven or six. When we came to Medina, some women came. according to Bishr’s version: Umm Ruman came to me when I was swinging. They took me, made me prepared and decorated me. I was then brought to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him), and he took up cohabitation with me when I was nine. She halted me at the door, and I burst into laughter.””

– And again, in Ibn Majah Vol. 3, Book 9, Hadith 1877:

“It was narrated that: Abdullah said: “The Prophet married Aishah when she was seven years old, and consummated the marriage with her when she was nine, and he passed away when she was eighteen.”

– Prize winning author Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri in his modern day biography of the Prophet ‘Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum’ writes:

“She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnèd woman in jurisprudence.”

– It takes some incredibly creative number games (or the usual… the interpretation must be wrong!) to attempt to dismiss the obvious, in order to appeal to a modern narrative. Hakeem is one of those seemingly embarrassed by the age of Aisha when his Prophet married and consummated the marriage to his young bride. Hakeem’s article is a mess of inconcise arguments from “She wasn’t a child!” to “It was fine to marry children back then!” to “omg why aren’t you focusing on how great Aisha was?” Look:

“Ayesha was outspoken, powerful, and witty; certainly not the type of woman who people would see as a victim. This utter demolishing of such a fallacious trope demonstrated by Ayesha’s life leads to imperial feminists slandering, degrading, and misrepresenting her story.”

– So that’s “white supremacists”, “white misogynists”, “patriarchal white men”, and “imperial feminists”. Meaningless ad hom attacks. Hakeem the psychologist has now apparently decided he knows “the type of woman who people would see as a victim”, presumably the opposite of outspoken, powerful and witty.

It is absolutely right, when talking about a man considered the ideal human being, whose life must be replicated as best as possible, to thoroughly critique and understand that life. This cannot be escaped by glossing over it, focusing on something entirely different – like Aisha’s ability in war or her later political prowess – or attacking anyone who does bring up the uncomfortable narrative of the marriage and consummation, as “imperialists” or “white supremacists”. It isn’t good enough.

As it turns out, I do quite like Aisha. She seems to have been incredibly rebellious, supremely well educated and echoes suspicions we non-believers share with regard the questionable times the Prophet has ‘revelations’ coinciding with his own personal desire for women:

Narrated Aisha: I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, “Can a lady give herself (to a man)?” But when Allah revealed: “You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).” I said (to the Prophet), “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.”
Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311

– Sarcasm at its finest! And I completely agree with her. She was certainly impressive, outspoken, witty and suspicious, and rightfully so, given that Sura 66 of the Qur’an exists for no other reason than to threaten the Prophet’s wives with hellfire usually reserved for us terrible Atheists. Never one to miss an opportunity to speak degradingly and violently against those of us who don’t believe, the same Sura 66 insists that the Prophet should “deal sternly” with us because “Hell will be their home”. It then goes on to note specific women currently in hell, in order to ensure Aisha and Hafsa toe the line and allow their husband to continue his conquest of slave girls.

Whilst Aisha’s strength in suspicion and outspokenness, and her dedication to women’s education must be taken into account for discussions around Aisha as a person according to Islamic accounts and women in Islam today; her achievements and historical importance do not apply to a debate around the ‘objective moral anchor’ that Islam claims through the life of its Prophet especially when it concerns the vulnerable. It is a separate discussion, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when child marriage in Islamic states continue to this day.

But we must also note that in late antiquity, child marriage was not confined to Islam. Child marriage was common across the World, in Europe too, and lasted until very recently. It is unfair for non-Muslims to focus on the Prophet Muhammad whilst ignoring the vast majority of the rest of the very Patriarchal planet for the past few thousand years. It was a planet (and still is) ruled by men, for men. It is no surprise that Holy Texts reflect that. But it isn’t the context of the time that is the debate here, it is the enshrining of the context of one time period, for all subsequent time periods, through the life and deeds of one man confined by that time period, and presenting it as universal “truth”. That simply cannot be justified.

