Monday, July 30, 2012

Why didn't Muhammad forbid the rape of slave girls?

Question: If women are captured in battle do you suppose those women a) would want to sleep with the soldiers who had presumably killed or captured their husbands/fathers/brothers b) would be in a position to refuse the advances of the soldiers? 
Here's another question: What do we call having sex with a woman against her will?

When Muhammad's followers asked him about using coitus interruptus with women captured in battle, rather than taking the opportunity to give them a moral lesson in not forcing themselves on women (rape) or the inhumanity of slavery, or the moral degeneracy of having sex in such an unequal partnership, he simply told them ... to go ahead. We know this because it is reported in a sahih (utterly reliable) hadith (saying or action of Muhammad) as follows:

[From Muslim] @Book 8, Number 3373: Abu Sa'id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him) reported: We took women captives, and we wanted to do 'azl (coitus interruptus) with them. We then asked Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) about it, and he said to us: Verily you do it, verily you do it, verily you do it, but the soul which has to be born until the Day of judgement must be born. 

Thus the person whom Muslims regard as the best human being God ever made seems utterly unconcerned about his followers raping women as part of the spoils of war. Not that we should be surprised, of course,  because Muhammad's God shares His prophet's disregard for the right of slave women not to be raped, since we read this in the Qur'an, where Allah is at pains to teach the believers with whom they are are not allowed to have sex:
And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands (as prisoners of war) .4:24
and this, which lists in more detail the women with whom Muhammad himself can have sex. (Wasn't it good of God to make a special revelation telling humanity forevermore whom the Prophet could bonk?):
O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. 33:50 

If there is a God (which there isn't) are Muslims not slightly concerned that they may have to justify following such morally dubious teachings? 

("Tell me, my son - why didn't you question such teachings? Didn't you think for yourself for just one moment? Didn't it occur to you ask why? Did you not suspect for one moment that it was all just...gibberish?")

Where is the goodness in such teachings? In what way can this be seen as the behavior of the best human ever? 

Are those Muslims who use this and other similar reports to justify the appalling mistreatment of women in the world today better than those of us kaffirs who fight to highlight the injustice, moral depravity, and cruelty excused in the name of Islam?

Remember - according to Islam, ALL non-believers go to Hell and if you follow the teachings of Islam (such as those examined the above) you will go to Paradise. 

Note: All Sunni (the majority, mainstream) Muslims MUST believe the reports of Muhammad's actions and words as recorded in the sahih (utterly trustworthy) ahadith. Hence all sunni Muslims have to believe that Muhammad thought it acceptable to have sex with slave girls and that all he was concerned with when asked about it was whether one should indulge in coitus interruptus when doing it.

"Best human ever" - hmmm.

Do any Muslims try to justify this? Well they try.  Here's a typical example from sunniforum:
it seems that intercourse with slaves was probably considered a method of contraceptive sexual enjoyment through coitus interruptus (`azl), since the slave owner could practice `azl without prior permission from his slave mate while he could not do so with his free wife without prior permission from her. And if the contraception intended by this `azl failed and the slave woman still bore a child from her master, her child was automatically freed and obtained a son or daughter's rights including inheritance. In addition, the mother herself could no longer be sold and was freed upon the owner's death. From the slave's perspective, the above scenario could have formed an accepted kind of lawful gamble from which she stood to gain much more than to lose. This could be problematized with the claim that "the cost of freedom is therefore rape" but such is just an inflammatory rephrasing of the truism that the cost of a war captive's life is her imprisonment; emancipation from which is a dramatically enhanced possibility in the above scenario.

So that's all right then...rape is acceptable if it dramatically enhances the possibility of  the victim gaining her freedom (by bearing the off-spring of her rapist).

And that's the best they can do?

(Thanks to Rational Islam? reader, Martin for the suggestion for this post)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Believe! Allah sends charity workers to Hell!

I always like to go to the experts when I have a question about Islam. My Muslim friend has suggested in the past that I visit Islam Question and Answers since he regards it as a traditional, sensible site not given to ridiculous claims about numerical miracles etc.
One of my main objections to believing in Allah is His dementedly sadistic threat that however good a life you lead, whatever good deeds you may have done, however altruistic and selfless you may have been... if you fail to believe in Him He will send you to Hell where He will roast the skin off your back for an eternity. (For my money, that in itself negates any claim to being taken seriously, let alone worshiped.)
But how accurate is this interpretation of the infamous verse, reproduced below?

Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islam, the Qur’aan and Prophet Muhammad) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) and Al-Mushrikoon will abide in the fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures”
[al-Bayyinah 98:6] 

Are we being perhaps a little literal? Surely Allah can't be so cold-hearted, can he?  (I know, I know...but let's give Him the benefit of the doubt for the time being)
So let's ask the experts. Or rather, let's look at what the experts have said in answer to a poor confused and worried Muslim who put this very question to Islam Question and Answers.
Is it true that all the kuffaar, even if their morals are good and they do not harm anyone, will enter Hell? If the answer is yes, then what about non-Muslim children and those who had no choice but to be born kaafirs?. 
 This is what their expert immam said to reassure the poor believer (my bolding):

