More Than a PR Problem
The last two US presidents have repeatedly referred to Islam as “a great religion.” In a recent dust up, liberal actor Ben Affleck insisted that atheists Bill Maher and Sam Harris were “racists” for criticizing the more unsavory tenets of this world religion. In Affleck’s mind, one cannot criticize the extreme aspects of an ideology without also being xenophobic hater.
It’s part of a popular narrative, “Modern extremism within Islam” we’re told, “is an aberration—a virulent strain of ideology that threatens to hijack one of the world’s ‘great’ religions.” Listening to the news, politicians, or hollywood surrogates, you’d think that Islam only has a PR problem caused by a few fundamentalist crazies.
Yes, it’s all very PC. Probably to retain votes and viewers, politicians and the media are complicit in selling this narrative to the public. And of course this argumentum ad populum attempts to appeal to the masses of peaceful Muslims who mind their own business and keep to themselves and don’t have any interest in holy war.
Moderate Islam. Yeah. Um, about that…
1. Moderate reforms within Islam run counter to its DNA.
I recognize that there are various traditions of nonviolence within Islam. Of course I understand that various reform movements (typically referred to as “progressive Islam”) have attempted to reorient the Muslim faith and modulate its message to one of peace, love and neighborliness. Indeed there are passages in the Koran that affirm these very virtues.
But I would also vigorously contend that our Presidents and congressmen, reporters and pundits, all unwittingly become the apologists for a moderate form of Islam that is actually: 1) late in the history of the religion, and 2) doesn’t actually represent the core tenets, the example of its founder, nor the reality of centuries of Islamic war on the east, west, and everything in between.
I submit, those reforms are in spite of their founder who led brutal conquests and instructed his followers to conduct holy war against infidels and apostates. Those progressive reforms have always been an attempt to take Islam away from the example and teachings of its founder. In contrast, reform movements within Christianity over the centuries have attempted to return the church back to the teachings and example of its founder—Jesus.
Moderate Islam conveniently screens out the explicit claims of its founders and founding documents: the true followers “strive and fight with their resources and selves” while false believers “sit in the house” doing nothing and refusing to fight in jihad (Surah 9). And for that reason, Islam is not a great religion.
2. Radical Islam is not, historically, a deviant form of the Muslim faith. The myth in the public PC narrative is that true Islam “would never behave that way” toward outsiders. But consider that the first pillar of their faith is the declaration: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” One cannot separate the faith from its founder. The arabic word Islam means “surrender.” While progressive Muslims would prefer the tepid anachronism of mere “surrender to the will of Allah” (in a spiritual sense)—Mohammed himself took this to mean “surrender to the will of Allah or else!” Just consider this:
- In the 7th century after conquering Medina and Mecca (invading these territories and killing thousands of people), the founding prophet waged between fifty and sixty military campaigns against “infidels”—proclaiming a message of surrender on pain of death or slavery.
- As an example of his brutality, during one of his many military invasions, Mohammed decapitated 100 Jewish men of the Banu al-Nadir tribe near Medina who refused to convert and follow him. He slaughtered a total of 700 Jewish men and took the rest of the women and children as permanent slaves. (Jewish Encyclopedia, “Mohammed”).
- The founding fathers of Islam, the Caliphs who succeeded Mohammed, continued his pattern of violence and territorialism. Within two decades after Mohammed’s death, Islam controlled territory the size of the Roman Empire.
- By the 8th century, Islam had conquered all formerly Christian north African provinces.
- In the 9th century it had conquered all of Persia, Afghanistan, and many territories in India. Islamist armies relentlessly invaded and attacked regions held by the followers of Zoroaster, Buddha, Brahmin, and Christians in the east (History of the Christian Church Vol. 4, section 43).
- From the 11th to 15th centuries, Islam conquered the Turks and made multiple attempts to overpower eastern Europe
- The death penalty (mostly by beheading) for infidels and apostates wasn’t abolished by the Sultan until as late as 1856.
- Some Muslim countries (such as Saudi Arabia), based on their interpretation of Sharia law, still behead criminals in public. Among the offenses warranting beheading is defection or apostasy from the faith (and that’s moderate Islam).
- In “moderate” Islamic countries, women are still seen as inferior by nature to men (the Koran makes this claim unambiguously).