Indeed, if you absolutely believe that a text that anchors ‘right and wrong’ to a single geographical location at a single point in time, is the unchangeable word of truth, requires the belief that everything in that text is infallible, that the God who spoke those words exists across the context of all time periods did not consider it important to let the Prophet know that marrying and having sex with children might be wrong. This is uncompromisable to believers, and that is when dogma becomes dangerous. Given that a perfect God must know in the 7th Century, that which we in the 21st Century now understand about the horrific psychological effects of child abuse, why would He insist on intervening with Sura 66 to sort out the Prophet’s love life…. but not intervene to let his followers know the damage caused by child abuse? From an Atheist point of view, Muhammad cannot be condemned through 21st Century specs. The concept of anchored morality to one specific point in time…. absolutely can be condemned.


The Myth of the Unchanged Qur’an & Muhammad as a role model.

February 20, 2013

Quran_cover There appear to be two often repeated key romantic ideas used to add credit to the Islamic faith. The first, concerns highlighting the Prophet Muhammad as an ideal role model for humanity, and the second is the notion that the Qur’an, throughout its history, is the perfect, unchanged word of God. That whilst Christian and Jewish texts have been revised, and rewritten throughout history (this is true), the Qur’an has remained the pure, and perfect word of God and that it is so wonderfully written, no one could repeat the perfection of it. This myth is cemented into the minds of children at a very young age. It is unquestioned. It is provided as fact, and yet, it seems anything but fact when examined.

This is a long article, so I have tried to break it down into two parts, though they are just rough guides to the proceeding paragraphs.

Muhammad, Revelation, and Hadith:

We are told that Muhammad received the word of God, through sporadic revelations throughout his life. He used scribes, we are told, to write some revelation down, and others memorised parts. Nevertheless, we have no documented evidence of this or anything relating to the Qur’an from that time period, other than hear say (some will point to the odd parchment here and there, that definitely aren’t verified, nor have any strong claim to be of value. I once saw a museum in Istanbul claim to have a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, and the staff of Moses, I dismiss that for the same reason). This is entirely based on trust. We must trust that the Qur’an we have today, is word for word, that which Muhammad received. There is no evidence for this, other than tradition and sentiment. Muslims are very good at repeating the phrase… “The Prophet said this….” without actually providing falsifiable evidence that what they are saying, was in fact something spoken by the Prophet, rather than something someone made up years later.

The reason written versions are largely irrelevant, is because firstly, Muhammad and his followers were for the most part, illiterate, and the ones that could write, only had at their disposal a defective (incomplete) script, leading to questions of pronunciation. It had to be memorised, to preserve its integrity. It strikes me as incredibly bad planning on the part of the Islamic God, to reveal his demands and divine plan for mankind, to illiterate people with no complete script (other civilisations at the time, did have complete scripts), spoken by very few people, whose best hope of preserving it, was through memory…. of which, many forgot:

The Hadith suggests that some of those claiming to have memorised it, at times forgot:

We used to recite a surah which resembled in length and severity to (Surah) Bara’at. I have, however, forgotten it with the exception of this which I remember out of it:” If there were two valleys full of riches, for the son of Adam, he would long for a third valley, and nothing would fill the stomach of the son of Adam but dust.” And we used to recite a surah which resembled one of the surahs of Musabbihat, and I have forgotten it, but remember (this much) out of it:” Oh people who believe, why do you say that which you do not practise” (lxi 2.) and “that is recorded in your necks as a witness (against you) and you would be asked about it on the Day of Resurrection”

– Whole Sura’s have been forgotten! And therefore, those who were entrusted to remember it, cannot be trusted. They could recount wrong, they could change words, they could just invent whatever they wish. And again, it shows complete lack of planning on the part of Allah.

But don’t worry! If you do forget a verse, a new vaguely similar verse will be handed to you.