Praise be to Allaah.
You should note that all the kaafirs who hear the message of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and do not enter Islam will go to Hell.
So if we haven't heard the message of the Prophet we might escape Hell? Aren't all those who carry out Dawah (spreading the message of Islam) like our friends at iERA doing us a tremendous disservice then? For once we've heard them, we no longer have that particular get-out clause: "Sorry, Allah - but no-one told me about Islam and I have spent all my life working for a charity and spend my free time as a voluntary worker in a children's cancer ward  - so can I come into Paradise, please?" "Ah, but what about those fellas at iERA who stopped you in the street in 2012 whom you told to get lost? It's the fiery pit for you, my son!"
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islam, the Qur’aan and Prophet Muhammad) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) and Al-Mushrikoon will abide in the fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures”
[al-Bayyinah 98:6]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, no one of this nation, Jew or Christian, hears of me then dies without having believed in that with which I was sent, but he will be one of the people of the Fire.” Narrated by Muslim, 153.
The point is not whether their morals are good, rather the point is whether they submit to Allaah and obey his commands. Do you not see the Magians [Zoroastrians] or the Buddhists, for example, who worship fire or idols instead of Allaah, and they do not worship Allaah or submit to Him alone, and the Christians who say that God has a son, and other mushriks (those who associate others with Allaah). They are being ill-mannered towards Allaah, and insulting and reviling Him. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Allaah says, ‘The son of Adam denied Me and he had no right to do so. And he reviled Me and he had no right to do so. As for his denying Me, it is his saying: He will not remake me as He made me at first - and the initial creation [of him] is no easier for Me than remaking him. As for his reviling Me, it is his saying: Allaah has taken to Himself a son, while I am the One, the Everlasting Refuge. I begot not nor was I begotten, and there is none comparable to Me.’” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 4974.
So how can their morals be good when they are so ill-mannered towards Allaah, even though Allaah has given them hearing and sight, and has made everything easy for them, and has sent His Messengers to them and revealed His Books to them, and bestowed His blessings upon them, so it is His right that they should thank Him and not be ungrateful to Him or disbelieve in Him. If they do not do that then they deserve His punishment and wrath. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“and your Lord treats no one with injustice”
[al-Kahf 18:49] 
So basically we're being told here that because we are so ill-mannered as to not thank Allah, our punishment is eternal torment of the most hideous kind. I'll just say that again. Endless torture for not saying thank you. If you follow Islam you are worshiping a God who is happy to torture people for ever because they didn't say thank you...Please, please correct me if I'm wrong here.

And what about the children that the poor Muslim was so concerned about?
With regard to the situation of their children who die when still young, Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz was asked about that and he said:
If one who is not yet accountable dies among kaafir parents, then he comes under the same rulings as them in this world, so he should not be washed and the funeral prayer should not be offered for him, and he should not be buried in the Muslim graveyard. 
Well I can't imagine non-Muslim parents wishing their child should be buried in a Muslim graveyard anyway, so let's press on...
But in the Hereafter his case is referred to Allaah. It was narrated in a saheeh report that when the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was asked about the children of the mushrikeen he said: “Allaah knows best what they would have done.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1384.  [...]
Majmoo’ Fataawa wa Maqaalaat Mutanawwi’ah, 3/163-164.

What? "Allah knows best what they would have done"?? What happened to free will then? Again, let's take some time to examine what this poor Muslim is being asked to accept as part of his religion. Children will be judged on a life that they haven't lived and, if found wanting, will be roasted for ever.
I believe this applies only to kaafir children, because my Muslim friend was keen to tell me that in Islam all children who die automatically go to Heaven. Looks like he was wrong on that one.
A note on the word kaafir: I remember my Muslim friend being upset when I light-heartedly signed one of my mails to him, your kaafir friend.
He patiently explained to me the exact meaning of the term as one who hides. In other words, a kaafir is not simply a non-believer but an active non-believer, that's to say one who has heard the revelation and hides the truth from himself. I find this a difficult concept to grasp, I'm afraid. This whole blog is about studying the so-called miraculous signs provided by Allah. None stands up to proper scrutiny. Therefore those of us who study and reject must surely be termed kaafirs. 

Note: My capitalisation of the pronouns referring to Allah does not denote respect or belief. I did it purely to avoid confusion.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The definition of a cult...

Last year I examined the claim that Islam is a cult using the objective criteria established by Janja Lalich, Ph.D.and Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. in their famous article Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups. For now I'll just let you digest the article again. 

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a cult scale or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.
1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s)
4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity)
6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations)
8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
10 Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
12. The group is preoccupied with making money.
13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities
14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.The most loyal members (the true believers) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rotating Earth (mountains that move) miracle claim debunked is a despicable site but one that perfectly illustrates the lies, half-truths and fact-bending that Muslim miracle seekers are willing to commit to persuade the gullible and desperate that the Qur'an is divine in origin. Here is a miracle claim which is not commonly rebutted that illustrates perfectly what I mean .

The claim (that Allah is informing us that the Earth rotates by telling us that mountains move as clouds do) appears to be not totally unreasonable when we read the verse, as given at
When you look at the mountains, you think that they are standing still. But they are moving like clouds. Such is the artistry of God, who disposes of all things in perfect order. He is indeed fully aware of what you do.27:88
And this is how interprets the verse: 
The mountains’ features seem to make them the most stationary components of the earth’s surface. The idea of the unattainability of mountains led certain primitive mentalities to believe in polytheism and fancy that the mountains were the abode of divinities. The idea of mountain peaks being beyond man’s reach was an illusion, as was also their stationary aspect. The verse refers to this illusion and speaks of the motion of mountains like clouds. If the mountains that had a stationary aspect did move, it would follow that the earth itself also moved. The verse thus dismisses the idea of a fixed world entertained as a consequence of false perception, and informed the public of the time of the movement of mountains, likening them to clouds. 
Except that it doesn't. The verse has NOTHING to do with telling mankind that the Earth rotates instead of being stationary.

How can we be so sure? Because if we look at the verse which comes immediately before this one, we can understand better the intentions of the author. (Note to - this is called PUTTING THE VERSE IN CONTEXT)

And on that Day the trumpet [of judgment] will be sounded, and all [creatures] that are in the heavens and all that are on earth will be stricken with terror, except such as God wills [to exempt]: and in utter lowliness all will come unto Him. 27:87
From this it becomes clear that the author is detailing what will happen on Judgement Day (hence the reference to "trumpet [of Judgement]". On Judgement Day frightening things happen.. like the seas boiling, the heavens opening and ... mountains flying around like clouds.

