In Part 1 , the role and intent of the religious apologist were defined. I briefly examined a sample of prominent religions and asked readers if they could defend the religions based on their doctrines, beliefs and practices. In this post, I’m going to conduct a more in-depth analysis of Islam. I’ll pose the same question. Could you be employed as an apologist for Islam? Would you be logically and morally able to defend the faith? Think about that. While that question is an intriguing thought experiment, it ignores the threat to a free society posed by any Fundamentalist religion. The right question to ask is whether or not a religion should be able to be criticized.
Islam has the same pitfalls as all of the other religions examined in Pt. 1:
- Logical fallacies in doctrine(s).
- Problems with scriptural interpretation.
- A profound hostility to scientific advancement. (It must be noted, most of Islam’s hostility towards science is aimed more at the discipline’s empirical philosophy than specific scientific findings, such as evolution. American Evangelicals do much more to discredit scientific discoveries than Muslims do.)
- A problematic founder with a lot of moral and historical baggage to contend with.
While there are various denominations of Islam (these include many factions that have branched out from the original Sunni and Shi’a sects), the following summary covers the foundational elements of Islamic doctrine, beliefs and practices.
Like the other Abrahamic religions (Judaism & Christianity) that heavily influenced its founder, Muhammad, Islam is monotheistic, but unlike its religious cousins, Islam demands blind loyalty and total submission to God. Many point to this mandatory devotion’s severity as a contributing factor to Fundamentalism and the difficulty some Muslim immigrants have experienced culturally assimilating into Western countries. Islam also doesn’t anthropomorphize God; Allah’s majesty is too infinite for humans to comprehend. which means Muslims view Allah differently than Christians view Jesus or God the Father. Islam dispenses with complicated (and sometimes paradoxical) theology: there are no multiple sub-deities that make up the totality of the Godhead concept like there are with trinitarian Christianity.
Muslims refer to, and recognize, the Torah and the Bible as being imperfect revelations of God’s truth. The Koran and other Muslim scriptures are the perfected revelations of that truth. Many Judeo-Christian prophets are mentioned in the Koran, while other Islamic prophets preach the Islamic truth and receive revelations from angels, including Muhammad, the final prophet who shared Allah’s undiluted truth to the world. Koranic prophets behave very similarly to Biblical prophets. Muslims aim to emulate Muhammad in their daily lives through various customs called ‘Sunnah,’ which are rooted in written accounts of Muhammad’s life called ‘hadiths.’ Muslims’ acknowledgment of certain hadiths is contingent on which denomination of the faith that they adhere to.
One of the biggest similarities to Christianity is Islam’s eschatology, which refers to end time prophecy. Muslims believe in a day of judgment and Resurrection where all will be judged based on their actions. The good will go to paradise and the evil will go to hell. It’s essentially Judaism with a Catholic concept of hell and an Evangelical sense of dread.
While Islamic theology’s DNA seem to be almost identical to Judaism and Christianity, there are several key aspects of the faith that make it more intrinsically violent. The first of these pertains to the religion’s sacred book, the Koran. First of all, the Koran is a far more engaging document than the Bible. The Bible is a collection of books that were written by many different authors over thousands of years. The books were arbitrarily chosen by Catholic leaders of the early church. It is massive in size and extremely difficult to digest. Many of the books have nothing to do with one another. Most importantly, the Bible doesn’t have a central message. The Gospels do (mostly), but the entire Bible, taken as a whole, doesn’t have a central narrative. The Bible contains MANY contradictions and historical inaccuracies. While the Koran does have similar imperfections, it contains less of them.
The Koran was written by one author over a very short period of time. The Koran does have a central narrative and is far more efficient at speaking to the reader and providing the reader with a clear direction for how to live righteously and follow God’s will. The Koran, with a length significantly shorter than the New Testament, is focused, intentional and much easier to digest. Some of the most harmful parts of the Bible are swallowed up by the text’s incoherence. The Koran leaves less room for misunderstanding. Since it was written in the eighth century, the Koran’s literal language is closer linguistically to modern forms of communication than the Old Testament’s relatively ancient mix of metaphor and allegory. In short, the Koran is more compelling and accessible to modern Muslims than the Bible is to modern Christians and Jews.
The second point of differentiation is the Koran’s sense of morality. There’s no doubt that the Old Testament contains horrific accounts of violence and both Testaments contain nauseating accounts of misogyny. Nevertheless, the Bible does not provide an unambiguous call to violence in the same way that the Koran does. The Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands, but the Koran gives husbands permission to beat their wives. Activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM), wrote a film about this practice called Submission that was directed by a dutch filmmaker. The filmmaker was assassinated by a Muslim that was offended by the film. There are many verses in the Koran that encourage violence when taken literally. Take the example below (fitnah means resistance or affliction).