“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Qur’an 2:106”

– I shall come back to Muhammad inventing new revelations when it suited him later in the article. The idea of losing a verse, and replacing it is not unique to Islam. Joseph Smith of Mormon fame, when his manuscript was stolen, and asked to match it word for word, if it truly were the divine, unchanging word of God…. he said he didn’t have to, because the old version was now tainted with the Devil, and so he would receive a new and similar revelation, but not word for word, conveniently. It is of course, ridiculous. And in both Muhammad’s and Smith’s case; the resulting revelations include power over others and unique sexual ‘rights’ for the ‘Prophet’.

Secondly, Muhammad was illiterate. God has chosen to give his message to someone who is illiterate, whilst proscribing war knowing those who memorise it might be wiped out? If He wishes his religion to spread, revealing it to an illiterate in the hope that he might memorise it, doesn’t seem too wise, and will inevitably lead to people not accepting it.

Remember, revelation is only revelation to the person receiving it. To everyone else, it is hear say, there is no reason to believe what another tells you as fact, especially when it lacks all evidence. We have no reason to believe that Muhammad didn’t just make it up. We also have no way to know that the words written down, were the words of Muhammad; he was dead by the time the words were written. We have no way to know that the writers didn’t just make it up. There is no surviving written Qur’anic text for almost 100 years after the death of Mohammad. Again, to believe the Qur’an is the perfect, unchanged word of God, Muslims have to place their trust in 100 years of passing down words, followed by over 1000 years of interpretations and copies of the text.
The belief, is based solely on trust.

Muhammad himself seems capable of having ‘revelations’ whenever he wished. And then replacing them with new ‘revelations’ for new reasons.. We know that in order to appease Polytheists who didn’t seem receptive to the idea of Muhammad as their new self assigned Prophet, Muhammad claimed that he had a revelation, insisting that under his new religion, the Polytheist Gods: Allāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt whom previously he had said weren’t allowed, were actually all real, and could be worshipped! HURRAH! But then, Muhammad decided that they weren’t real afterall. For this, he blamed Satan. Hence, the Satanic Verses. And there is the answer to “no one can produce anything like it”. Well, Satan did apparently.

There are then curious moments in the life and revelations of the Prophet, that certain things he desires, suddenly become divine revelations:

The Prophet prayed facing Bait-ulMaqdis (Jerusalem) for sixteen or seventeen months but he wished that his Qibla would be the Ka’ba (at Mecca). So Allah Revealed (2.144) and he offered ‘Asr prayers (in his Mosque facing Ka’ba at Mecca) and some people prayed with him. … (Bukhari: vol. 6, bk. 60, no. 13, Khan)

– Muhammad originally prays facing Jerusalem, but “wishes” he could pray toward Mecca. Suddenly, he gets a call from Allah, telling him he can now pray toward Mecca. Convenient.

It seems that Allah didn’t actually wish women to be veiled originally. But Muhammad’s friend Umar ‘wishes’ it, and suddenly Muhammad gets another call from Allah, and women are to be veiled for the most mundane reason:

And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.” So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed. (Qur’an 24:31)

And one need not even wonder where this nasty little verse, offering special sexual privileges to Muhammad came from:

Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom Allah had given you as booty; the daughters of your paternal and maternal uncles and of your paternal and maternal aunts who fled with you; and any believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet and whom the Prophet wishes to take in marriage. The privilege is yours alone, being granted to no other believer. (Qur’an 33:50, Dawood)

In the Hadith we see further changes to revelation, to suit Muhammad or his friends. Ibn Umm Maktum was a blind man, who later in life converts to Islam and becomes a friend of Muhammad. He takes exception to the idea that Muslims who sit at home rather than fight for their religion are not equals. And so, Bukhari tells us:

“When the Verse: “Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home)” (4.95) was revealed, Allah’s Apostle called for Zaid who wrote it. In the meantime Ibn Um Maktum came and complained of his blindness, so Allah revealed: “Except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame…” etc.) (4.95) (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 6, Book 60, Number 117)

– How convenient! And also, how weak of a God to not consider exceptions in the first place. He needs them pointing out to him?
Judging by certain revelations, that Muhammad received at times when it suited his own ‘wishes’ or those of his male friends, it is reasonable to suggest that the alternative to Muhammad as a Prophet, is that he concocted the entire thing, for purely selfish, misogynistic reasons. There are too many ‘revelations’ that are concerned with Muhammad’s personal life to be ignored or played off as a God that wished to offer a divine guide for the entire human race. This God is far too pre-occupied with satisfying Muhammad’s lust for women and power.

