Muhammed's Islam

The Diabolical Myth Of A Moderate Islam

Muhammed's Islam
Muhammed's Islam Is Today's Islam
It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Another well-researched well-crafted essay by the European writer called Fjordman...

IDO NOT BELIEVE that there is such a thing as a moderate Islam, and have been quite clear about that since I started writing. I disagree with observers such as Dr. Daniel Pipes on this particular point. I'd like to say to Pipes that I enjoy much of his work. I have linked to it a number of times before and intend to do so in the future as well. However, I get increasingly disturbed by how many people keep repeating the mantra of reaching out to "moderate Islam" when I have yet to see a single piece of evidence that a moderate Islam actually exists.

When asked about where to find a moderate Islam, Daniel Pipes has repeatedly referred to the late Sudanese scholar Mahmud Muhammud Taha, whose ideas are available in English in the book The Second Message of Islam. Taha's disciple and translator Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'Im, author of the book Toward an Islamic Reformation, has this to say about the ideas of his teacher:

    "[T]he Medina message is not the fundamental, universal, eternal message of Islam. That founding message is from Mecca. So, the reformation of Islam must be based on a return to the Mecca message. In order to reconcile the Mecca and Medina messages into a single system, Muslim jurists have said that some of the Medina verses have abrogated the corresponding earlier verses from Mecca. Although the abrogation did take place, and it was logical and valid jurisprudence at one time, it was a postponement, not a permanent abrogation."

    Because of this, An-Na'Im thinks that "The Mecca verses should now be made the basis of the law and the Medina verses should be abrogated. This counter-abrogation will result in the total conciliation between Islamic law and the modern development of human rights and civil liberties. In this sense we reformers are superfundamentalists."

I have read the books of both Taha and An-Na'Im closely. I find that their writing sounds better the first time you read it than it does the second time. For instance, Taha suggests that the reason why Muhammad and the early Muslims "had to" murder so many people was because these individuals didn't accept Islam peacefully. Not only does Taha not indicate that he thinks this was wrong, he describes armed Jihad as a "surgical tool" which can be used to implement true Islam. He hints that this hopefully won't be needed now because people are "mature" enough to know that Islam is good for them and will submit without coercion.

What happens to those who don't like Islam and have no intention of submitting? Taha doesn't say, but judging from his writings, he seems to believe that violence is justified against such people. It is hard to see in what way this is supposed to represent a "reformist" way of thinking. According to orthodox Islamic theology, Muslims are not allowed to physically attack non-Muslims unless these have first been invited to embrace Islam yet have failed to do so, in which case they are fair game. In other words, Muslims should try to convert people peacefully first and then start killing them afterwards if they refuse. Taha thus advocates a traditional concept of Jihad, one not qualitatively different from that espoused by Jihadist terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

Although Taha resembles an apologist for Jihadist violence, he was still considered so unorthodox by traditional Muslims that he was executed as an apostate. Besides, his ideas are built on questionable "truths" about the Koran. Consider what the German professor Christoph Luxenberg claims in his pioneering work:

"In its origin, the Koran is a Syro-Aramaic liturgical book, with hymns and extracts from Scriptures which might have been used in sacred Christian services. In the second place, one may see in the Koran the beginning of a preaching directed toward transmitting the belief in the Sacred Scriptures to the pagans of Mecca, in the Arabic language. Its socio-political sections, which are not especially related to the original Koran, were added later in Medina. At its beginning, the Koran was not conceived as the foundation of a new religion. It presupposes belief in the Scriptures, and thus functioned merely as an inroad into Arabic society."

In other words, if Mr. Luxenberg is correct, what we now call the Meccan chapters of the Koran are peaceful precisely because they aren't "Islamic" at all, they are based on Christian texts. The "authentic" texts related to Muhammad and his companions, whoever the historical Muhammad really was, are the much more violent and aggressive chapters we classify as Medinan. This is precisely the opposite of what Taha and An-Na'Im suggest. From a secular point of view, their ideas are thus extremely vulnerable to historical criticism, and from an Islamic point of view, it's difficult to see how their ideas can be implemented.

After reading through much of the literature on the subject, I would divide "Muslim reformers" into three categories. The first, and by far the largest category, consists of liars, opportunists and taqiyya artists; people who want to infiltrate our societies rather than reform Islam. The second category consists of people who may be well-meaning but simply don't understand the issues involved. Irshad Manji, for instance, is not a bad person, but she just doesn't know very much about Islamic history. The third and smallest category consists of people who are knowledgeable and genuinely desire reform. The German-Syrian scholar Bassam Tibi could be placed here. I find some of his work interesting, but even he is incoherent and unconvincing in presenting the case for how a moderate Islam should look like.

Where does Taha belong in this picture? Frankly, I suspect it's among category 1. He is theologically unconvincing, and some of the passages he writes are outright disturbing if you read them closely and analyze what he's actually saying. The following quotes, with page references, are from the book The Second Message of Islam by Mahmud Muhammud Taha.

    Page 74:
    "Reciprocity (al-mu'awadah) in the case of fornication is a fixed punishment (hadd) of either stoning to death or whipping. Since the fornicator sought easy pleasure without regard for Shari'a, he is made to suffer pain in order to recover his senses. An individual tends to lean more towards pleasure than towards pain. By pulling the self to pain, when it succumbs to prohibited pleasure, he reestablishes a certain equilibrium and avoids recklessness and folly. The fixed punishment for drinking alcohol is based on the same principle. A person who takes alcohol wishes to numb his mind, thereby trying to escape reality. The pain of whipping is intended to bring him back to face bitter reality, so that he may use his clear mind to improve this reality."'

    Page 75:
    "Islam, in its essence, is not a religion according to the common meaning of the word, but rather a science, its dogma being merely transitional to its scientific stage."

    Page 130:
    "We have said that the Qur'an was divided between al-iman and al-islam, as well as being revealed in two parts as Meccan and Medinese. The Meccan Qur'an was revealed first. In other words, people were invited to adopt Islam [in the ultimate sense] first, and when they failed to do so, and it was practically demonstrated that they were below its standard, they were addressed in accordance with their abilities."

My comment: What Taha means by this quote, as he makes clear in other passages, is that Muslims during the early Mecca phase invited people to accept Islam. When some of them refused to do so, Muslims had the right to start killing people and force them to accept Islam. Taha indicates that this principle should apply now, too. He also makes it perfectly clear that his definition of "freedom" is identical with sharia, and that those who abuse their freedom by not living according to sharia should face armed Jihad until they do. It's for their own good.

    Page 134:
    "In this way, all the verses of persuasion, though they constitute the primary or original principle, were abrogated or repealed by the verses of compulsion (jihad). This exception was necessitated by the circumstances of the time and the inadequacy of the human capability to discharge properly the duty of freedom at that time."

