Friday, August 15, 2014

Islamic State (ISIS) and the early Muslims....where's the difference?


For moderate Muslims it's the elephant in the room. For those of a more jihadist bent, it's too perfect a synergy to ignore. ISIS' amazing victories against huge odds, its lightning advance and its territorial ambitions are a modern day version of the birth of the Islamic Empire. But what is altogether more disturbing (and potentially fatally embarrassing for Muslim apologists) are the other parallels between the two movements, and in particular those tactics that all moderate, liberal, sane people dismiss as being barbaric and beyond the pale.

Take beheading. We have all seen the awful pictures and read the horrific accounts of ISIS using this method of execution. Some may even have been traumatised by watching the videos posted by the jihadists.
Muslims know - or at least those who bother to read the salient verses do - that the Koran contains instructions to behead "the unbelievers" and that Mohammad himself ordered the beheadings of many captives.
When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives 47:4.
If my convert friend is typical, educated Muslims maintain that here God is teaching the Muslims a more humane way of waging war since prior to this time, the pagan Arabs would crush their enemies with heavy stones. Muslims are also taught that any verse which allows violence does so only for purposes of self-defence and that there are other more peaceable verses which instruct Muslims to live side-by-side with "the people of the book".  A careful study of when the various verses were "revealed" gives a different picture, however. When Mohammad was trying to gain followers by preaching alone, the tone is peaceable, but as soon as the Muslims settle in Medina and more followers join the Muslims, the verses become more bellicose. Such is the case here.

Take crucifixion. Again we have read the accounts of ISIS using this barbaric method for torturing and killing their prisoners or displaying their corpses.
The idea for such brutality comes not from the crazed minds of the jihadists though. No. They are simply following the instructions contained in the Koran:
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter 5:33
And what of the disturbing reports of the members of ISIS taking the women of those they have beaten in battles for their sex slaves? Again the jihadists are simply taking their inspiration from their holy book and their own prophet.
 O PROPHET! Behold, We have made lawful to thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowers, as well as those whom thy right hand has come to possess from among the captives of war whom God has bestowed upon thee. 33:50
Here the phrase "whom thy right hand has come to possess" refers to slaves taken a spoils of war. God is telling Mohammad that he may have sex with his slaves taken in war without committing a sin. And in 23:1-6 this allowance is extended to his believers who are told that to get to paradise they must abstain from sex apart from with their wives or their slave girls:
TRULY, to a happy state shall attain the believers: those who humble themselves in their prayer; 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,
Many Muslims will tell you that one of the proofs of the truth of Islam is the way in which God helped a small band of believers to conquer an empire against astounding odds. Battles were won when Mohammad and his followers were out-numbered by ten-to-one or more. The speed with which the Muslims over-ran territory and established the Caliphate, they say, was truly astounding and can only be explained if one understands that God was helping His prophet.

And now we have a small band of believers, who use the tactics that Mohammad himself used so successfully to inspire his followers - promises of wealth, glory and eternal bliss surrounded by doe-eyed virgins, and threats of terror and punishments without mercy to cow their enemies into submission - who are enjoying victory after victory against huge odds, making lightening advances and gaining huge amounts of territory.

Is God helping ISIS? Unless you're a heartless lunatic or your brain has been turned to mush by an extremist preacher presumably you think not. You dismiss them for what they are. Crazed, homicidal psychopaths whose minds have been turned by poisonous propaganda.

And yet...didn't you say you believe Mohammad was the prophet of God partly because of his unlikely victories?

Where's the difference?