Here is a God that could be describing the wonder of Dinosaurs, or the mysterious beauty of the Event Horizon, or evolution through natural selection and random mutation, or the curvature of space time when a great mass is involved, or the spectacular insights offered by quantum physics. Instead, he chooses to spend much of his time, telling his Prophet who he personally is allowed to sleep with; turns out, it’s whomever he wishes at the time. Which is convenient.

We cannot reconcile the horrifying genocide of the 600 – 900 Bani Qurayza men who Muhammad personally demanded beheading, and in fact, helped to behead; with a ‘peaceful’ interpretation of Islam. What happened to the poor women of the tribe, whose husbands had now been so viciously slaughtered by such a violent warlord? According to “The Life of Muhammad” by Ibn Ishaq:

“Then the apostle sent Sa’d bin Zayd Al-Ansari brother of bin Abdul Ashhal with some of the captive women of Bani Qurayza to Najd, and he sold them for horses and weapons.”

– Sold into slavery. A Prophet of God, making money, out of selling captured women of men he has just slaughtered, into slavery…. and no intervention or revelation from ‘Allah’ saying “don’t do that”. Extremism is not a fringe element of Islam, or a misinterpretation… it is inbuilt into this ideology itself.

Muhammad is a contradictory character; he is entirely different in Medina, to his life in Mecca. He becomes violent, dictatorial, sex obsessed, polygamous and his words become forceful and threatening. When in Medina, noticing the Jews living there did not accept him as some new wondrous Prophet, he turns vicious, the Jewish population, understandably, are not exactly happy with the subtle threats:

The apostle assembled them in their market and addressed them as follows: “O Jews, beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon Quraysh and become Muslims. You know that I am a prophet who has been sent – you will find that in your scriptures and God’s covenant with you.” They replied, “O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for by God if we fight you, you will find that we are real men!” (Ibn Ishaq, 545)

Suddenly, and predictably, Muhammad gets ANOTHER call from God.

Say to those who disbelieve: “You will be vanquished and gathered to Hell, an evil resting place. You have already had a sign in the two forces which met”; i.e. the apostle’s companions at Badr and the Quraysh. “One force fought in the way of God; the other, disbelievers, thought they saw double their own force with their very eyes. God strengthens with His help whom He will. Verily in that is an example for the discerning.” (Ibn Ishaq, 545; Qur’an, 3:12-13)

He then finds a wonderfully convenient way to explain why Allah suddenly decides to change or replace verses in the Qur’an, when people start questioning Muhammad’s divine messages, suggesting he may in fact be a fraud:

“When We substitute one revelation for another – and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), – they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not. Surah 16.101″

– Basically; don’t question. Allah knows best. The Qur’an has changed…. because Allah himself (at moments that were convenient to Muhammad’s current situation in life) decides to change passages, apparently deciding the original ones weren’t right afterall. Surely a perfect being would get it right the first time? Surely, if you’re preparing to release the most important message in history, to the whole of mankind, you plan a little better than this?

But we should not be surprised by the violence. As well as threats, and death for apostasy… Muhammad manages to demand his message start spreading, by force, from childhood:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Command a boy to pray when he reaches the age of seven years. When he becomes ten years old, then beat him for prayer.” Abu Dawud 2:494

At the time, certain Jewish Medina citizens did not take kindly to this new violent man threatening and murdering his way through their mist. Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a poet, began mocking Muhammad and satirising him. And like a modern crime family Mafia Don, Muhammad gathers a few of his followers, and says:

“Who will kill Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf? He had maligned Allah, and His Messenger.”