Now let's look at some other (more accurate?) translations of the verse.
And thou wilt see the mountains, which [now] thou deemest so firm, pass away as clouds pass away: a work of God, who has ordered all things to per­fection! Verily, He is fully aware of all that you do! (M Asad)
Thou seest the mountains and thinkest them firmly fixed: but they shall pass away as the clouds pass away: (such is) the artistry of Allah, who disposes of all things in perfect order: for he is well acquainted with all that ye do. (Yusuf Ali)
And thou seest the hills thou deemest solid flying with the flight of clouds: the doing of Allah Who perfecteth all things. Lo! He is Informed of what ye do. (Pickthall)
Hmm - seems that the wonderfully clear Qur'an is open to misunderstanding. And how does an Islamic  Qur'an search engine site interpret this verse?
  "Topics discussed in this Verse: [Allah's artistry] [Allah's attributes:Aware (Well_acquainted)] [Mountains:destroyed _ made into dust]"
So the mountains will be turned into dust on Judgement Day. That's it. No mention of the Earth rotating. Has  islamicity got it wrong, then? I don't think so.

Let's read the two verses, together with the one immediately following. Thus we will read the verse sandwiched between the one before and the one after...presumably as was intended and as one would hear it were it being recited. I think it now becomes totally clear what is meant.
And on that Day the trumpet [of judgment] will be sounded, and all [creatures] that are in the heavens and all that are on earth will be stricken with terror, except such as God wills [to exempt]: and in utter lowliness all will come unto Him. And thou wilt see the mountains, which [now] thou deemest so firm, pass away as clouds pass away: a work of God, who has ordered all things to per­fection! Verily, He is fully aware of all that you do!  If any do good, good will (accrue) to them therefrom; and they will be secure from terror that Day. 27:87-89
So we have the verse before referring to "on that Day" and the verse after referring to "on that Day". No-one, not even desperate miracle seekers, can maintain the lie that this is a miraculous reference to the rotation of the earth or the Earth's movement through space.

Will remove the claim? What do you think?

One final question. If the Qur'an truly is the uncreated word of God, full of scientific miracles, why do Muslim miracle seekers need to lie to their readers to convince them of the fact? Do any Muslims reading this ever wonder about that? And if you do, why don't you get these cowboys off the web?

(And just in case you thought no-one would be stupid enough to fall for this gunk - here's a comment that some poor sap has left at the end of the article:
Very informative article May Allah shower his bounties and blessings on the persons who are sharing this article regarding the Creator ALLAH
Actually, I'd have thought Allah would be mighty pissed off that his words were being used to hoodwink people. Instead of showering the authors of with praise, he ought to be reserving a special tub of hot oil for them.

Thank goodness he doesn't exist, then.

Makes me want to weep...)

iERA's dawah for Olympics - Is life just a game?

Good question, iERA.
But whence cometh, I wonder, the inspiration for this dire dawah leaflet?
Hmm, I wonder....
Is life just a game... where we make up the rules,
While we're searching for something to say?
Or are we just simply spiralling coils, 
Of self-relicating DN..NNA?

This life...what is our fate?
Is there a heaven and hell?
Do we reincarnate?
Is mankind evolving..
Or is it too late?
Well, tonight is the meaning of life!  

Let's leave it to the inimitable Eric Idle to remind us of the rest.
I suggest, should you be unfortunate enough to encounter a iERA dawah chugger bothering some poor innocent tourist trying to get to the opening ceremony on this momentous day, that you whistle this happy tune.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

10 questions to ask the immam before you convert to Islam

1. As a Muslim, must I now believe that humans all came from Adam and Eve rather than evolving? *
2. Must I also believe that Adam and Eve not only actually existed but were 90 foot tall (60 cubits)? **
3. Must I therefore believe that Adam and Eve's offspring committed incest and that this was allowed by Allah?***
4. Must I believe in the existence of invisible creatures, made of smokeless fire, called jinn?****
5. Must I believe that if my atheist parents die before they accept Allah they will be tortured for an eternity by the God I now worship?
6. As part of my "reward" in Heaven, will I be able to watch the sinners being tortured?
7. Must I accept that a woman's testimony is worth less than a man's?
8. Will I grow to 90 foot tall when I go to Heaven so I won't be swamped by the two 90 foot tall virgins I get to make endless love to?
9. Must I now accept that the punishment of chopping off hands for theft is better for society than any other?
10. Is my primary duty now to Allah above anything and anyone else, including my wife and children?

* "In short, Muslims do not believe that human beings randomly evolved from apes. The life of human beings began with the creation of two people, a male and a female named Adam and Hawwa (Eve)."
**Narrated Abu Huraira:  The Prophet said, "Allah created Adam, making him 60 cubits tall. Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 543)
***see here for a Muslim answer to this tricky question: *
**** see here for interesting advice from Islamic Q&A site about how to protect yourself from jinn

Monday, July 23, 2012

Muhammad - the best human ever?