Friday, August 8, 2014

Koranic verses which prove a human author #4


We are all, quite rightly, outraged when we witness scenes of suffering and destruction, especially when inflicted upon whole communities including women and children by an outside force which seems to have little, if any, regard for the sanctity of family or of the old and frail. Such outrage is felt all the more keenly when that outside force is so much more powerful than the victims.
How is it then, that when God decides to punish a community of "unbelievers", "idolaters" or "sinners" by killing everyone - men, women, children, the old and the frail - by leveling their homes and businesses so that nothing but the shells remain, we are expected not only to accept this as just punishment, but to worship the visitor of the destruction as "the most merciful of all who are merciful"?
I ask this since the God of the Koran seems to me to be almost as vicious as the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible.
At least thirty-two verses in the Koran relate how God has destroyed "generations" or "communities" or towns. Not once are we told that He took pains to avoid what we might refer to nowadays as collateral damage by targeting only those who were the main sinners, or the men or the priests. Far from it. In fact God delights, it seems, in telling us how no-one was spared each time He visited death and destruction upon a people.
6.6 asks the rhetorical question: Do they not see how many a generation we have destroyed before their time...?
7.4 similarly: And how many a community have we destroyed? (Assad feels the need to add the word "rebellious"  before community - in case, perhaps, we get the impression God is careless in whom he chooses to wipe out)
or 17.7 And how many a generation have we destroyed after Noah?
or 19.74 How many a generation have we destroyed before their time?
Still not got the message?
20.128 Can they learn no lesson by recalling how many a generation have we destroyed  before their time?
And so it goes...on and on and on. At least twenty more times. God destroys community after community. Nation after nation. Generation after generation. Just like in the Bible.
And in case any Muslim reading this claims, as a commentor on my piece about Noah did recently, that perhaps the children were spared because we just don't know, I would direct them to 27.51 which quite explicitly tells us that all the inhabitants were slaughtered: Then see the nature of the consequence of their plotting, for lo! We destroyed them and their people, every one.

So to be clear, God is telling us that on countless occasions he has deliberately killed women and children because they failed to worship Him.

To someone raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, all this death and destruction is of course very familiar:
This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy  everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'  Samuel 15:2/3
Likewise  Muhammad, keen student of Jewish and Christian stories like the one above, would have heard endlessly of the vindictive nature of the one true God and surmised it to be an essential element of monotheism.
But there were other reasons for Muhammad to reference so often God's genocidal tendencies, for there was apparent "evidence" of God's jealous and destructive power in the abandoned shells of ancient towns and cities to be found near Mecca. For what other explanation could there be for the ruins?
22.45 hints strongly at this: And how many towns have We destroyed because it has been immersed in evil-doing. And now they lie deserted with their roofs caved in. And how many a well lies abandoned - and how many a castle that stood high!
28.58 hints at a similar idea: And how many a community that [once] exult­ed in its wanton wealth and ease of life have We destroyed so that those dwelling-places of theirs – all but a few - have never been dwelt-in after them: for it is indeed We alone who shall remain when all else will have passed away!

Thus anyone reading the Koran for the first time must ask themselves this question:
What kind of deity requires - on pain of extermination of not just yourself, but of your family, everyone you know, your home, your livelihood, the very society you have helped build - belief and submission without proof (for belief with proof is not faith)?

But of course we don't need to exercise our imagination too much. 
We just need to look at what the Islamic State is doing in Iraq at this very moment where the murderous loons of IS cast themselves in the role of God's agents of vengeance and appear to be on the verge of wiping an entire religion off the face of the earth.

 God came upon them in a manner which they had not expected, and cast terror into their hearts (59.2)

He has indeed.

When you weep at the suffering of the innocent civilians in Gaza, spare a thought for the multitudes of women and children and infants wiped out by your God for the sin of not believing Him to be a "merciful" deity. Imagine if the BBC or CBS had had access to the scenes of carnage, of women weeping over their dead children as God inflicts his "just punishment" on yet another township.

Outraged by the actions of the IS or perhaps the IDF, but you worship the Abrahamic god? Ten out of ten for cognitive dissonance, my friend.

God and his agents of terror. The cruelest genocidal madman ever to have been invented by humans.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Gaza - what would Muhammad do?