– Ka’b bin Ashraf is then murdered; for insulting the delusions of the Prophet. And he wasn’t the only one to meet this fate, simply for disagreeing with the violent Prophet of Islam. Ibn an-Nawwahah was a rival Prophet. Muhammad, feeling threatened by a rival reacted badly, as is explained in a Hadith:

“I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: Were it not that you were not a messenger, I would behead you. But today you are not a messenger. He then ordered Qarazah ibn Ka’b (to kill him). He beheaded him in the market.”

A lovely little story recounts the tail of Uqba bin Abu Mu’ayt, a man who absolutely despised Muhammad. He wrote against him, he mocked, and he tried to fight the murderous advances of the Prophet. Eventually, Muhammad gets overly annoyed and orders his death, whilst Uqba begs for his life, and for his children. The heartless Muhammad, does not care.

When the apostle ordered him to be killed, Uqba said, “But who will look after my children, O Muhammad?” [Muhammad’s reply] “Hell.” The man was put to death. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 458)

– So we see, the condemnation and murder of anyone who dares to mock, or even criticise this religion is not new, it didn’t begin with the death threats against Salman Rushdie nor the Danish Cartoonists. It is an inbuilt trait of the religion itself. It began with the Prophet. The enemy of free expression. This was not a peaceful man. He may indeed have been a great military leader and conqueror placed in the context of the time period, but this does not make him a great spiritual leader. And even if we place Muhammad in the context of the time period… which undoubtedly was a violent time, this ‘great’ Prophet did not rise above it as might be expected for a Prophet of the all-loving and all-knowing bringing a message of peace; no, he became a part of it. He spread his message, through fear and violence. This is not to be admired.

The sex life of Muhammad is a key theme for the Qur’an:

“O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her– specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; ”

– Basically, Muhammad, you’re free to sleep with whomever you want. Apparently this was a necessary revelation, from the overlord of the Universe. If this isn’t a key indication that the Qur’an was invented by a human man, i’m not sure what is. The point here, in relation to the Qur’an never changing, is that Muhammad simply invented revelations, when it suited him. Revelations pertaining to his sexual desires were delivered whenever he required it. If this is the basis of ‘morality’, it is truly horrifying.

The historical context is irrelevant, because for Muslims, the man in question is in contact with an angel of God. He is capable of receiving ‘revelation’ that changes the ‘context’ of the time period quite significantly, leading to a brand new empire based on a brand new religion. His life is dedicated to changing the ‘context of the time’, and yet God doesn’t see fit to reveal to him that having sex with a 9 year old girl is wrong, or that it might lead to Islamic Patriarchal societies in the future using this to justify lowering the age of consent? Saudi Arabia is not just a ‘Patriarchal’ society. Islam is a Patriarchal religion, clearly invented by men, for men.

The ‘place it in the context’ of the time period argument, is a failure. It is a weak attempt to defend a man who cannot be defended. If Muhammad can receive divine command that changes the context of the time, then Allah has no problem with 50 year old men having sex with 9 year old girls. It just isn’t on his list of cares. He seems more concerned with acquiescing to Muhammad’s request to pray facing Mecca. Allah dedicates an extraordinary amount of time to Muhammad’s sex life. If however, Muhammad isn’t divine. Then yes, he can be placed within the context of the time period, and we cannot judge him by today’s standards in that respect. The moment you accept that he is a Prophet who can receive divine revelation, that negates the ‘context of the time’ argument.

