Say that religious belief in general is irrational and often harmful, and few humanists will challenge you. Assert that some religions are more harmful than others, and there will be much less unanimity. Declare emphatically that among currently existing religions, Islam presents a clear and present danger in a way that other religions do not, and you just might set off a “religious” war in the humanist community—or at least, a hugely heated debate. That fundamentalist Muslims are of no more concern than fundamentalist Christians or orthodox believers of other stripes is for some humanists—dare I say it—an article of faith.
I fall into the camp that sees Islam as being in a league by itself. With the number of Muslims in Western countries increasing rapidly due to high levels of immigration and a high birth rate, I believe that we must confront the reality of Islam in our societies with honesty and courage. The point of view that sees Islam as just another religion, albeit one burdened by a fringe of overzealous individuals who do crazy things, does not recognize an important difference between Islam and other religions: Islam is not just a religion but a totalitarian political system and a religion. Moreover, this status is mandated by its own sacred texts.
It is high time for humanists to have a serious discussion about Islam.
Islam has been of special concern to me for many years. I first encountered it in the 1960s, when I spent two years in Pakistan while my father served as a Canadian diplomat. The oppression of women was evident, and I wondered what it would be like to have to wear a burqa —that all-enveloping black bag from which women view the world through a mesh screen — in the tropical heat. Even in the sixties, hostility toward foreigners was palpable. Yet there was widespread expectation that things would get better with development. In those days, upper-class, educated Pakistani women didn’t wear the veil nor even a hijab, the nunlike headdress that hides the hair and neck but at least leaves the face free (and which we are seeing ever more frequently in Western cities). In the 1960s, educated Pakistani women wore either shalwar kemeezes or saris. A shalwar kemeez is an ensemble consisting of baggy, bloomerlike pants reaching the ankle and a top that extends to at least mid-thigh but whose sleeves can be of varying lengths. In the 1960s, they were often short (but never absent). A scarf or shawl was the essential third constituent of the shalwar kameez. It could be modestly draped around the head, in the style made famous by the Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, who was later assassinated. Fifty years ago, however, the scarf was generally hung over the shoulders with the ends loose or lightly tied at the back. Saris are long pieces of fabric wrapped around the body with one end draped over the shoulder. Some saris leave the midriff exposed. In the 1960s, it was not unusual to see Pakistani women wearing such “revealing” saris.
Sadly, since those distant days things have only become worse. Contrary to expectations, Pakistan did not become more like liberal Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia — where, until the past quarter-century, hijabs or head scarves were rare and burqas virtually non-existent. Today, even liberal Muslim countries have now embraced the hijab and ever-more of their politicians are promoting Islamic sharia law. Far from Pakistan becoming more like Indonesia and Malaysia, as many had hoped in the 1960s, today Indonesia and Malaysia are becoming more like Pakistan. And Pakistan is deeply mired in religious violence; consider that in 2011 two politicians were murdered merely for advocating the abolition of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by one of his own security guards in January of that year. Shahbaz Bhatti, minister of minorities and Pakistan’s only government minister who was Christian, was killed in March. Or consider the administrative district of Swat, once a vacation resort where the wealthy escaped the summer heat. Today it writhes under the thumb of Taliban, who in October of 2012 saw fit to shoot a teenage schoolgirl in the head for daring to promote education for women.
Until the 1990s, my perceptions of Islam were largely emotional. At that time, I began to study the subject more seriously, especially after I made the acquaintance (at a humanist meeting) of Dr. Marvin Zayed, a philosopher and expert on Islam. Zayed engaged in what he called “rational criticism of Islam,” and I edited some articles for him. In 2004, he launched a journal called Brave Minds, which I helped to edit and to which I contributed some material. Brave Minds ceased publication in 2009. During my work with Zayed, I believe that I grasped some important concepts of Islamic theology. I continue to read books and articles by knowledgeable critics of Islam. I am no expert on Islam, but I do believe that I know more about the subject than many critics who summarily dismiss as “Islamophobic” anyone who doesn’t share their own happy multicultural view of the religion.
Does Islam, more than other religions, block the way to critical thinking? Yes, it does. After the attacks of 2001, then-president Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan remarked that Muslim countries were among the poorest, most ignorant, and most retrograde in the world. A series of consecutive Arab Human Development Reports, assembled not by so-called Islamophobes but by Arab intellectuals, thoroughly documented the backwardness of Muslim societies. According to these reports, even Muslim countries flush with oil money contribute little to advance science and technology. One example: before its economic crisis, Greece annually translated five times more books from English than did the entire Arab world.
More than a century before September 11, 2001, Sir Winston Churchill engaged in some plain talk:
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome. (The River War, 1st ed., volume 2, 1899).
