On Every Page: Bill Maher and the Qur’an

On Every Page: Bill Maher and the Qur’an


Bill Maher

I read an article on Thinkprogress.com recently that asked the question “Has Bill Maher Finally Gone Too Far?” with regard to his animosity toward Muslims and Islam. I personally think the answer must be “yes”, if for no other reason than that he is taking significant heat from other self-identifying liberals, progressives and atheists.

In the article, Maher is quoted as saying, “The Qur’an absolutely has on every page stuff that’s horrible about how the infidels should be treated.”

I’ll cut to the chase. This is quickly and easily debunked by simply opening a Qur’an. Most of the snippets of text pulled from the Qur’an to show that (1) Islam is an inherently violent faith and (2) Muslims are directed to slay all non-Muslims (including Jews and Christians) because (3) “infidel” equals “non-Muslim” are cited out of context—by extremists outside and inside Islam.

Mr. Maher is wrong about the contents of the Qur’an. Perhaps he was indulging in hyperbole when he insisted that violence against “infidels” is “absolutely” “on every page.” It hardly matters if people who have not read the Qur’an believe him simply because of his celebrity. Beyond this, there are a raft of assumptions wrapped up in Maher’s single sentence. I’d like to try to tease them out one at a time.

Violence on every page?

Bill Maher isn’t alone in his assertion that the Qur’an is wall to wall about violence toward “the infidel”. Recently a conservative political operative from Idaho stated:

“There are at least 109 Sura’s (sic) that advocate violence and death towards infidels. And make no mistake; if you are not a Muslim, you are an infidel. Period.”

quran_pickthall_english_small_There are 114 surihs in the Qur’an, total. I can vouch for the fact that only a handful of verses deal with “the infidel”, which Muhammad does not describe as anyone who is not Muslim. If you are unwilling to accept my word for it, please, get a Qur’an and read it for yourself. I recommend the Pickthall translation (in print) because the translator sets the historical context and gives contextual notes at the beginning of most Surihs.

What is in the Qur’an? Commandments to care for the poor, the sick and the needy, to revere women, to practice kindness, to not trespass on another’s property, to avoid hostilities, to teach by example and not to spread the faith through force. There is the repeated assertion that The People of Scripture (Jews, Christians and Sabeans) have been rightly guided by God because, to Muhammad, these were earlier phases of the same revealed religion of submission (to the will of God)—in a word, Islam. There are laws pertaining to marriage and divorce and inheritance, the exhortation to free slaves, to practice justice. You will find the stories of Abraham, Joseph and Moses, of Jesus’ conception through the agency of the Holy Spirit and testimony to HIs greatness as a divine messenger (Muhammad referred to Christ as Ruhu’llah, meaning “the Spirit of God”).

There are verses like these:

Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, and urgeth not the feeding of the needy. Ah, woe unto worshippers who are heedless of their prayer; who would be seen (at worship) yet refuse small kindnesses! — Qur’an, Surih 107:1-7

(The above, by the way, is one of the earliest Surihs revealed by Muhammad. That’s the entire Surih. It serves as a sort of benchmark for Muslim behavior. It is one of the last surihs in the Qur’an because they are traditionally arranged by length.)

O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. — Qur’an, Surih 5:8

Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. — Qur’an, Surih 2:62

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the Allah-fearing. — Qur’an, Surih 2:177

Translation (if one is needed): Righteousness does not come from the rituals or observances of doctrine, but from faith that is acted upon. The actions that are recommended here are ever-widening act of generosity (from kinsfolk all the way to mankind as a whole), magnanimity, piety, kindness and trustworthiness.The mention of keeping a treaty is important in context with the rest of the surih for reasons that will, I hope be clear as you read on.

Is Islam inherently violent?

BooksTakeFlight-300x297The last two verses above are from the Surih (Chapter) most often used to show Islam’s inherent hatred of anyone non-Muslim. They are not, however, often quoted. This passage, however, is: “And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter.”

Here is the verse in context with the surrounding material, in which Muhammad begins to set forth the rules of warfare:

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers. — Qur’an, Surih, 2:190-193

To recap:

  1. Fight only those who fight you.
  2. Do not begin hostilities.
  3. If your adversaries desist in persecuting you, forgive them and do not view them with hostility.

This set the rules for Muslim warfare for centuries. Muslims were not to harm non-combatants, persecute priests or monks, poison or destroy wells, lay waste to crops, orchards or livestock. Which was why the Muslims were so appalled at the practices of the Christian Crusaders, who pursued a “scorched earth” policy and slaughtered non-combatants—even children and babes in arms.

Who is Muhammad speaking of, in the above passage? The term used in Pickthall translation is “disbeliever”, which is equated with the word “Infidel”. But who, exactly, did Muhammad consider an infidel? Not Christians, Jews or Sabeans in general, clearly. Not even atheists, of whom He said, essentially, “You go your way; I’ll go mine.”

The word “infidel” literally means “unfaithful.” Synonyms given in the Oxford Dictionary include: disloyal, treacherous, traitorous, untrustworthy, unreliable, undependable, false, false-hearted, faithless, perfidious, insincere, two-faced, Janus-faced, back-stabbing, double-crossing, double-dealing, deceitful. When it comes to personal relationships, we continue to define infidelity in this way, but in the realm of faith, the term “infidel” long ago came to mean “not us”. In Judaism, it referred to pagan gentiles. In Christianity, to non-Christians or enemies of the faith.

It is inarguable that in the minds of some Muslims, as in Bill Maher’s, an infidel is any non-Muslim. In the eyes of ISIS, the term even pertains to Muslims who are “not us”. But the subject here is not what people have come to believe. It is what is in the pages of the Qur’an.

Here’s how Muhammad described the people He will later in the same surih call upon His followers to fight:

And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not.… In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie. And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only … And when they fall in with those who believe, they say: We believe; but when they go apart to their devils they declare: Lo! we are with you; verily we did but mock. — Qur’an, Surih 2:8-14

Those who break the covenant of Allah after ratifying it, and sever that which Allah ordered to be joined, and (who) make mischief in the earth: Those are they who are the losers. — Qur’an, Surih 2:27

And when We made with you a covenant (saying): Shed not the blood of your people nor turn (a party of) your people out of your dwellings. Then ye ratified (Our covenant) and ye were witnesses (thereto). Yet ye it is who slay each other and drive out a party of your people from their homes… Believe ye in part of the Scripture and disbelieve ye in part thereof? …Such are those who buy the life of the world at the price of the Hereafter. — Qur’an, Surih 2:84-86

BibleWhy the reference to believing in the Scripture? In the Qur’an “Scripture” refers to the Torah and Gospels. As you might suspect from the verses I quoted, the Prophet was responding to a betrayal by a group of people who claimed belief in the Scripture. It was a betrayal that threatened not just Muhammad’s life, but the existence of the entire Muslim community.

Here is the historical context: Having entered into a covenant with the Muslim community and claiming to have accepted Muhammad as their Messiah, the Jews of Yathrib consorted with the pagan tribes that had been trying to wipe out the Muslims. Muhammad’s reference to them slaying each other and driving people from their homes should remind us that the Muslims were not transplants from outside the area—they were people who not long before had been Christians, Sabeans, pagans or Jews themselves. Thus, the infidels that the Muslims were being called upon to fight (but only until they desisted) were people who had behaved treacherously toward the converts in their midst.

Context is everything.

It’s important when reading anything—Scripture or not—to avoid cherry-picking. One way to do this is to approach the subject with as much detachment and as little prejudice as possible. A difficult task, at best. There is a passage of Bahá’í scripture that most Bahá’ís refer to as the Tablet of the True Seeker. We use it as a benchmark for detachment, which was something I struggled with because of my own prejudice against Islam and Muhammad.

[The Seeker] must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth. — Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, Part II

Another critical element is to read with a desire to understand. Atheist scholar-philosopher Bertrand Russel wrote that

Everyone knows that to read an author simply in order to refute him is not the way to understand him.… — Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays

Most important, I’ve found, is to be aware of context. Is there a hierarchy of ideas in the texts? Is there an overriding principle to be held in mind, such as the twin commandments from Christ to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves? The Qur’anic verses about the treatment of infidels have their own internal context with commandments to never begin hostilities, to forgive as God forgives, to fight only wrong-doers. They also exist in context with verses in which Muhammad establishes overarching spiritual principles of unity and justice and utters a solemn warning that the believer not be seduced by hatred of any people into behaving unjustly.

But there is another context in which Muhammad’s rules of warfare must be taken, I think. That is the way warfare is conducted in our presumably more civilized age. Look again at the restrictions placed upon Muslim warriors by the Prophet and imagine that all nations honored them in recent wars. Think of carpet bombing, land mines, chemical and nuclear weapons, napalm, drones and other things that have become part of our “cost of war” analysis.

Are groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda breaking rules of modern warfare? That’s debatable, but they are most certainly breaking the principles laid down by the Prophet they claim to follow—principles that the vast majority of Muslims the world over strive to adhere to.

Mr. Maher has a huge following and is viewed by fans as an outspoken liberal/progressive voice. For reasons known only to himself and God, he is using that voice, his talent, his resources and his celebrity to create animus toward all Muslims, their faith, and their Prophet. He stirs up fear and anger that has no place to go. This is, as my mother was fond of saying, an accident going somewhere to happen.