    "Some Muslim scholars believe that Islamic wars were purely defensive wars, a mistaken belief prompted by their keenness to refute claims by the Orientalists that Islam spread by means of the sword. In fact, the sword was used to curtail the abuse of freedom. Islam used persuasion for thirteen years in propagating its clearly valid message for the individual and the community. When the addressees failed to discharge properly the duties of their freedom, they lost this freedom, and the Prophet was appointed as their guardian until they came of age. However, once they embraced the new religion and observed the sanctity of life and property, and the social claims of their kith and kin, as they had been instructed, the sword was suspended, and abuses of freedom were penalized according to new laws. Hence the development of Islamic Shari'a law, and the establishment of a new type of government. In justifying the use of the sword, we may describe it as a surgeon's lancet and not a butcher's knife. When used with sufficient wisdom, mercy, and knowledge, it uplifted the individual and purified society."

    Page 135:
    "Suffering death by the sword in this life is really an aspect of suffering hell in the next life, since both are punishments for disbelief. Whoever adds to his own disbelief by inciting others to disbelief or to shun the path of God must be suppressed before he takes up arms in the cause of disbelief."

    Page 136:
    "Islam's original principle is freedom. But the Islamic religion was revealed to a society in which slavery was an integral part of the socioeconomic order. It was also a society that was shown in practice to be incapable of properly exercising its freedom, and therefore its individual members needed guidance; hence the consequent enactment of jihad. In Islamic jihad, the Muslims first had to offer to the unbelievers the new religion. If they refused to accept it, they had the second option of paying jizyah and living under Muslim government, while practicing their own religion and enjoying personal security. If they also refused the option of jizyah, the Muslims would fight them and if victorious take some of them as slaves, thereby adding to the number of those already in slavery."

    "If an individual is invited to become the slave of God but refuses, such refusal is symptomatic of ignorance that calls for a period of training. The individual prepares to submit voluntarily to the servitude of God by becoming the slave of another person, thereby learning obedience and humility, which are becoming of a slave. Reciprocity (al-mu'awadah) here rules that if a free person refuses to become the slave of God, he may be subjugated and made the slave of a slave of God, in fair and just retribution: 'And whoso does an atom's weight of evil will also see it.' (99:8)"


My comment: The above passage is one of the most disturbing quotes from the entire book. Taha was from the Sudan, a country where chattel slavery is still being practiced today. If Taha had said that slavery once existed in most human societies, I could perhaps have accepted that. But he goes further than that. He indicates that slavery can in fact be morally good because it is a "training period" for becoming a slave of Allah, as all human beings should be. Let's imagine for a moment that Mr. Taha had been a white Christian, not a black Muslim. What if, say, Robert Spencer in his next book stated that slavery in the United States was good because it taught the slaves obedience and humility. Does anybody believe he would then have been hailed as a great example of a moderate and tolerant Christianity? Somehow, I doubt it. But there is apparently nothing "extremist" about supporting slavery if you are a Muslim. Extremists are nasty Islamophobes such as Geert Wilders.

    Page 149:
    "Being so supreme, Islam has never been achieved by any nation up to the present day. The nation of muslimin has not yet come. It is expected to come, however, in the future of humanity."


My comment: Apart from sharia, Taha likes Communism, but he thinks the road to perfect Communism goes through sharia. Sharia is the key to global equality, eternal peace and warm apple pie. Unless they have banned warm apple pie by then, I don't know whether it's halal or not. It could be part of a Zionist plot:

    Page 155-156:
    "The key here is that no one should be allowed to own anything that permits the exploitation of one citizen's labor to increase the income of another. Individual ownership, even within such narrow boundaries, should not be ownership of property as such, but rather ownership of the benefits derived from property, and all property remains in the ownership of God and the community as a whole. As production from resources increases, the equity of distribution is perfected, and differences are reduced by raising both minimum and maximum incomes. But the gap between minimum and maximum incomes is gradually narrowed in order to achieve absolute equality. When such absolute equality is achieved through the grace of God, and as a result of abundant production, we shall achieve communism or a sharing of the earth's wealth by all people. Communism thus differs from socialism in degree, in the sense that socialism is a stage in the development towards communism. The Prophet experienced ultimate communism."

    Page 156-157:
    "…as the Prophet said, 'Justice shall fill the earth in the same way it was previously full of injustice.' This is what Marx dreamed of, but failed to find the way to achieve. It can only be achieved by al-muslimin who are yet to come, and then the earth shall enjoy a degree of fulfillment of the verse: 'The God-fearing are in gardens and springs. They will be told: Enter therein, in peace and security. We cleansed what was in their breasts of hatred, so they became brothers sitting together, never to feel hardship or be removed therefrom.' (15:45-48) This is the degree of communism to be achieved by Islam with the coming of the nation of muslimin, whence the earth shall light up with the Light of its Lord, and God's Grace is conferred upon its inhabitants, when there shall be peace, and love shall triumph."

All things summed up, I agree with Daniel Pipes: Mahmud Muhammud Taha is indeed an interesting case, but for precisely the opposite reason of what Mr. Pipes claims. Taha supports the idea of slavery on a moral basis, not just as an historical fact. "Freedom" is identical with sharia and being a slave of Allah. Those who don't want to accept Islam or Islamic rule should face armed Jihad, and the sword should be used as a "surgical tool" to cut them off from the body of society. And this is moderate…..how, exactly?

If Taha is the great hope for a moderate Islam, we can conclude that a moderate Islam supports slavery, stoning people to death for adultery, whipping those who enjoy a glass of wine or beer and massacring those who disagree with the above mentioned policies. Taha openly supported many of the most appalling aspects of sharia, yet was still considered so controversial that he was executed as an apostate.

The story of Mahmud Muhammud Taha is the ultimate, definitive and final proof that there is no moderate Islam. There never has been and there never will be. It's a myth. We should not base our domestic or foreign policies on the existence of a moderate Islam just like we should not base them on the existence of other mythical creatures such as the yeti or the tooth fairy.

It is unpleasant to conclude that Islam cannot be reformed. I don't like it either, and would much have preferred a different answer. But I see no practical indications that a tolerant Islam is emerging and have great difficulty in envisioning how such an entity could look like. There are several ways Islam could conceivably be reformed, yet none of them are very likely to succeed.

I have reviewed and criticized Irshad Manji's work before. Although she never says so explicitly in her book, I get the impression that Manji largely agrees with the mantra that "Islam is whatever Muslims make of it." I don't share this view. Why do those who behead Buddhist teachers in Thailand, burn churches in Nigeria, persecute Hindus in Pakistan or blow bombs in the London subway always "misunderstand" Islamic texts? Why don't they feel this urge to kill people after reading about, say, Winnie the Pooh?

If any text was infinitely elastic, we could replace the Koran with any other book and get the same result. That's obviously not the case. If you have a text that repeatedly calls for killing, death and mayhem, more people are going to "interpret" this text in aggressive ways. Islam is the most aggressive and violent religion on earth in practice because its texts are more aggressive than those of any other major religion, and because the example of Muhammad is vastly more violent than that of any other religious founder. If you return to the original Islam, which Manji claims to seek, you get Jihad, since that's what the original Islam was all about.

