Sunday, July 31, 2011

Did Mohammad spare women and children in battle?

Muslims are very proud of the fact that, although Mohammad was a military leader and took part in many battles, he was always concerned never to harm women or children. There is, however, a worrying hadith for Muslims which suggests that Mohammad was not always so careful.
Bukhaari:V4B52N256 "The Prophet passed by and was asked whether it was permissible to attack infidels at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘Their women and children are from them.'"
Having been quoted the above hadith, "Kevin" asked me to check the authenticity and then find out what Muslim scholars had to say about it. He then suggested that possibly the women and children might have been enlisted to fight and were therefore legitimate targets. This was my reply:
I have checked the authenticity. [1]
I have also checked to see what the scholars[2] make of this hadith. “The only exception to this (the rule that women and children cannot be targeted) is where such people participate directly in the fighting or are so intermixed with the fighters that it is impossible to separate them from those who are fighting. The trouble with this, of course, is that they’re only "intermixed" because the Muslims are attacking at night! And I would give more credence to your suggestion that the women and children might have been enlisted to fight against the Muslims and therefore could have been legitimate targets were it not for the questioner asking if were permissible to “expose them to danger” as a consequence/by-product of attacking at night. The simplest, clearest, most obvious explanation of this hadith, surely, is that Mohammad, as a ruthless warlord, was unconcerned with minimising casualties. 

So the evidence from this apparently utterly reliable hadith (I'm going on what Muslims have to say about the hadith here) is that Mohammad did not always spare innocents in warfare.

"Treason" in Islam

Addendum 2: You say that one might equate Apostasy or irtidad in Islam with treason. In my letter I said I disagreed. Further reading has allowed me to see what you meant.
So, in Islam, the concept of treason is not limited to political and military affairs, it also has a spiritual and cultural dimension to it. In other words one can commit treason by one’s thoughts and beliefs alone. Let me explain, in case you feel I have gone too far here. The religion and the state/constitution are one and the same. (You said in your letter you attribute the problems in Arab countries not to Islam but to a lack of Islam, by which I take it you mean that the countries are not under the pure sharia law of the Qur’an.) So, just as upholding and protecting the constitution of a country is a sign of patriotism, and undermining it is a form of treason - in the same way, open rejection of the fundamental beliefs of Islam by a Muslim is an act of treason.  It is the conflation of state and religion and, by extension, the public and private that concerns me. If, as I suspect, you believe the best and most perfect state to be one in which all legislation is decided by the moral precepts established by Islamic jurisprudence, then anyone who publicly disagrees is not exercising their right to free speech, but rather committing treason, and therefore subject to the punishment decided upon after consulting the Qur’an or ahadith. Is this a fair summary of your beliefs?

Punishment for Apostates in Islam

Having re-read your letter, I think I need to clarify my section on apostasy.
I'd like to add these references to justify my claims (that the Mohammad intended the punishment to be death). ( I have done my best to quote only from the Sahih" ahadith (As I understand it, these are ones that are strong in their chain and extremely likely to be the exact words of the Prophet. ):
Addendum 1: Narrated 'Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'" 
Hadith: Sahih Bukhari 57
Narrated Abu Burda: Abu Musa said, "I came to the Prophet along with two men (from the tribe) of Ash'ariyin, one on my right and the other on my left, while Allah's Apostle was brushing his teeth (with a Siwak), and both men asked him for some employment. The Prophet said, 'O Abu Musa (O 'Abdullah bin Qais!).' I said, 'By Him Who sent you with the Truth, these two men did not tell me what was in their hearts and I did not feel (realize) that they were seeking employment.' As if I were looking now at his Siwak being drawn to a corner under his lips, and he said, 'We never (or, we do not) appoint for our affairs anyone who seeks to be employed. But O Abu Musa! (or 'Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.'" The Prophet then sent Mu'adh bin Jabal after him and when Mu'adh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold: There was a fettered man beside Abu Muisa. Mu'adh asked, "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said, "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Mu'adh to sit down but Mu'adh said, "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed. Abu Musa added, "Then we discussed the night prayers and one of us said, 'I pray and sleep, and I hope that Allah will reward me for my sleep as well as for my prayers.'"  ibid 58

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How churches are outlawed in the Arabian peninsula