In the article that sparked this post, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) commented,  “I don’t view bigotry or intolerance as liberal or progressive.”

CandleHis comment underscores the ironic sympathy between Mr. Maher’s opinions and those of a political activist with diametrically opposed views on just about any other subject. Fear and animosity are non-partisan. They are also, all too often, impervious to reason.

. . . love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest. — Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, vs 1

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42 thoughts on “On Every Page: Bill Maher and the Qur’an

  1. It is true that the Qur’an urges toleration of Christians, Jews, and the mysterious Sabaeans, whose identity is uncertain. But that means that all other religions are not likely to be tolerated. So we can see the persecution of Baha’is in Iran and elsewhere, and the genocide of Yazidis and Shiites by ISIS. ISIS consider Shiites as not really Muslim.
    Also the Qur’an allows slavery, and even sex with the slave women a man owns (which is often rape), a fact that ISIS has taken advantage of, to justify the rapes of the women they have enslaved.
    Also there is plenty of sexism, homophobia, and scientific errors in the Qur’an.
    Now maybe parts of the Qur’an are inspired by God anyway, but that raises the question of why would God allow such terrible things added to a book he inspired? The same question can be raised about the Bible.

    1. Tom, I give classes on the Qur’an and have studied it over a period of years. Which is why I know that Muhammad specifically exhorts His followers to free their slaves.

      002.177 It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the Allah-fearing.

      024.033 And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if ye are aware of aught of good in them, and bestow upon them of the wealth of Allah which He hath bestowed upon you.

      The decision to interpret His words in ways other than their clear meaning lies with the human beings who are always on the lookout for ways they can have what they want while still laying claim to belief. In other words, the buck stops with us. There is no verse in the Qur’an that allows rape even of slaves. In fact, the believers were proscribed the common practice of forcibly “inheriting” women from relatives and rape was absolutely not to be used as a tool of warcraft.

      The problem with much of the though process of people like Bill Maher is that they refuse to take any of the teachings in context. If Muhammad says men are to “revere the wombs that bare you”, to “consort with [women] in kindness” and that “men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong…” this establishes a context in which all relations of men and women are to be conducted. All verses pertaining to the subject, then, need to be understood in context with His overall teachings about how men and women were to relate to each other.

      Remember that Muhammad was correcting deeply seated traditions that evolved a view of women as being not much above animals. Her only worth was in the sons she bore or the property she brought to a marriage. I recommend you read the Qur’an in context, also, with its historical milieu.

      The point of religion is for us “get it”—to learn NOT to do exactly the sorts of things we repeatedly do—interpret scripture to our own liking, adding to it or subtracting from it at our whimsy, pretending that the teachings of God about how we are to treat other people can be suspended simply because we do not understand, know, or like them.

      The Qur’an is not a scientific document. It is a blue print for a society and a set of instructions about conducting life and a relationship with God and other human beings within a particular context. What scientific errors are you referring to?

      1. Skeptics Annotated has annotations to various verses of the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon on various topics. Looking Chapter or Surah thoroughly shows how wide spaced or close to each other the annotations are. The categories of highlights show all the marked verses on the page all at once. Violence and Cruelty, Intolernace, and Injustice are just three of the categories given as an example.

        Just Google or Bing “Skeptic’s Annotated” to find the pages. Wiki Islam is a site that compiles and categorizes quotes from Hadith as well and is an honorable mention too.

        Putting the various contradictory teaching of Islam in context is complicated by having to put all of Muhammad’s quotes in chronological order as later quotes nullify of abrogate earlier one because of the recorded flip flopping of Muhammad on lots of issues, the most famous being the infamous Satanic Verses issue. Most cases of abrogation have to do with 9:5 aka the Verse of the Sword when the Quran abrogates the Quran, but there are many more instances where the Hadith abrogate the Quran.

      2. Maya, verses in the Qur’an that allow men sex not only with their wives, but also with their slave-girls (as they are called in the N. J. Dawood’s translation) are 23:6 and 70:30. Furthermore 33:50 allows Muhammad himself sex with his slave-girls. Do slave owners ask permission of their slaves to have sex with them? Often not. And in fact there is no verse in the Qur’an that obligates a slave owner to ask his slaves permission for sex. Slaves are typically commanded, not asked permission. That is a problem with the Qur’an, which, unlike the Bible, does not restrict sex to spouses alone.
        Of course this permission to have sex with slaves is granted in the Qur’an to men alone, women can’t have sex with their slaves. So that is yet more sexism in the Qur’an. You say that the Qur’an is much better to women than was the case in traditional Arab society before Islam, that is true, but still, there is a lot of sexism in the Qur’an, making women in Islam definitely second class citizens. Women can have only one husband, while men can have up to 4 wives, except for Muhammad himself, who could have as many wives as he wished. Women have to obey their husbands, and if they disobey, their husband has the right to spank them. A woman’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man. Women inherit less than men. Men can divorce their wives easily, while the wives can’t.
        There are various scientific errors in the Qur’an, similar number as in the Bible. For example bees eat fruit (16:69), camels, cattle etc. were created, rather than evolving from a common ancestor, embryology errors (people created from semen, which turns into a clot of blood, and the baby comes from that), eavesdroppers are pursued by comets, earth is flat, with immovable mountains, there are 7 earths, Noah’s worldwide flood, all animals and even plants are in pairs (male and female, Muhammad was not aware of hermaphrodite animals, like earthworms, snails etc., or of plants that are male and female on the same individual plant), stars will fall to earth, sun is not a star, sun sets in a pool.
        This is a list I compiled from an index in a Qur’an. For a more complete list, you can consult especially http://www.wikiislam.net/wiki/Scientific_Errors_in_the_Qur‘an. Excellent website, I saw it several years ago. There are also similar websites listing scientific errors in the Bible.

        1. Tom, let’s look at the verses you cite so we’re clear on what’s being said. I use the Pickthall translation here, but also have Yusuf Ali, Shakir, and Rodwell translations. I prefer Pickthall for several reasons—one is that he gives an historical context for the verses, he was also a western convert to Islam who had a command of both English and Arabic and who therefore understood the difficulties in finding English words and phrases adequate to conveying the cultural contexts of the text.

          Here’s the context of Surih 23:3 beginning with verse 1:

          023.001 Successful indeed are the believers
          023.002 Who are humble in their prayers,
          023.003 And who shun vain conversation,
          023.004 And who are payers of the poor-due;
          023.005 And who guard their modesty –
          023.006 Save from their wives or the (slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are not blameworthy, But whoso craveth beyond that, such are transgressors.

          The other verse (70:30), also taken out of context, is almost identical to the above, except Pickthall renders the operative term “chastity” rather than “modesty”.

          070.029 And those who preserve their chastity
          070.030 Save with their wives and those whom their right hands possess, for thus they are not blameworthy;
          070.031 But whoso seeketh more than that, those are they who are transgressors;
          070.032 And those who keep their pledges and their covenant,
          070.033 And those who stand by their testimony
          070.034 And those who are attentive at their worship.

          In both chapters Prophet speaks to male believers about modesty and chastity, which he also enjoins (famously) on women. I fail to understand why it draws your censure. For me to behave with a stranger or acquaintance in the same manner I would with my husband would be inappropriate by our agreed-upon standard (which is the same as Muhammad’s in this case). Likewise, it would be immoral for him to treat another woman as he treats me with regard to intimacy. This is part of our covenant with each other and with God.

          Now, I know that we live in a society that is obsessed with sex and sexuality, but sex is not the focus of these verses when taken in context. The focus is on modest and chaste behavior in general—humility in prayer, shunning idle conversation, kindness, keeping one’s covenants and promises, devotion etc. Claiming that these verses allow Muslim men to rape their slaves and wives (which is what non-consensual sex is) is specious. The verses are about modest and chaste behavior with people who are not one’s intimates. There are a plethora of other teachings about how a believing male should interact with the women in his life. I believe I’ve already cited those verses elsewhere, but I’d be happy to post again if necessary. Muhammad enjoins kindness, consultation, friendship, even reverence within male/female relationships. That is the context in which the above verses exist.

          Your comments completely ignore that context. You’re not alone, of course, there’s a cottage industry devoted to plucking isolated verses from the Qur’an in order to dismiss Muhammad and Islam.

          If the issue is that these men had slaves, I have to ask what the issue is, given the time and place. Is it conceivable that Muhammad should give social laws in a society where slavery existed without addressing the issue at all? We had slaves in this country up into the 19th century (legally) with no binding covenant as to their care. Muhammad here mentions the slaves in the same breath with wives. As I said above, there is a body of teachings devoted to these relationships. AND there is Muhammad’s explicit exhortation to release slaves.

          Again, there is a context for this exhortation; it is the other righteous acts the Prophet enjoins on his followers—generosity, kindness, devotion in worship, charity. In fact, he mentions the primal act of faith—belief in God—in the same context with setting slaves free:

          “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due.” Surih 2:177

          The Bahá’í perspective on this and other issues that involve the evolution of human thought about a subject is summed up in the idea that religion is revealed progressively according to our needs and capacity. While God’s intent has always been that we not enslave each other, in a given place and time His Emissary—Muhammad in this case—can only go so far in changing ingrained behavior. As Christ notes when he alters the Mosaic teaching on divorce: “Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard, but from the beginning it was not so.”