Muslims tend to trust the infallibility of the Hadith. Many will quote what the Prophet ‘said’, during debates with non-believers to add support to their argument or the way they choose to live. Their stories and explanations become intricate, and detailed. But let’s not be fooled by people acting as experts for something so ambiguous. Because Muhammad al-Bukhari, one of the most trusted collectors of the sayings of the Prophet, whose Hadiths are held up as a key component of Islam, was born in 810ad. Two centuries after Muhammad. It takes a lot of trust to accept that a man writing two centuries later, hearing stories passed down over many generations, knew the exact words that the Prophet had uttered. The Hadith are supremely important to Islam, and so if there is doubt over even one Hadith, then they must all be questionable, and the writers cannot therefore be completely trusted. Well, a book written by liberal Muslim Jamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2008 published a book entitled: “The Cleansing of Bukhari and Muslim from useless Hadiths“. In it, he claims that 653 of the Hadith are wrong, and should be discarded. Even within the Muslim World, they do not agree on the authenticity. And who can blame them?

In fact, the first full account of Muhammad’s life was not only written a century after his death by Ibn Ishaq, all based on oral traditions, it has since been lost, and was rewritten under the authority of Ibn Hisham, even later. Again, this is not something we are compelled to believe is ‘truth’. This is ambiguity at its best. Believers have their work cut out for them, if they are to convince me that this is quite obviously the truth.

Muhammad was a war lord. A very violent man. He was not simply a peaceful type who wished to convey personal faith, and let others know what he believed. He wished to spread his religion, by the sword, crushing anyone who disagreed or disobeyed, and indoctrinating children along the way through violence. And there’s no doubt about what Muhammad achieved. As a military leader and conqueror, he was undoubtedly spectacular. One of the greatest of all time. But not as a spiritual leader. His power also extended to his sex life, inventing verses when it suited him, for his own personal desires and those of his friends. Muhammad was not a good man, and the example he set, is the very reason the religion of Islam has a very intolerant sect of fanatics wishing to replicate what Muhammad achieved. When Nasser al-Bahri (or Abu Jandal) was arrested for his links to al-Qaeda, his reasons for extremism were not primarily American “imperialism” or anything of the sort. His motivation, was certain Hadith that states quite openly, that those who carry the Black Flag, will fight and be victorious for the ownership of Jerusalem. That is the goal of Islamic fanaticism. And it is directly related to the Hadith; the supposed words of the Prophet, not to the actions of America or Europe or any other global power. It is an autonomous ideology, it isn’t a mistranslation of Holy texts, and we must stop making excuses for it.

This religion and this Prophet, are not inherently peaceful (note; I do not claim individual Muslims are not peaceful, this would be incredibly short sighted of me), nor do they lend themselves well to secular values, regardless of how much we delude ourselves into desperately trying to believe otherwise.

The Qur’an and its changes:

Perhaps in Arabic, The Qur’an is written far more wonderfully than the version I have in English, which is really quite ordinary and frankly, the narrative is all over the place. I wondered why Muslims often ask people to create something as ‘wonderful’ as the Qur’an, where did that demand come from? Much like Christians use Biblical verses in a show of circular reasoning to attempt evidence for the existence of God (usually “A fool has said in his heart, there is no God”) it seems that Muslims use a Qur’anic verse, to insist that no one can write something as wonderful as the Qur’an:

“If the mankind and the jinns were together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another.” [Qur’an 17:88]

– This is a fallacy. You cannot use the words in a book, to prove that book is true. It must have substance. The substance in the above is empty. The beauty of a text is of course very subjective. Having read the Qur’an, I was not impressed, and in fact, found it to be anything but well written.

We then find that there is no agreement over who actually gave the order to write the Qur’an. Whilst some claim it was Ali, most claim it was Uthman that gave the order to have a standard, written copy of the Qur’an. This presents problems, because Uthman’s motive for the written Qur’an seem to be down to the fact that around the Islamic Empire at the time, different regions had their own versions of the Qur’an with different ways of reciting, and different styles. There was not one standard version from the time of Muhammad, which you’d expect, if it was the perfect, unchangeable word of Allah. To deal with this, Uthman standardises the Qur’an (in much the same was as early Christian dictators decided what deserved to be called the correct version of the Bible) and had his new version sent around the Empire. This is one man’s attempts to define a system of belief. Let us also not forget that Arabic itself, was not standardised until centuries later (the 9th Century). And so the interpretations, even of a standardised text, was interpreted and repeated far differently, depending on where in the Empire you happened to be from. It seems an awful time to send revelation. Why would a God not offer his revelation to a literate group, with a standardised system of writing? It is an astounding show of incompetence.