Fearless warriors indeed. Islam is a religion born of and based on fighting. The highest rewards of paradise are for those who die in battle. The Qur’an exhorts its followers to “Make war on them (the unbelievers) until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme” (8:40). Over two-thirds of the texts in the sira or biographies of Muhammad are devoted to jihad, most—about three-quarters of the jihad texts—to jihad of the sword and only one-quarter to jihad of the pen and mouth. The sira do not mention the inner spiritual struggle that has somehow acquired the name of “greater jihad.” In the collection of Bukhari (the most important of the various collections of hadiths), 98 percent of the hadiths devoted to jihad claim that jihad of the sword is the supreme act, while only 2 percent refer to some religious acts as being equal to jihad of the sword. The analysis by Dr. Bill Warner in Statistical Islam, from which these numbers were obtained, provides an excellent weight-of-evidence approach.*
The battles of Muhammad are not just-so stories for Muslims. As the Qur’an frequently reminds them, Muhammad is to be understood as the perfect model for mankind. He was not very successful early in his career, making only a few hundred converts. The verses of the Qur’an written during this early period are referred to as the “Meccan Qur’an,” and many are peaceful and conciliatory. Only when Muhammad became a politician and warrior, raiding caravans and engaging in forced conversions, fighting those who wouldn’t convert and killing whole tribes in the process, did Islam truly “take off.” (By the time of Muhammad’s death in 632 there would be some one hundred thousand Muslims.) The verses that came to Muhammad during this more militant period are called the “Medina verses,” and a great many of them are violent and bloodthirsty. Those who would counter references to these verses of the Qur’an by referring to its more moderate ones should remember (or learn if they do not know) the concept of abrogation. The peaceful verses of the Qur’an from the earlier Mecca period were formally abrogated (superseded) by the later verses from the Medina period. The authority for this abrogation comes from the Qur’an itself, as illustrated by verses 16:101 and 2:106.**
In accordance with Muhammad’s deathbed wishes, his followers cleansed the Arabian peninsula of infidels. Many Muslims still dislike the presence of infidels on the sacred launching pad of Islam.
Becoming a Muslim is a one-way street. Neither those born into it nor those who convert are permitted to renounce it. As decreed and, in his day, enforced by the warrior-prophet Muhammad, the penalty for apostates who fail to recant is death. These days one can view beheadings of apostates on the Internet if one so chooses.
Islam as a system of life for human beings is a disaster; but as a self-perpetuating meme, to use Richard Dawkins’s term, it is incredibly successful.
Why do Muslims as a group, more than any other immigrants to Western countries, have so much trouble integrating? It is because the Qur’an tells them not to: “Let not believers make friends with Infidels in preference to the faithful— he that does this has nothing to hope for from God—except in self-defence” (Qur’an 3:26), and “Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people. They (the unbelievers) will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is evident from what they utter with their mouths, but greater is the hatred which their breasts conceal” (Qur’an 3:117).
Many Westerners ridicule the idea that Islam wants to take over the world, although Islamists routinely tell us that this is their intention. These Islamists are only following Islamic doctrine. Under Islam, the world is divided into dar-al-Islam (the world of Islam) and dar al-harb (the world of war). The world of war will not be at peace until it is under Islam. A 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document, “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America,” actually lays out the plan for the takeover of this continent.† This document was discovered by the FBI during a search of a suspected terrorist’s home. The Memorandum lays out a step-by-step process of establishing “a stable and effective Islamic movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood” to advance the Muslim cause, which would involve “expanding the observant Muslim base,” “present[ing] Islam as a civilization alternative,” and supporting the establishment of a “global Islamic state.” In a section with the title “Understanding the role of the Muslim Brother in North America,” it says, “The Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” It also says, “It is a Muslim’s duty to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who choose to slack.”
On my view, organizations such as the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) function as front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood. The role of all these organizations is essentially “stealth jihad.” Recognizing that it would be difficult to conquer Western countries through violent attacks, their objective is instead incremental Islamization by demanding ever-more concessions for Muslims (for prayer rooms, for halal food, for Muslim holidays, separate swimming facilities for women, and so on) and suppressing any opposition to Islam (“lawfare” or harassing lawsuits against those who dare to suggest that Islam is anything but sweetness and light is a primary strategy).
In Europe, where Muslims form a larger percentage of the population than in Canada or the United States, Muslims are much more aggressive in their demands for special treatment. Sharia zones, where sometimes even the police fear to go, can be found in Paris (zones urbaines sensibles), London, Malmö (Sweden), and other cities. Organizations such as sharia4uk and sharia4belgium are making clear their intention to take over their countries. A slightly less aggressive attempt to introduce sharia for civil matters failed in Ontario in 2004.
Those who attribute Muslim discontent entirely to colonialism and bad Western behavior should ask themselves why other colonized people seem to have moved on (Europe has no problems with its Vietnamese immigrants), and why Muslims are also extremely hostile to non-Western cultures. Why, for example, did the Taliban blow up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in March of 2001? Why did Islamists in Mali destroy Sufi tombs and ancient manuscripts? Why do some Islamists in Egypt want to destroy the pyramids? The reason has nothing to do with what anyone has done to Muslims. It has to do with the concept of jahiliyya (or “age of ignorance”) in which everything that is pre-Islamic or non-Islamic is to be destroyed. (Since the Sufis are considered heretical in all mainstream branches of Islam, their works, too, qualify for destruction.) Muhammad himself set the example when he destroyed all 360 of the idols of the Kaaba, which had been a pagan temple before it became Islam’s most sacred site.