          The prior systems of belief current in Muhammad’s time set no limit on the number of wives a man could have, nor did they give a prescription for the treatment of women—slaves or otherwise. The laws that Muhammad gave put a great deal of emphasis on the capacity of the believer. The believer was responsible for understanding what level of obedience was really expected. Hence, some men understood that they were to have one wife (because it’s impossible for a normal human being to treat even 4 with absolute justice), some understood that they were to free their slaves, though it was not mandatory. Others simply obeyed the letter of the law and looked no deeper for guidance.

          What are the effects of this in practice? Consider the man who has, say, twenty wives and numerous concubines and who embraces Islam—what, in that day and age—would become of all the women and their children who were “freed” as a result? They had no social status, no commerce, no protection. Muhammad’s laws began to address this—giving women rights of property ownership and inheritance and mandating that men make sure each woman they divorced was given resources that would keep her in the same level of existence she had enjoyed before—but a society does not change direction overnight. Look how long it’s taking us in the “enlightened” west to eradicate racism and sexism. But Muhammad raised his faith from nothing to a blossoming community in TEN YEARS. My point is, that societies are a lot like aircraft carriers—they do not change course easily.

          What if everyone who read the verses about freeing the slaves got the context and understood what was really being asked of them? What if slavery had stopped with Muhammad? What if all marriages were based on friendship and consultation as Muhammad indicated they should? If the words of the Prophet are selectively ignored, who is at fault?

          Bahá’u’lláh was asked myriad questions about Life, the Universe, and Everything. He repeatedly indicated that the following verse is the answer to most of them:

          The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. — Tablet to Manikchi Sahib

          Is there is more material inequality between men and women in the Qur’an than there is in Bahaullah’s teachings? Yes. His message was given primarily to a people over 1000 years ago on the Arabian peninsula. The point is that it raised the bar for how believers were to interact with other people—especially women. There are so many verses in which Muhammad stresses the spiritual equality before God of male and female believers and only one in which he says explicitly men were to be the protectors of women because they excelled over women—something that was certainly true of most men and women at the time in a material sense.

          Again, context means nothing if your intent is to argue or denigrate, but it is crucial to understanding. This is true whether it’s internal context or context with the evolving messages of the entire continuum of Prophets. Humanity is a work in progress—evolving physically, materially, socially, spiritually. What was an appropriate teaching in context with existence in a society over 1000 years ago with its particular problems is not appropriate now because we have evolved. But those incremental steps should not be dismissed. The Manifestations of God are charged with teaching the best of us and the worst of us—the spiritually perceptive and the spiritually crippled. When I look at the Qur’an, I see a set of teachings that addresses both the spiritual savant and the barbarian and that moreover takes on the Herculean task of offering both spiritual guidance and temporal order—one aimed at spiritual evolution, the other aimed at physical survival.

          This is already impossibly long, so I’ll tackle the science aspects in a separate comment.

          1. Well, Pickthall was not a native speaker of Arabic. N. J. Dawood and Abdullah Yusuf Ali are probably native speakers of Arabic. Though it should be clear enough even from Pickthall, when he mentions that men are to be modest and chaste except with their wives and slaves, it sure looks like it is about sex.
            So here is Dawood’s translation of 23:5-6 “who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them”
            And here is Yusuf Ali’s translation of 23:5-6 “Who abstain from sex, Except with those joined To them in the marriage bond, Or (the captives) whom their right hands possess, – For (in their case) they are Free from blame,”.
            Very clear in both translations.
            And none of the verses, 23:5-6, 70:29-30, or 33:50, say that the wife’s consent or the slave’s consent is required for the sex.
            And in general, masters are used to giving commands to their slaves, rather than asking them for permission.
            And we can see it with ISIS, with the non-Sunni women captives whom they enslaved, they like to rape them.

          2. I have both Dawood and Yusuf Ali translations as well and use all three (and a couple more) in my studies. I also have friends who are Arabic speakers and from whom I can often get nuances from Arabic words that are not obvious in the English.

            If it matters, Dawood was Jewish (his last name was originally Yehuda) and spoke both English and Arabic fluently.

            Again, forgive me for repeating myself, but what your take on this misses is the context with the foundational teachings of Muhammad on how the believers are to treat other human beings, and women in particular. In that way, your understanding of Islam and the members of ISIS is similar. And this is a problem with which humanity has been struggling since we crawled up to consciousness. We are selective readers. We cherry pick what we want of religion, science, general information and personal information about the condition of our fellow human beings.

            Taking any of Muhammad’s teachings about what it is legal to do out of context with his emphatic teachings on the piety, kindness and justice required of any believer is to mutilate the faith and to distort its teachings. It matters not whether the person doing the distorting represents themselves as an enemy, a neutral observer, a student of religion or an avowed believer. It is a distortion nonetheless.

            To be clear: the male members of ISIS who are raping women do so in direct violation of the Prophet’s teachings on kindness and justice. The fact that they feel their actions are justified by the Qur’an only makes the crime worse.

          3. Maya, sorry for not including my name above, it was me where it says Anonymous.
            Can you give me the verse numbers for the verses you quoted, namely “consort with [women] in kindness”, and also “men and women, are protecting friends one of another, they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong…”, so I can look them up in other translations and see whether they refer only to wives or to other women too?
            Thanks in advance.

          4. Tom, sorry I’m so tardy posting a reply to your questions. My computer time has been limited lately because I’m recovering from surgery and I’ve had to put most of my time into my contractual obligations.

            You asked about the verses I alluded to regarding the relationship between men and women as set forth by Muhammad. Here are a few of the verses that pertain:

            003.195 And their Lord hath heard them (and He saith): Lo! I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to be lost. Ye proceed one from another. So those who fled and were driven forth from their homes and suffered damage for My cause, and fought and were slain, verily I shall remit their evil deeds from them and verily I shall bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow – A reward from Allah. And with Allah is the fairest of rewards.

            004.001 O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you.

            004.019 O ye who believe! It is not lawful for you forcibly to inherit the women (of your deceased kinsmen), nor (that) ye should put constraint upon them that ye may take away a part of that which ye have given them, unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness. But consort with them in kindness, for if ye hate them it may happen that ye hate a thing wherein Allah hath placed much good.

            009.071-72 And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger. … Allah promiseth to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide blessed dwellings in Gardens of Eden. And – greater (far)! – acceptance from Allah. That is the supreme triumph.

            These are from the Pickthall version. I can include other versions if you like.

            Let’s look at what the Prophet is saying. In the first passage, He establishes the equality of male and female in the eye of God. They are both “workers”. He next makes the point of the interdependent relationship between men and women. He did this in a number of places in His teachings. Finally, He promises these workers the rewards of the next life.

            In the second passage (Surih 4 verse 19) He emphasizes the believer’s duty to the Lord by stating it twice. In the second iteration, He gives co-emphasis to the man’s duty to women. This passage is remarkable in the way Muhammad places a man’s duty toward women in direct context with his duty to God.

            In the third passage, the Prophet prohibits forcible “inheritance” of the female family members of deceased kinsman, which was a tradition among the desert tribes. In other passages, He goes into more detail about the woman’s right to choose her own husband. He goes against against tribal mores by stressing that men should not despise women in whom Allah has placed much good.

            The final passage includes the phrase I quoted about men and women being ‘protecting friends’ of one another. Here the Prophet is not speaking merely of husbands and wives, but more generally. He stresses, again, the spiritual equality of men and women—specifically that the duties enjoined on them are the same and so are the rewards. This idea of the spiritual equality of men and women is a repeated theme in the Qur’an.

            In addition to His teachings, Muhammad also offered His own behavior as a model for believers (the Sunnah or Way of the Prophet). In this connection, what others have written of Him is interesting. Abu Bakr and others commented that Muhammad had “the heart of a woman”. I do not think it was meant as a compliment. Muhammad is said to have done housework, cooked, and cared for children within his household. He showed extreme deference to women, especially his first wive, Khadijah, and their daughter, Fatima. He is quoted as saying that if Fatima said a thing it was as if He had said it.

            It’s worth noting, as well, that in the same Surih in which He limits male believers to four wives (if they can treat them with absolute equality), He also says that this equality of treatment is impossible. This allowed latitude for those men who were self-aware (or spiritually aware) to understand that He intended a man to have one wife and others to abide by the letter of the law.

            Hope that answers your questions.

          5. Maya, thank you for answering me. Sorry to hear that you are recovering from surgery. I wish you a quick recovery and then good health.
            The first passage, 3:195, does not say men and women are equal in general in the eyes of God. They are equal in being able to achieve happiness in heaven, but in some ways, like which spouse has to obey which in marriage, or in court testimony, or inheritance, or in number of spouses allowed, they are not equal before God. So sad.
            The second verse, 4:1, does not discuss duty to women in general, nor to wives, but to the mothers of believers.
            The third verse, 4:19 does seem to say that men are to treat their wives with kindness, true enough. So that could be possibly interpreted as forbidding the husbands to order their wives to submit to sex. Though another verse does say that wives can be spanked if they disobey the husband, and the verse does not say what things the husband can order his wife on. 4:19 does say to treat wives with kindness, but it does not say the man has to treat his female slaves with kindness. So it looks like he could order them to submit to sex with him.
            The fourth passage, 9:71-72 does say that believers should be friends with each other, but not with unbelievers. So it could arguably forbid rape of female believer slaves, but not of female unbeliever slaves. Like the slaves captured by ISIS. It does say that men and women have the same duties to God, but it does not say they have the same rights.