In his previous mail to me, "Kevin" explained that general position in Islam is that, in the Arabian peninsula, only Islamic places of worship are allowed.
And yet Muslims demand and receive the right to build Mosques in the West. I’m not suggesting this is wrong...I’m all for plurality (!) but it does strike me as a little lacking in balance and fairness...
He also explained that Jews and Christians are "allowed" to follow their religion in private but must pay a tax to the Muslim army for "protection"
You are referring here to the Zakat, I believe. But what if the Jews and Christians refuse to pay the Zakat? Is this not, put quite simply, a protection racket? In what way is this different from the Mafia or any other criminal organisation? "The Prophet said: 'I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prostration prayer, and pay Zakat. If they do it, their blood and property are protected.'" Muslim:C9B1N33
I cannot agree that this is a just way for a society to work. Imagine, for a moment, if the boot were on the other foot, so to speak, and a Christian theocracy in Britain were to outlaw Mosques and demand protection money from all Muslims. Would not the Islamic community quite rightly rise up in outrage? And would not the international community support them, citing Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights?  

War in Islam

I regret to say my friend has refused permission for his mails to be published in this blog. I hope that this will not make it too difficult to follow the arguments that follow. 
I am enclosing a short rebuttal to the first half your last long mail before I forget. My main concerns this time around are mainly political, as you will see. But there are other issues, especially with the ahadith, which I would like you to clarify for me. You kindly directed me to a site ( a "traditional, scholarly site" - I think you referred to it as) in response to a request and I came across this very clear definition of the reliability of Bukhaari (spelling seems to differ):  “Among the ahaadeeth which are attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), there are some which are saheeh (sound), concerning which there is no doubt that they are the words of the Prophet ... Books of saheeh have been compiled which include saheeh ahaadeeth such as Saheeh al-Bukhaari and Saheeh Muslim” Fatwa number 11443 .
Is this something which you accept?

Now to my answer...

When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives – Qur’an - Surah 47 verse 4.

Kevin explains that this verse was revealed after several years during which fighting the pagans was prohibited. God is now giving the Muslims permission to fight the unbelievers. He finally asks if I would agree that rules on how to fight war, including on how to kill the enemy, should be included in any code of laws that purports to be complete. Obviously I agree that we need rules to govern warfare. To that end we have the Geneva Conventions and Protocols which, I would suggest, give more useful and detailed instructions on the subject than “beheading”, “slaughtering” and “tying up captives”. To claim that this gruesome exhortation is part of a set of sensible guidelines for the humanitarian waging of war, strikes me as bizarre... to say the least.
In any case, Islam is far from clear in its prohibitions. Does Islam really make it clear that women and children are to be spared in war, as you have previously claimed? This hadith, from  Bukhaari, suggests otherwise:
Bukhaari:V4B52N256 "The Prophet passed by and was asked whether it was permissible to attack infidels at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, ‘Their women and children are from them.'"
(Again, I ask you: If the Prophet is supposed to be a perfect example to us (as Allah claims), and if his sayings and actions are supposed to guide us, how are we supposed to reconcile such clearly conflicting advice?)
 I do, however, agree that there are plenty of surahs dealing with the topic of war.  Can you explain how the following should be used as guidelines?...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oceanic structure in the Qur'an and "Western scholars touting "science" of the Qur'an

You also said you'd be interested to hear my interpretation of "waves upon waves" and once again seem to be claiming some sort of superhuman knowledge of oceonography and internal waves on behalf of the author of the Qur'an. Leaving aside my immediate reaction that "waves upon waves" is so vague as to be balmost meaningless, I thought I'd look to see what the net made of this...20+ pages of Islamic sites vaunting the "miracle" which apparently goes back to one poor western scientist hoodwinked into making one statement. Please read the Wall Street Journal article below. I have shortened it somewhat but, if you're interested, I can let you have the whole thing. I have highlighted the salient section - but I think the rest is pretty damning...

Western Scholars Play Key Role In Touting 'Science' of the Quran
Leigh Simpson, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is a church-going Presbyterian. But thanks to a few conferences he attended back in the 1980s, he is known in parts of the Muslim world as a champion of the doctrine that the Quran, Islam's holy book, is historically and scientifically correct in every detail.

"waves upon waves" - miraculous?

A response to the claim that the "waves upon waves" verse (24:40) is in some way miraculous
One final rebuttal to this mail (in case you take my silence on 24:40 as in some way accepting of its divine inspiration!)
SHAKIR: Or like utter darkness in the deep sea: there covers it a wave above which is another wave, above which is a cloud, (layers of) utter darkness one above another; when he holds out his hand, he is almost unable to see it; and to whomsoever Allah does not give light, he has no light.

