“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” – William Jefferson Clinton.
“Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” – Proverbs 6:27
First of all, what is an infidel? Well, I suppose in this case, we can say an infidel is anyone who opposes, disbelieves, or even doubts Islam. So, by this definition, as one who is outspoken against Islam, I am most certainly an Infidel.
The irony of the words like “definition,” and “meaning,” is their definitions–especially in a postmodern society–are often misunderstood. Even in Christian Bible studies, a passage of scripture can be read out loud and the leader asks, “What does that mean to you?” as though meaning is to be found in the eye of the beholder, like beauty! Can we go back on an author’s words and make them our own and retroject some private meaning onto them? Sure, I suppose, but they are no longer, quite, the author’s words–well, not in the strictest sense. Sure, they could be the chosen arrangement of words, but when we choose to equivocate, or impose new meaning, or assign a different interpretation to a set of words, even if slight modification is made, then we are taking private artistic license and making them our own. Never has, that I know of, this been done with examples pertaining to mathematics; no one asks, “What does the sum of 2 and 2 mean to you?” This is not a subjective question, which has sociological or political factors to be taken into consideration, it is an absolute and the nature of a state affairs is that they shape our minds, our minds do not shape the external world.
Often, in Christian circles, this approach is taken. We can impose a contemporary cultural idea onto the Bible and say it is endorsing homosexuality by using a leftist interpretation of the text, or suggest that the Bible is wrong because it does not live up to our cultural ideas on abortion, or homosexuality. Oddly, the latter would be more fitting with the definition of truth, because it does not impose new meaning on an old text, but it still fails in saying truth is progressive.
When we see moral shortcomings in a Christian individual, ourselves, or a particular Christian group/sect, can we condemn them/ourselves as hypocrites because the behaviour does not flow from the foundation for Christian thought and worldview? The secular community, and many Christians, certainly evaluate charlatans acting with Biblical authority who preach a health and wealth, prosperity, pseudo gospel. Why? Because there is an objective frame of reference which can be used to evaluate their claims and it can be said, “That is wrong,” no matter what the cultural milieu. Sure, the Biblical words can be twisted, erroneously, to support a certain set of ideas, but they would lack divine inspiration and become the words of the subject, not the original author.
Often Christian cults are formulated by violating several verses in scripture which warn against adding/subtracting from the word of God, which is why the church, in its entirety, can go back and condemn these heretical factions as being counterfeits and representations of their contemporary founder and not as being consistent with the foundational text. While creativity can be used to justify adultery, slavery, and cults and aberrant readings, a less esoteric view gives us more license to disassociate ourselves from error.
That is the nature of a true proposition, is that it finds its counterpart in reality. If we know a certain school of thought teaches X, as a normative, and its alleged practitioners deviate from X, we know that is not prescribed of X and the cause&effect relationship breaks down between the teaching and the individual(s). Some other idea, other than X, generates the deviant behaviour.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
What does it mean for people to act “in the name” of something? When we see a Christian group handling poisonous snakes during a service, they say they are acting on a Biblical mandate, or their interpretation, found in Mark 16:18. If one were caught in adultery, surely, they would find difficulty in pointing to the Bible for their justification. Saying, “I cheated on my spouse in the name of God,” would sound strange to a listening audience. For theists, Muslim and Christian alike, we have a foundational text which informs our thought and worldview. When a Christian loves their neighbour as themselves, they do so with a theological imperative. What of the Muslim? As of this writing, there have been numerous attacks carried out by so-called members of Islam against many different types of people who disagree with them. Then again, we also see many non-aggressive Muslims, not engaged in violent activity. Where are these acts coming from? Both, probably, from a reading of the Qur’an, but who is in error?
Given that ones beliefs set the stage, or to get more technical, provide the antecedent conditions which generate their actions, one might ask, “Who is acting more consistently with their theological paradigm? The peaceful Muslim, or those who are aggressive?”
This paper assumes the position that the peaceful Muslims are inconsistent with their foundational text and to reform Islam would be to bring it back to its violent roots, but this paper is not a call to awaken Muslims to violence, but to stir their consciences and awaken the minds of groups who wish to romanticize this cult. As mentioned before, one could certainly retroject western values or interpretations on the Qur’an, but it then loses its divine inspiration and becomes the words of the new author, not the original, making it a worldview with stories, not a worldview that carries any divine authority.
JIHAD OF THE PEN
It is said, by scholars to the left, and Muslims trying to make Islam palatable to the west, that the Jihad spoken of in the Qur’an is one of the pen–not necessarily of the sword. If this is the case, one should not object to this paper, since it will give Muslim scholars opportunity to demonstrate this peaceful Jihad is truly what the Qur’an speaks of, or to engage in a fair exchange of ideas and if we are to live in a fair and open society, rational discourse and fair juxtaposition of ideas is what is needed. If these ideas are, indeed, in error, they should at least serve to make the truth more obvious. Ideas should be held in light of truth, not in spite of it.