  2. Dear Maya:

    Fantastic! I’ve been seeing so much prejudice and hatred against Islam that it is extremely refreshing to see wisdom and common-sense explanations.

    Currently, there is considerable conflict in some parts of the Muslim world, and radicalism and hatred are on the increase. Still, it is nothing like the massive slaughters of World War powers against each other, or of communist elites against their own populations, or of European colonial powers against countries they occupied, none of which have much to do with religion and little of which is discussed by folks like Bill Maher.

    My feeling is that in a world awash in materialism, an awful lot of the spiritual content is sucked away and folks – desperate for meaning – adapt strongly materialistic or political positions on the behest of leaders hungry for political power.


  3. I may be more than a month late, but I still have to express my great annoyance at people who not only think Muslims are the only ones capable of committing things like rape and enslavement on a mass scale, but also that they only do these things merely because of their religion, ignoring all the two centuries of colonialism, invasions and dictatorships brought upon by Europe and the United States. It’s amazing that people even think ISIS is something surprising when it emerges right after the bloody US invasion of Iraq that left the whole country destroyed. It’s obvious that something like ISIS was going to emerge after a decade of bombing, massacres and even rape to a country that had been colonized and that had already suffered from previous wars like Bush Senior’s invasion in the 90s.

    Just to show how ridiculous is to attribute atrocities like rape and slavery merely to Islam, one has to see the high rates of rape and human trafficking that occurs in Latin America, a continent that is mostly Roman Catholic with a very strong secular element. The drug wars that have been waged there, even if not was violent as the wars in the Middle East, still have left thousans of corpses in their wake. And Latin America has some of the highest murder rates in the entirety of the world, with Central America having as much as 80 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

    Then there are also the governments of North Korea and China, which have some of the highest execution rates, have significant portions of people living in poverty and, surprise, have high incidences of human trafficking and slavery, internicine crime wars and even concentration camps. What’s more is that North Korea and China are not even Abrahamic cultures, since I imagine that the mostly Christian Latin Americans can still be used to indict Islam and thus establish the “superhuman evil of Muslims”, if I’m allowed to use Theodore Sayeed’s words to mock Sam Harris.

    There is also another example in Imperial Japan during the first half of the 20th century. The Empire of Japan bombed other countries to oblivion, including Korea and China, killed several thousand people, dealt in massive sexual slavery (see the infamous comfort women, an issue still denied by Japanese conservatives), and not only had concentration camps, but concentration camps where humans were even genetically experimented on similar to the Nazi camps with pseudo-scientists like Josef Mengele. Oh, and Imperial Japan is the very first example of the use of suicide bombing as shown by the kamikazes. This in spite of not being inspired in anything remotely Islamic or even Abrahamic.

    But again, one has to remind anti-Muslims, who are for the most part Westerners, of the West’s atrocities against Muslims that started with the Portuguese colonization of parts of Africa and India back in the 16th century (right in the heyday of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution!) and continued with Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt or the British colonization of Ottoman provinces. Suddenly, when discussing why the Muslim world is so “backwards” in comparison to the West, European colonialism is magically forgotten.

    1. It is all this that makes Muslims violent, and not so much the Qur’an. And like I’ve tried to show, it is the same pattern of human violence that one finds across the world. There’s nothing particular about Islamic violence or atrocities.

      1. But the first attack on Iraq, by the former president George H. W. Bush, was very much needed, to save Kuwait from the brutal occupation by Iraq’s army sent by the very brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. And there was even some danger that he was going to attack and occupy other countries in the Gulf. So this was necessary, to push him out.
        On the other hand, the second attack on Iraq, by G. H. W. Bush’s son George W. Bush, was not necessary and certainly in retrospect, was very unwise. His father was very wise in that he did not continue and occupy Iraq, he basically just pushed them out of Kuwait and forced them to destroy the chemical weapons, by the inspections that they had to agree to. Now it is true that George W. Bush did not know that they had destroyed the chemical weapons, but it turned out they did. And even had they not destroyed them, the Iraq army was much weaker than before. Bush stupidly thought that he could get Iraq to have successful democracy, which would be an example to other Arab countries. But the democracy, as it developed under the prime minister Maliki, was based on ideas of Shiite supremacy and so much suspicion of Arab Sunnis, that they were often arrested unfairly, it was like partial persecution, plenty of Sunnis were persecuted. So this was not a good example to the Arab world, which is predominantly Sunni. And in fact, in part because of quite common fundamentalist ideas among Arabs, where democracy was then tried, it usually did not succeed, see Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. Only in Tunisia it has been quite successful so far, but with the tourism industry destroyed by fundamentalist bombings, I am fearful it won’t be successful for very long.
        So the rise of ISIS was due not only to the foolishness of George W. Bush, but also due to the supremacist policies of prime minister Maliki. And the current prime minister is not great either, he is Shiite, and the most important posts in his cabinet, the minister of defense, and the minister of interior (in charge of police), are both Shiite. Very disappointing. This is no way to defeat ISIS.
        On the other hand, I do agree with your comments about the brutality of colonial regimes, like in Belgian Congo they killed millions, in South West Africa, now called Namibia, there was the brutal genocide against the Herero people, etc. And of course the horrible brutality of communist regimes, was not based on any Abrahamic religion, but on atheistic Marxism-Leninism. And we still see that in North Korea, with frequent executions, hundreds of thousands enslaved in concentration camps, and the rest of the population having to be totally obedient in everything, like slaves. And it was similar in Mao’s China, now it is only somewhat better there. And of course during WWII, the Japanese colonialism was very brutal too, with state religion being a form of Shintoism.
        It is true that colonial occupations of Muslim lands were often brutal, but this was preceded by even more brutal Muslim colonization, where in Iran, Zoroastrianism almost disappeared, similarly for example in Afghanistan, Buddhism disappeared, was persecuted out of existence, and then in India, Hindus were very much second class citizens, ruled by Muslims. And similarly in previously Christian lands, like Egypt, Libya, Syria etc., Christians and Jews became second-class citizens, with Muslims having great advantages over them.

        1. “But the first attack on Iraq, by the former president George H. W. Bush, was very much needed, to save Kuwait from the brutal occupation by Iraq’s army sent by the very brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. And there was even some danger that he was going to attack and occupy other countries in the Gulf. So this was necessary, to push him out.”

          Except that Saddam was first supported by the US in the Iran-Iraq War (which happend right after the Iranian Revolution that ousted the US-supported Shah out of Iran), so even Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait is partly the fault of the West. That’s one. Two, you ignore how this war did destroy Iraq and made its economy worse. It led to the killing of innocents, and actually made Saddam even more dictatorial than before. And in any case, it doesn’t change how the Gulf War is part of the constant warfare provoked by the West in the Middle East that is what leads to Islamic terrorism in the first place. I find it weird that people don’t have any problem accepting the fact that Western intervention is what leads to violence in Sub-saharan Africa, Latin America or Southeast Asia, but suddenly not so in the Middle East and the Arab world at large.

          Also, apparently, in the case of the Gulf War, violence is justified, but not in the case of Islamic terrorists. The hypocrisy here is astounding.

          ” And in fact, in part because of quite common fundamentalist ideas among Arabs, where democracy was then tried, it usually did not succeed, see Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. Only in Tunisia it has been quite successful so far, but with the tourism industry destroyed by fundamentalist bombings, I am fearful it won’t be successful for very long.”

          So, apparently it is the Arabs’ own fault that their governments don’t work, not complex issues like the fact that they were ex-colonies, have Western-sanctioned dictators and continue to be invaded to this day. And it’s not like the Arab world is unique. Look at Latin America, look at Sub-saharan Africa or Southeast Asia. Their democracies also demonstrably don’t work. Just looke at the work of Amartya Sen for the case of India. That shows how the issue goes beyond native instrusions by “fundamentalists”.

          ” It is true that colonial occupations of Muslim lands were often brutal, but this was preceded by *even more brutal* Muslim colonization, where in Iran, Zoroastrianism almost disappeared, similarly for example in Afghanistan, Buddhism disappeared, was persecuted out of existence, and then in India, Hindus were very much second class citizens, ruled by Muslims. And similarly in previously Christian lands, like Egypt, Libya, Syria etc., Christians and Jews became second-class citizens, with Muslims having great advantages over them.”

          Sorry, but no. It is demonstrable that Muslim “colonization” if we can even call it that, was not more brutal. Iran remained one of the dominant powers of Asia after the Islamic conquest. In fact, it became one of the main centers of learning at the time. Contrast that with the destruction left behind by the West after their conquests in the same areas. And sure, Zoroastrians were persecuted, but not only does the religion still exist, it took centuries for Zoroastrianism to finally become the minority religion that it is today. In fact, the Muslims adopted much of Zoroastrian culture, including the language, the form of government and even literature, and most Zoroastrian texts, like the Denkard, actually were written after the Muslim conquests.