Nobody can watch the appalling pictures of women and children dying in Gaza and remain unmoved. Even those who support Israel in their right to protect themselves from the indiscriminate rockets fired by Hamas must feel that something more should be done to spare innocent lives.
The moral high ground is fought over more keenly than any strategic position and is lost by the side that is seen to care the least for the innocents.
Muslims the world over are expressing their outrage. And we can sympathise.
In the context of what we are seeing day after day in Gaza, non Muslims might also be impressed to learn of the Prophet Muhammad's injunction not to kill women and children in battle as reported in the hadith of both Bukhari and Muslim:
Saheeh Bukhari Volume 004, Book 052, Hadith Number 258.Narrated By Ibn 'Umar : During some of the Ghazawat of Allah's Apostle a woman was found killed, so Allah's Apostle forbade the killing of women and children. Saheeh Muslim Book 019, Hadith Number 4320Chapter : Prohibition of killing women and children in warIt is narrated by Ibn 'Umar that a woman was found killed in one of these battles; so the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) forbade the killing of women and children
But what is less often referred to are the reports from the same saheeh (totally reliable) hadith which throw a different light on Muhammad's desire that innocent blood should not be spilled in war.

Saheeh Muslim Book 019, Hadith Number 4321. 
Chapter : Permissibility of killing women and children in the night raids, provided it is not deliberate.
It is reported on the authority of Sa'b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them.

Saheeh Bukhari Volume 004, Book 052, Hadith Number 256.
Narated By As-Sab bin Jaththama : The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans)." I also heard the Prophet saying, "The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle."

Understandably, various attempts by Islamic scholars have been made to understand exactly what the Prophet meant by these words. Sheikh `Abd Allah al-Manî`î quoted on Answering Christianity has this to say (my bolding):
[...]  the hadîth in question actually shows us that the general rule is not to kill non-combatants, even when they are present on the battlefield. The only exception is when the non-combatants are so mixed in with the fighters that it is impossible to fight against the combatants without the possibility of some non-combatants inadvertently being killed. This is only out of dire necessity.

This seems to be reading a lot into the Prophet's words, if you ask me. If you were to ask an Israeli general about the killing of Palestinian women and children and his reply was to say simply, "They are from them," I suspect the world's press (quite rightly) would condemn such callous views as utterly inhumane and the battle for the moral high ground would be well and truly lost.
But perhaps we're taking this quote out of context and being unfair to the "the best human ever", the "example all mankind should follow".
So let us return to the hadith and look more closely at when exactly these words were uttered. You will note that the Prophet spoke in answer to a follower asking whether it was permissible to attack the pagans AT NIGHT, IN THEIR CAMP because he (the follower) feared for the lives of the sleeping women and children. 
They are from them, Muhammad replied. Nothing more. Nothing less.
All further explanation is desperate conjecture by Islamic scholars and apologists.

I don't for one moment condone the slaughter we are seeing in Gaza.
I think the Israelis could and should do more to prevent the deaths of non-combatants.
But I also think there is a degree of hypocrisy in those who claim to be outraged when innocent lives are lost and who claim that their religion trumps all whilst at the same time using their own schools and hospitals as command centres. 
What would Muhammad do if he were protecting his followers from indiscriminate attacks and his enemies placed their soldiers and weapons in close proximity to innocent civilians? 
From the evidence of the hadith I think we know the answer.

No-one comes out well from this war. Israel is to blame for many apparent atrocities. 
But there is a danger in assuming that any religion is perfect. As followers must inevitably do.
Islam is as flawed as all the others.
The real cause of so much death in the Middle East?
That murderous, homophobic, misogynistic sh*t made up by fearful men in the desert millenia ago.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Koranic verses which prove a human author #3


A few facts to start with today which I would ask you to bear in mind as you read the following verses.
1.3 million earths and 64 million moons would fit inside the sun.
The moon is 384,000 km away from us and its light reaches us almost instantaneously (1.3 seconds)
The sun is 149 million km away and its light takes eight minutes to reach us.
The moon's orbit takes 28 days.
The sun's orbit takes 240 million years.