Again, I am doubtless less poetically/spiritually minded than you, but I fail to see the wonder of these lines. To suggest that, because this verse makes clear the author knew that light couldn't penetrate the ocean depths, it is suggestive of his divinity, is pushing it, isn't it? - any one in a boat in a deep, clear sea can see that one for themselves..As well as the well documented sponge-divers of the area whose tales of decreasing light as they descended would have been around. And there was plenty of poetry of the time which made reference to the dark depths of the oceans, which I shall be happy to quote, should you need further convincing. Finally, can you clarify what you mean by "oceanic structure"?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ark on Mount Judi - some difficult questions

Having tried to establish with "Kevin" the fact that the so called Ark on Mount Judi was just a natural phenomenon, I then raised the following issue:
"If this site isn't the Ark, then doesn't it raise the very real problems concerning the reasons why Mohammad claimed this site as the resting point for the Ark in the first place? Might it possibly be that he saw/heard stories about the boat shaped structure and thought to include it?
I think this whole episode raises some fascinating questions."
And my next mail pursued this idea:
"With regard to the Mnt Judi controversy, these are my thoughts:
The reason I think this is so important is as follows:
1.       If it turns out that Mnt Judi is the resting place of the Ark, then it strikes me you have a good case and I will perhaps need to re-think my lifestyle..(stop drinking and start washing out my nose every morning ['If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night.' Bukhari 4 -516], to name but two...)
2.       If it can be proved conclusively that this strange rock formation is not man-made, but rather the product of natural and totally understandable geological processes, then we have a coincidence of such mind-bending proportions that only the most stubborn of zealots would persevere in their belief. Let me explain...

The "Ark" discovered on Mount Judi - another miracle...

"Kevin" wrote to me some time ago suggesting that I might like to look into the apparent discovery of the remains of Noah's Ark on Mount Judi - just as was reported in the Qur'an -by someone called Ron Wyatt . He attached some photos and "radar scans" and presumably hoped that this at last would convince me of the divine nature of the Qur'an.
The pictures looked convincing (see above) but I always like to do my own checking and research. It didn't take long to discover that Wyatt had also "discovered" the Ark of the Covenant, the true Cross, and just about every other long-lost Judeo-Christian artefact. It was time for another mail...
"The aerial images are genuine in the sense that they are images of someting that really exists. I don't think they can lay claim to that epithet in any other sense of the word - please see below..(there is a plethora of articles all dismissing this site and the work of Wyatt. Please ask me if you still need convincing that the Ark search is a wild goose least for the moment!).
How many Muslims are labouring under the misapprehension that this "proves" the divinity of the Qur'an? How many Immams know (because they bothered to check...) but are happy to let their flock remain in ignorance? And the same could be said for so many of the apparent proofs of the Qur'an. Can you understand why I get so frustrated?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

miracles in the Qur'an 1 - oceanography

My Muslim convert friend (whom we shall henceforth refer to as "Kevin") suggested I look at verses on oceanography, such as 25:53 on the separation of sweet and salty water, and 24:40 on the oceanic structure. These verses are not meant as an academic lesson apparently, but they do allude to history and science in a way that can be subjected to verification. I thus attempted to do just that...

"In answer to your suggestion that verse 25:53 alludes to a scientific phenomenon previously unkown/unknowable, it seems the idea was widespread since Aristotle:"The drinkable, sweet water, then, is light and is all of it drawn up: the salt water is heavy and remains behind, but not in its natural place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apostasy in Islam and "Compulsion in religion"

...being the last part of my first letter.
You said in your letter: the Qur’an confirms that “there is no compulsion in religion”.30 You will not find a verse that states otherwise in the Qur’an.
Although I don’t think this is the major argument here, and I’ll explain why later, I disagree that the Qur’an is as clear cut on this point as you make out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homosexuality in Islam (2) : Letter pt 6

...being the 6th part of a letter to a Muslim convert friend.
But why should we turn to the ahadith in the first place? Why do Muslims feel the need to go beyond the Qur’an for guidance on this issue? It is because surely, like so many other areas, the Qur’an leaves its readers unsure.
It condemns homosexuality in the stories about Lot, which were told during the Meccan period, but in the Medinan period, Sura 4:15-16, the only reference that seems to come close to dealing with this sin, is so ambiguous that it seems that Muslim scholars cannot reach a consensus on its meaning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Homosexuality in Islam: Letter Pt 5