The Hadith themselves tell us that certain Qur’anic verses were just discarded at times. Maybe Allah had a change of mind.

“Narrated Anas bin Malik: … There was revealed about those who were killed at Bi’r-Ma’una a Qur’anic Verse we used to recite, but it was cancelled later on. The verse was: ‘Inform our people that we have met our Lord. He is pleased with us and He has made us pleased.’” Bukhari vol.4:69 p.53. See also the History of al-Tabari vol.7 p.156.

The Uthman Qur’an, considered by some Muslims to be the actual Qur’an of Uthman, currently residing in Tashkent, Uzbekistan also has its issues. The script itself is its major weakness. The Uthman Qur’an is written in Kufic script. This script was a form of writing that did not appear until decades after Uthman’s death. There is no reason to accept that the Qur’an in question, belonged to Uthman. It is likely an 8th Century version. Still old, and valuable, just not what it being suggested of it.

In Yemen in 1972, a set of parchments were found. The Sana’a manuscript is thought to be the oldest written Qur’anic manuscript, dating to around twenty years after the death of Muhammad. It has two layers, the top layer seems to collaborate the fact that the Qur’an was put together during Uthman’s era, as it reflects the Qur’an today in large parts. However, the bottom layer has vast differences between it, and the standard Qur’an of today. Much of the bottom layer had been erased, but not fully, so we still actually see the lower text due to the materials in the ink that turns the ink light brown over the years. Due to carbon 14 dating, we know that there is a 75% chance that the lower text was written before 650ad, which means it was erased some time later. Which means it was erased, because it didn’t agree with the new standardised version. Which means Uthman (or maybe someone else) decided words spoken by God, to the Prophet Muhammad, were not ‘right’ for his new version. It also means that there have absolutely been variations in content of the Qur’an right from the beginning. There has never been agreement.

The Sana’a manuscript is not just important because it shows the differences in the wording of the Qur’an which Muslims tend to suggest has never happened; it is important because of where it was found. The Great Mosque of Sana’a was, according to Muslim tradition, a Mosque that had design help from the Prophet himself, and became a centre of Islamic learning. Archaeological evidence appears to back up the claim that the Mosque was built during the Prophet’s life time. The manuscript therefore, is important. And so with that, we must look at the differences.

From the Standard text of the Qur’an today:

sanaa2
The translation of this from the Sahih International is:

‘… if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”

However, the Sana’a manuscript appears to be missing words:

sanaa3
The translation here, is:

“… if they turn away, Allah will punish them in this world. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”

– There is no talk of the ‘hereafter’ nor do we need the adjective ‘painful’. But more tellingly, when Muslims insist that not one word has changed since it was first received by Muhammad; they are wrong.

We cannot even claim that Uthman’s version is the version we know today. The Qur’an we know today, includes many changes. Some of which come to us from the early Islamic teacher, and Governor of Iraq, Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf Al-Thakafi. He didn’t entirely agree with Uthman’s Qur’an and so made changes himself. In Surat Yunus 10:22 he decides to take it upon himself to change “yanshorokom”, which means “spread you,” to “yousayerokom”, which means “makes you to go on.” In Surat Al-Hadid 57:7, the word “wataqu”, which means “feared Allah,” becomes “Wa-anfaqu”, which means “spend in charity.” The Qur’an we have today, is a mesh of what different Islamic rulers thought necessary to include, to omit, to change, based on revelations that Muhammad was conveniently, and changed, when it suited his and his friends needs. There is no compelling reason to belief any of it.