          In the case of Buddhism in Afghanistan, it’s hard to say why Buddhism disappeared. If it’s true that persecution was the cause of this, then Hinduism should also have disappeared from India, yet the latter didn’t. It makes far more sense to say that Buddhism simply disappeared because it was becoming weak in Afghanistan for reasons other than Islam. And like the case with Iran, Afghanistan hardly became a backwater area after the Muslim conquests, unlike what happened with the Islamic world, Africa and America after the European conquests.

          The same with India. For starters, it’s hard to believe that Hindus became second-class citizens when they remained the majority religious group, and when their languages, as opposed to Arab, were adopted by their Muslim rulers. Muslims also seem to have allowed various Hindu vassal kings to rule the immense territory that is India. Although the British would adopt a similar model, theirs is demonstrably worse as they imposed English and their own culture, while Muslims actually kept much of the Hindu culture they conquered, so much that at least one Muslim ruler, Akbar the Great, actually converted to a combination of Islam, Hinduism and Jainism.

          It’s true that Muslims were brutal in their conquests. But they were demonstrably not “even more brutal” than the Westerners who came to dominate the world after the 16th century.

          1. So do you think war is never justified? That is the error of pacifism, which if implemented here in the US, would have led to our defeat in WWII. Of course some wars are justified. Wars to defend our country or to defend our friends, like in Kuwait, are justified. Sure that sometimes we backed Iraq in their war against Iran, we did not want to see Iran conquer Iraq. That however, did not justify Saddam in taking over Kuwait.
            After the Arab Spring uprisings we did not invade any of those countries where Arab Spring uprisings were taking place. Sure we bombed Libya, but for an ethical reason, in the hope of advancing democracy there. But it just did not work. Now we are bombing Syria, but the reason is to try and defeat the greatest enemy, the so-called Islamic State. Concerning other countries with Arab Spring uprising, we not only did not invade, but did not bomb Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen. Now some Arab countries are bombing Yemen, and unfortunately we give them a little support, but at least we did not join in the bombing. Some of this bombing seems to be even targeting civilians, it is terrible, an apparent war crime. But you should blame Arabs for such war crimes.
            Most countries in Latin America and Sub-saharan Africa have quite successful democracies. And countries that don’t, have usually governments opposed to us.
            In Iran, Zoroastrianism has become the religion of a tiny minority, only several thousand believers. Most Zoroastrians live in India, to where their ancestors fled to escape persecution in Iran.
            Kabir the Great was surely not a typical Muslim leader at all. The average Muslim leader in India was quite intolerant of non-Muslims. The fact that most Indians remained Hindus, was due to the fact that the Muslim occupation did not last that long, only several centuries, before the British took over. Sure the British made English the main official language of India, but before then, under the Muslims, the main official language was Persian. No wonder that nowadays languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi have a lot of borrowings from Persian. And also plenty of words from Arabic, most of which came into those languages by way of Persian. It is true that the Muslims among them have more words from Persian and Arabic, than the Hindu believers, but the Hindus also have plenty of words from Persian and Arabic. Nowadays also plenty of words from English, like telephone etc.
            The reason why countries conquered by Muslims were often thriving, was not because of Islam, but because they were not conquered to be simply exploited for slaves and natural resources, as happened with European conquests of Sub-Saharan Africa and some other places, just to enrich the European countries that conquered them. The Muslims conquered countries to take them over, not to exploit them but to gradually Islamicize them. So it was more similar to the European conquests of the Americas or of Australia and New Zealand, than to the European conquests of Sub-Saharan Africa and other places, where the Europeans did not become a majority. What was done to the American Indians, Australian Aborigines, and the Maoris of New Zealand, that was really very brutal. For example the Tasmanian Aborigines were totally exterminated. Their languages died out due to the genocide, before the languages could be really recorded, so that we linguists know of only very few words in those languages, a terrible loss for linguistic science. But of course the killing itself was even far more horrible.

          2. Hi Tom:

            Its great to see you are so interested in Islam and its history. Most in the west are either irrationally hostile to Islam – its a huge problem – or ignorant of it. By the way, the Muslim presence in India has a very rich and long history, a lot of its associated with Mongolian dynasties that adapted Islam before expanding into India or Iran. Similarly, Turkic peoples, also originating in Central Asia, were a dominant power for years and years and years in India. When I went to China, I was amazed to see that a goodly percentage of the Chinese people – even in the Chinese mainland – were Muslims.

            Islam has definitely fallen on hard times, despite an illustrious past that provided the foundation of modern civilization, modern mathematics and the modern sciences. Generally speaking, religions follow a trajectory of development, maturity, and decay. In their beginnings, their founders bring a message that strongly resonates with the needs of the times and the receptivity of the people, but the number of people who initially embrace it is small, even in the case of Islam where it was mainly Arabic speakers – people from the tribal regions of the Arabian peninsula (and reasonably soon, the sophisticated urban Arabs of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and other areas).

            Then, over a period of 100s of years, the number of people who embrace the religion grows, often to the point of embracing the majority – or even all – of a countries population. Then, the influence of the religion can be tremendous – one need only consider the histories of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism to get the picture. And then the religions go into a period of decline, often over a long period. And they become corrupted, either becoming vehicles for political influence, or by splitting into sects that mirror tribal and national conflicts – consider the mainly Sunni Arabic people against the mainly Shia Persian background people in Iraq and the gulf states today – or by other means.

            When religion loses its vitality and its spark, it no longer animates the growth of civilizations. If religion is to continue to have a positive – not a negative – influence, its vitality must be renewed. That’s why Christianity teaches about the return of Christ, or Buddhism about the Maitreya Buddha.

            And now, we look around the world and we see its major religions in a state of disarray. Even those secular post-religious worldviews – Marxism, for example – based on non-religious or anti-religious attitudes have failed, or are failing as well. That why the Baha’i Faith is so important. In it, we see the beginnings of a new religion – one just in its nascent stages, one that is just at the beginning of its trajectory of growth. But already, it has secured the allegiance of millions from around the world by people who embrace its teaching of the oneness of mankind, the oneness of all the religions, the harmony of science and religion, the equality of women and men, the supreme importance of education, etc. And its principles have become the world standard.

            One of the things that seems to take place at the beginnings of a new religion like Islam, or now with the Baha’i Faith, is that the times can be very dark – and very dark indeed. The Arabian peninsula was notorious for the unruliness of its peoples, so much so that the dominant Roman and Sassanian empires ignored them except as mercenary recruits. So, things early on are not necessarily pretty, and with respect to Arabic empire building, there were some pretty horrific massacres here and there. But the growth of civilizations doesn’t happen without setbacks, and those setbacks happened in the growth of Islam.


          3. Stephen Frieberg, I wouldn’t castigate critics of Islam as ignorant or irrationally hostile of Islam. For example, the website Wiki Islam contains tons of quotes from Hadith and classical Islamic scholars and their rulings that form the basis of orthodox Islamic beliefs. Quran alone Muslims, Ahmadiyya, Mutazila, etc are viewed as heretics by the moanoirty of Muslims because their interpetatione differ on various issues like the validity of Hadith and the concept of abrogation. The vast majority of Muslims polled in various polls have expressed a belief in the validity and even integral nature of Hadith to Islam and the fact that verses of the Quran abrogate other verses.


            I gave the link to show examples of what the variour articles look like. The Hadith and Schools quotes are examples of why orthodox Muslims believe and do what they do for example. I specifically reccomend reading all the pages from the Quotations section. Regardless of whether you views the sources that are Hadith and Scholars as accurate represntations of original Islam or not, lots of Muslims today’s view it as so. An extreme case would be Salafis and there view of Islamic history versus that of non Salafi Mulsims.

            Some Muslims, such as Kassim Ahmad, have suggested that the original prohibition against Hadith led to the Golden Age of Islam, as the Quran was able to stand up to critical thinking and questioning; and Muslims were thus schooled to be inquisitive and seek answers to every quandary. They posit that the increased reliance on Hadith, which was allegedly illogical and required the suspension of disbelief, led to the eventual downfall of scholastic pursuits in the religion.

            In 1878, Cyrus Hamlin wrote that “Tradition, rather than the Quran, has formed both law and religion for the Moslems”. In the early 20th century, a book was written in defence of the Hadith stating “Anyone who denies the role of Abu Hurairah denies half of the canonical law, for half of the hadith on which judgments were based had their origin in Abu Hurairah”.

            “So far from the Quran alone being the sole rule of faith and practice to Muslims, there is not one single sect amongst them whose faith and practice are based on it alone”. Edward Sell, 1880

            Criticism of Hadith page from Wikipedia

          4. Hi Stephen:

            Good to hear from you again! I wouldn’t castigate all critics of Islam as ignorant or irrational, just most of them. Any time you hear a new Atheist or someone one who believes the new Atheist way, its very likely the case. Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens are notorious for this, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Before the new Atheists picked it up, it was a staple throughout the Christian west. It still is, although I think that that might be slowly changing.