My correspondence with my Muslim convert friend continues. Tarek took issue with my examining Muhammad's every action. What was wrong with assassinating al-Nadr, he asked, if al-Nadr represented a danger to the Muslims. 
Muhammad's assassination of al-Nadr
I agree it's not necessarily wrong to assassinate an enemy - if that enemy is so evil and influential that to kill him would without doubt save the lives of many innocents. I'm not sure we can say that about al-Nadr - he hardly seems a Hitler/Stalin figure. And in any case, is assassinating one's enemies really the action of the "best human God has ever created"? We can't judge Muhammad by the same criteria as the rest of us, can we? He's not just a brilliant military leader, is he? He's the best human ever and we must judge him by that criterion.
Prisoners of war
What would I have done, you ask. What do we do now with prisoners of war? Surely expecting the best human to live up to our standards is not unreasonable. He is the best human ever, after all. It's not much of a claim to say "he's the best human but obviously people know better now how to treat prisoners of war". Which is what you seem to be suggesting.
Unworthy actions
We can make the same point about so many of Muhammad's actions which seem unworthy of God's best efforts to create a moral super-man. Marrying a nine year-old? Marrying his step-son's wife because he could and handily receiving a revelation to that effect? Taking 1/5th of the booty of the caravan raids for his personal enjoyment? Telling his men they could sleep with the wives of the men they'd captured. Decapitating hundreds of Jews after the battle of the Trench. The list goes on and on. All of which may be justifiable but seem nonetheless unlikely actions of the best man ever to have lived.
Is it fair to put Muhammad under the spot-light?
You ask me if I'd think it fair if you were to trawl the the minutest detail of the lives of those who inform my ideas. I'd be happy for you to do so, for you know I think it important that we learn something of the character of those whose ideas we admire. (You remember my concerns regarding Azzindani and his "Islamic additions" to Moore's text book that Muslims the world over like to quote as evidence of the miracle of embryology...Something that you have never addressed, by the way.) If it turns out that they are/were lunatics or criminals then I think I'd at least want to reassess any convictions I'd based purely on their hypotheses. (I can't think of any off hand, mind you...). 
But of course, I have never claimed that Darwin or Hitchens or Attenborough et al are divinely inspired or the best humans God has created. I'm not even suggesting they were good men. 
Whereas the claims that are made for Muhammad mean that surely we are entitled to examine his behaviour ... minutely. 
In fact we should examine his behaviour minutely. Any other response would be illogical, since God is "perfect" and omnipotent and therefore if He decides to create the best human, such a man must logically be the best in everything he does or says. Would you not agree?
If I were to announce that Ron L Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) was the best human God has ever created, you'd presumably ask for evidence and want to check out his history and past actions. In fact you'd presumably want to examine his life in detail.
Why is my doing the same for Muhammad any less understandable or justifiable? And if you found actions by Hubbard that suggested he was not the best human ever to have lived, actions recorded by his own supporters no less, you would have serious doubts as to the religion he founded.
Other reasons to disbelieve
If you combine this with the barbaric punishments, the claims to miraculous knowledge which turn out to be debatable at best, the exhortations to kill unbelievers, the uncaring and bullying attitude to the LGBT community, the bizarre promises about Paradise (you've never explained how you can possibly believe some people get to have endless sex with 80 ft magically rejuvenating virgins who have hairless pussies, and legs that are transparent so you can see the marrow in their bones - all this in Bukhari - I've checked), the sadistic promises about Hell that just happen to recycle myths about burning and fire and brimstone which obviously originated when men first saw volcanoes and lava, the apparent copying and misunderstanding of Judaic and Christian myths etc etc then you can perhaps understand the process I have gone through to reach my conclusions. 
PoWs converting to National Socialism? No, you're right. Can't think of any. But then again I don't remember any PoWs being offered their freedom if they "converted", do you?
With regards to the "many forgers" whose reasons you ascribe to tribal, sectarian and national differences, I still don't understand why a Muslim would want to paint their Prophet in a poor light. Especially as presumably the punishment for such actions would be an eternity in Hell. But there we go. Perhaps it's one of those things we shall never get to the bottom of.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

10 reasons I don't believe in Allah

1. Threats and bribes are not worthy of a Supreme Being.
2. His final message to me was unintelligible - I don't speak classical Arabic.
3. I can't appreciate the only "miracle" in Islam - see #2
4. His Heaven seems too much like a man's sexual fantasy.
5. His Hell seems too much like a sadist's fantasy.
6. His explanation of creation makes no sense.
7. The punishments he wants us to inflict on each other are both cruel and counter-productive.
8. He thinks women should be subservient to men. (when it should obviously be the other way round - just ask my wife...)
9. He can't cope with LGBT issues.
10. His "tests" (such as making some of us disabled, some of us poor, some of us victims of abuse, some of us prey to the most appalling diseases, some of us gay) seem to be unfairly distributed. Why is a child in sub-Saharan Africa "tested" with malnutrition, disease, civil war, Aids, losing her parents.. whilst I have it easy?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is The Qur’an a Literary Miracle?

Execution of al-Nadr on order of Muhammad - He didn't think the Qur'an was a literary miracle....

1. Were Muhammad's contemporaries all impressed by the miraculous nature of the Qur'an?
One would assume that, were a work of literature created by God, it would be perfect and that all those who heard it would be transfixed. It would, we might also assume, not be greeted by derision and dismissed as mere plagiarism by other poets of the time. Nonetheless, this is what apparently happened when Muhammad first started to reveal God's words to humanity. We know of one such reaction because the criticism is actually referred to in the Qur'an itself:

83:13 ... [W]hen Our revelations are recited to him, he says, "Ancient fables!" 14 No indeed! Their hearts are encrusted with what they have done. 15 No indeed! On that day they will be screened off from their Lord, 16 they will burn in Hell, 17 and they will be told, "This is what you call a lie." (Haleem)
This passage is thought by scholars to refer to al-Nadr, who  was promptly assassinated on the orders of Muhammad. The scene is depicted above. The same fate befell at least three other poets who were ill-advised enough to criticise God's chosen mouthpiece.