SOME, BUT NOT ALL
Some may object by raising the point that many Muslims are peaceful, for instance their neighbour or co-worker, but that isn’t the point. The arguments presented here are intended to address ideas, not people and statements made, such as, “My Muslim friend is peaceful,” is a statement about the person, not the ideas of Islam. Peter Townsend notes that there are those who have taken up, what is called, ‘Personal Islam,” where the practitioner interprets the Qur’anic passages in a peaceful manner. As noted above, this can be done, but to impose our meaning on a supposedly divine text is to make it impossible for there to be any divine inspiration, the words become personally inspired and statements about the individual, rather than the original author and intent.
IT OUGHT, BUT SO WHAT!?
An objection to this, worth anticipating, and one fallacy that should be avoided, are that an objector would say that I am trying to get an ‘is’ from an ‘ought.’ “So what,” they might say, “you are trying to impose your notion of what God/Allah ought to be, based on your conscience or your personal sense of right and wrong!?”
This would be a noteworthy objection and I believe it is at this point the objections cited against Islam, in this paper, would fail. On this basis, it would be important to construct a minimalist god in a model, as Victor Stenger proposed in ‘God the Failed Hypothesis,’ and ask “What is the minimal predication we must assign to god, in order for us to still be speaking of god, rather than non-god!?” An imaginary box must be filled with essential godly traits before we can point to it and say, “That is god!” It is much like taking a luxury car and stripping down its components until we are left with a non-car. If we were to take a car and strip out its air conditioning, its leather seats and stereo, we would still be left with a car, but what components are essential to it, that we cannot remove without making it a non-car!?
WE MISQUOTE THE QUR’AN
Nothing is worse than mischaracterizing our opponent and refuting a position they don’t even hold to, especially by cherry picking some texts and misquote them. To do this would be to impose our own private meaning onto the text; in this case, the Qur’an and committing the same error this paper charges some interpreters of the Qur’an with.
The problem is the Qur’an is not written in sequential order and there are no extant, well authenticated, documents which can help arrange the Surah’s in their chronological order, except the Hadith’s, which are traditional writings, or sayings, of Muhammad. The problem with these documents is there is no doctrinal obligation within Islam to hold these as anything more than apocryphal, so there is no requirement to read the Qur’an except in the vacuum in which it is written. Furthermore, using the Hadith’s to shed light on the Qur’an does not do a left interpretation any favours, as it portrays the order of violence as increasing from beginning to end, as people reject Islam, and it shows Mohammed as progressively more power hungry, yet the Qur’an (33:21) asserts Mohammed as being the ultimate paradigm of Islamic thought and virtue.
FOR THE LAST TIME, ISLAM IS NOT A RACE
Some may even be scared to criticize Islam because of its deep roots within a culture, making criticism or not accepting its ideas racist, or xenophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, it would be racist to assume that all people of a certain race are Muslim, by necessity of their genes. This would be comparable to assuming all whites are Christians, or that all Chinese are Buddhist. Like the previous objection, this commits a hasty generalization fallacy, where we judge the ‘all’ on the basis of the few. A religion may be deeply associated with a culture, but not necessitated by a culture. An excellent example of this is modern day Judaism, where many non-religious Jews still practice their beliefs as a custom, not out of religious duty.
Secondly, this type of name calling and immaturity makes rational discourse impossible and is a type of censorship by shaming, or guilt. I do not consider this paper immune to constructive criticism and welcome it, in order to fairly represent ideas.
WHAT OUGHT GOD BE?
One problem in discussing morality and the nature of God, which often comes up in debate, is the Euthyphro dilemma. It is, essentially, argued that if P (Any moral proposition) is commanded by God then P is good by virtue of its divine origins. Therefore, P says nothing about the nature of God and God could have decreed that non-P be a virtue. This makes morality contingent, rather than objective and absolute and it just so happens, that out of all possible world scenarios, we live in a world which rape and murder are abhorrent. But this fails to take into consideration that God is a necessary Being, for if God exists He exists necessarily and so does His nature. We may reverse the order, from “P is good by virtue of being decreed by God,” to “God is good, therefore God commands P!”
While many apologists, including myself, object to, or doubt, the ontological argument as a good argument for proving the existence of god, it is useful for demonstrating that the proposition ‘god exists’ is not logically incoherent, and that if god exists, it is not an elliptical truth, like “Trudeau won the 2015 Canadian election,” but is a necessary truth, either way. If god does not exist this is necessarily true, and vice versa. It is on this point, I believe, the argument against Islam rises or falls. (For a better understanding of the Ontological Argument, see link 1 at end of paper.)