The concept of Sharia law, derived from the latter section of the Koran, poses more risks for violence and behavior that is offensive to Western values. Homosexuals are supposed to be stoned. Women can be raped as punishment for adultery and other crimes (rape witnesses are required to confirm that the rape penalty occurred). Women are not afforded equality under the law. According to Sharia law, apostasy (leaving the faith) is punishable by death. This belief is obviously incompatible with free societies that afford its citizens with rights similar to the American Bill of Rights. Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim majority countries have clashed with the UN for enforcement of this law.
One of the most controversial, but important, Islamic concepts is ‘jihad,’ which means struggle. Modern moderate Muslim scholars have framed jihad as an internal concept, meaning a painful fight against the evil within one’s self. While this metaphorical understanding of jihad isn’t problematic in any way, the historic understanding of jihad has classically and prominently referred to large military conquests and, to a lesser extent, the conversion of non-believers in everyday life through ministry and persuasion.
Islam has had its critics since its founding. Most of the criticism in medieval times focused on the religion’s rigidity and close-mindedness towards any ideology that differed from it. Obviously, Christianity was also tyrannical towards its competitors during this time. Academic criticism started in the seventeenth century. The enlightenment philosopher David Hume decried Islam because he thought it lacked a just sense of morality. He believed that the faith intrinsically encouraged deplorable behavior (violent conquest, etc.) and was incompatible with civilized society. Hume believed devout Muslims would do anything to advance the faith; the ends justified the means for them.
As Islam spread further east, Indian Hindu philosophers and gurus began echoing medieval criticisms of Islam’s violent intolerance of other faiths and cultural perspectives. Just like today’s critics of Islam, these Hindu activists believed that Muslims were trained to deny any instances of violence that were committed by the faithful. The Hindu intellectuals’ centuries-old accounts of Islamic apologists closely resemble the Muslim apologists of today and, interestingly, Donald Trump’s modus operandi: never admit to wrongdoing, never apologize, always deflect, always deny involvement, play the victim or attempt to the lay the blame on someone else.
In the twentieth century, many Western intellectuals, including Winston Churchill, were harshly critical of the faith for its imperialism and hostility towards Western values. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India thought that Islam was a great motivator for military conquests, but was a harmful spiritual philosophy. The famed Iranian novelist and intellectual, Sadegh Hedayat, believed that Islam single-handedly corrupted his country and said that some of the greatest tragedies inflicted on Iran included the abuse of women, the introduction of polygamy and the decay of Iranian intellectualism (and the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism). The father of non-violent protests, Mahatma Ghandi, believed that Muslims were aggressive because of the religion’s relatively young age and its history of violent conquest. However, Ghandi DID believe that non-violence could fit in with Koranic theology.
Modern critics have made similar complaints. The Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka, lamented Islam for its destructive effect on African religious practices. Like his Hindu counterparts, Soyinka was particularly disturbed by the attempts of many Muslim apologists to propagate narratives of Muslim revisionist history, which censored accounts of violence and human rights abuses. Classical liberals, like Bill Maher, criticized Islam long before the September 11 attacks for its threat to Western values.
After September 11, the left gradually aligned itself with Islamist apologists and attacks on Islam almost solely came from the American political right. Many independent, conservative and liberal intellectuals, such as Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Ben Shapiro and others devoted much of their professional careers to criticizing Islam. The more compelling the arguments critics made, the more bold Muslim apologists became in their tactics, and the fiercer the left protected them.
What’s fascinating about the history of Islamic criticism is the consistency of the nature of specific criticisms across time and the uniformity of those criticisms across eastern and western Icultures. Despite this, it has become politically incorrect to criticize the doctrine of Islam. Most on the left are not familiar with Islamic scripture and oral customs (nor do they wish to), which enables them to be easily manipulated by charismatic Muslim apologists. Leftists tend to willfully ignore data and studies that refute Muslim apologists’ claims and support critics’ assertions. For example, there are many studies (which will be shown in pt. 3) that show the prevalence of FGM in Muslim countries all over the world and that quantify the relatively high percentage of Muslims worldwide that believe in the Sharia principle of death for apostasy.
In the final part of this post, I, like the faith’s other critics over the centuries, will examine the tactics of Muslim apologists and show why their dishonesty is harmful to Western values and Western freedoms.