Verses also appear to have been changed around. Many Muslims note that Sura 5:3 is the final revelation. This causes a problem for both the unmatchable ‘beauty’ of the Qur’an and the idea that it is unchanged from Muhammad to today. Because, oddly, the apparent last revelation, doesn’t appear at the conclusion of the text of the Qur’an. It appears close to the beginning of the Qur’an:

“This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. ”

– It cannot be a perfected religion, or a completion of favour, if there are still the majority of revelations to come. And given that this Sura is not at the end of the text, it suggests the Qur’an was not compiled in order, which is a huge continuity and structual deficiency for any book, especially one claiming to be unmatched in beauty, and certainly contradicts the idea that it was passed down exactly as it was recited to Muhammad.

Certain parts of the Qur’an were said to be irretrievably lost. Abdullah ibn Umar, son of the second Caliph wrote:

“It is reported from Ismail ibn Ibrahim from Ayyub from Naafi from Ibn Umar who said: “Let none of you say ‘I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an’. How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say ‘I have acquired what has survived.”

– This constitutes a ‘change’ to the Qur’an we have today, from the one apparently spoken to Muhammad. With missing parts (parts that Allah doesn’t appear to have reissued, to someone else, as one would expect, given that they are his rules for life), means an incomplete religion, and an incomplete Holy Book.

Of course, to even suggest the Qur’an has changed, usually brings with it death threats and brands of apostasy from the incredibly insecure faithful. Dr Nasr Abu Zaid, ex-lecturer in Koranic Studies at Cairo University questioned the idea that the Qur’an was unchanged, back in 1990. The Egyptian courts ruled that he was apostate, and forced him to divorce his wife. He then fled to Holland to escape the increasing hostility and death threats.

The Qur’an cannot objectively be described as a book that has never changed. It quite obviously has and it was quite obviously used to fulfil the desires of Muhammad and his male friends. But even if you trust that Muhammad memorised the entire book, did not change one word for himself or his friends, that his followers memorised the entire book, that they passed it on, word for word, without any omissions or glitches of any sort to the next generation, and that it was written down perfectly; even if you trust the absurdity of that, and even if you can somehow rationalise in your head love for a Prophet who spent much of his time ordering executions and slaughter for very little reason; you cannot get away from the fact that there have been variations of the Qur’an since Muhammad’s life time, that he changed ‘revelation’ at certain points, used it to justify violence when it suited him, and that the variations across the Empire were enough that they caused Uthman to standardise the book, in a language that itself was not yet standardised, and that the standard Qur’an today, differs from the manuscript found at Sana’a. There is no perfect, direct line from the Qur’an as given to Muhammad, to today’s standard version. There is simply hazy recollection to forgetting Sura’s entirely, replaced revelations by the Prophet to suit himself, hear say, arguments over which was right, suppression of unauthorised versions by the leading Patriarchs of Islamic society, and disagreements between today’s version, and ancient versions.

But even if you are willing to overlook all the obvious discrepancies with the traditional story that the Qur’an is unchanged…… that doesn’t imply that the Qur’an is divine. An unchanged book can easily survive for centuries, and not imply divinity or truth. To the cause of divinity, the question of the Qur’an being unchanged, is irrelevant.

It is simply incoherent, ignorant, and disingenuous to claim that the Qur’an as it is today, is the exact, unchanged word that was handed down to Muhammad in a cave, in the 7th Century. The history of both Muhammad and the Qur’an are shrouded in ambiguity. Nothing is clear. The overwhelming evidence quite clearly points to changes to the Qur’an all along the way.

The very idea of forced belief (which is what it is, when punishment and reward enter into the equation, as is the case with Islam and Christianity); God will hand down a very dubious list of demands, surrounded by very ambiguous circumstances, and questionable characters instead of irrefutable proof, which if you simply do not believe, will have you roasting in hell for eternity, is a concept that repulses me. We should all feel threatened by anyone who claims they have divine permission to tell you how to dress, how to act, how to talk. Or anyone who demands unquestioning respect and an end to all mocking of their faith, whilst they themselves demand the right to tell you that your ways are wrong and destined for eternal punishment. It must be resisted.

To believe it, is to suspend all reason, and all critical faculties, and replace it with sentiment.