The dozens of explicit Jihad verses in the Koran won't all magically disappear. As long as they exist, somebody is bound to take them seriously. And since any "reformed" Islam must ultimately be rooted in Islamic texts, this probably means that Islam cannot be reformed.

The process of change is anyway not our job. Muslims should do that themselves. They are adults and should take care of their own problems just like everybody else does. For this reason, I dislike Manji's suggestion that infidels should spend money on sponsoring Muslims.

Muslims will not feel much gratitude if we fund their hospitals or schools. To them, everything good that happens is the will of Allah. Infidels are supposed to pay the jizya to Muslims anyway, so many of them will see payments from us as a sign of submission. They will thus become more arrogant and aggressive by such acts rather than feeling grateful.

As long as infidels keep bailing them out, Muslims have no incentives to change. They will only reform or abandon Islam once they are forced to deal with the backwardness brought by Islamic teachings. For this reason, we need a strategy for containment of the Islamic world. It's the very minimum we can live with. If Muslims need money, let them ask their Saudi brothers for it. If the Saudis have to finance hospitals in Gaza or Pakistan, this means they have less of it to finance terrorism, which is good. I agree with Hugh Fitzgerald on this one.

It is possible that some schools or branches within Islam are more tolerant than others. Yes, there are theological differences between Sunnis and Shi'a Muslims. These can be significant enough for Muslims, but for non-Muslims they are usually not important. Shia Islam is not more peaceful than Sunni Islam, nor is it more tolerant, with the possible exception of the Ismaili branch, but they are far less numerous than the adherents of Twelver Shi`ism. Since the Shi'a constitute a tiny minority of the world's Muslims, the Ismailis are a minority of a minority and quite marginal in the greater scheme of things.

My view is that as long as you start out with the texts used by orthodox Muslims—the Koran, the hadith and the sira—it is more or less impossible to come up with a peaceful and tolerant version of Islam. In principle it might be possible to change things by either adding more religious texts or ignoring some of those that already exist. Both options are problematic.

Since Muhammad was supposed to be final messenger of Allah, the "seal of the prophets," any person later claiming to bring new revelations to mankind will invariably be viewed as a fraud and a heretic by orthodox Muslims. This is what happened to the Ahmadiyya movement, who are viewed as unbelievers by most others Muslims, including many in "moderate" Indonesia.

Another example is the Bahá'í faith, which is indeed more peaceful than mainstream Islam, but their view of history, where the Buddha is seen as a messenger alongside Muhammad, differs so radically from traditional Islam that it is usually classified as a separate religion. Bahá'ís are ruthlessly persecuted in the Islamic world, particularly in Iran where the movement originated. They are viewed as apostate Muslims since they challenge the concept of the finality of Muhammad's prophethood. Ironically, their supreme governing institution is situated in Haifa, in the evil, racist apartheid state of Israel. So they get persecuted by "tolerant" Muslim, yet are treated with decency by the "intolerant" Israelis.

There are also the "Koran only" Muslims, who, from what I can gather, currently constitute a very small group of people. They advocate that Muslims should ignore the hadith and the sira and rely solely on the Koran for guidance. In order to achieve this, they will first have to defy mounting opposition from other Muslims who will have some rather powerful theological arguments in their favor. The Koran itself says repeatedly that you should obey both the Koran and the example of Muhammad. But the personal example of Muhammad and his companions, his Sunna, is mainly recorded in extra-Koranical material such as the hadith and the sira. If you remove them, you remove the main sources of information for how to conduct prayer, pilgrimage etc., which is usually not recorded in any great detail in the Koran.

"Koran only" reformers, and indeed all aspiring reformers, will have to face the possibility of being branded as heretics and apostates, a crime which potentially carries the death penalty according to traditional sharia law. On top of this, there are more than enough verses in the Koran itself advocating Jihad and intolerance for this alternative to remain problematic, too. For these reasons, it is unlikely that a "Koran only" version of Islam can ever constitute a viable long-term reform path.

A researcher from Denmark, Tina Magaard, has spent years analyzing the original texts of different religions, from Buddhism to Sikhism, and concludes that the Islamic texts are by far the most warlike among the major religions of the world. They encourage terror and fighting to a far larger degree than the original texts of other religions. "The texts in Islam distinguish themselves from the texts of other religions by encouraging violence and aggression against people with other religious beliefs to a larger degree. There are also straightforward calls for terror. This has long been a taboo in the research into Islam, but it is a fact that we need to deal with," says Magaard. Moreover, there are hundreds of calls in the Koran for fighting against people of other faiths. "If it is correct that many Muslims view the Koran as the literal words of God, which cannot be interpreted or rephrased, then we have a problem. It is indisputable that the texts encourage terror and violence. Consequently, it must be reasonable to ask Muslims themselves how they relate to the text, if they read it as it is," she says.

It has been suggested that some regional versions of Islam, for instance "Southeast Asian Islam," are more peaceful than "Arab Islam." First of all, in this age of globalization and international sponsorship of conservative theology by Saudi Arabia and others, regional interpretations are likely to diminish, not increase. And second of all, I'm not convinced that Southeast Asian Islam is more tolerant than other forms of the religion.

It is true that Muslims in some parts of Indonesia have perhaps been less strict than Muslims in, say, Egypt, but this was because Indonesia was Islamized at a later date and still contained living residues of its pre-Islamic culture. In such cases, we are dealing with "less Islam" or "diluted Islam," which isn't quite the same as "moderate Islam" even if some observers claim that it is. Moreover, numerous churches have been burnt down or destroyed in that country only during the last decade, which hardly indicates that Indonesia is a beacon of tolerance.

In Thailand and the Philippines, where Muslims constitute a minority, non-Muslims have been murdered or chased away from certain areas by Islamic groups who wage a constant Jihad against the authorities. The city-state of Singapore is surrounded by several hundred million Muslims and can only manage to avoid outside attacks by curtailing the freedom of speech of its citizens and banning public criticism of Islam.

Malaysia has been a moderate economic success story because it has had a large and dynamic non-Muslim population and only recently became majority Muslim. This corresponds to some extent to the early phases of Islamization in the Middle East. The Golden Age of Islam was in reality the twilight of the pre-Islamic cultures. The scientific achievements during this period are exaggerated, and those that did take place happened overwhelmingly during the early phases of Islamic rule when there were still large non-Muslim populations. When these communities declined due to Muslim harassment, the Middle East, home to some of the oldest civilizations on earth, slowly declined into a backwardness from which it has never recovered.

Lebanon was a reasonably successful and civilized country while it still had a slim Christian majority, but has rapidly declined into Jihad and sharia barbarism in recent decades due to higher Muslim birth rates and non-Muslims leaving the country. It is possible that something similar will happen to Malaysia, as Muslims become more confident and aggressive.

