Many people have sent me a post from Dean’s World, “Fisking The Islamophobes,” in which Dean Esmay answers an outstandingly moronic email he received about Islam. I have been asked by several to respond to Dean, since he goes too far in the other direction in his widely-linked reply. So here goes. To minimize confusion, I will quote only Dean’s words, not those of the stupid letter to which he is responding.
The moon God? Are you kidding me? The word “Allah” means “God.” In Arab-speaking lands, Jews and Christians and Muslims all refer to God as “Allah.” Because that’s what the word means: God. Muslims believe they worship the same exact God as the Jewish and Christian God. They worship the God of Abraham. They consider the Bible flawed but still a holy book.
Yes, some pre-Islamic Arabs used the word “Allah” for a moon god. It is also true that the Qur’an places Allah above the moon: “If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, “Allah”. How are they then deluded away (from the truth)?” (29:61). And yes, the Qur’an says that Allah is the same as the God of the Jews and Christians (29:46). But asserting this doesn’t make it so. While Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians use the word “Allah” for God, the substance of their understandings of God is vastly different. The Qur’an says that those who believe Jesus is divine are unbelievers (5:17) and under the curse of Allah (9:30). The Qur’anic claim the Allah is the same as the God of the Jews and Christians is actually an assertion of supremacy: the Qur’an presents itself as the final and entirely perfect revelation, correcting the errors that the followers of Moses and Jesus introduced into their original messages — which in both cases was Islam. Thus the Qur’anic claim that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God is not an expression of tolerance, but of the supersession and replacement by Islam of the corrupt and incomplete religions we know as Judaism and Christianity.
The Koran in parts says don’t be friends with treacherous unbelievers, but then in other parts says God may give you friends among the unbelievers. Most Muslims I know interpret that to mean you shouldn’t be friends with treacherous or deceitful unbelievers, but if unbelievers treat you honorably then you can be friends with them.
This seems to be an attempt to reconcile Qur’an 5:82 (–¦nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, “˜We are Christians–) with 5:51: “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them.” Note that 5:51 does not say that the Christians in question are treacherous. Does this mean that Esmay”s Muslim friends are lying to him about the Qur’an? There is no need to assume such a thing. But it is unfortunately true that their exegesis is not universally accepted within Islam, or even justified by the Qur’anic text on the face of it. This is a fact, among many others, with which Islamic reformers must one day reckon if they really hope to stamp out enmity for Jews and Christians among Muslims on a permanent basis.
Furthermore, the word “infidel” is a Christian term. It was invented centuries ago by Christians to describe Muslims, Jews, idol-worshippers, and other non-Christians”¦.
Fine. True. Christianity speaks of unbelievers. However, nowhere does the Christian Bible contain an open-ended and universal command that believers must make war on unbelievers, a la Qur’an 9:5. That command is amplified in 9:29, which tells Muslims to make war against and subjugate Jews and Christians. There is nothing in the Bible like this — those who like to invoke Old Testament commands to kill the Canaanites cannot make the leap between the Canaanites at one place and time to all unbelievers at all times and places. Nor can they find any mainstream Jewish or Christian sect that teaches that believers must make war against unbelievers as a point of doctrine — yet this is taught, with some minor variations, by all the Islamic schools of law (madhahib). And thus this moral equivalence argument founders.
The thing is, very few Christians believe such a thing. Because those verses need to be read in their proper historical context, and in the context of the rest of the Bible. Which is exactly how you have to take anything that’s in the Koran: in proper historical context, and in the context of the full book and not just one or two verses. Duh!
Duh is right. This isn’t just a matter of a few verses wrenched out of context. Here is a detailed contextual argument by a Muslim, arguing that the Qur’an teaches violent jihad against unbelievers. Let Muslim reformers refute it from the Qur’an, and teach their fellow Muslims the refutation. I’d love to see that. But unfortunately, arguments such as the one linked here are common, and influential in the Islamic world.
As for wife-beating: The Muslim site “Answering Christianity” has a very detailed rebuttal to Christians who claim the Koran endorses wife-beating, citing chapter and verse in the Koran and other Muslim sources. The short answer is that there is one controversial verse, which has multiple interpretations, which MIGHT make it okay to do this in extreme circumstances–MAYBE.
I am glad the Islamic apologists say that. I hope they convince their fellow Muslims. But here again, this view does not have the currency it should have. There are many, many, many, many, many, many, many Muslim men who think that Qur’an 4:34 allows them to beat their wives — and many, many, many, many Muslim clerics believe this also. It would be helpful if the “Answering Christianity” guys started working within the Islamic community to change these attitudes and spread their understanding of 4:34.
Compare to the bible: If you look through the Bible you’ll find that many biblical figures had multiple wives, including Abraham, Jacob (also known as Israel), Judah, David, and Solomon. You’ll also find parts of the Bible which say people should be stoned to death for blasphemy or adultery. Most Christians and Jews today don’t take such instructions literally, and neither do most Muslims today.
Yes, but unfortunately, while no Jews or Christians take such verses literally, some Muslims do. So far the Muslims who don’t have not been able to convince those who do that their way of looking at the Qur’an is incorrect. This stems from many factors, not least of which is the Qur’anic idea that it is a perfect book, valid for all time, and from the fact that the troublesome practices come not from isolated passages enjoining violence, but from an entire legal superstructure that virtually since the beginning of Islam has mandated stoning for adultery and amputation for theft as the commands of Allah. Sincere Muslim reformers must acknowledge this if they’re ever going to make any headway against it.