What is the most significant of the signs that Allah has given us to ponder as proof of His majesty and divinity, would you say?
If one were to go by that which is remarked upon most frequently in His final message to mankind, it is almost certainly the alternating day and night.
Not only does God mention it approximately twenty times in His Revelation, in six of those the phrasing is almost identical: night passes into day and day passes into night. Thus we can read…
3:27  Thou causest the night  to pass into the day, and Thou causest the day to pass into the night.
22:61  That is because Allah maketh the night to pass into the day and maketh the day to pass into the night, and because Allah is Hearer, Seer
31:29  Hast thou not seen how Allah causeth the night to pass into the day and causeth the day to pass into the night,
35:13  He maketh the night to pass into the day and He maketh the day to pass into the night.
39:5  […] He maketh night to succeed day, and He maketh day to succeed night, 57:6  He causeth the night to pass into the day, and He causeth the day to pass into the night, and He is Knower of all that is in the breasts.
No doubt the faithful see in the above repetition a sure sign of wonderful and super-natural literary greatness. I’m certain Hamza Tzortzis, for example, would refer us to his infamous list and possibly ask us to consider the superlative examples of chiasmus and epizeuxis.
An objective reader, however, might be tempted to see in the repetition a sign of very human forgetfulness.
But let’s leave aside the fact that the author seems obsessed with night and day to the point of repeating the same idea in exactly the same words. (It might seem churlish also to note that night doesn’t pass into day if you happen to live near or above the Arctic Circle.)
Instead let us examine why and how the author seems to be so obsessed with the diurnal cycle.
It seems that God is keen for us to appreciate that the sun and the moon obey Him and it is thus He who dictates their movements.
7:54 tells us, for example, that “He covereth the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it, and hath made the sun and the moon and the stars subservient by His command.
Whilst we learn from 13:2 and 16:12 that “Allah compelled the sun and moon to be of service” and that we are to take this as “a portent”. So Allah ties the movements of the sun and the moon very closely to the diurnal cycle and expects us to learn lessons from this.
 21:33 makes this even more explicit: And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit.
Except of course, there is a problem: the movement (or “orbit”) of the sun is irrelevant to the diurnal cycle. An omnipotent creator would know this. A 7th century desert Arab would, however, have a geocentric view of the universe, because that was the limit of man’s knowledge at the time. He would look at the sun tracking across the sky and draw the obvious conclusion that its movement was due to it orbiting the earth  rather than the earth revolving. Thus a 7th century desert Arab composing verses to show the might of the Creator as shown in the alternation of day and night  would almost certainly write something like this:
35:13 He maketh the night to pass into the day and He maketh the day to pass into the night. He hath subdued the sun and moon to service. Each runneth unto an appointed term. Or this:
36:40  It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit.
One might be tempted to say that OF COURSE the sun doesn't overtake the moon. Such an idea is meaningless. But it is not ridiculous if one believes the sun and the moon both orbit around the Earth.
And because the author imagined the Sun and the Moon to be travelling around the earth, he might also imagine their colliding on Judgement Day:
75:9  And sun and moon are united, (“Day of Judgement”)
Another incoherent and illogical concept if one remembers the relative positions and sizes of the Earth, the Moon and the sun. An utterly reasonable threat in a 7th century geocentric universe.
And finally, he might also believe in the literal truth of  the story of Alexander the Great reaching the place where the sun sets
18:86 Till, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout: We said: O Dhul-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness.