Lastly, you can try to constrain Islam and keep it down by brute force. This kind of muscular secularism, enforced with methods no Western country would even contemplate supporting at the present time, has been tried under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. Yet Turkey has never been a beacon of tolerance, and the very few non-Muslims who remain in the country still face harassment. Kemalism has kept Islam at bay but has never really reformed it. Even after almost a century, Islam is in the process of making a comeback. There are serious cracks in the façade of secularism, and some observers fear an Islamic revolution in the country.

The Turkish example is not altogether promising. We should remember that Iran, too, was perceived as a moderate and modern country until the revolution brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in 1979. The lesson we can draw from this is that Islam can lie dormant for generations, yet strike again with renewed vigour when the opportunity arises.

If "reform" is taken to mean a return to the historical period of the religious founder, Muhammad, and his followers, it will lead to an inevitable upsurge of Jihadist violence, since that was what Muhammad and his followers were all about.
The debate about a "reformed" Islam is inappropriately colored by a Western historical perspective, with references to the Protestant Reformation in sixteenth century Europe. This indirectly implies that there is some form of equivalence between Christianity and Islam. I don't think there is, even though I am not a Christian. Christianity with its concept of the Trinity is akin to soft-polytheism from an Islamic point of view. The religious texts are clearly different, not to mention the personal examples of the founders of the two religions, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam became a major world religion through armed conquest and the creation of an empire. Christianity became a major world religion by gradually taking over an already established empire, the Roman Empire.

Christianity's slow growth within a Greco-Roman context made it possible for Christians to assimilate Greek philosophy and Roman law to an extent that never happened among Muslims, even in the Mediterranean world which had been dominated by the Romans. This had major consequences for further scientific and political developments in Europe and in the Middle East. Exposure to Greek and other scientific traditions did lead to some advances in the earliest centuries of Islamic rule, but Greek natural philosophy was never accepted into the core curriculum of Islamic madrasas as it was in European universities.

When the American Founding Fathers in the eighteenth century discussed how the shape of their young Republic should be, they were influenced by, in addition to modern thinkers and the British parliamentary system, descriptions of democratic Athens and the Roman Republic, through Aristotle's political texts and Cicero's writings. None of these texts were ever available in Arabic or Persian translations. They were rejected by Muslims, but preserved, translated, and studied with interest by Christians. The artistic legacy of the Greeks was also largely rejected by Muslims. In short, Westerners have no shared "Greco-Roman legacy" with Muslims. They cared mainly for one part of this great legacy, the scientific-philosophical part, and even that part they failed to assimilate.

The theological differences between Christianity and Judaism vs. Islam are huge. As Robert Spencer explains in his excellent little book Religion of Peace?: Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't, in Christianity the central tenet is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). While acknowledging that any human being is capable of evil, the Koran says that Muslims are "the best of peoples" (3:110) while the unbelievers are the "vilest of creatures" (98:6). In such a worldview, it is easy to see evil in others but difficult to locate it in oneself. The Koran also says that the followers of Muhammad are "ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" (48:29), and that the unbelievers are the "worst of created beings" (98:6). One may exercise the Golden Rule in relation to a fellow Muslim, but according to the laws of Islam, the same courtesy is not to be extended to unbelievers.

Yes, you can find violent passages in the Hebrew Bible, such as in the book of Joshua regarding the conquest of Jericho, but "throughout history, rather than celebrating such biblical passages, Jews and Christians have regarded them as a problem to be solved. While interpretations of these passages differ widely among Jews and Christians, from the beginning of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity one understanding has remained dominant among virtually all believers: these passages are not commands for all generations to follow, and if they have any applicability, it is only in a spiritualized, parabolic sense."

Robert Spencer
Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch
As Spencer says, "the consensus view among Jews and Christians for many centuries is that unless you happen to be a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, or Jebusite, these biblical passages simply do not apply to you. The scriptures record God's commands to the Israelites to make war against particular people only. However this may be understood, and however jarring it may be to modern sensibilities, it does not amount to any kind of marching orders for believers. That's one principal reason why Jews and Christians haven't formed terror groups around the world that quote the Bible to justify killing non-combatants."

The fact that two initially separate calls for reform, started under different circumstances and for different reasons, produced somewhat similar results is worth contemplating. Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin also called for returning to the Golden Age of early Christianity. Although the Reformation was a turbulent period while it lasted, it did pave the way for more tolerance and religious freedom in Christian Europe in the long run.
The main problem with Islam isn't that it is a stupid religion, as some people say, but that it is a violent and aggressive one. I consider Scientology to be an incredibly stupid creed, but I haven't heard about many people living in fear that Tom Cruise will cut off their head while quoting poems of L. Ron Hubbard and then post a video of the deed on the Internet.

Yes, religions do evolve. Stoning people to death was once practiced by Jews, but they progressed and left this practice behind because they considered it to be cruel, which it is. The problem is that there are literally dozens - more than one hundred, depending on how you count - verses calling for Jihad in the Koran, and additional ones in the hadith. Any "tolerant" form of Islam would have to reject all of these verses, permanently, in addition to the personal example of Muhammad and his followers as well as a large body of secondary literature by more than a thousand years of sharia scholars. That's a tall order. We should also remember that Jihad is not the end goal of Islam. Sharia is. Jihad is a tool used to achieve sharia and the rule of Islamic law extended to all of mankind.

As I have explained in my earlier essay Do we want an Islamic Reformation? and in the online booklet Is Islam Compatible With Democracy?, the question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy largely hinges upon your definition of "democracy." If this simply means voting, with no freedom of speech or safeguards for individual rights or minorities then yes, it can, as a vehicle for imposing sharia on society. But such a "pure" democracy isn't necessarily a good system even without Islam, as critics from Plato to Thomas Jefferson have convincingly argued.

Likewise, the question of whether or not Islam can be reformed largely hinges upon your definition of "Reformation." I usually say that Islam cannot be reformed, and by "reformed" I thus implicitly understand this as meaning something along the lines of "peaceful, non-sharia based with respect for individual choice and freedom of speech." In other words: "Reform" is vaguely taken to mean less Islam.

However, Robert Spencer and others have argued that there are similarities between Martin Luther and the Christian Reformation in 16th century Europe and the reform movement started by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. Wahhab's alliance with regional ruler Muhammad bin Saud and his family later led to the creation of Saudi Arabia. There was another modern "reform" movement, the so-called Salafism of 19th century thinkers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh. Whereas the former was an internal reform movement triggered by calls for removing "corruption" from society, the latter was clearly a response to external, Western pressures.