Islam has historically advanced itself through military incursion and forced conversions, and has taught the inferiority and subjugation of women, and for that reason, Islam is not a great religion.
3. If Mohammed were alive today he would be considered the worst kind of extremist.
If Mohammed were alive today, conducting the same kinds of brutal military campaigns that consolidated the familial tribes of Arabia in the past, he would be repudiated by every civilized society on earth, just as ISIL is today.
The modern notion that somehow a few radical zealots are tarnishing the image of an otherwise peaceful faith is a farce. Conversion by military force is baked into this faith system. That is the essence of this religion. War is bedrock. And moderation and tolerance are, for these radicals and their historic counterparts, the true heresy.
And why shouldn’t these radical Islamists try and reclaim the glory of their predecessors? Why shouldn’t they try to reestablish a new caliphate? I submit that there is overwhelmingly more historical precedence for their version of Islam than any other.
Consider these words by Mohammed:
“The sword, is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms”
“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His prophet, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land” (Surah 5:33—this was given in the context of Mohammed already having waged war on surrounding territories and nations. The statement is in the context of reprisals from territories already conquered).
“Reckon not those who are killed in Allah’s way as dead; no, they are alive and are provided sustenance from their Lord—meaning they are enjoying their 72 virgins in heaven” (Q.3:169).
What are radicalized Muslims supposed to think when they read these kinds of passages throughout the Koran (about 164 passages that explicitly reference Jihad against infidels)? The Muslim faith historically has given its neighbors and the world two choices: Either join the house of Islam (dar-al Islam) or suffer the consequences for remaining in the house of war (dar-al harb)? In other words, war was their defacto stance toward foreign nations, and “Allah loves those who are firm and steadfast in Jihad” (Q.3:146).
Islamic Scriptures call for the conversion or elimination of infidels through holy war, and for that—Islam is not a great religion.
4. Islam is a cult. In fact, Islam is the largest Judeo-Christian cult on the planet. And this truth is nowhere more glaring or manifest than with their sacred Koran. The Koran claims to authoritatively change and distort OT stories, to alter time-honored Jewish traditions, and falsely asserts to usurp the Bible as the “complete” revelation of God. When objectively considering the evidence, the claim that the Koran is an updated, corrected, more complete canon cannot be rightly faced.
- Old Testament (OT) traditions have historic merit because they are based on a textual pedigree. The Old Testament traditions and narratives were established at least by 200 BC as attested by the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT). As to their contents, these ancient texts are statistically identical to the Masoretic Hebrew (AD 1100) in all points essential. This means that the manuscripts and stories of the OT were faithfully transmitted for at least 1,200 years (and we may extrapolate that this penchant for scribal excellence in transmission predates the Dead Sea community). If the Koran or any other religious book claims (and they do) to have an updated and corrected version of the stories contained in the TeNaK (the Hebrew Bible), then it’s time to put up or shut up. Where is their documentary evidence? Where is the paper trail that shows there was another tradition handed down supporting their alleged revelation? It’s easy for cult leaders to claim to have a new revelation and then replace existing Scripture with so-called “new truth.” The claim that the Koran corrects the alleged “corrupt” OT is bogus because it’s so called revisions are not based on any known textual tradition prior to the 7th century. “Now wait a minute” the Muslim apologist will argue, “We don’t need a textual pedigree because the Koran is pure revelation.” Yeah right. That’s what all the cults say.