Thus in the verses dealing with the diurnal cycle an objective reader finds plenty to lead him to the supposition that the Koran is a product of a fallible man of his time and nothing to suggest it is the words of God.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Koranic verses which prove a human author #2


The prosaic and impoverished male fantasy that is the Koranic view of heaven - big breasted virgins and lying around eating and drinking all day - has been much discussed and derided, and is of course a reason to strongly suspect it is the product of a very human (and rather hormonal) author.
There is another aspect to the Islamic paradise which is, however, often neglected and yet is equally confusing for those who are told these are the words of our Creator. It concerns the "waiters" in paradise - surely a strange idea in itself.
They will pass from hand to hand a cup inspiring no idle talk, no sinful urge, and there shall wait on them young boys of their own, as fair as virgin pearls. 52:24
Ignoring for a moment the question: what sort of sinful urge one could possibly have - given that God has apparently provided booty-licious totty for an eternity of lustful bonking in this warped vision of a perfect eternity - the impartial reader must surely ask himself why the author feels the need to stress the attractions of the young serving boys.
For we of course all know what God apparently thinks of any relationship that isn't strictly heterosexual. The seven references to the "people of Lut" (Lot) in the Koran, the abundant descriptions of punishments meted out to gays in the hadith and the near universal death penalty for those caught in flagrante in the Islamic world bear ample testament. So surely I'm not suggesting there is anything improper in the promise of these delightful young men, fair as pearls, who are going to to be our personal servants in paradise ... am I? Well, the question is not so strange and becomes entirely pertinent when we learn of the long and disturbing history of pederasty in the Islamic and pre-Islamic world.
It would be a blinkered and ignorant person indeed who sought to deny that young boys have been used and abused for tens of centuries in the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa. Not only do we have first hand testimony, but the literature of the area is rich in references to the "joys" of young boys.
Love poetry by men about boys more than competed with that about women, it overwhelmed itEncyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, MacMillan Reference USA, 2004, p.316 (my bolding)
Those who have traveled through Afghanistan, for example, will be aware of the term bacha bazi to describe the tradition of selling boys to rich patrons for their sexual pleasure. How such activities can take place in a culture whose religion states homosexuality is terrible sin would be a mystery were it not for the many sociological and historical studies which describe how sexual relations between men and boys in many Islamic societies is not regarded as homosexual as long as one is not the passive partner.

The reference to being waited upon by young men as beautiful as "virgin pearls" should thus perhaps be seen in its historic context of  societies where sexual relationships between older men and boys was seen as something normal. Hence perhaps, in his desire to persuade his followers that becoming a Muslim would be rewarded by every conceivable male fantasy, Muhammad simply wanted to cover all the bases of the known proclivities of his followers.

As a reader coming to the Koran without having to believe it is the words of God, I find this a credible explanation. Certainly more credible than God creating beings whose sole purpose is to spend an eternity waiting upon men who move off their brocaded couches (how naff, my dear!) only to bonk other beings created solely to pleasure them.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Koranic verses which prove a human author # 1

Many years ago my convert Muslim friend told me I would burn in Hell for an eternity unless I accepted that the Koran is the word of God dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
So I read it.
There were one or two moving passages but nothing to convince an impartial reader that this was God talking to Mankind for the final time. Indeed, there was much I found disturbing.
But more than that, there were certain verses which seemed to me were so obviously the product of a fallible human that I simply couldn't understand how anyone not schooled from childhood in Islam could possibly believe they were anything else. And then of course we all got sidetracked by the risible miracle claims (see the numerous entries in this blog and elsewhere on the net)
It's been a few years now since my correspondence with my Muslim friend started so I thought I'd reread the Koran. Once again I was struck by those verses.
Here then is the first in a series, going from the shortest to the longest surahs (ie reverse order to that found in the Koran)