Although Abduh's ideas were continued in a secular direction by individuals such as Egyptian writer Taha Hussein, clearly the most successful strands were those developed into what was later termed "Islamic fundamentalism" in the 20th century. Muhammad Abduh's pupil Rashid Rida inspired Hassan al-Banna when he formed the Muslim Brotherhood. Rida urged Muslims not to imitate infidels, but return to the Golden Age of early Islam, as did Abduh. Rida also recommended reestablishing the Caliphate, and applauded when the Wahhabists conquered Mecca and Medina and established modern Saudi Arabia. The two reform movements thus partly merged in the 20th century, into organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The fact that two initially separate calls for reform, started under different circumstances and for different reasons, produced somewhat similar results is worth contemplating. Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin also called for returning to the Golden Age of early Christianity. Although the Reformation was a turbulent period while it lasted, it did pave the way for more tolerance and religious freedom in Christian Europe in the long run. This was, in my view, at least partly because Christians could return to the example, as contained in the Gospels, of an early age where the founder of their religion and his disciples led a largely peaceful movement separate from the state. Muslims, on the other hand, can find a similar example only in the Mecca period. As long as the writings from the violent Medina period are still in force, a return to the "early, Golden Age" of Islam will mean a return to intolerance and Jihad violence.

Some Western observers are searching for a "Muslim Martin Luther" who is expected to end the resurgent Islamic Jihad. But one could argue that we already have a Muslim Martin Luther: He's called Osama bin Laden, deeply inspired by the teachings of Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayyid Qutb. If "reform" is taken to mean a return to the historical period of the religious founder, Muhammad, and his followers, it will lead to an inevitable upsurge of Jihadist violence, since that was what Muhammad and his followers were all about.

The question of whether Islam is reformable is an important one. But perhaps an even more crucial one is whether an Islamic Reformation would be desirable from a non-Muslim point of view, and the likely answer to that is "no."

2 thoughts on “The Diabolical Myth Of A Moderate Islam”

  1. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion WHAT-NON-MUSLIMS-SAY-ABOUT-QURAN-ISLAM-AND-MOHAMMAD-[pbuh]

    Thomas Carlyle in 'Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History,' 1840:

    "The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round
    this man (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only." "A silent
    great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle
    the world, the world's Maker had ordered so."

    A. S. Tritton in 'Islam,' 1951:

    The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand
    and the Qur'an in the other is quite false.

    De Lacy O'Leary in 'Islam at the Crossroads,' London, 1923:

    History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims
    sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword
    upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths
    that historians have ever repeated.

    Gibbon in 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' 1823:

    The good sense of Muhammad despised the pomp of royalty. The Apostle
    of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the
    fire; swept the floor; milked the ewes; and mended with his own hands
    his shoes and garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit,
    he observed without effort of vanity the abstemious diet of an Arab.

    Edward Gibbon and Simon Oakley in 'History of the Saracen Empire,' London, 1870:

    "The greatest success of Mohammad's life was effected by sheer moral force."
    "It is not the propagation but the permanency of his religion that
    deserves our wonder, the same pure and perfect impression which he
    engraved at Mecca and Medina is preserved after the revolutions of
    twelve centuries by the Indian, the African and the Turkish proselytes
    of the Koran....The Mahometans have uniformly withstood the temptation
    of reducing the object of their faith and devotion to a level with the
    senses and imagination of man. 'I believe in One God and Mahomet the
    Apostle of God' is the simple and invariable profession of Islam. The
    intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible
    idol; the honors of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of
    human virtue, and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of
    his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion."

    Reverend Bosworth Smith in 'Muhammad and Muhammadanism,' London, 1874:

    "Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in
    one; but he was Pope without the Pope's pretensions, and Caesar
    without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a
    bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a
    man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the
    powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of
    power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his
    public life."
    "In Mohammadanism every thing is different here. Instead of the
    shadowy and the mysterious, we have history....We know of the external
    history of Muhammad.... while for his internal history after his
    mission had been proclaimed, we have a book absolutely unique in its
    origin, in its preservation....on the Substantial authority of which
    no one has ever been able to cast a serious doubt."

    Edward Montet, 'La Propagande Chretienne et ses Adversaries
    Musulmans,' Paris 1890. (Also in T.W. Arnold in 'The Preaching of
    Islam,' London 1913.):

    "Islam is a religion that is essentially rationalistic in the widest
    sense of this term considered etymologically and historically....the
    teachings of the Prophet, the Qur'an has invariably kept its place as
    the fundamental starting point, and the dogma of unity of God has
    always been proclaimed therein with a grandeur a majesty, an
    invariable purity and with a note of sure conviction, which it is hard
    to find surpassed outside the pale of Islam....A creed so precise, so
    stripped of all theological complexities and consequently so
    accessible to the ordinary understanding might be expected to possess
    and does indeed possess a marvelous power of winning its way into the
    consciences of men."

    Alphonse de LaMartaine in 'Historie de la Turquie,' Paris, 1854:

    "Never has a man set for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more
    sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman; to subvert superstitions
    which had been imposed between man and his Creator, to render God unto
    man and man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of
    divinity amidst the chaos of the material and disfigured gods of
    idolatry, then existing. Never has a man undertaken a work so far
    beyond human power with so feeble means, for he (Muhammad) had in the
    conception as well as in the execution of such a great design, no
    other instrument than himself and no other aid except a handful of men
    living in a corner of the desert. Finally, never has a man
    accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world, because
    in less than two centuries after its appearance, Islam, in faith and
    in arms, reigned over the whole of Arabia, and conquered, in God's
    name, Persia Khorasan, Transoxania, Western India, Syria, Egypt,
    Abyssinia, all the known continent of Northern Africa, numerous
    islands of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, and part of Gaul. "If
    greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are
    the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great
    man in history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws,
    and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than
    material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man
    moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples, dynasties, but
    millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more
    than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas,
    the beliefs and the souls.

    "On the basis of a Book, every letter which has become law, he created
    a spiritual nationality which blend together peoples of every tongue
    and race. He has left the indelible characteristic of this Muslim
    nationality the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and
    Immaterial God. This avenging patriotism against the profanation of
    Heaven formed the virtue of the followers of Muhammad; the conquest of
    one-third the earth to the dogma was his miracle; or rather it was not
    the miracle of man but that of reason.

    "The idea of the unity of God, proclaimed amidst the exhaustion of the
    fabulous theogonies, was in itself such a miracle that upon it's
    utterance from his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols
    and set on fire one-third of the world. His life, his meditations, his
    heroic revelings against the superstitions of his country, and his
    boldness in defying the furies of idolatry, his firmness in enduring
    them for fifteen years in Mecca, his acceptance of the role of public
    scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow countrymen... This
    dogma was twofold the unity of God and the immateriality of God: the
    former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the
    one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea
    with words.

    "Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Conqueror of Ideas,
    Restorer of Rational beliefs.... The founder of twenty terrestrial
    empires and of one spiritual empire that is Muhammad. As regards all
    standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask,
    is there any man greater than he?"

    Mahatma Gandhi, statement published in 'Young India,'1924:

    I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an
    undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind.... I became
    more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place
    for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid
    simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous
    regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers,
    his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in
    his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before
    them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume
    (of the Prophet's biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to
    read of that great life.