2. Are the literary devices used in the Qur'an an argument for its divine origin?
Muslims say that the Qur'an contains an impressively broad range of stylistic devices to communicate its message. Hamza Tzortzis of the Islamic Education and Research Association (iERA) has recently written and published (via iERA) a study entitled The Qur'ans (sic) Unique Literary Form
Let us examine what Hamza has to say.

The following list, says Hamza, has been provided to show that the Qur’an employs more rhetorical features than any other rhymed prose; past or present. (Hamza obviously has great faith in his readers' knowledge of esoteric literary terms, as he neglects to explain any of them. Without wishing to insult my readers, I have given an explanation (in brackets) where I feel one might be enlightening)
Antiphrasis  (using a word to mean the opposite - ironically)
 Antithesis  (saying contrasting things)
 Asyndeton  (basically leaving out conjunctions eg veni, vidi, vici)
 Assonance  (repetition of vowel sounds for effect - I'm sure you knew that one...)
 Cadence (using rhythm)
 Chiasmus  (criss-cross structure eg who is first shall be last, who is last shall be first)
 Epizeuxis  (repetition of word for effect)
 Equivoque (pun or double meaning)
 Homonymy  (word with more than one meaning)
 Hyperbole  (exaggeration - again, sure you knew that one)
Isocolon (stressing connections by using words same length – veni, vedi veci (which is also an example of asyndeton – so now you know…))
  Metonymy  (the substitution of a word or phrase for another closely associated _ The Golden Arches are metonymic  (for Mcdonald’s!))
 Parenthesis (word or phrase inserted as an aside)
 Polypton  (repetition of words from same root eg run, running, runner)
 Rhetorical Questions (I don't need to explain this, do I?)
 Stress (I said I don't need to explain this, DO I?) 
Synedoche (same as metonymy really – using part of something to refer to the whole)
Once the more technical terms are explained in simple language - like all jargon designed to intimidate, impress and exclude - they become less impressive. In fact, I would say that if I were to write a "revelation" in poetic language the length of the Qur'an over the course of twenty-three years, I'd be hard pressed NOT to include all of the above. As a list it's simply not that impressive, Hamza. Especially when we compare it to a writer like Shakespeare (who didn't spend 23 years on one book but wrote a play while rehearsing another and performing yet another and managed to write 884,000 words of majestic poetry and prose. By comparison the Qur'an is one tenth the length (only approximately 78,000 words). I'm no Shakespeare scholar but I suspect we'd find his oeuvre included all of the above techniques and PLENTY more besides. Does that then make Shakespeare's work divine (in the true sense...)?

3. Is the literary form of the Qur'an unique?
Muslims make great play of the fact that the Qur'an is neither poetry nor prose. Once again, let's turn to Hamza Tzortzis' study to understand more clearly the Muslim argument. Every expression of the Arabic language falls into the literary forms of Prose and Poetry, he states. Even this bare statement is somewhat misleading, as he later concedes, since there is a form of literary expression called saj'. Here is what we are told about saj':

Von Denffer in his book ‘Ulum al-Qur’an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an’ provides the following 

“A literary form with some emphasis on rhythm and rhyme, but distinct from poetry. Saj’ is not really as 
sophisticated as poetry, but has been employed by Arab poets, and is the best known of the pre-Islamic Arab 

prosodies. It is distinct from poetry in its lack of metre, i.e. it has not consistent rhythmical pattern, and it shares 
with poetry the element of rhyme, though in many cases some what irregularly employed.
Hamza further concedes that some of the Qur'an - the early Meccan surahs - are synonymous with saj' 

The Qur’an has its own unique form. It cannot be described as any of the known literary forms. However due to similarities between saj’ and early Meccan chapters, some Western Scholars describe the Qur’an’s literary form as saj’.  Angelika Neuwrith states,“Saj’ is given up completely in the later suras where the rhyme makes use of a simple –un/-in – scheme to mark the end of rather long and syntactically complex verse….saj’ style is thus exclusively characteristic of the early suras”
Thus the Qur'an appears to be a "unique form of saj'", according to Muslims.

There are three major opinions based upon modern and classical scholarship on how the Qur’an achieves this unique literary form and this unique form of saj
1. Unique fusion of Metrical and Non Metrical Speech
2. Qur'anic saj' (by which is meant, apparently, more "mono-rhythm", more "inexact rhyme")
3. Greater range of stylistic devices (which we've already covered)

It is certainly the case that saj' was widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia.
According to Al-Jahiz, the advantages of rhymed prose are twofold; it is pleasing to the ear and easy to remember. He says the Arabs have uttered a far greater quantity of simple than of rhymed prose, and yet not a tenth of the former has been retained while not a tenth of the latter has been lost. (wikipedia)
This perhaps goes some way to explaining another of the "miracles" that Muslims attribute to the Qur'an: the ease of memorising it. Arabic literature relied upon oral transmission for far longer than its European equivalent. Poetry and rhymed prose or saj' thus allowed performers to remember huge amounts of material with relative ease. That the Qur'an has the same quality is therefore not miraculous but totally understandable.
But let us return to what supposedly distinguishes the Qur'an from saj', something which is of course essential for Muslim defenders of the miraculous and unique nature of the Qur'an. 
i. Qur'anic saj' sometimes has a rhythm and sometimes not (Hamza's impressive sounding "fusion of metrical and non-metrical speech")
ii. Qur'anic saj' has rhymes which are sometimes inaccurate or "not very good". (Hamza's "inexact rhymes")
iii. Qur'anic saj' many rhetorical devices (but, as we saw earlier, hardly a hugely impressive list given the length of the work, the time taken to produce it, and when one compares them to a more prolific and skilled writer like Shakespeare)

Hamza goes on to list further characteristics which he deems worthy of special mention since they make the Qur'an "unique" in his opinion:
"Semantically orientated assonance and rhyme" - so the rhyme and assonance correspond to the meaning. I would humbly suggest that if they didn't, the Qur'an would be what is termed "nonsense", such as the poems of Edward Lear.