Surah Prohibition (66). Herein God tells of how Mohammad chastises one of his wives who has divulged to another a secret told her by the prophet:
She said, "Who told you this?" He said, "The Wise One. The All-Knowing one told me"
God then speaks directly to Hafsa and Ai'sha, the two wives concerned:
If you two turn to God in penitence [...] you shall be pardoned; but if you conspire against him, know that God is his protector, and Gabriel, and the righteous among the faithful. The angels too are his helpers.
As an impartial, objective reader, looking for evidence to justify the astounding claim that the Koran contains the very words of the Almighty, I'm confused to find that He should have spent some of those precious words on what is...let's face it...a domestic. And it gets worse.
It may well be that, if he divorce you, his Lord will give him in your place better wives than yourselves, submissive to God and full of faith, obedient, penitent, devout, and given to fasting; both formerly wedded and virgins.
Funny that. How God happens to threaten the recalcitrant wives of His prophet with being replaced by "better" ones just as His prophet was obviously having a bit of trouble with them.*

To finish, let me ask Muslims to imagine they are reading the Koran for the very first time, without any preconceptions or cultural demands being placed upon them. Is there anything here to convince you that this must be God's words?

*Note: There are plenty of other occasions when God reveals verses that "suit" the domestic situation of His prophet, as we shall find out later.
 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boko Haram, Pharaoh and Glamorgan University...


Now, of course, erstwhile Glamorgan University business science student and suspected Boko Haram mastermind of the recent Nigerian bomb attacks, Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, is not typical of Muslim students at that or any other university.

The fact that Ogwuche became radicalised is a tragedy for him and for his family, and an even greater tragedy, of course, for those 100 or so victims of his alleged attacks on non-Muslims in Nigeria.

And surely anyone who suggests that he has followed the teachings of the Prophet or the Qur'an is an Islamophobe little better than those who so obviously willingly mis-interpret the teachings of the "religion of peace" for nefarious and despicable purposes.

Let's take one of the more outrageous and hateful postings that Ogwoche put up on his Facebook page in 2011, for example, and quoted in the various news reports as an illustration of how far down the road to extremism he had traveled  :
The only punishment for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is that they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off, or they should be imprisoned
Who on earth could possibly believe that poor, misguided Ogwoche got this malevolent drivel from his religion? Those of us liberal, educated, tolerant Westerners know an ignorant, right-wing Islamophobic wind-up when we see one.... Don't we?

In fact Ogwoche was quoting directly from the Qur'an. Here is verse 5:33:
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter
So here's my question. As a liberal and tolerant seeker after truth, what am I to make of a faith which brands itself as a religion of peace but has such clear exhortations to violence?

My Muslim convert friend defends such punishment by saying that treason is still punishable by execution in many western democracies. States, he says, must have recourse to extreme punishment when under extreme threat. Islam simply makes this explicit. So be it. But isn't crucifixion pointlessly cruel and as such the recourse of tyrants and bullies?

I only ask because the way I see it, the Qur'an, rather awkwardly, makes this very point.

Allah is repeatedly at pains throughout the Qur'an to underline the evil depravity of the pagan, polytheist Pharaoh. He does so by showing us the cruel and unusual punishments Pharaoh promises to inflict upon Moses and his followers:
Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one! (7:124)
Seem familiar?
In case the message didn't get through the first time regarding what a mean b*stard Pharaoh is, Allah reiterates it thirteen chapters later:
(Pharaoh) said: Ye put faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he is your chief who taught you magic. Now surely I shall cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and I shall crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and ye shall know for certain which of us hath sterner and more lasting punishment. (20:71)
and again a further six chapters later:
 (Pharaoh) said, Ye put your faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he doubtless is your chief who taught you magic! But verily ye shall come to know. Verily I will cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and verily I will crucify you everyone. (26:49)
To recap. Allah tells his followers such as the poor, misguided Glamorgan university student and Boko Haram "mastermind" to crucify those who "make mischief" in Muslim lands (or alternatively - no pun intended) to chop off alternate hands and feet of the miscreants.
But He also wants us to boo and hiss at the evil tyrant who threatened Moses with EXACTLY THE SAME PUNISHMENT.

Or perhaps I've just got the wrong end of the staff...