The “tributes” published at Jihad Watch by Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald (you can find them in the articles list here) have up to this point been of the deconstructive variety. Not this one.
Ibn Warraq is one of the most meticulous, articulate, amusing and altogether delightful writers of the present age. It is a privilege to have him on the Jihad Watch Board. His books are at last selling widely (Why I Am Not a Muslim is a best-seller in Denmark). At least one or two of them should be assigned in any course on Islam that purports to be something other than the usual apologetics, with the sanitized-by-Sells-Qur’an and the rest of it. Indeed, students — and faculty, and administrators — should be wary indeed of anyone offering instruction on Islam who deliberately leaves Ibn Warraq or Bat Ye’or off the syllabus entirely.
Why I Am Not a Muslim is one of the most acute analyses available of Islam as an intellectual system. It also discusses the misdeeds that are committed in its name (misdeeds which logically follow from its teachings); the variety of apologetics made on its behalf (including that of Montgomery Watt, the Anglican clergyman, who believed that faith in Islam was better than no religion at all); the exaggerated claims made for the achievements of “Islamic civilization”; the baleful model of Muhammad (whether he existed or not); the real significance of those figures who, routinely invoked as representatives of Islamic achievement, in fact were often skeptics, close to apostasy themselves — Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and Al Razi. And there is much more.
His other books are anthologies of scholarly writings, together with his own lucid, meticulous, and enlightening introductory essays and appendices: The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, What the Koran Really Says, and The Origins of the Koran. His articles all deserve to be read. One of the most amusing is his dismemberment of the “intellectual thug” Edward Said, which can be found in Spencer’s The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. Even more important is his essay on what a real reformation in Islam would entail. This is vital, given that an “Islamic reformation” seems to be the pet project of breezy young American law students, unaware both of the near-impossibility of its being achieved even by Muslims. For if it could have been achieved, it would have been, in the many centuries of trying, by perfectly intelligent Muslims who understood what needed to be done but kept coming up against the wall of text, the reality of immutable doctrine. Ibn Warraq, who as a child attended a madrasa, and who understands the effect of Islamic teachings from within, is properly skeptical.
Admirers of assorted “reformers” of Islam — Soroush or Noah Feldman or others — still in the afterglow of their year of teaching at Harvard Divinity School, or giddy with expectation for their coming year at Yale Law School (and if the little matter of reforming Islam can’t be achieved, oh well — perhaps as a consolation prize someone can be awarded tenure instead), would do better by immersing themselves in Ibn Warraq, Bat Ye’or, Reza Afshari, Ali Sina, and many others, including the scholars who can be easily retrieved from the CD-Rom of the Index Islamicus.
The idea that Westerners can “create the conditions that will empower the reformers” to achieve the “reformation” that has eluded Islam for 1350 years is startling. And more recently, at least one Muslim scholar now entrenched at an American law school appears to believe, or to want her audience to believe, that somehow the Qur’an can be treated like the American Constitution, and she will be the Chief Justice Marshall of her day (“It is a Qur’an we are expounding…”). No, the Qur’an is not the Constitution, still less the hadith and the sira. Back to the old drawing board — preferably the one that Ataturk used.
One would do better to read and reread Ibn Warraq. And to his books, add those of Reza Afshari (on human rights and Islam), of Bat Ye’or (on the institution of dhimmitude), and of others who have a less sanguine view, informed by long study, of Islam’s compatibility with human rights.
Those who read Ibn Warraq’s The Origins of the Koran, What the Koran Really Says, and The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, all of them splendid anthologies of scholarly articles, with his own introduction and other glosses, will not be disappointed. Then there is the vitally important Leaving Islam, a clarion call for the freedom of conscience. And coming soon are two more: Which Koran?: Variants, Manuscripts, And the Influence of Pre-islamic Poetry and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. No one who reads any of Ibn Warraq’s books with attention will regret it. And now he is doing groundbreaking work on the origins of Islam, which will help Infidels (and some Muslims) to understand how this belief-system, concocted to justify and promote conquest of far more civilized, settled, wealthy, advanced, and numerous peoples by primitive Arab tribes, became fixed and immutable. It will help them understand how and why it now threatens — with its blend of thwarted world-conquering ambition and fury that the “religion” which is supposed to dominate in fact seems to everywhere bring failure — to damage all the rest of us, as it has been damaging Infidel peoples and polities, for 1350 years.