    Sir George Bernard Shaw in 'The Genuine Islam,' Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936:

    "If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe
    within the next hundred years, it could be Islam." I have always held
    the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful
    vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that
    assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can
    make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - the wonderful
    man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called
    the Savior of Humanity."

    "I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of
    the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way
    that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have
    prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to
    the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the
    Europe of today."

    Michael Hart in 'The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons In
    History,' New York, 1978:

    My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential
    persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but
    he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both
    the secular and religious level. ...It is probable that the relative
    influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined
    influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. ...It is this
    unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I
    feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single
    figure in human history.

    Dr. William Draper in 'History of Intellectual Development of Europe':

    Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born in Mecca,
    in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest
    influence upon the human race... To be the religious head of many
    empires, to guide the daily life of one-third of the human race, may
    perhaps justify the title of a Messenger of God.

    Arthur Glyn Leonard in 'Islam, Her Moral and Spiritual Values':

    It was the genius of Muhammad, the spirit that he breathed into the
    Arabs through the soul of Islam that exalted them. That raised them
    out of the lethargy and low level of tribal stagnation up to the high
    watermark of national unity and empire. It was in the sublimity of
    Muhammad's deism, the simplicity, the sobriety and purity it
    inculcated the fidelity of its founder to his own tenets, that acted
    on their moral and intellectual fiber with all the magnetism of true
    inspiration.

    Philip K. Hitti in 'History of the Arabs':

    Within a brief span of mortal life, Muhammad called forth of
    unpromising material, a nation, never welded before; in a country that
    was hitherto but a geographical expression he established a religion
    which in vast areas suppressed Christianity and Judaism, and laid the
    basis of an empire that was soon to embrace within its far flung
    boundaries the fairest provinces the then civilized world.

    Rodwell in the Preface to his translation of the Holy Qur'an:

    Mohammad's career is a wonderful instance of the force and life that
    resides in him who possesses an intense faith in God and in the unseen
    world. He will always be regarded as one of those who have had that
    influence over the faith, morals and whole earthly life of their
    fellow men, which none but a really great man ever did, or can
    exercise; and whose efforts to propagate a great verity will prosper.

    W. Montgomery Watt in 'Muhammad at Mecca,' Oxford, 1953:

    His readiness to undergo persecution for his beliefs, the high moral
    character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as a
    leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement - all argue his
    fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad an impostor raises more
    problems that it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of
    history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad.... Thus, not
    merely must we credit Muhammad with essential honesty and integrity of
    purpose, if we are to understand him at all; if we are to correct the
    errors we have inherited from the past, we must not forget the
    conclusive proof is a much stricter requirement than a show of
    plausibility, and in a matter such as this only to be attained with
    difficulty.

    D. G. Hogarth in 'Arabia':

    Serious or trivial, his daily behavior has instituted a canon which
    millions observe this day with conscious memory. No one regarded by
    any section of the human race as Perfect Man has ever been imitated so
    minutely. The conduct of the founder of Christianity has not governed
    the ordinary life of his followers. Moreover, no founder of a religion
    has left on so solitary an eminence as the Muslim apostle.

    Washington Irving 'Mahomet and His Successors':

    He was sober and abstemious in his diet and a rigorous observer of
    fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a
    petty mind; neither was his simplicity in dress affected but a result
    of real disregard for distinction from so trivial a source. In his
    private dealings he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the
    rich and poor, the powerful and weak, with equity, and was beloved by
    the common people for the affability with which he received them, and
    listened to their complaints. His military triumphs awakened no pride
    nor vain glory, as they would have done had they been effected for
    selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the
    same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his
    adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if,
    on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to
    him. If he aimed at a universal dominion, it was the dominion of
    faith; as to the temporal rule which grew up in his hands, as he used
    it without ostentation, so he took no step to perpetuate it in his
    family.

    James Michener in 'Islam: The Misunderstood Religion,' Reader's
    Digest, May 1955, pp. 68-70:

    "No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. The West has
    widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the
    sword. But no modern scholar accepts this idea, and the Qur'an is
    explicit in the support of the freedom of conscience."
    "Like almost every major prophet before him, Muhammad fought shy of
    serving as the transmitter of God's word sensing his own inadequacy.
    But the Angel commanded 'Read'. So far as we know, Muhammad was unable
    to read or write, but he began to dictate those inspired words which
    would soon revolutionize a large segment of the earth: "There is one
    God"."

    "In all things Muhammad was profoundly practical. When his beloved son
    Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred and rumors of God 's personal
    condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Muhammad is said to have
    announced, 'An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to
    attribute such things to the death or birth of a human being'."

    "At Muhammad's own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man
    who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria
    with one of the noblest speeches in religious history: 'If there are
    any among you who worshiped Muhammad, he is dead. But if it is God you
    Worshiped, He lives for ever'."

    Lawrence E. Browne in 'The Prospects of Islam,' 1944:

    Incidentally these well-established facts dispose of the idea so
    widely fostered in Christian writings that the Muslims, wherever they
    went, forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword.

    K. S. Ramakrishna Rao in 'Mohammed: The Prophet of Islam,' 1989

    My problem to write this monograph is easier, because we are not
    generally fed now on that (distorted) kind of history and much time
    need not be spent on pointing out our misrepresentations of Islam. The
    theory of Islam and sword, for instance, is not heard now in any
    quarter worth the name. The principle of Islam that "there is no
    compulsion in religion" is well known.

    Napolean Bonaparte as Quoted in Christian Cherfils, 'Bonaparte et
    Islam,' Pedone Ed., Paris, France, 1914, pp. 105, 125.
    Original References: "Correspondance de Napoléon Ier Tome V pièce n°
    4287 du 17/07/1799..."

    "Moses has revealed the existence of God to his nation. Jesus Christ
    to the Roman world, Muhammad to the old continent... "Arabia was
    idolatrous when, six centuries after Jesus, Muhammad introduced the
    worship of the God of Abraham, of Ishmael, of Moses, and Jesus. The
    Ariyans and some other sects had disturbed the tranquility of the east
    by agitating the question of the nature of the Father, the son, and
    the Holy Ghost. Muhammad declared that there was none but one God who
    had no father, no son and that the trinity imported the idea of
    idolatry...

    "I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the
    wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform
    regime based on the principles of Qur'an which alone are true and
    which alone can lead men to happiness."

    Sir George Bernard Shaw in 'The Genuine Islam,' Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.

    "If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe
    within the next hundred years, it could be Islam." "I have always held
    the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful
    vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that
    assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can
    make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - the
    wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must
    be called the Savior of Humanity."

    "I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of
    the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way
    that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have
    prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to
    the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the
    Europe of today."

    Bertrand Russel in 'History of Western Philosophy,' London, 1948, p. 419.

    "Our use of phrase 'The Dark ages' to cover the period from 699 to
    1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe...
    "From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourished.
    What was lost to christendom at this time was not lost to
    civilization, but quite the contrary...