            There are, of course, historical roots for this ignorance and irrationality. One is that the Islamic world was, hundreds of years ago, dominant over the Christian West, and much more technically, philosophically, scientifically, and culturally sophisticated. Copernicus – an absolutely brilliant man – based his whole argument that the sun was the center of the universe, for example, on the mathematical models of Islamic astronomers. The very accounting methods that freed Europeans and allowed them to do science was from Islamic sources, and the mix of Christian, Islamic, and Judaic culture in Andalusia (Spain) that gave Europe its philosophical heritage forged a brilliant light that was only extinguished by pogroms, expulsions, and ethnic cleansing at the hands of Ferdinand and Isabella and their descendants, accompanied by much propaganda against Islam (and Judaism). And the Turkish empire, of course, was a dominant European power until fairly recently, prompting much hatred.

            Do Muslims today look through the hadith, weigh them against wisdom, the Koran, and science, and decide which to trust? Sophisticated Muslims sometimes do. But, more usually, its unsophisticated young folks from the diaspora or post-secular post-colonial societies influenced by rebellious or power hungry leaders eager to leverage this or that grievance against their country’s leaders, against the West, or in service of some ancient feud brought alive by geopolitics and recent financial collapses. Those following conservative, established, and time honored traditions – probably by far the majority – probably don’t do so at all.

            So, the hadith issues are cutting edge stuff for many who imbibe from the internet, and that does include many young men and women from the Muslim world, and it did play a role in historical sect formation, but it doesn’t explain the modern upheavals. Other things are at play, with the hadith as kinds of quote-sources used for polemics.


          5. Hi Stephen Friberg: You wrote to me: “consider the mainly Sunni Arabic people against the mainly Shia Persian background people in Iraq and the gulf states today”. Actually I know of no information that the Arabs who are Shiite in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, or Saudi Arabia, were ever of Persian background ethnically. From all I have read, they were Arabs even before they adopted Shia Islam. Sure, some of the Shia Arab lands were parts of Persia, but they were ethnically Arab anyway. Even today, in southwestern Iran, there is an Arab minority that is Shiite. And I see no reason to think they were Persians who switched to Arabic. At least not after they adopted Shia Islam, when Persia itself adopted Shia Islam.
            Of course in Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia, Shiites are a minority. The only predominantly Arab countries that are predominantly Shiite are Iraq and Bahrain. In Bahrain the Shiite majority is ruled by the Sunni minority, and in fact Saudi Arabia sent some troops there to help quell protests by the Shiites. Of course Iraq was similarly ruled by a Sunni minority, until Iraq was conquered by the Allies led by George W. Bush.

          6. Tom, you forgot that Yemen is an Arab country. It has its own form of Shia Islam (Zaidi or Fivers) which is part of the current Yemen crisis going on.

            Stephen, critics of Islam isn’t limited to New Atheists. Ex-Muslims (who converted to another religion), Christians (of Middle Eastern as well as non Middle Eastern background), Zionists (practicing Jews) and Indian religionists (Hindus and Buddhists), etc make up most of the list of critics of Islam, not New Atheists. Middle Eastern backgrounds for the Christians critics are Copts, Maronites, and Melkites.

            Topics like apostasy, blasphemy, anti Semitism, democracy, liberalism, secularism, religious police, and Sharia law all affect how Westerners or others views the present Islamic civilization. The Clash of Civilizatione for example divideds the world into nine civilizations: Western, Latin American, Orthodox, African, Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, and Islamic. Hizb ut-Tahrir produced a pamphlet The Innevitablity of the Clash of Civilizations as well.

            Islamists are active in the West also which is another point of contention. What would America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, etc look like if they were Islamic republics with Sharia law as the basis of all law? The flags, constitutions, and all other hypothetical stuff have been written up in preperation by said Islamist groups like Islam/Sharia 4 Belgium/Holland/UK/etc and other such groups, so people don’t have to imagine what those societies would look like as they have already done that.

          7. Of course, critics of Islam are not limited to New Atheists. Both Stephen and I have responded to that in other threads.

            I find it bemusing that, as long as you’ve been reading our articles and commenting here, you still seem to be under the impression that we are defending Islamists, radical Muslim ideologies, or the practices of any and all Muslim groups in the world today.

            If I may be blunt, you are entirely missing our point, no matter how many times we reiterate it or how many ways we frame it. Perhaps you might ask yourself why this is and put some thought into it.

            What we are saying is that the core moral teachings of Islam as enunciated by the Prophet are the same as those enunciated by Christ, by Krishna, by Baha’u’llah and others. They are principles that, if followed will result in individual and collective conduct that is conducive to the progress of the society to which the teachings are delivered and beyond.

            However, in every age, human beings have taken it upon themselves to edit, add to, subtract from and interpret the teachings of the Prophet to match their own perceptions, desires, fears, and ambitions. Sometimes this is done in a genuine effort to meet some perceived need within the body of belief or the society at large and sometimes it is done cynically and selfishly for material gain or control of a group.

            Radical Islamists are in no way exemplary of the teachings of Muhammad. And when Stephen or Bahram or I defend Islam, IT IS NOT THESE GROUPS OR THEIR PHILOSOPHIES WE ARE DEFENDING. Their ideologies and behaviors are indefensible. And they are indefensible by the written record in the Qur’an, above all else.

            Please stop trying to ascribe to our defense of the teachings of Muhammad a defense of radical ideologies of any sort. It is a waste of your time and ours.

            Thank you.

          8. Stephen Kent Gray, I know Yemen is an Arab country with a large Zaydi Shiite minority. But Stephen Friberg was writing about the Gulf states and their supposed Persian background. Now Yemen is not very far from the Gulf, but it has Oman between it and the Gulf, so it is not a Gulf state.

          9. Maya, the core moral teachings of Islam include all the sexism in the Qur’an, all the homophobia there, and all the permission of slavery there, including the permission to Muslim men to have sex with their female slaves.

      2. Also, look at what happened in the Arabian peninsula itself, under Muhammad. Sure some pagans converted to Islam willingly, but on others, Islam was imposed by force. Paganism was outlawed. So the Arab pagan religion soon disappeared completely. And later, even Christianity and Judaism ended up disappearing completely from the whole peninsula, though whether it was mostly conversion by force, in addition to willing conversions, or also some fled the peninsula to other lands, I don’t really know. There is even a hadith claiming that Muhammad declared that the Arab peninsula should have only one religion, namely Islam. And in fact Saudi Arabia uses that hadith to outlaw any religious services by Christians or any other religion, except Islam, even though those of other religions are mainly foreigners.
        There is also a hadith claiming that Muhammad said that anyone who converts from Islam to another religion, should be executed. And many Muslims believe that is true.
        Though of course it is also true that for centuries Christians used to believe in the death penalty for apostasy, and also in persecuting other religions and alleged heresies of Christianity. And in fact they used Jesus’ words in Luke 14:23, and specifically the words ‘compel them’ in that verse. Also they used precedents in the law of Moses, not that they considered the Law of Moses as binding on Christians, but still as useful examples of how to make laws. The Law of Moses commanded the death penalty on anyone converting from the Israelite religion to polytheism, and commanded genocides against the pagan nations who lived in the ‘holy land’ before the Israelites supposedly invaded the land, across the Jordan river.

        1. Where do you get your information, Tom? Where did you get the idea, for example, that during Muhammad’s lifetime, Islam was spread by force? Territory was taken, surely, but Islamic law precluded people being converted by force. I have found no credible source that says otherwise.

          Some Muslim scholars (such as Shaykh Fadhlallah Haeri) contend that forcible conversions did not occur until the faith had spread to peoples who converted without any real knowledge of the Qur’an (like many of the ISIS recruits today) and whose cultural mores overwhelmed the principles of the faith. I can vouch for the fact that there are professing Muslim communities that practice traditions specifically forbidden and abhorred by Muhammad in the Qur’an—for example, the infanticide of baby daughters.

          1. Maya, the whole Arabian peninsula was taken by force. According to several hadith, several critics of Muhammad were assassinated on his orders. And soon enough there were no pagans left in the Arabian peninsula. Do you think all those conversions were voluntary? In fact Saudi Arabia follows a hadith ascribed to Muhammad, where he allegedly said there should be no religion in the Arabian peninsula except Islam. That does not sound like voluntary conversion.
            And in fact, since according to Muslim scholars, the verse granting freedom of religion to all, has been superseded by other verses, then there are verses granting toleration only to Jews, Christians, and the mysterious Sabians, whose identity is not known for certain, though groups with scriptures, like Mandaeans, Zoroastrians and even Hindus have claimed they are the Sabians. And sometimes they were granted protection, though at other times they too were persecuted. But pagans without scriptures, did not have protection. So for example in the nineteenth century, the tribes of eastern Afghanistan formerly known as Kafirs, were converted by force, and after they had to become Muslim, they were renamed Nuristanis. These are tribes such as Ashkun and Kati. They had to convert to Sunni Islam.

          2. Tom, there is a huge amount of misinformation about Islam on the web today so it would be really helpful if you try to get your facts right. So, I really must ask you to support your statements.

            For example, you say that the whole Arabian peninsula was taken by force. This simply isn’t true. Rather, in a land where skirmishes between tribal groups were common – you might take a look at the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” to get the picture – there were many alliances, some fights, but eventually a widespread, remarkable and unusual confederation of groups and tribes owing allegiance to Muhammad.

            You should also be aware that hadith – which are sayings attributed to Muhammad but often manufactured and spurious – are not the proofs you want them to be.