"Interrelation between sound, structure and meaning" - see above

"Iltifaat: Grammatical shifts" - This is important so let's turn to Hamza's study again:
Professor Abdel Haleem in his article 'Grammatical Shift for Rhetorical Purposes: Iltifat and Related Features in the Qur'an' brought to attention, that another inimitable feature of the Qur'an, is the extensive use of grammatical shiftsThese grammatical shifts include changes in person, change in number, change in addressee, change in tense, change in case marker, using a noun in place of a pronoun and many other changes.Another example of a Virtue out of FaultThe Qur’an is the only form of Arabic prose to have used this rhetorical device in an extensive and complex manner. Abdel Haleem states,“…it employs this feature far more extensively and in more variations than does Arabic poetry. It is, therefore, natural to find…no one seems to quote references in prose other than from the Qur'an”
So when an ayat shifts confusingly from I... to... He.... to WE this is not shoddy editing but “grammatical shift for rhetorical purposes”. The fact that the Qur’an uses this “more than any other Arabic literature before or since” is hardly surprising since no other literature before or since has claimed to be from the mouth of God who for reasons known only to Him can’t quite decide whether to refer to himself in the first person singular, third person singular or the first person plural.

 Unique Linguistic Genre - Hamza's next characteristic that makes the Qur'an unique is somewhat confusing, since he claims the Qur'an is unique because is unique. Can't argue with that one!

1. The Qur'an was criticised by other poets of the time. Muhammad had these poets assassinated. This does not suggest to me that the Qur'an or its mouthpiece were divinely inspired.
2. The apparent unique breadth of rhetorical or literary devices is not overly-impressive given the length of the Qur'an and the amount of time its author had to consider its content and style.
3. The supposedly unique ease with which people can memorise the Qur'an is not so miraculous when one learns that most pre-Islamic Arabic literature was memorised with ease because of the nature of poetry or rhymed prose or saj'. They were designed to be easy to remember.
4. The apparent unique literary form of the Qur'an is an understandable result of a piece of literature produced over a period of 23 years. One must ask oneself: is it more impressive to produce a piece of literature in a mixture of styles (rhymed prose and poetry) than in one consistent style? Would Homer's Illyad or Milton's Paradise Lost be more impressive works of literature if their authors had chopped and changed between styles?
5. Many of the features of the Qur'an which "scholars" suggest add to its uniqueness and richness can be interpreted as weaknesses (grammatical shifts, repetition, inconsistent style, poor rhymes). That these features have been used to support the hypothesis that the Qur'an is a literary masterpiece tells us more about the obsequious nature of current Qur'anic scholarship than it tells us about the Qur'an.
6. If one believes that a work of literature contains the very words of God, one will expect and want to find perfection. What one expects and wants to find, one usually does.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Freedom to critique the Qura'n

Yesterday I reproduced the manifesto of the CEMB (Council of ex-Muslims in Britain) in order to highlight what I considered to be a worrying trend among sections of the media, namely that to criticise certain aspects of Islamic doctrine, to hold up to the light of intellectual enquiry Islamist claims to scientific and other miracles in the Qur’an, is to immediately lay oneself open to the charge of “Islamophobia” and racism.
Coincidentally, I had been planning a post on the literary merits or otherwise of the Qur’an for some time, and in my research came across a perfect example of such intellectual censorship.
In a recent article in response to a piece by Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Dish in which Sam Harris is quoted as saying "the Qur'an is not that good", Hussein Rashid of Religion Dispatchesaccuses  Harris of sounding “paternalistic, arrogant, colonialist, and generally ignorant”.
“Here is a text”, Rashid says, “that has over 1.6 billion adherents all over the world, with a 1400-year history. Along comes a privileged white male telling them that he has read the foundational text of the religion and that it has no redeeming value. So all these people, all that history, has no meaning because Harris says so. They are all wrong.
I thought Hussein Rashid’s comments were noteworthy for several reasons. Firstly, he assumes that because so many people adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an, that it in some way renders it beyond criticism. Likewise Rashid considers its age relevant. Why? Just because a literary text is old and is read by billions of people cannot in any way make it perfect or immune to criticism. And in what way is Harris’ ethnicity, sex or income relevant? Do we now have to be non-white, female and poor to offer our opinion of the Qur’an? I hope Rashid doesn’t intend write an article on Chaucer or Shakespeare any time soon – for by his own criteria, his thoughts would be insulting and worthless.

Perhaps it is the fact that Harris doesn’t speak Arabic that has raised Rashid’s gander. This at least, has some pretension to academic reasoning and is, of course, a tried and tested argument of the defenders of the miraculous literary merits of the Qur’an. In which case I can do no better than to quote a comment at the end of the article (my bolding):
If your position is that only those literate in Arabic are permitted to critique the Qur'an ... which it certainly appears to be, even though you didn't say it in those precise words ... then I'd be happy to apply that to a lot of other literature.
This principle means that only those literate in Hebrew are permitted to critique the Jewish scriptures or the Old Testament. Only those literate in koiné Greek are permitted to critique the New Testament. Only those literate in Vedic Sanskrit are allowed to critique the Rigveda. Only those literate in Chinese are allowed to critique the Analects of Confucius.
Moving away from the realm of religious literature, only those literate in Middle English are allowed to critique Chaucer, only those literate in French are allowed to critique Moliere, and only those literate in German are allowed to critique Kafka.
Moving even farther afield, any scientists wishing to understand Newton's Principia had best become fluent in Latin.
I'm not sure I'd really want to go that far. I have a feeling that even in translation, any good work of literature should nevertheless have something of value to offer.
The comment ends with the following appeal:

Bottom line: Last I knew, this is a free country. People are free not to like things. They are equally free to say they don't like them. There is no constraint I know of on this. No one gets to decide who can and cannot comment on any given book ... even one that's widely revered by a lot of folks.