    "To us it seems that West-European civilization is civilization, but
    this is a narrow view."

    H.G. Wells

    "The Islamic teachings have left great traditions for equitable and
    gentle dealings and behavior, and inspire people with nobility and
    tolerance. These are human teachings of the highest order and at the
    same time practicable. These teachings brought into existence a
    society in which hard-heartedness and collective oppression and
    injustice were the least as compared with all other societies
    preceding it....Islam is replete with gentleness, courtesy, and
    fraternity."

    Dr. William Draper in 'History of Intellectual Development of Europe'

    "During the period of the Caliphs the learned men of the Christians
    and the Jews were not only held in great esteem but were appointed to
    posts of great responsibility, and were promoted to the high ranking
    job in the government....He (Caliph Haroon Rasheed) never considered
    to which country a learned person belonged nor his faith and belief,
    but only his excellence in the field of learning."

    Thomas Carlyle in 'Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History,'
    Lecture 2, Friday, 8th May 1840.

    "As there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans (i.e.
    Muslim), I mean to say all the good of him I justly can... "When
    Pococke inquired of Grotius, where the proof was of that story of the
    pigeon, trained to pick peas from Mahomet's (Muhammad's) ear, and pass
    for an angel dictating to him? Grotius answered that there was no
    proof!...

    "A poor, hard-toiling, ill-provided man; careless of what vulgar men
    toil for. Not a bad man, I should say; Something better in him than
    hunger of any sort, -- or these wild arab men, fighting and jostling
    three-and-twenty years at his hand, in close contact with him always,
    would not revered him so! They were wild men bursting ever and anon
    into quarrel, into all kinds of fierce sincerity; without right worth
    and manhood, no man could have commanded them. They called him prophet
    you say? Why he stood there face to face with them; bare, not
    enshrined in any mystry; visibly clouting his own cloak, cobbling his
    own shoes; fighting, counselling, ordering in the midst of them: they
    must have seen what kind of man he was, let him be called what you
    like! No emperor with his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of
    his own clouting. During three-and-twenty years of rough actual trial.
    I find something of a veritable Hero necessary for that, of itself...

    "These Arabs, the man Mahomet, and that one century, - is it not as if
    a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what proves explosive
    powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Granada! I said, the Great
    man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for
    him like fuel, and then they too would flame..."

    Phillip Hitti in 'Short History of the Arabs.'

    "During all the first part of the Middle Ages, no other people made as
    important a contribution to human progress as did the Arabs, if we
    take this term to mean all those whose mother-tongue was Arabic, and
    not merely those living in the Arabian peninsula. For centuries,
    Arabic was the language of learning, culture and intellectual progress
    for the whole of the civilized world with the exception of the Far
    East. From the IXth to the XIIth century there were more
    philosophical, medical, historical, religiuos, astronomical and
    geographical works written in Arabic than in any other human tongue."

    Carra de Vaux in 'The Philosophers of Islam,' Paris, 1921.

    "Finally how can one forget that at the same time the Mogul Empire of
    India (1526-1857 C.E.) was giving the world the Taj Mahal (completed
    in 1648 C.E.) the architectural beauty of which has never been
    surpassed, and the 'Akbar Nameh' of Abul Fazl: "That extraordinary
    work full of life ideas and learning where every aspect of life is
    examined listed and classified, and where progress continually dazzles
    the eye, is a document of which Oriental civilization may justly be
    proud. The men whose genius finds its expression in this book were far
    in advance of their age in the practical art of government, and they
    were perhaps in advance of it in their speculations about religious
    philosophy. Those poets those philosophers knew how to deal with the
    world or matter. They observe, classify, calculate and experiment. All
    the ideas that occur to them are tested against facts. They express
    them with eloquence but they also support them with statistics."...the
    principles of tolerance, justice and humanity which prevailed during
    the long reign of Akbar."

    Marcel Clerget in 'La Turquie, Passe et Present,' Paris, 1938.

    "Many proofs of high cultural level of the Ottoman Empire during the
    reign of Suleiman the Magnificent are to be found in the development
    of science and law; in the flowering of literary works in Arabic,
    Persian and Turkish; in the contemporary monuments in Istanbul, Bursa,
    and Edirne; in the boom in luxury industries; in the sumptuous life of
    the court and high dignitaries, and last but not least in its
    religious tolerance. All the various influences - notably Turkish,
    Byzantine and Italian mingle together and help to make this the most
    brilliant epoch of the Ottomans."

    Michael the Elder (Great) as Quoted in 'Michael the Elder, Chronique
    de Michael Syrien, Patriarche Jacobite d' Antioche,' J.B. Chabot,
    Editor, Vol. II, Paris, 1901.

    "This is why the God of vengeance, who alone is all-powerful, and
    changes the empire of mortals as He will, giving it to whomsoever He
    will, and uplifting the humble beholding the wickedness of the Romans
    who throughout their dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our
    monasteries and condemned us without pity, brought from the region of
    the south the sons of Ishmael, to deliver us through them from the
    hands of the Romans. And if in truth we have suffered some loss,
    because the Catholic churches, that had been taken away from us and
    given to the
    Chalcedonians, remained in their possession; for when the cities
    submitted to the Arabs, they assigned to each denomination the
    churches which they found it to be in possession of (and at that time
    the great churches of Emessa and that of Harran had been taken away
    from us); nevertheless it was no slight advantage for us to be
    delivered from the cruelty of the Romans, their wickedness, their
    wrath and cruel zeal against us, and to find ourselves at people.
    (Michael the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch wrote this text in
    the latter part of the twelfth century, after five
    centuries of Muslim rule in that region. Click here for a relevant
    document sent to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai,
    628 C.E.)

    Sir John Bagot Glubb

    "Khalif (Caliph) Al-Ma'mun's period of rule (813 - 833 C.E.) may be
    considered the 'golden age' of science and learning. He had always
    been devoted to books and to learned pursuits. His brilliant mind was
    interested in every form of intellectual activity. Not only poetry but
    also philosophy, theology, astronomy, medicine and law all occupied
    his time."
    "By Mamun's time medical schools were extremely active in Baghdad. The
    first free public hospital was opened in Baghdad during the Caliphate
    of Haroon-ar-Rashid. As the system developed, physicians and surgeons
    were appointed who gave lectures to medical students and issued
    diplomas to those who were considered qualified to practice. The first
    hospital in Egypt was opened in 872 AD and thereafter public hospitals
    sprang up all over the empire from Spain and the Maghrib to Persia."

    On the Holocaust of Baghdad (1258 C.E.) Perpetrated by Hulagu:
    "The city was systematically looted, destroyed and burnt. Eight
    hundred thousand persons are said to have been killed. The Khalif
    Mustasim was sewn up in a sack and trampled to death under the feet of
    Mongol horses.