            Undoubtedly, there were cases of involuntary conversion. But historians uniformly agree that one of the distinguishing features of Islam was its tolerance towards other religious groups, often for thousands of years. Indeed, there was often a reluctance to allow conversion to Islam as it reduced tax revenues.

            Especially in the modern era, but certainly throughout the whole of the Islamic times, there were pogroms, forced conversions, etc. The Muslims were not perfect and leaders were likely to use force even when it wasn’t sanctioned. And lately, there has been considerable turmoil – especially in the face of European militarism, colonialism, occupation and its disruptive influence – and much of the legendary tolerance in Islam has eroded away. And even historically, that tolerance was not always there. For example, in Andalusian Spain, despite the legendary toleration of Islamic rule and the close interaction of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian peoples, there were also periods of intolerant Moorish rule before the doors of openness were slammed shut by Ferdinand and Isabella.

            So, please, try to avoid the extremes in your views.


          3. Stephen, sure there was at the end of Muhammad’s life, a big alliance of tribes that converted to Islam, but that does not mean all Arab tribes converted. And then after Muhammad’s death, some of these tribes fell away from Islam and then were conquered. And we can see the result, there are no pagans left on the Arabian peninsula. And in fact, no more non-Muslim tribes of any religion. The non-Muslim religious minorities on the Arabian peninsula, usually Christians and Hindus, are generally temporary workers, who can’t become citizens, even children born to them in those countries can’t become citizens. I don’t think any citizens of those countries are publicly non-Muslims. Even though nowadays there are a few secret Christians, and even a few agnostics and atheists, who all however have to pretend in public to be Muslims, so they would not be arrested or even executed, on the charge of apostasy.
            And I did not use that hadith as proof of what Muhammad said, I was careful to say he only allegedly said, the only religion in Arabia allowed should be Islam. But anyway, whether he said it or not, this hadith was used by later Arabs.
            And I do acknowledge that outside the Arabian peninsula, there was often toleration of other faiths, especially of Christianity and Judaism. So I am certainly trying to avoid any extremes in my views.

          4. Bahram, this article on the link basically whitewashes Islam.

            For one thing, hardly any Muslim uses just the Qur’an to guide him. The great majority of Muslims also use the hadith, even though they disagree with each other on what hadith are reliable, but some hadith are accepted by all who use the hadith. And the hadith are even clearer that freedom of religion is limited. For example leaving Islam is forbidden. There is even a hadith that has the death penalty for this apostasy. The article also quotes a Buddhist passage about an unknowable being, using this to supposedly argue that Buddhists also can believe in a superior God. And that this would somehow protect them from being accused of the sin of shirk, the sin of associating other gods to God. But since Buddhists believe in gods, they exactly would then be guilty of the shirk sin. Terrible. Some Muslims even accuse most Christians of shirk, since most Christians believe God is a trinity. And we can see how freedom of religion is implemented in some states that are majority Muslim, for example Egypt allows only 3 religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And even Shiites are often persecuted in Egypt.

            And while the Qur’an commends freeing slaves, it nevertheless keeps slavery legal.
            And the status of women in the Qur’an is definitely inferior in several respects. Even the article admits that the testimony of one man is equivalent to the testimony of two women. It excuses it by saying that in this old society, men would not have allowed equal testimony of women and men. The problem is that the laws of the Qur’an are supposed to be binding even today. So even today equality of testimony is not supposed to be allowed in Islam. And the article omits other ways in which women are not equal in the Qur’an. For example one verse says if a woman disobeys her husband, he can spank her. Also, men can have up to 4 wives, but women can have only one husband. Also, the Qur’an makes divorce easy for the husband, but makes no provision for wives to divorce their husband, and even the hadith make it very difficult for women to divorce their husband. Also, in inheritance, the male inherits twice as much as the female heir, if there are both male and female heirs.

          5. Tom, I’d like to address this comment: “For one thing, hardly any Muslim uses just the Qur’an to guide him. The great majority of Muslims also use the hadith, even though they disagree with each other on what hadith are reliable, but some hadith are accepted by all who use the hadith.”

            This is absolutely true. And it is entirely to the point of the Baha’i revelation. When I investigated the Faith almost 40 years ago, I had the same objections you do. “Look at what the Christians and the Muslims and the Buddhists et al are doing today,” I protested. “Look at what they’ve done historically. How can you say there is unity of religion?”

            Baha’u’llah’s teachings challenged me to find it because He did not teach that the current or even historical practice of religion is one, but that religion is one at the source. When I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Bible, the Qur’an and the writings of Baha’u’llah, I saw that unity. I also saw what human “editing” had done to the message.

            What’s going on in US politics today is such a glaring confirmation of Baha’u’llah’s assertions and to the lengths to which human beings will go to justify their opinion over what’s actually written in scripture that it boggles the mind. The Pope, God bless him, gives what are some of the purest expressions of the faith of Christ and pundits and politicians calling themselves Christians denounce him and claim the message to be the antithesis of Christianity. It’s absurd.

            But the Faith of Christ is not to be found (necessarily) in Christian institutions or theology or wishful thinking. It is to be found in the words and behavior of Christ, Himself. And if you protest that this message is too old, then there is the huge outpouring of writings of Baha’u’llah which expound the same, eternal truths, and expand on them because this is a different time and we are a different humanity.

            The same is true of Islam. The Faith of Muhammad may not be found among all Muslim communities. In fact, it IS not found there. It is in the Qur’an and in the hearts of Muslims the world over who have understood that message and who strive daily to live it.

            Christ said that a thing is known by its fruits. A Muslim or a Christian or a Baha’i for that matter, is known by how well they obey the Word of God. Not some much edited, manufactured facsimile.

          6. Hi Tom:

            You write: “Bahram, this article on the link basically whitewashes Islam.”

            I would say that the article paints a positive view of Islam, something very necessary and important given the large amount of hostile and uninformed information that is out there. I would encourage you to keep the points it makes in mind when evaluating other things you find. Muslims didn’t – and don’t – always abide by Islam’s precepts any more that communist regimes abided by the spirit of scientific rationalism that strongly influenced Marxism.

            One of the things that Maya, Bahram, and I would like to do in this log is counteract the negative stereotypes about the world’s religions and Islam, even those propagated by those claiming to speak authoritatively in favor of it, but especially those attacking it. We take seriously the Baha’i Teaching that all the religions are one, and we hope to encourage others to have an open minded and objective receptivity to core teachings of other religions.

            Sometimes, as Maya keeps mentioning and as the Baha’i Writings insist, you have to take into account the “exigencies” of the times. For example, consider slavery, something wildly popular in Roman and Greek times, and then again in modern times, especially in Europe and its colonial empires in the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is only recently, in fact the last two hundred years, that public opinion, led by Christian opinion, has changed that. But it hasn’t changed completely – there are still large numbers of immigrants – legal or illegal – who, while not slaves, have few rights, are not treated equally, etc. Yes, the Islamic world didn’t eliminate slavery, but its evils were mitigated. It was the European world – especially when set free from the restraints of religion – that slavery became a huge issue.

            So, in making your points about slavery, its quite important to adopt a comparative approach – and also to keep in mind that no one religion in the past is going to solve – or even try to solve – all the problems of the world at once.


          7. Hi Stephen:
            The article does paint a positive view of Islam, too positive. You mention slavery, that its evils were mitigated by Islam. But I don’t see a mitigation in the Qur’an. The Law of Moses is much older than the Qur’an, but there slavery was mitigated in comparison with the Qur’an. One provision in the Law of Moses was that if a slave escaped, he or she was free, no longer a slave. It is possible that this was meant only in case of Israelite slaves, but still better than nothing, so it encouraged masters to treat those slaves kindly, so they would not escape. No such provision was made in the Qur’an.
            Also the Law of Moses allowed men sex only with their wives. But the Qur’an allowed men sex also with their female slaves. Slaves which naturally had to obey their masters. Terrible.
            And as I wrote above, the status of women in the Qur’an was quite terrible. Sure they had somewhat better inheritance rights than in the Law of Moses, but on the other hand, the Law of Moses did not distinguish between the value of testimony based on whether one is a man or a woman. But in the Qur’an the value of a woman’s witness testimony is only half that of a man. And the Qur’a’n is specific that a woman can be spanked for disobedience by her husband, while the Law of Moses is at least silent on the issue of whether this is allowed.

          8. Tom:

            Could you please quote your sources about slavery. Its not what I’m finding online. For example, Wikipedia, says directly “the Torah allows sex with non-engaged slaves.” Wikipedia has two articles – one on Jewish slavery, one on Islamic slavery – and they don’t support what you are saying.

            Women weren’t allowed to vote in England until the 1920s – harsh misogynistic laws were everywhere, so women being able to own property and even allowed to testify are major, major advances for many areas 1300 years ago, especially in the Arabian peninsula. As Maya has pointed out again and again, you have to see what comes before to draw comparisons – and the changes were major advances for women in Arabic society and other societies as well (Zoroastrian women were sometimes expected to kill themselves when their husbands died!) This is an important point, and you seem to have forgotten it1

            I’m not trying to paint the record of the Islamic people as perfect – and of course there are things like the veil and the Mediterranean tribal customs of killing women family members, things which are NOT in the Koran but associated with Islam nonetheless – which infected the Islamic world as it fell into backwardness. But Islam represented a major step forward for the status of women.