So just as long as I am fortunate enough to live in a free country I will defend my right to critique any book I damn well please, whether it be 100 or 1,000 years old, whether it be read by 2 thousand or two billion people and whether it be written in French, Spanish, Russian or Literary Arabic.

Post on the literary merits of the Qur’an to come shortly…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Manifesto of the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain

Launched in 2007 by Maryam Namazie, the Council of ex-Muslims' manifesto is reproduced below. In the present climate of increasing censorship of criticism of Islam (which is termed Islamophobia and racism by Islamists and Guardianistas in an attempt to stop proper examination and discussion of the more worrying aspects of Islam) I would especially draw your attention to #2.
We live in free, democratic country. We have the right to criticise and poke fun at all religions and beliefs - especially if we think they are inherently anti-democratic, homophobic and misogynistic.
What we do not have the right to do is to encourage or incite hatred against a racial or religious group.
I have repeatedly said in these pages that I admire and respect many Muslims (and Christians and Jews). They are some of the kindest, most intelligent and thoughtful people I know. (I have also said I am aware of many Muslims ..and Christians and Jews ... who use their religion to justify the most abhorrent prejudices imaginable)  
What I do hate is their adherence to a creed that encourages and fosters, in my view, such despicable prejudices.

Taking the lead from the Central Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany, we demand:

1. Universal rights and equal citizenship for all. We are opposed to cultural relativism and the tolerance of inhuman beliefs, discrimination and abuse in the name of respecting religion or culture.
2. Freedom to criticise religion. Prohibition of restrictions on unconditional freedom of criticism and expression using so-called religious 'sanctities'.
3. Freedom of religion and atheism.
4. Separation of religion from the state and legal and educational system.
5. Prohibition of religious customs, rules, ceremonies or activities that are incompatible with or infringe people's rights and freedoms.
6. Abolition of all restrictive and repressive cultural and religious customs which hinder and contradict woman's independence, free will and equality. Prohibition of segregation of sexes.
7. Prohibition of interference by any authority, family members or relatives, or official authorities in the private lives of women and men and their personal, emotional and sexual relationships and sexuality.
8. Protection of children from manipulation and abuse by religion and religious institutions.
9. Prohibition of any kind of financial, material or moral support by the state or state institutions to religion and religious activities and institutions.
10. Prohibition of all forms of religious intimidation and threats.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Islam v Scientology

We all, quite rightly, take the mickey out of Scientology. Ridicule, after all, has a long and illustrious history as an effective way of highlighting the idiocies (and worse) of individuals and institutions who have abused their positions to inflict mental and physical cruelties on those who are vulnerable. Whether it be Pope, Voltaire, Moliere... or Private Eye - to laugh at a tyrant is to belittle him; to scoff at pomposity is to burst its bubble; to snigger at cults and their members is to help others to guard against their schemes.
That is why the hierarchy of Scientology was so outraged to find the "secrets" of its higher level initiates plastered over the internet. We could now all laugh at the utterly preposterous ideas and beliefs (such as Xenu, a galactic ruler who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of people to Earth, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs so that the Thetan consciences could then attach themselves to human souls). What poor deluded whackos could believe such stuff, we all asked. And because we scoffed and laughed, the mystery was destroyed and the "Church" of Scientology has begun to lose members.

But Islam is far removed from such patently ridiculous cults, I hear you say. Well, yes...and no.
Yesterday I asked readers to consider reward and punishment in Islam. A few responded by focusing on one particular aspect of the Paradise Allah has supposedly prepared for us - the famous Houris or virgins. I mentioned in passing that these lovely ladies would in fact, according to Islamic belief, be 80 foot tall and have  transparent legs so that you can see the marrow in their bones. I should also have mentioned, for the sake of completeness, that they would be 10 foot wide and be hairless apart from their eyebrows and their head - for this is what the Islamic texts (hadith) that all Sunni (the majority, mainstream) Muslims must believe, say
Let me just reiterate that. 
If you are a Muslim you must believe that when you go to Heaven you will be rewarded by endlessly bonking 80 foot hairless virgins with hollow legs.
Is this any less whacko than Xenu, the galactic ruler? 

Post Script:
Should any Muslim dispute the fact that they MUST believe the sahih (reliable) hadith (such as the Muslim in the comment section below) I reproduce  an answer from the Turn To Islam forum

Yes you HAVE to believe in Hadith. It is ludicrous to believe otherwise. How would you pray, do Hajj, break fast in Ramadan and so many other things if you did not believe in Hadith? How would you say the Shahadah, in which you proclaim Muhammad :saw: the Messenger of Allah, yet then deny his teachings? :astag: 
The Qur'aan it its unadultered and perfected form tells us to follow the Messenger of Allah :saw: 
Say: "Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, but if you turn away, he (Messenger Muhammad saaws) is only responsible for the duty placed on him (i.e. to convey Allah's Message) and you for that placed on you. If you obey him, you shall be on the right guidance. The Messenger's duty is only to convey (the message) in a clear way (i.e. to preach in a plain way)."