- The New Testament (NT) is a far better successor. The Koran claims to be the final fulfillment of both the OT and the NT. This is an implicit recognition that the OT is inherently prophetic in nature. But let’s quickly put the claim that the Koran better fulfills the OT to the test with a brief comparative analysis. The OT contains hundreds of prophecies about a coming deliverer of Israel and the world (not to mention the numerous allusions establishing the deliver-motif). Jesus fulfilled all of them (including the “Suffering Servant” and “God-as-Shepherd” prophecies) to the letter. Based on this, His followers created a textual tradition that is unmatched in the ancient world. The NT text does not distort, destroy, change, or do violence to the OT. Instead it fulfills and builds upon existing Jewish theology. The NT exists in 5600 original language manuscripts, nearly 15,000 early translations, and in over 30,000 early church father quotations. And it is the single most quoted book in history (next to the OT). The Christian Bible serves as a conceptual operating system for the entirety of western civilization. It’s themes are ubiquitous because they are inherently inspiring— and objectively coherent! And the Koran? Not a single prophecy from the OT or NT has been fulfilled by it. In fact, the Koran isn’t even prophetic in nature. Rather, it contains mostly proverbs and laws—a book of oracles and aphorisms. Non-Christians can access the Bible and debate about its contents because of its remarkable narratological structure and internal coherence. Comparatively, for non-initiates, the Koran is fairly impenetrable due to its haphazard and unhistorical arrangement. This is likely why it is the single most forgettable and unquotable piece of literature of antiquity (when is the last time you heard someone quote anything even remotely like Jesus’s Golden Rule from it?). Not to rant here, but when it comes to being a textual tradition that bears the earmarks of antiquity, when it comes to its prophetic or literary value, the Judeo-Christian Scripture wins hands down according to every possible metric. It is a revelation in light of history, not in spite of history. The Old anticipates the New and the New fulfills and completes the Old. The tradition from the OT passes seamlessly into the NT. Not so for the Koran which does violence to the OT text and distorts every established Christian doctrine.
Islam is a cult. And for that reason, it is not a great religion.
But wait. There’s more…
5. Islam’s altruism is entirely self-referential. To be fair there are passages that can be cherry picked from the Koran that appear to espouse altruism and mercy. Unfortunately, when one digs a bit deeper, it’s clear that Mohammed himself did not practice this with regards to outsiders. These passages are entirely self-referential—meaning that they are for the faithful insiders only. Outsiders must convert or die or be enslaved. That’s the teaching, that’s the example, and that’s the history of Islam. But insiders may enjoy peace, prosperity, equality, eternal pleasure, and mercy (unless of course you’re a woman). Altruism was confined to warriors injured in Jihad against infidels (Q.59:9), and only between brothers (Q.9:100). But for the dissenters from Islam, for those who would resist forced conversion, the Koran demands that Muslims “Fight them until there is no more apostasy” (Q.2:191-193). The Koran does not inherently view outsiders as objects of grace and mercy. This is precisely why Muslim nations have produced no significant contributions to altruistic endeavors (where are the Muslim doctors and organizations like Samaritan’s Purse—in the current Ebola crisis in Africa for instance?). Consider this:
- Jesus’s first sermon in the synagogue started a riot because he claimed he came to save those “unsavory” Gentile outsiders.
- Jesus commanded his followers to go and make disciples—he taught them that if a person would not listen to their message they were to just move on to the next house. Conversion by compulsion was the farthest thing from Jesus’s mind.
- Jesus commanded his followers to show kindness, compassion, mercy, and love toward outsiders (Mt. 25). Visiting prisoners, adopting the orphans, providing for the poor, loving your neighbor as you love yourself—these were all for the uninitiates—to bring them those lost sheep into the fold.
- The Disciples won the world with the power of their ideas, with compassion and the power of the Spirit. The Gospel was the power of God to rescue lost humanity—not the sword, not military might, not invasion of foreign territories with armies and troops.
- Based on Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels and Paul’s instructions in the Epistles, the early church ministered to prisoners, took care of those victims of the Roman plague, and adopted widows and orphans (those who were outcasts in Greco-Roman culture). As a result the Church spread across the Roman empire. Like a slow burn, the empire eventually turned to Christianity because of its merciful stance toward outsiders.
When assessing a religion’s relative greatness, it simply isn’t possible to ignore the historical context of that religion. And studying the history of this faith leads us inexorably to several penetrating questions:
- Would Mohammed (if he were alive today) approve of modern Jihad (violent “extremism” and holy war)? I think the answer to this is “yes.”
- On what basis would modern Muslims claim that Mohammed would condemn these acts? Certainly not his teachings or his example.
- Based on Mohammed’s teachings and example, what historically did emerge as the dominant expression of Islam for the last 1300 years (leading up to the 20th Century)? The answer is that Islam has forcefully marched into the world, taking territories, declaring their inhabitants Muslim, and persecuting, murdering and enslaving those who would dissent. And moderate Islam? Still tolerant of public beheadings, and complicit by not condemning Islam’s medieval, barbaric practices.
~ Jeff Scott Kennedy, D.Min.
Islam is not a great religion.