            Nowadays, the Baha’i Faith proclaims the equality of women and men in all categories of life and emphasizes that women should be educated first, practices that Baha’i around the world have often been able to implement and that have contributed greatly to the progress of women in Iran.


          9. you wrote: ” You mention slavery, that its evils were mitigated by Islam. But I don’t see a mitigation in the Qur’an”

            This is factually untrue. The Qur’an speaks explicitly of freeing slaves. I’ve cited this in this thread. I’ll happily do it again.

            “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, _and to set slaves free_; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the Allah-fearing.” Sure 2:177

            Here the Prophet sets forth acts that God considers righteous. Right there alongside faith, generosity toward all, keeping covenants, patience under trials, and worship, is setting slaves free. I think that’s pretty clear. But if that’s not enough, there’s this:

            “And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation), write it for them if ye are aware of aught of good in them, and bestow upon them of the wealth of Allah which He hath bestowed upon you. Force not your slave-girls to whoredom that ye may seek enjoyment of the life of the world, if they would preserve their chastity.” Surih 24:33

            Here, Muhammad instructs the believers not only to free slaves who seek freedom, but to provide them with a share of the wealth that God has bestowed on them (a not very subtle reminder of where their wealth derives from). It goes further and answers the popular assumption on the part of westerners that female slaves were automatically sex slaves. Muhammad specifically tells the male believers they must not force a female slave to have sex with them.

            There are also numerous verses in which Muhammad specifies wrongs for which part of the restitution or penance is to free a slave.

            The context in which Muhammad places the relationship of a Muslim master to his slaves is this: Muhammad refers to the believers (and Himself) as slaves of Allah. He does this in a variety of verses, thereby inviting the believers to understand their relationship to their slaves in context with God’s relationship to them. This gives great significance to the verses in which He says, “And thy Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves.” Surih 41:46 Or “Allah wisheth no injustice for His slaves.” Surih 40:31 Or “Allah is gracious unto His slaves.” Surih 42:19

            These are just a few instances, but it should be enough to demonstrate that Muhammad 1) likens the relationship between God and believer as between a master and slave, 2) makes it clear that God does not abuse His slaves, but treats them with grace, 3) specifically speaks to the freeing of slaves as a righteous act and 4) makes a point that the believing men must NOT force female slaves into sexual bondage. Believers are also told not to force women to marry them.

            These are among the laws of the Qur’an that Muslim women in Saudi Arabia have successfully used to acquire more freedom than their tribal traditions allow. Specifically, women have been able to use these explicit teachings to keep from being forced to marry men they did not wish to marry among other things.

            I realize it’s popular to judge Islam by the most prodigal of its adherents, but is it just?

          10. Hi Stephen:
            The Wikipedia has it wrong, the Torah does not permit the master to have sex with his female slaves who are not engaged. It seems they deduce the permission from the fact that Lev. 19:20-22 does not specify any punishment for sex with a non-engaged female slave, but only punishment for sex with an engaged female slave. But the silence does not mean permission. The Torah is clear on what should happen if a man has sex with a non-engaged woman, who is still a virgin, it is in Deut. 22:28-29, the man has to pay 50 shekels to her father and has to marry her, and is not allowed to divorce her ever.
            The verses in the Torah that say that the escaped slave is not to be returned to his or her master, but is now free, and can live anywhere within Israelite gates, are in Deut. 23:16-17. No such provision in Islam.

          11. Maya, in the Qur’an, 2:177 does not mandate freeing slaves, it just says that anyone who frees his slaves and does other good things is righteous. It does not say that if he does not free his slaves he is unrighteous.
            And 24:33 mandates freeing a slave only if he asks for a deed of emancipation to buy his freedom, and if the master finds something good in the slave. So if the slave does not have any money, or if he does not know he can ask for emancipation, or if the master thinks the slave is not good, the master is not required to free his slave. See Dawood’s translation, and see also Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation, the slave has to buy his freedom, he can’t get it for free. So if he has no money, tough luck.

          12. Tom, with all due respect, you’re indulging in willful deafness. The entire goal of the faith of Muhammad is to become righteous. Muhammad is telling them that to free a slave is more righteous than turning toward the Qiblih in worship. One need only apply a modicum of thought to this to understand the premium He puts on freeing slaves. If my goal is to become righteous, to behave in a way that is pleasing to God, then I’m going to free my slaves. As we have evolved, the onus for our behavior falls more and more on us recognizing what is or is not right and following it because we understand and want to follow it.

            When Muhammad, or any other Prophet, gives an overarching principle, that principle is to be applied to all dealings. The problems that the world is experiencing today is precisely because religious people have failed to do that. They treat Christ’s injunctions to love our neighbors and enemies and treat each other as we would be treated as if they were malleable or only applicable in certain situations or when we feel like. When Baha’u’llah enjoins justice in all dealings, He means all dealings.

            It amounts, in some ways, to a sort of spiritual test. One who is sincere in his belief will desire with all his heart to be righteous and to obey the spiritual principles of God. One who is still more concerned with his own material state will be less inclined to understand Muhammad’s words as clear: a righteous believer will free his slaves. The choice is left to the believer.

            Likewise, the principles that Muhammad laid down about how believers were to treat other people are general principles that apply across the board.

            More later, I have to go. Sorry.

          13. Maya, it sure would have been more helpful had Muhammad issued a commandment to all Muslims to free their slaves. But he didn’t. And neither did Jesus, for all his talk about loving neighbors and enemies. So we can love our slaves, but still can command them to work for us or else. No wonder Paul wrote a commandment to slaves to obey their masters, like women have to obey their husbands, according to him.

          14. Again, I think you’re missing the point that I’ve been trying to make. That Muhammad told his followers to free their slaves without commanding them to do so is not a reflection on the limitations of either God or Muhammad, but on HUMAN limitations at that point in our evolution.

            There’s a Baha’i writing that likens the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—which includes the teachings of the Manifestations of God—to rain. Water has no natural form. If it falls into a glass, it assumes the shape and clarity of the glass, if it falls on the ground, it forms mud. Likewise, Baha’u’llah says, the teachings of God assume the form that OUR limitations of understanding and capacity give them.

            We are ever evolving and our spiritual education must needs keep pace with that evolution. You’re talking about human beings in a vastly different culture from ours at a different level of spiritual evolution and expecting capacity from them that even in our day and age we have not attained. The Torah said “Thou shalt not kill.” How well do people who claim the Torah as a holy book obey that very explicit teaching? Christ implicitly forbade the use of force when Peter wielded a sword to try to save Christ from arrest. He said, “He who lives by the sword, perishes by the sword.” Yet, today, we see that fundamentalist Christians are among the most outspoken and threatening proponents of gun ownership with pastors calling for Christians to arm themselves.

            Muhammad did not mandate freeing slaves, but he was very clear that it was considered a godly act that the spiritually aware should do. As I pointed out, He places the freeing of slaves ABOVE facing the Point of Adoration during prayer. Are you not capable of understanding the gravity of that? Here the believer is supposed to obey in exercise of their free will. And for those who did not have the capacity to exercise it in a righteous way, Muhammad gave repeated teachings about the treatment of slaves, of women, of other human beings in general.

            If the foundational teaching is to love one’s neighbor and to practice kindness to all, logically, it would apply to any situation in which one interacted with one’s fellow human beings, yes? Do many people not see this? Yes, indeed. And it is that deafness that allows people who claim to follow Christ or Muhammad or any other Manifestation of God, to do so while hating this or that group, while perpetrating violence against this or that person, while committing acts that they ought to find repugnant. When Jesus says we are to love our neighbors, he illustrates that there are no exceptions to this by using as an example a person universally despised by Jews—the Samaritan.

            Do professing Muslims do heinous things? Yes. So do professing Christians, secular humanists, Buddhists, Baha’is. But it is because of their limited ability to comprehend what the Prophet has said. Clearly, Muhammad encouraged the freeing of slaves. I fail to see the logic in the argument that this was a failure on his part. You seem to have made up your mind to see Muhammad in a negative light and will find a way to turn into failures the contextually miraculous changes he made in the behavior of the people he taught.

            I understand your position—I empathize with it. You sound very much as I did when I first had my certainty that Muhammad was some sort of monster challenged. I can only say that after I learned the history of the region and read the Qur’an in context with that history, I changed my mind about a great many things. Having now studied the Qur’an over a period of about 40 years, I stand amazed at the way Muhammad patiently and subtly moved his followers from a state of barbarism to a spiritually enlightened and scientifically advanced civilization. What he accomplished in a mere decade is truly one of the greatest miracles of history.

            But it’s unfortunately also a facet of human history that we cannot help but edit the teachings of the Prophets to our own desires and use them to fulfill our own agendas. This is why the Prophets continue to come century after century—to help us evolve. Baha’u’llah, for example, has taught that women and men are equals and that the world will not attain real peace until women are active in every sphere of human activity. Would you care to engage with that idea?

            FYI, Stephen and I would like to close this thread because we both find we are repeating ourselves and posting the same information, seemingly without any effect. There is nothing produced from arguing that the Prophet didn’t say what you felt he should have said.

      3. Thank you for your comments, Hellene. I think the reality of the situation can be summed up in the profound exclamation from the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

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