Esmay’s foil misquotes Qur’an 2:256, mistaking it for 3:85 (“If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost”). Esmay corrects him, correctly quoting 2:256:
[2.256] There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
All this says to me is that religion is voluntary, not compulsory (the Koran says that in more than one place)
No it doesn’t.
but if you believe in God and reject Satan then God will know and you’ll be in good shape.
There are verses that establish what Esmay says — most notably 2:62: “Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.” To reconcile this with 3:85, most Muslim commentators traditionally have understood 2:62 as referring to the true Jews and Christians who have not followed their brethren into false beliefs — i.e., Muslims, or to the Jews and Christians who converted to Islam. Here again, it becomes an expression of supremacy, not generosity and tolerance.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been one of the world’s foremost advocates of democracy, urging all Muslims to vote and be a part of the democratic process both in his homeland of Iraq (which is now a democracy) and around the world. He says voting and being part of democratic processes is a fundamental duty of all muslims. But I guess those Grand Ayatollahs don’t know much about the Islamic faith huh?
I wish Esmay or Rich Lowry or Tom Friedman would ask Sistani whether his enthusiasm for democracy extends to Sunnis as well as Shia, or if it’s only a means by which he sees that Shi’ites can gain power in Iraq. More importantly, I wish they would ask him if it extends to the unbelievers whom he classifies as on par with pigs, excrement, and urine. But as unclean infidels they probably wouldn’t be able to get close enough to him to ask these questions.
Democratic nations dominated by muslims include Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, Turkey, Albania, Niger, and Nigeria–and nowadays, also Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Someone had better tell all those people to give it up and go back to obeying their mullahs, huh? Crikey, this guy’s a scream!
The new Constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan enshrine Sharia as the highest law of the land. We saw the consequences of that with the Abdul Rahman case. Muslims in Nigeria and Indonesia are fighting to institute Islamic law there. Search the Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch archives (yes, they’re separate) for news of how non-Muslims are treated in those countries and the others Esmay names. Even a glance will establish that in all of them, there are large numbers of Muslims who believe that Islamic law must reign supreme and non-Muslims must be subjugated. And who detest any government not based on Sharia and are ready to fight against it. Now why is that, if only a tiny minority are attached to Sharia?
Oh by the way? The largest democracy in the world is India. Who’s India’s president? Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam–a Muslim! I guess someone better tell him that democracy can’t exist in his religion, and he should resign and start obeying his nearest mullah, right?
This sort of thing is just silly. Of course there are Muslims who believe in democracy. But that is a distinct matter from whether or not Islam, which has a clear vision of the social order that it considers ordained by Allah, is compatible with democracy — or whether democracies in Islam will always be under pressure from people who believe that no government has any legitimacy unless it obeys Sharia.
And when Esmay’s foe mentions married prepubescent girls, Esmay goes ballistic:
A totally insane and hateful lie. There’s just no other way to say it. I’m almost rendered speechless. The only part that appears to be true is that 10 is the lowest acceptable age for a girl to marry. You’ll find that many civilizations of the past, including Christian ones, held that kids could get married as soon as they hit puberty, which is often around age nine or ten. If you read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, in the original, Juliette was about 13 and getting a little past her prime. The world changes, standards change.
Fair enough. Why haven’t they changed so fast in the Islamic world? Why did Ayatollah Khomeini lower the marriageable age of girls to nine when he took power in Iran? Because of the example of Muhammad, who, according to a well-attested hadith, consummated a marriage with a nine-year-old — and Muhammad is “a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day” (Qur’an 33:21). This makes it exceedingly difficult to stamp out child marriage in Islamic lands. Here again, this has to be faced by any sincere Muslim reformer; referring to Romeo and Juliet doesn’t solve the problem.
Anyway, the point that Esmay’s Islamophobe is trying to make is that Muslims can’t be good American citizens. Esmay responds:
1) I work every day with Muslims, most of them immigrants who came here wanting the same thing most immigrants do: to worship as they choose without fear, to get good jobs, to establish homes, to become part of the American dream.
Of course. It’s obvious that there are many such people. It’s also obvious that there are people like Maher Hawash, who seemed to be one of these until it turned out that he wasn’t. Does this mean that no American Muslim can be trusted? Of course not. But it does make it incumbent upon the American Muslim community to show their loyalty to American pluralism and the American government by deeds, not just words — including active efforts to root out those who are deceptive. Hawash has not been by any means the only one. Not at all.
2) There are Muslims serving right now in the United States armed forces, fighting for these freedoms we hold dear.
Yep. That’s great. Same reservation: the problem here again is that within the Muslim community those who hold the idea that Sharia should someday replace the U.S. Constitution have not been excommunicated, and political correctness prevents officials from asking hard questions about the loyalties of Muslims in the armed forces. That leads to incidents like this.
3) United States armed forces are now fighting shoulder to shoulder with native Muslim forces in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Phillipines, and in several other countries besides that you don’t hear about. Native Muslim forces working with U.S. forces to kill terrorists. Got it?
Yes, I do. Same reservation.
4) The vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks today are muslims, which is why so many muslim nations are our allies in this struggle.
Real, dependable, trustworthy allies, that share our ideology and goals? Such as?
And Esmay’s punchline:
If you spread slanders like these about our Muslim friends, allies, brave soldiers, and fellow citizens, you are a traitor. More to the point, you are an enemy propagandist. By spreading filth like this, you allow the Osama bin Laden supporters to say, “see how the Americans hate us and spread filthy lies about us?”
The message Esmay got is indeed filth. But more distinctions need to be made, or we will simply not be aware of the full dimensions of the challenge we face. How can we overcome a challenge we don’t even recognize? And that is why I offer these reflections on Esmay’s post.