“So take what the Messenger assigns to you and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you.” (Qur’ân 59:7)

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“By the star when it goes down (or vanishes).
Your companion (Muhammad) has neither gone astray nor has erred.
Nor does he speak of (his own) desire.
It is only a Revelation revealed.
He has been taught (this Qur’aan) by one mighty in power [Jibreel (Gabriel)].
One free from any defect in body and mind then he (Jibreel — Gabriel in his real shape as created by Allaah) rose and became stable”
[al-Najm 53:1-6]

Allaah has commanded the people to obey His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). He has enjoined this in many verses of the Qur’aan, of which we will quote some. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): 

“Say (O Muhammad): “Obey Allaah and the Messenger (Muhammad).” But if they turn away, then Allaah does not like the disbelievers”
[Aal ‘Imraan 3:32] 

“He who obeys the Messenger (Muhammad), has indeed obeyed Allaah, but he who turns away, then we have not sent you (O Muhammad) as a watcher over them”
[al-Nisa’ 4:80]

“O you who believe! Obey Allaah and obey the Messenger (Muhammad), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allaah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allaah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination”
[al-Nisa’ 4:59] 

“And perform As Salaah (Iqaamat as-Salaah), and give Zakaah and obey the Messenger (Muhammad) that you may receive mercy (from Allaah)”
[al-Noor 24:56]

Allaah warns against rejecting the word of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) (interpretation of the meaning):

“… And let those who oppose the Messenger’s commandment (i.e., his Sunnah) (among the sects) beware, lest some fitnah (disbelief, trials, afflictions, etc.) befall them or a painful torment be inflicted on them.” [al-Noor 24:63]

Therefore, in order to follow the Quran you HAVE to follow and believe in the Hadith!
Here are some links which may further clarify this issue:

Summary and Refutation of Hadith Rejectors claims
What Are the Quran And Sunnah? Why Do Muslims Have To Follow This? (

Important: The Science of Hadith, What Are Hadith? (

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Here's a little poser to think about over the weekend. Below is a typical explanation from a devout Muslim of the system of reward and punishment in Islam :
This mercy [Allah's] is such that if a man sins all his life and sincerely repents prior to the appearance of his death-signs, all of his previous sins will be forgiven and he will go to paradise. I personally do not see a problem with the punishment of oppressors and murderers, nor with the provision of a reward in the afterlife to people who struggled for truth and justice in this life. In fact, it would be terrible to think that people who got away with major crimes in this life should never be called to account for their misdeeds. We absolutely need a Day of Judgement if a just God exists.
Can Muslims please explain this? One the one hand the above seems to be suggesting that a terrible sinner ("a man sins all his life") can get into Paradise by "sincerely repenting". But on the other it defends the appallingly sadistic punishments Allah delights in inflicting upon "sinners" by saying how awful it would be if people "got away with major crimes in this life". And yet the terrible sinner who repents does just that, doesn't he? 
So in Islam it is possible for a chap like me or Steven Fry or David Attenborough  to get roasted in hell for eternity for dying before we "saw the light" and believed in God, whilst a  murderer or rapist who sincerely repents gets to shag 80 foot tall tall, miraculously regenerating virgins with see-though limbs whilst drinking magic wine.
I do try to understand your religion, but I keep coming across these logical hurdles. 
I shall be seeing my Muslim friend shortly. I shall ask him his thoughts and report back...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

iERA's "3 Reasons for God" ... and David Attenborough's one reason for no God

Unlike the extremely rational Sir David Attenborough, seen here explaining how he responds to those who quote the wonders of Nature as proof of a benevolent Creator, iERA see the evidence somewhat differently.
Here's an excerpt from the One Reason section of their dawah site, (ironically) entitled "3 Reasons for God". It's an up-dating of the Blind Watchmaker argument, cleverly using a mobile phone in place of the watch. Do these guys have an original bone in their bodies, I wonder? How little respect for your readers' intelligence do you have to have to think that they are going to fall for a rehash of a pre-Darwin analogy? 
Since the universe has order and is governed by the ‘laws of science’, we should question how this order came about. The most effective way to answer this question is to reason to the best conclusion. Take your mobile phone for example, your phone is made of glass, plastic and metal. Glass comes from sand, plastic comes from oil and metal is extracted from the ground. Imagine you were walking in a desert (where there is lots of oil, sand and metals in the ground), and you found a mobile phone lying around. Would you believe that it came together by itself? That the Sun shone, the wind blew, lightning struck, the oil bubbled to the surface and mixed with the sand and metal, and over millions of years the mobile came together by chance?No one would believe such an explanation. A mobile phone is clearly something that was put together in an organised way, so it would be rational to believe that it must have an organiser. In the same way, when we see the order in the universe, isn’t it rational to say that the universe has an organiser? (NO iERA, that is excruciating in its befuddled, twisted logic. No intelligent person believed it the first time round when William Paley suggested this analogy in his book, Natural Theology, 50 years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species and no reasonably thoughtful person is going to swallow it now)
Funny how we all see what we want to see, isn't it?  For example, were I too see this little fella lying on the  Adult black fly (Simulium yahense) with parasite (Onchocerca volvulus) emerging from the insect's antenna, magnified 100x ground in front of me, my immediate reaction would not be to think here's yet more evidence of a benevolent creator, everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Rather, I would think if an omniscient God created this little bastard then he's got a damn warped sense of humour.
"Onchocerciasis is the world's second-leading infectious cause of blindness. It is not the nematode, but its endosymbiont, Wolbachia pipientis, that causes the severe inflammatory response that leaves many blind. The parasite is transmitted to humans through the bite of a black fly of the genus Simulium. The larval nematodes spread throughout the body. When the worms die, their Wolbachia symbionts are released, triggering a host immune system response that can cause severe itching, and can destroy optical tissue in the eye."  
Thank you, God, for creating that little beauty.
Ah - but the poor African child who succumbs to this noxious creature is simply undergoing a test, no doubt. Our minds are too feeble to comprehend the great scheme of God's plan. Silly me. 
All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.
Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom.
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid--
Who made the spikey urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.