If God is to exist necessarily, if and only if God exists, then so do His properties, such as love, justness and so forth. To elaborate on this, an understanding of proper vs. improper possession of an adjective is necessary. When we say ‘food is healthy,” we say this in the improper sense, because food is not healthy, organisms are, but food communicates health to the organism which it acts upon. To extend this analogy to God, when we say that ‘God is good,’ it is because He causes good things to happen. When we say “God is love,’ this is in the improper sense, as love defines His nature and He does not have love, we, as loving creatures, have love in the finite, or proper sense.
This argument can be summarized as such:
1. That which is not composed cannot be decomposed
2. God is not composed
3. Therefore, God cannot be decomposed
This argument may seem fairly simple, but if God is an uncaused cause, His attributes/predicates were never given to Him, and are as synonymous with Him/the subject, as saying ‘3-sided object,’ is with saying ‘triangle.’
Could God not then be malevolent, necessarily, given that we see malevolence, or acts of non-virtue/love, in humanity!? If God cannot give what He hasn’t got to give, how does He not possess these other properties!?
Refer back to the Ontological Argument, we can imagine a bad, good and a greater pizza, as we add more olives or anchovies to it, or we can imagine a greater and greater car, as we add more performance enhancing, or safety, parts to it and push it toward more functionality, its function/purpose being found in its ability to drive, or in its aesthetics. We could almost build on the concept of a greater and greater car, or pizza, into infinity, but we are limited in imagining a less and less functional car as we imagine ‘vandalizing’ it, or as its parts begin to break down. Evil, then, is the privation of good and is finite, whereas good is potentially infinite, if it is understood to be that which trends toward the ideal.
It could be said, then, that ‘good’ is that which is functional and ‘evil’ is the lack of functionality. With a murder weapon, such as a rifle, we do not say the evil is found in the rifle itself, but in its use and anyone who uses a rifle for any purpose other than hunting, let’s say, trends away from its good and toward malfunction. The car illustration serves this best, as we can imagine a high performance car racing down the freeway, having minor/non-essential parts failing, until it becomes such a heap and every drop of oil has come out of it, leaving it with a seized engine block with burned off tires.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Now that the minimal predicates have been established, if they are reasonably true, one could plug any deity, without any theological commitments, (Zeus, Horus, Jesus…,) into this framework and see which ones fit, or fail to fit the minimal requirements, like a murderer on trial fitting their hand into a glove, which the prosecution has presented as an exhibit for one of the killer’s physical features. We need to find our ‘Cinderella’ here.
THE MORAL HERO
While many politicians claim to speak for Islam, in the stead of her apologists going to bat for her, assuring the general public this is a religion of peace, we must wonder, “Who is more qualified to speak on this subject? Politicians who have little schooling in comparative religion, or the professors of Islam?” Perhaps westerners need to be quiet on matters they aren’t schooled in and let the active practitioners tell us what they believe, to do anything else would be committing the heresy of being innovative with the divine text and insulting to those who are experts on it themselves.
Qur’an 33:21 gives us the ultimate paradigm of Islamic excellence, with regards to Muhammad,
‘There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.‘
and from this, it doesn’t matter who says what about Islam, Muhammad is the go to source for Islamic virtue and worldview, so we must look to Muhammad as being the end result of embracing Islam.
Muhammad, the seal of the prophets, Allah’s final messenger to mankind, (33:40), was appointed by Allah to restore pagan people back to monotheism, so over his life he received several private visions giving him the Qur’an. One would assume, in order to be a messenger of God that one would not be free of sin, but would be of good character and trustworthy. In the Qur’an we see Muhammad violating the Biblical teaching of monogamy and even his own Qur’anic teaching. Sura 4:3 allows a man to take up 4 wives, while there is no biblical provision for such a marital arrangement. The Qur’an acknowledges the historical Adam and Eve, and we see the pattern of marriage being one man and one woman. Furthermore, we see Muhammad being the exception to his own rule and taking up more than 4 wives and had up to 11 at one time. (33:37,50) While there is a provision for the prophet to have more than 4 wives, in the Qur’an, this distinction makes it difficult to see Muhammad as being the ultimate example of Islamic virtue. If Muslim apologists are correct that Islam protects the rights of women, making them equal with men, why can’t women have multiple husbands?