Homosexuality - being the 5th part of a letter to my Muslim convert friend. You can tell this topic really riles me...
The way that this is dealt with in Islam, perhaps more than any other issue, makes me angry and frustrated and convinces me that your God is indeed vengeful and cruel. Please forgive me therefore if this seems a rather heated riposte!
The Qur’an rather vaguely, but the ahadith very specifically, make clear that homosexuals who enjoy a sex life are to be punished (variously, according to which hadith one reads - but all such punishments are severe and most are fatal).
Note: I am aware that the ahadith vary in reliability. I have tried to restrict myself therefore to Sahih" ahadith (as I understand it, ones that are strong in their chain and extremely likely to be the exact words of the Prophet)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heaven in the Qur'an - Letter pt 4

Heaven – a short aside...being an excerpt from a letter to a Muslim convert friend
This is a concept which I have always found immensely difficult. We discussed the punishment awaiting sinners and I’d like to return to it later. However, what intrigues me for the moment is the paradise described in the Qur’an to which I alluded briefly and which seems to be, inter alia, worryingly misogynistic.  For example, Surah 56 verses 12- 39 reveals what awaits the faithful:
"They shall recline on jewelled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds... We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand..."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Embryology in the Qur'an - Letter Pt 3

In a later part of the first letter to X, I tackle the thorny question of the apparent miraculous knowledge of embryology in the Qur'an.
For those new to this debate, Muslims claim that the Qur'an contains references to embryology that it would have been impossible for a 7th century illiterate desert nomad to have known. Maurice Bucaille (see the image on the right) was the first to suggest this in his book. Here is my first attempt to counter these suggestions. (This develops into quite a saga as you will see in later posts...)
EmbryologyYou said in your letter in introducing this subject that you were saving the best ‘til last. From that, I take it you were pleased with the evidence you had found to support the notion that the revelations regarding conception and the early stages of life in the womb in the Qur’an were miraculous or divinely inspired. If this is the case, I am intrigued that you felt the need to add clarification to the surah you first quote in defence of your argument:
The Qur’anic description of human embryology highlights a number of stages in foetal development. These include conception itself in Surah 86:5-7 which states: “Let man, then, observe out of what he has been created. He has been created out of a seminal fluid issuing from between the loins (of man) and the pelvic arch (of woman).”I found the surah you quote in five different translations. None of them had the additions in brackets. Can you explain the justification for adding your clarification?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Judeo-Christian scriptures in Islam; A clear Message?: Letter pt. 2

This is the 2nd part of a letter to my Muslim convert friend. I have not included his well-argued letter as I haven't his permission as yet.
The scripturesI particularly enjoyed your well researched and thought-provoking section on the Judeo-Christian scriptures. As I understand it, Islam teaches that the God of these scriptures is the same as the God of Islam. In fact, is it not true that Muslims believe that Muhammad’s arrival was prophesied in the Old Testament by God’s prophets, in the same way that Christians believe the coming of Christ was the fulfilment of the prophesies in the same scriptures? Am I also right in thinking that you believe in the literal truth of the Torah/ Pentateuch?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Logic in Islam: A letter to my Muslim friend - Pt 1.

I have been in correspondence with a Muslim friend for six months now. He converted some time ago - ever since he was convinced that the Qur'an contains scientific and historic knowledge that it was impossible for Mohammad to have known 14 centuries ago. In particular, he believes that Maurice Bucaille's book, "The Bible, The Qur'an and Science" is an accurate examination of those "miracles". Here is the first part of the first letter I sent him after a get-together at an old school friend's at which we discussed the possibility of an email exchange. I have not asked his permission to use his letters so as yet you'll just get my side of the argument. I hope in the future to convince him to allow me to publish his erudite responses...
Part 1
I enjoyed our discussion on the merits of Islam over the holiday. It was a true delight to feel that I could question and debate with you over something so dear to your heart. I’m very grateful and hope that I didn’t cause any offence. You may wonder why, if I have no faith, I am so interested in these matters. Perhaps the question should be put the other way: why are not more people fascinated by the idea that a huge proportion of the world’s population live their lives so strictly according to a set of rules established 1,400 years ago?Of course, I cannot deny that, for me, your conversion helped to focus my interest. That someone so evidently intelligent and reasonable should suddenly (or so it seemed to me) adopt a way of life so alien to my own seemed shocking but also hugely intriguing.