A vexing problem with Islam is its pathological hatred of Jews. In an interview with Frontpage about her new book, The Devil We Don’t Know, author Nonie Darwish explained why Jews and Israel present an existential problem for Islam. She said that Muhammad’s rejection by the Jews became an obsession for him, just as their prosperity as successful businessmen, agriculturalists, traders, and tool makers made him envious. He accused the Jews of having broken a treaty; Allah himself agreed with him in the Qur’an. Muhammad’s solution was to slaughter the recalcitrant Jews (at least the men—the women and children were enslaved). To reduce the torment he felt in connection with these massacres, Muhammad exhorted everyone around him to join in the campaign against the Jews, and so many verses in the Qur’an encourage fighting as an act of obedience to and worship of Allah. Darwish argued that Muslims today feel they must continue fighting the unfinished business of Muhammad. Making peace with the Jews is equivalent to treason to Muhammad and to Islam itself, she said. Indeed, if one reads the charter of Hamas, it is clear that peace with Israel is the last thing that this organization is looking for.
While Muslim organizations like CAIR whinge about Islamophobia (a term cleverly devised, by the way, by CAIR itself), minorities in Muslim countries endure truly vicious discrimination. Only the grossest outrages against Coptic Christians in Egypt are reported in the Western mainstream media. Religious minorities in Muslim countries are often prevented from building or even making repairs to existing places of worship, and they are subject to attack. In Saudi Arabia, any religious structure other than a mosque is forbidden; non-Muslim foreign workers caught worshipping together in are imprisoned. Non-Muslims living in Muslim lands are known as dhimmi. Dhimmis are second-class (or worse) citizens without the same rights as Muslims, whose word counts for less than a Muslim’s in a court of law and who must pay a special tax, the jizya. The Qur’an (9:29) is quite clear about dhimmis’ inferior status: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” The Islamists of Egypt are even now making sure that Christians know their proper place in this system.
Meanwhile in Western countries, Saudi-funded mosques—often mega-mosques—are springing up like mushrooms. It would be naïve to think that these mosques are just places to worship and have no political purpose. Youssef Qaradawi, who has been unconditionally endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood operating in Canada, describes the role of the mosque thusly: “To guide public policy of a Nation, raise awareness of critical issues and reveal its enemies. From ancient times the Mosque has had a role in urging Jihad for the sake of Allah.” The Nation he refers to is the umma, the global Muslim community. A distressing 80 percent of U.S. mosques are radical, according to according to Stephen Schwartz, director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. At the United Nations also, Islam flexes its muscle through the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (formerly Conference) or OIC. The promotion of anti-blasphemy laws is an ongoing objective of the OIC.
To critically analyze Islam is essential to protecting the rights and freedoms we take for granted. It is not to be against Muslims as human beings, any more than criticizing Christianity is to be against Christians as human beings. But it is a fact that many Muslims who have come to Western countries as immigrants have great difficulty with our values, such as free speech and the equality and self-determination of women. We have witnessed horrific honor killings of women deemed too Western and disobedient. If we do not confront and defang radical Islam in our societies, we betray not only our values but also those individual Muslims who would like to integrate and enjoy the same freedoms that we do. In Europe, the failure of mainstream politicians to address the reasonable concerns of ordinary people about Islam has led to the rise of moderate and more extreme right-wing parties such as the Dutch Freedom Party and the Greek Golden Dawn, respectively.
On the subject of religion, Thomas Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Unfortunately, the god of Islam seeks to pick our pockets and break our legs. Committed Jihadi Muslims make that clear to us every day. We should give them the courtesy of paying attention.
** Qur’an 16:101: And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse—and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down—they say, “You, [O Muhammad], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know. Qur’an 2:106: We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? While there was a chronological transition during which Muhammad went from being a peacefully preaching (and unsuccessful) prophet to an aggressive and ruthless (and successful) warrior-prophet, it is difficult to follow that transition by reading the Qur’an (whose verses reflect Muhammad’s life inasmuch as they were allegedly transmitted to him by the Angel Gabriel). That is because Uthman, the third of the four “rightly guided khalifs” who succeeded Muhammad (and under whom the Muslim world was still united under a single leadership), decided to rearrange the Qur’an from longest to shortest chapters. As pointed out by Islam scholar and critic Bill Warner, that is rather like taking a novel and rearranging its chapters by length. It makes it difficult to follow the plot.
† This document can be found at http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/misc/20.pdf. It is in Arabic and English. Scroll halfway down to get to the English part. More information on the history of this document and the Muslim Brotherhood’s subsidiary organizations in North America that are all to “march according to one plan” can be read here: http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1235. The founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, Hassan al-Banna, produced a fifty-point manifesto in 1936, advocating a one-party state in which all sectors (political, judicial, social, educational and economic) would be governed by sharia law. The manifesto can be read here: http://pointdebasculecanada.ca/articles/1456.html. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has chapters in eighty countries, has not changed its goal of establishing a global Islamic state, as is evident from its mission statement: “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.”