    "For five hundred years, Baghdad had been a city of palaces, mosques,
    libraries and colleges. Its universities and hospitals were the most
    up-to-date in the world. Nothing now remained but heaps of rubble and

  2. MUHAMMAD

    570-632

    From the 100, a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History

    by Michael H. Hart

    My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.

    Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world's great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.

    The majority of the persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centers of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad, however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at that time a backward area of the world, far from the centers of trade, art, and learning. Orphaned at age six, he was reared in modest surroundings. Islamic tradition tells us that he was illiterate. His economic position improved when, at age twenty-five, he married a wealthy widow. Nevertheless, as he approached forty, there was little outward indication that he was a remarkable person.

    Most Arabs at that time were pagans, who believed in many gods. There were, however, in Mecca, a small number of Jews and Christians; it was from them no doubt that Muhammad first learned of a single, omnipotent God who ruled the entire universe. When he was forty years old, Muhammad became convinced that this one true God (Allah) was speaking to him, and had chosen him to spread the true faith.

    For three years, Muhammad preached only to close friends and associates. Then, about 613, he began preaching in public. As he slowly gained converts, the Meccan authorities came to consider him a dangerous nuisance. In 622, fearing for his safety, Muhammad fled to Medina (a city some 200 miles north of Mecca), where he had been offered a position of considerable political power.

    This flight, called the Hegira, was the turning point of the Prophet's life. In Mecca, he had had few followers. In Medina, he had many more, and he soon acquired an influence that made him a virtual dictator. During the next few years, while Muhammad s following grew rapidly, a series of battles were fought between Medina and Mecca. This was ended in 630 with Muhammad's triumphant return to Mecca as conqueror. The remaining two and one-half years of his life witnessed the rapid conversion of the Arab tribes to the new religion. When Muhammad died, in 632, he was the effective ruler of all of southern Arabia.

    The Bedouin tribesmen of Arabia had a reputation as fierce warriors. But their number was small; and plagued by disunity and internecine warfare, they had been no match for the larger armies of the kingdoms in the settled agricultural areas to the north. However, unified by Muhammad for the first time in history, and inspired by their fervent belief in the one true God, these small Arab armies now embarked upon one of the most astonishing series of conquests in human history. To the northeast of Arabia lay the large Neo-Persian Empire of the Sassanids; to the northwest lay the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, centered in Constantinople. Numerically, the Arabs were no match for their opponents. On the field of battle, though, the inspired Arabs rapidly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. By 642, Egypt had been wrested from the Byzantine Empire, while the Persian armies had been crushed at the key battles of Qadisiya in 637, and Nehavend in 642.

    But even these enormous conquests-which were made under the leadership of Muhammad's close friends and immediate successors, Abu Bakr and 'Umar ibn al-Khattab -did not mark the end of the Arab advance. By 711, the Arab armies had swept completely across North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean There they turned north and, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, overwhelmed the Visigothic kingdom in Spain.

    For a while, it must have seemed that the Moslems would overwhelm all of Christian Europe. However, in 732, at the famous Battle of Tours, a Moslem army, which had advanced into the center of France, was at last defeated by the Franks. Nevertheless, in a scant century of fighting, these Bedouin tribesmen, inspired by the word of the Prophet, had carved out an empire stretching from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean-the largest empire that the world had yet seen. And everywhere that the armies conquered, large-scale conversion to the new faith eventually followed.

    Now, not all of these conquests proved permanent. The Persians, though they have remained faithful to the religion of the Prophet, have since regained their independence from the Arabs. And in Spain, more than seven centuries of warfare 5 finally resulted in the Christians reconquering the entire peninsula. However, Mesopotamia and Egypt, the two cradles of ancient civilization, have remained Arab, as has the entire coast of North Africa. The new religion, of course, continued to spread, in the intervening centuries, far beyond the borders of the original Moslem conquests. Currently it has tens of millions of adherents in Africa and Central Asia and even more in Pakistan and northern India, and in Indonesia. In Indonesia, the new faith has been a unifying factor. In the Indian subcontinent, however, the conflict between Moslems and Hindus is still a major obstacle to unity.

    How, then, is one to assess the overall impact of Muhammad on human history? Like all religions, Islam exerts an enormous influence upon the lives of its followers. It is for this reason that the founders of the world's great religions all figure prominently in this book . Since there are roughly twice as many Christians as Moslems in the world, it may initially seem strange that Muhammad has been ranked higher than Jesus. There are two principal reasons for that decision. First, Muhammad played a far more important role in the development of Islam than Jesus did in the development of Christianity. Although Jesus was responsible for the main ethical and moral precepts of Christianity (insofar as these differed from Judaism), St. Paul was the main developer of Christian theology, its principal proselytizer, and the author of a large portion of the New Testament.

    Muhammad, however, was responsible for both the theology of Islam and its main ethical and moral principles. In addition, he played the key role in proselytizing the new faith, and in establishing the religious practices of Islam. Moreover, he is the author of the Moslem holy scriptures, the Koran, a collection of certain of Muhammad's insights that he believed had been directly revealed to him by Allah. Most of these utterances were copied more or less faithfully during Muhammad's lifetime and were collected together in authoritative form not long after his death. The Koran therefore, closely represents Muhammad's ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words. No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived. Since the Koran is at least as important to Moslems as the Bible is to Christians, the influence of Muhammed through the medium of the Koran has been enormous It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. On the purely religious level, then, it seems likely that Muhammad has been as influential in human history as Jesus.

    Furthermore, Muhammad (unlike Jesus) was a secular as well as a religious leader. In fact, as the driving force behind the Arab conquests, he may well rank as the most influential political leader of all time.

    Of many important historical events, one might say that they were inevitable and would have occurred even without the particular political leader who guided them. For example, the South American colonies would probably have won their independence from Spain even if Simon Bolivar had never lived. But this cannot be said of the Arab conquests. Nothing similar had occurred before Muhammad, and there is no reason to believe that the conquests would have been achieved without him. The only comparable conquests in human history are those of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, which were primarily due to the influence of Genghis Khan. These conquests, however, though more extensive than those of the Arabs, did not prove permanent, and today the only areas occupied by the Mongols are those that they held prior to the time of Genghis Khan.

    It is far different with the conquests of the Arabs. From Iraq to Morocco, there extends a whole chain of Arab nations united not merely by their faith in Islam, but also by their Arabic language, history, and culture. The centrality of the Koran in the Moslem religion and the fact that it is written in Arabic have probably prevented the Arab language from breaking up into mutually unintelligible dialects, which might otherwise have occurred in the intervening thirteen centuries. Differences and divisions between these Arab states exist, of course, and they are considerable, but the partial disunity should not blind us to the important elements of unity that have continued to exist. For instance, neither Iran nor Indonesia, both oil-producing states and both Islamic in religion, joined in the oil embargo of the winter of 1973-74. It is no coincidence that all of the Arab states, and only the Arab states, participated in the embargo.

    We see, then, that the Arab conquests of the seventh century have continued to play an important role in human history, down to the present day. It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.

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