While Muhammad’s love life is not what is being evaluated here, it raises concern over the consistency of his message and if he cared about truth or upholding his personal agenda, which segues into the problem of holy wars in the Qur’an. If we are to view Muhammad as the Islamic paradigm how are we to view the violent texts in the Qur’an? How are we to make sense of Sura’s, such as 5:32, which say that ‘…to kill an innocent is to kill all of mankind and to save an innocent is to save all of mankind.”?
Violent verses in Qur’an
The following are a few of the violent verses in the Qur’an, which Islamic peace apologists need to address,
“Fight in the cause of God.” – 2:244
“…fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them.” – 9:5
“When you meet unbelievers, smite at their necks.” – 47:4
“”Fight those who do not believe in God nor the last day.” – 9:29
Do these verses of violence put a strain on Sura 5:32, or do they give us light to revisit it? This Sura is often taken out of context, by Islamic apologists, and says previously that this verse explicitly applies to “…the children of Israel,” and killing for them is only acceptable if “…for murder, or for spreading mischief in the land.” This is not a commandment to all people and places the children of Israel beneath the Muslims in the order of moral hierarchy, and ontological value. Furthermore, Islam is not a message that has spread by the value of its truth claims, but has been pragmatic in its deployment. Sura 9:29 shows this is a message that does not appeal to the intellect and has flourished because of its truth, but by the sword.
While apologists have quoted verses which seem to promote more tolerance, the verses of the sword are not easily swept away and are ready to be taken up as license for violence, by those who wish to reform Islam, at a moments notice and with a theological imperative. One may say there are good Muslims out there, which is true, but when one holds their conscience, or personal preferences, in tension with their theology, which they hold strongly, one will be suppressed and the other acted upon. Sura 2:216 addresses this very issue,
“Fighting is prescribed for you and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not.”
Given this sura, in light of others, there seems to be little room to take personal license in practicing peace with the unbelievers, which the Qur’an prohibits even friendship with. Sura 5:54.
Much more can be said with regards to Islam and violence, and one could write back and forth on this subject for years. But it seems highly probable that Islam is not a religion which seeks to coexist, rather it seeks compliance and promotes violence to do so. If ideas have consequences and violent ideas have violent consequences, then the issues in Islam must be addressed. There is no room for peaceful reform in Islam, while maintaining its status of divine inspiration, given violence is the soil it grew in. One may maintain belief in Islam in tension with their conscience, but for how long!? One will eventually be rejected, while the other wins.
One must ask themselves, “Does the god in Islam fit the description of a maximally great being described in the ontological argument?” (1). Allah is clearly a bottom up view of god, from mans inner workings and desires, rather than a top down, revelatory, knowledge of god and Islam clearly fosters the worst humanity has to offer and gives it a theological imperative.
As mentioned earlier, Muhammad is the seal of the prophets, Allah’s final messenger, so any attempt to rescue Islam from its violent understanding will be committing the heresy of innovation with the inspired text.
I can hear the objections, already, there will be those who say that Christianity is not without its violence and it may be true that Christians have behaved improperly, but one can point to our foundational texts to say we were wrong, while violent Muslims are keeping well in line with their scriptures. It could be said that the Old Testament is not without its violence, and this can be discussed separately, but briefly touched upon here, that the violence in the Old Testament was responsive and its purpose was to achieve a higher moral standard in the absence of the ideal. Philosopher, Paul Copan, argues for this in, ‘Is God a Moral Monster?’ and, ‘Did God Really Command Genocide?’ Biola Professor, Clay Jones argues that the crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, but not that some Christians behaved inappropriately during said time of war. (2)
All the above aside, attempting to dismiss Islamic violence by pointing to faults within Christianity, or other schools of thought, is a lazy moral equivalence and does us no good when discussing Islam. Many philosophers have written on the God of Christianity, using similar reasoning, and the Christian must not respond to these by lazily pointing to violence in other religions, rather apologists must rise up and deal with these objections, so that we can hold our beliefs in light of the best reasons available.
1. Anselm’s ontological argument: https://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/ontological.html
Robert Spencer is an excellent and tasteful critic of Islam and runs a ministry called “Jihad Watch,” the link to this site is https://www.jihadwatch.org/.
SUGGESTED READING/SOURCES USED
“Answering Islam” – Norman Geisler&Abdul Saleeb.
“Nothing to do with Islam?” – Peter Townsend.
“The Infidels Guide to the Koran”. – Robert Spencer.
“The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam.” – Robert Spencer.
“The Truth About Muhammad.” – Robert Spencer.
Huston Smith has written a very brief summary on Islam, more in defence of it and has written a guide to world religions. In each summary he writes as though he were a devotee of each religion and I believe he has written excellently in defending Islam. For western readers I would highly suggest this as a resource and an apologetic attempting to vindicate Islam from its violent history.
Regarding, modelling God and the ontological argument, I think this video link is excellent: