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Islam Critical Essays On A Political Religion Theory

All over the world today there is debate about the relationship between politics and religion. Go to any bookshop and you can find a range of offerings on the subject, some polemical and some considered and academic.

It is the topic of the times with some seeing religion as the liberation of politics from relativism and cynicism whilst others see it as the poisoning of politics with fear and intolerance.

This wasn't always the case.

1.      Liberalism, Marxism and Modernisation

During the 1950s and 60s many thought that we were passing from a religious to a secular and scientific understanding of the world.  Fundamentalism was in retreat not only in the west but also in many parts of the developing world where the western ideal of progress became the model for the ruling elites.

In as much as there was a battle of ideas it was between Marxism and Liberalism.  In many ways the Marxism which became the ruling creed in many 20th century States was a secular form of political religion.  It offered a theory of history and a way of life that was institutionalised as an authoritarian state in which individuals became subjects rather than agents.

Not surprisingly many of the intellectual critiques of fundamentalist religion provided raw material for the critique of Marxism.  The concept of totalitarianism was developed to define not only the Marxist States but also the Fascist and Militaristic States that caused so much suffering in the 20th century with their doctrines of racial superiority and justifiable imperialism.

Even in the 20th century Muslim world it was the secular doctrines associated with nationalism and self-determination that held sway.  Separating Mosque and State was seen as a precondition for progress just as it had been in Europe and North America.

When the Soviet Empire and its governing ideology collapsed it seemed that we had reached the “End of History”.  Hopes were high that science would replace ideology (whether secular or religious), democracy would replace tyranny and justice would replace exploitation.1

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Deep beneath the surface of both Western and Muslim societies forces were at work which were to burst through to the surface in a dramatic way.

2.      The Religious Revival

Some say that the first indication that things had changed came when the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in Iran and student militants seized the US embassy compound in Tehran and held 53 Americans hostage.  Militant Islam had arrived and it meant business not only in relation to the West but in societies where Islam was the majority religion.

In the West we saw the emergence of what was called “value-based” politics.  What this increasingly meant was a politics based on a particular interpretation of the Christian religion and what it implied not just for theological understanding but also for political, social and economic practice.

Fundamentalism re-emerged as an aggressive tendency not only within Protestantism but also within Catholicism.  At the same time new religious movements associated with Pentecostals and Evangelicals attracted strong followings in the developing world.

Religion was no longer personal and private, it was political and public.

Religion was back, so much so that it was being spoken of as the major force in 21st century politics with the “clash of civilizations” replacing the “clash of ideologies”.2

All of a sudden ideas that had been discarded were re-entering the political vocabulary.  In some cases it simply meant taking them seriously again in public and political debate within a democracy.  In others – most notably and tragically in Afghanistan under the Taliban – it meant applying them to all aspects of life in a brutal and uncompromising way.

3.      Fundamentalism and Liberalism

Liberalism – and the values and practices associated with it – was put on the defensive.  Indeed it is worth noting the range of ideas that have been subject to criticism by the re-emergent political religion, whatever faith may have been involved.3

Firstly, the values associated with a scientific outlook and developed through the Enlightenment have been cast aside in the interests of theology.  Religious texts are once again being treated as statements of fact rather than as guides to meaning and life.

Secondly, there has been a challenge to the separation of Church and State.  Given that religion contains “The Truth” it is imperative that it be the basis of law and practice.  More specifically given that one religion contains that truth it ought to be the basis of that system of government, law and practice.  At best other religions may be tolerated but not respected.

Thirdly, there has been a systematic assault on the rights of women and the rights of gays and lesbians.  In this post-enlightenment outlook women are once again viewed in functional terms and gays and lesbians seen as parts of a deviant sub-culture fostered by licentiousness and immorality. 

Fourthly, and very importantly, there has been a radical re-emergence of the great either-or of orthodox religion Heaven and Hell, as political instruments both inciting violent action on the one hand and disciplining behaviour in the here and now on the other.  What this means is that the beliefs a person has and the way of life they lead will influence where they finish up in the eternal scheme of things.  There has been a devaluation of this life and a dehumanisation of those who differ in the way they think and live.  This process reaches its horrific nadir in acts of indiscriminate terrorism.4

This new form of Fundamentalism – or “Strong Religion” – has been correctly recognized as a distinctive force in contemporary politics.  It varies in its intensity and in the particular political forms it takes but it can be seen at work in each of the major religions.

Adherents distinguish themselves by their hostility not just to the world in which they live but also to the moderate versions of their own religions.  They see themselves as “beleaguered minorities” in an alien and hostile world challenging secularisation, liberalism, relativism and atheism.5

4.      The New World Order

In the Muslim world the new fundamentalists attack modernisation and the political elites who have been encouraging it through their links to the global economy, and the United States in particular.

In the West the new fundamentalists attack many of the liberal reforms that emerged from the 1960s, including multiculturalism and sexual equality.

From being moderate in thinking and bridge-building in practice a good deal of religion has become aggressive and divisive, giving a sharp and uncompromising edge to politics.

In many ways it is ironic that this should have happened when the Cold War ended.  There was so much optimism about what a new world order based on freer trade and commerce, social justice and international peace and security could bring, particularly given the potential of the new information and communication technologies that had been developed.

But it did happen and we now have to deal not only with a new Islamic Jihad but also with the response that has followed.

There is a new world order but it is hardly orderly and hardly peaceful.

Religious understandings are not only influencing these conflicts they are helping to define them.  Beliefs do matter and religious beliefs are at play in leading people to violence and clouding their perceptions when it comes to seeking solutions.6

There are many tragedies associated with this new situation, most notably the loss of life we have seen from attack and counter-attack.  Religious tension and religious conflict has grown.  Fear and uncertainty has been created, particularly following major terrorist incidents.  Resources much needed for infrastructure and development have been diverted to military and counter-terrorism purposes.  The role and authority of the United Nations has been undermined, as have international organizations and institutions generally, just when they are needed to tackle injustice, poverty and genocide.

Just when the world needs decisive – and international action – to deal with global poverty, global warming and nuclear proliferation it has been hijacked into a mutually reinforcing “Islamic Jihad” and “War on Terror”.

And it is not as if these are the only issues that concern us today.  In societies like our own there are real challenges relating to the meaning of a life-style and economy built around personal consumption and economic growth.

Coupled with pressures on the environment, the ageing of the population and the emergence of China and India as significant competitors, Western politics has never been more complex and demanding.

The stakes are high and history teaches us that there is no inevitability when it comes to progress and enlightenment.  It is certainly no time for withdrawal.  We need leadership around sound principles and a political framework that can take us forward rather than back to what would be a contemporary version of the dark ages.

As with any challenging situation we need to be realistic without losing sight of our ideals.  In fact ideals can be a powerful political force as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have shown.  They understood the meaning of transcendence, reconciliation and co-operation.

5.      The Buddhist Approach (1)

That Buddhism can make a significant and creative contribution to the debate we have to have is clear to me.  Indeed I am not at all surprised at the growing interest in and commitment to Buddhist ideals and practice in the western world.  There are a number of features of Buddhism that make it particularly attractive to those frustrated by the terms of the current debates within our own and other societies.

Of most importance is this respect is Buddhism’s urging to go to the heart of things and avoid that which is unnecessary and diverting.  Metaphysical questions did not interest the Buddha.  He claimed that anyone who insisted that metaphysical questions be answered before he could follow the path to enlightenment was like a man wounded by a poisoned arrow who would not let a surgeon remove the arrow until he found out who shot the arrow, what his name was, and so on.  Such a man would die before he found the answers to these questions.7

The questions the Buddha sought to answer related to birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain and grief.  He was a humanist seeking practical solutions that would bring lasting peace and happiness.  He did not claim divine authority and “attributed all his realisation, attainments, and achievements to human endeavour and intelligence”.8

In fact he insisted that human beings keep an open mind and not rely on hearsay, tradition or the authority of ancient scriptures without reference to their own experience for their beliefs.  As Laki Jayasuriya has noted, his approach is totally consistent with the rational empiricism of the Western scientific tradition.9

None of this means that Buddhism is without any truths at all; it simply means that we must find them ourselves and that we should be open to what is revealed by the continuing advance of human inquiry and scientific investigation.

This takes us to the Noble Eightfold Path – Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation – and its mixture of morality, meditation and wisdom which involves both personal development and engagement with the world, each being dependent on the other.

It is an approach that can be tested in practice and, as such, investigated through science.

Indeed the various Buddhist techniques of meditation have become part and parcel of modern psychology, proven as aids to mental and physical well-being.

Buddhism offers an approach that is peaceful, compassionate and responsible in a world troubled by conflict, commercialism and consumerism.

When Buddhists make a contribution to political debates they inevitably look to solutions based on non-violence and dialogue rather than solutions based on violence and military force.  The focus is placed on concern for “the other” in all our thinking and practice, with happiness not being something we can keep to ourselves; it must be placed in all the contexts in which we live – family, workplace, school, community, state, nation, world.  Only then can we seek to find its true meaning in the application of the principles of compassion.10

This notion is underpinned by the belief that nothing exists in isolation, independent of another life.  All beings and phenomena are said to exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena.  The implication of this doctrine of inter-dependence has been drawn by Japanese Buddhist Daisaku Ikeda:

The Buddhist principle of dependent origination reflects a cosmology in which all human and natural phenomena come into existence within a matrix of interrelatedness.  Thus we are urged to respect the uniqueness of each existence which supports and nourishes all within the larger, living whole.11

This leads us to the question: how do we apply such views in a world of human fear, uncertainty and evil?  How do we apply such views to a world of nation-states and international conflict?  How do we apply such views to a world where warfare and terror persist?  Is it possible to adopt a moral approach in an immoral world?

6.      The Buddhist Approach (2)

Through the ages we know that different answers have been given to these questions within the different traditions of Buddhism.  However, although the answers vary certain themes come through in what is a Buddhist political and social philosophy.12

These are that all human beings have an inherent dignity and capacity for enlightenment and that government should be based on popular consent, exercised according to the principles of compassion, equity and justice, and enriched by communal deliberation and face-to-face negotiation.

Such ideas developed as a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy in India of the divine origin of Kingship and the absolute power of the Monarch in the context of a hierarchical social structure based on birth or class.  In this interpretation the Buddha is a great social reformer concerned not just with the Sangha but also with the wider world.  As Gail Omvedt has observed, “the Buddha had a dual and nuanced approach.  There were separate emphases and instructions for the Sangha and for society as a whole”.13

Thus while the Buddha did not develop a systematic social and political philosophy in the sense in which we would understand it he did point us in the right direction and many that followed – most notably, King Asoka (c.300-232BC) – took up the challenge of putting some flesh on the bones.  Importantly Asoka made clear his commitment to religious pluralism and “guarding one’s speech to avoid extolling one’s own faith and disparaging the faith of others improperly… The faiths of others all deserve to be honoured for one reason or another”.  He understood that the transcendent could never be encapsulated into a doctrine or formula but only realized in a virtuous way of life.14

There is no doubt, then, that Buddhism has an enormous capacity to assist humanity meet the challenges of the day through its non-dogmatic approach, its belief in science, its understanding of inter-relationships, its commitment to a life based on the middle way involving morality, meditation and wisdom, its support for human dignity, popular control and the public good, and its belief in peace and dialogue between people and their religions.15

7.      A New Leadership for a New Century

The various truths it has learnt over the centuries need to be applied to the world of today.  It is implausible, however, to maintain the truly radical and uncompromising commitment to pacifism in a world of international terrorism.  Today religious and secular moderates face people who are certain in their views and in some cases willing to kill indiscriminately.  We need to understand the limitations of the “War on Terror” whilst understanding at the same time the reason for and necessity of it.16 

But let us be careful.  Just how far can we take that argument?  Is it the case that wars have always and only to be military?

All too often in recent years we have seen the “soft power” options given too little attention or too little time to work and the need to fight the “War on Terror” on a broad front ignored in the pursuit of a quick military fix.  Indeed military power has an all-too-often displayed habit of feeding off itself in a fog of self-deception.

Even when defending a good and free society there are traps.  It is all too easy to fall into the arms of authoritarianism even when defending its opposite.

There are no absolutes in politics as values often came into conflict and difficult decisions have to be made.  This requires judgement in the face of options, all of which may contain benefits as well as costs.

However, while strictly speaking there may be no absolutes, there ought to be biases:

  • a bias to human rights,
  • a bias to freedom,
  • a bias to engagement,
  • a bias to compassion, and
  • a bias to peace.

This means that if freedom is to be restricted, engagement limited, rights undermined, compassion thwarted and peace replaced with force there needs to be good and powerful reasons and a proper dialogue beforehand.

The challenges are many and complex, partly due to the re-emergence of religion itself as a powerful and aggressive political force.  We have discovered again how religion can become evil and divisive.17 

For radical atheists there is no irony in this because religion is the problem.

For those like me who see politics and religion as contradictory phenomena – both liberating and tribalising forces at the same time – there is a way forward.  It requires that form of political leadership which assures the people of its strength and their protection but at the same time looks beyond the boundaries imposed by location, time, belief and intellect.

There is a stubborn reality to nationalism and short-termism in politics and intolerance and dogmatism in theology and science that cannot be ignored.  They are not realities, however, which can generate and sustain human happiness.  Introspection and experience teaches us that just as the historical record reveals it.18  We can see the problems associated with these tendencies only too clearly today.  We need a politics that embraces internationalism and sustainability and a religious and scientific outlook based on dialogue and inquiry.  Mahatma Gandhi put it beautifully when he said:

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.  I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my houses as freely as possible.  But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.

  1. See, most notably, Francis Fukuyama The End of History and the Last Man (1992).
  2. S.P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996).
  3. See Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism, The Search for Meaning (2004).
  4. This raises the issue of the Buddhist view that humans are reborn into a life that accords with the ethical quality of their previous lives.  This is not a view of heaven or hell, but it does involve a similar principle.  For an agnostic approach to this issue and to religion in general see Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide (1997).
  5. See A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalism Around the World (2003).  For a valuable critique of the methodology in Strong Religion see David Aikman, “The Great Revival: Understanding Religious Fundamentalism”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2003.
  6. See Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004).   The question remains as to whether it is religion that is the problem, as Harris argues, or the particular shape it takes as a political force.
  7. Venerable Dr. W. Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (2002), ch.1:  “The Buddhist Attitude of Mind”.
  8. Narayan Champawat, “Buddha”, in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World (1995), p.164.
  9. Laksiri Jayasuriya, “An Engaged Buddhism?  The Essentials of a Buddhist Social Philosophy”, The Buddhist, May 2002, p.42.  See also Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs.  pp. 14-20 & 119-120.
  10. In his pamphlet Inner Transformation: Creating a Global Goundswell for Peace (2004) Daisaku Ikeda has noted the de-sensitising influences associated with globalisation and virtualisation: “Virtual reality is fundamentally incompatible with an uncomfortable, even painful – yet essential – aspect of human experience: the way our encounters with others force us to face and confront ourselves, and the inner struggle that this sparks” (p.25)
  11. Daisaku Ikeda, “Peace and Human Security: A Buddhist Perspective for the Twenty-First Century” (1995).
  12. From the insights that follow on Buddhist social and political philosophy I am indebted to Laksiri Jayasuriya’s unpublished paper “Buddhism and Politics”.
  13. Gail Omvedt, “The Buddha as a Political Philosopher”,
  14. Quoted in Robert Thurman, “Edicts of Asoka”, in Fred Eppsteiner (ed.), The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism (1988), p.115.
  15. Important as well is Buddhism’s sophisticated account of the relationship between personal development and social and political engagement that recognizes the connection between the two, with engagement helping develop the person and the person helping develop the community.  The education of the person through engagement (and backed up by reflection and meditation) is essential to what we now call “ethical leadership”.  That Eastern religions have much to teach us about education is brilliantly outlined in Geoff Mulgan’s Learning and Skills Agency Annual Lecture, January 2006: “Learning to Serve: the toughest skills challenge for public services and government and what can be done about it”.
  16. This view is forcibly argued in Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 199-203.
  17. See Roger Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil (2002) and Richard J. Bernstein, The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11 (2005).
  18. I have further developed these ideas in “The Politician as an Agent for Compassion”, address delivered at St. George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia, 23 September 2001.
  19. Quoted in Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi : A Very Short Introduction (1997), p.42.

"Opposition to Islam" redirects here. For other uses, see Anti-Islam (disambiguation).

Criticism of Islam has existed since its formative stages. Early written criticism came from Christians, before the ninth century, many of whom viewed Islam as a radical Christian heresy, as well as by Ex-Muslim Atheists/Agnostics such as Ibn al-Rawandi.[1] Later the Muslim world itself suffered criticism.[2][3][4] Criticism of Islam in the West was renewed after the September 11 attacks and other terrorist attacks in the early 21st century.[5]

Objects of criticism include the morality of the life of Muhammad, the last prophet according to Islam, both in his public and personal life.[4][6] Issues relating to the authenticity and morality of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, are also discussed by critics.[7] Figures in Africa and India have described what they perceive as destruction of indigenous cultures by Islam. Other criticism focuses on the question of human rights in the Islamic world historically and in modern Islamic nations, including the treatment of women, LGBT people and religious and ethnic minorities in Islamic law and practice.[8][9][9] In the wake of the recent multiculturalism trend, Islam's influence on the ability or willingness of Muslim immigrants to assimilate in the Western world,[10] and other countries such as India[11][12][13] and Russia,[14][15] has been criticized.


Early Islam[edit]

The earliest surviving written criticisms of Islam are to be found in the writings of Christians who came under the early dominion of the Islamic Caliphate. One such Christian was John of Damascus (c. 676–749 AD), who was familiar with Islam and Arabic. The second chapter of his book, The Fount of Wisdom, titled "Concerning Heresies", presents a series of discussions between Christians and Muslims. John claimed an Arianmonk (whom he did not know was Bahira) influenced Muhammad and viewed the Islamic doctrines as nothing more than a hodgepodge culled from the Bible.[16] Writing on Islam's claim of Abrahamic ancestry, John explained that the Arabs were called "Saracens" (Greek Σαρακενοί, Sarakenoi) because they were "empty" (κενός, kenos, in Greek) "of Sarah". They were called "Hagarenes" because they were "the descendants of the slave-girl Hagar".[17]

Other notable early critics of Islam included:

Medieval world[edit]

Medieval Islamic world[edit]

In the early centuries of the Islamic Caliphate, Islamic law allowed citizens to freely express their views, including criticism of Islam and religious authorities, without fear of persecution.[21][22][23] As such, there have been several notable critics and skeptics of Islam that arose from within the Islamic world itself. In tenth and eleventh-century Syria there lived a blind poet called Al-Ma'arri. He became well known for a poetry that was affected by a "pervasive pessimism." He labeled religions in general as "noxious weeds" and said that Islam does not have a monopoly on truth. He had particular contempt for the ulema, writing that:

They recite their sacred books, although the fact informs me that these are fiction from first to last. O Reason, thou (alone) speakest the truth. Then perish the fools who forged the religious traditions or interpreted them![2][24]

In 1280, the Jewish philosopher, Ibn Kammuna, criticized Islam in his book Examination of the Three Faiths. He reasoned that the Sharia was incompatible with the principles of justice, and that this undercut the notion of Muhammad being the perfect man: "there is no proof that Muhammad attained perfection and the ability to perfect others as claimed."[25][26] The philosopher thus claimed that people converted to Islam from ulterior motives:

That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.[3]

According to Bernard Lewis, just as it is natural for a Muslim to assume that the converts to his religion are attracted by its truth, it is equally natural for the convert's former coreligionists to look for baser motives and Ibn Kammuna's list seems to cover most of such nonreligious motives.[27]

Maimonides, one of the foremost 12th century rabbinicalarbiters and philosophers, sees the relation of Islam to Judaism as primarily theoretical. Maimonides has no quarrel with the strict monotheism of Islam, but finds fault with the practical politics of Muslim regimes. He also considered Islamic ethics and politics to be inferior to their Jewish counterparts. Maimonides criticised what he perceived as the lack of virtue in the way Muslims rule their societies and relate to one another.[28] In his Epistle to Yemenite Jewry, he refers to Mohammad, as "hameshuga" – "that madman".[29]

Medieval Christianity[edit]

Main article: Medieval Christian views on Muhammad

  • In Dante's Inferno, Muhammad is portrayed as split in half, with his guts hanging out, representing his status as a schismatic (one who broke from the Church).
  • Some medieval ecclesiastical writers portrayed Muhammad as possessed by Satan, a "precursor of the Antichrist" or the Antichrist himself.[4]
  • Denis the Carthusian wrote two treatises to refute Islam at the request of Nicholas of Cusa, Contra perfidiam Mahometi, et contra multa dicta Sarracenorum libri quattuor and Dialogus disputationis inter Christianum et Sarracenum de lege Christi et contra perfidiam Mahometi.[30]
  • The Tultusceptrum de libro domni Metobii, an Andalusian manuscript with unknown dating, shows how Muhammad (called Ozim, from Hashim) was tricked by Satan into adulterating an originally pure divine revelation. The story argues God was concerned about the spiritual fate of the Arabs and wanted to correct their deviation from the faith. He then sends an angel to the monk Osius who orders him to preach to the Arabs. Osius however is in ill-health and orders a young monk, Ozim, to carry out the angel's orders instead. Ozim sets out to follow his orders, but gets stopped by an evil angel on the way. The ignorant Ozim believes him to be the same angel that spoke to Osius before. The evil angel modifies and corrupts the original message given to Ozim by Osius, and renames Ozim Muhammad. From this followed the erroneous teachings of Islam, according to the Tultusceptrum.[31]
  • According to many Christians, the coming of Muhammad was foretold in the Holy Bible. According to the monk Bede this is in Genesis 16:12, which describes Ishmael as "a wild man" whose "hand will be against every man". Bede says about Muhammad: "Now how great is his hand against all and all hands against him; as they impose his authority upon the whole length of Africa and hold both the greater part of Asia and some of Europe, hating and opposing all."[32]
  • In 1391 a dialogue was believed to have occurred between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and a Persian scholar in which the Emperor stated:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.[33]

Enlightenment Europe[edit]

In Of the Standard of Taste, an essay by David Hume, the Quran is described as an "absurd performance" of a "pretended prophet" who lacked "a just sentiment of morals." Attending to the narration, Hume says, "we shall soon find, that [Muhammad] bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society. No steady rule of right seems there to be attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far as it is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers."[34]

Nineteenth and twentieth century[edit]

During the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous personalities criticized Muslims and Islam.

The Hindu philosopher Vivekananda commented on Islam:

Now, some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watch-word is: "There is one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet." Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith, at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism. Nevertheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there has a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realised a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion; for it was not his father's religion he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.[35]

The more selfish a man, the more immoral he is. And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion, which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed, it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs! [36]

Why religions should claim that they are not bound to abide by the standpoint of reason, no one knows. If one does not take the standard of reason, there cannot be any true judgment, even in the case of religions. One religion may ordain something very hideous. For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans. They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, "How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is." [37]

Dayanand Saraswati calls the concept of Islam to be highly offensive, and doubted that there is any connection of Islam with God:

Had the God of the Quran been the Lord of all creatures, and been Merciful and kind to all, he would never have commanded the Mohammedans to slaughter men of other faiths, and animals, etc. If he is Merciful, will he show mercy even to the sinners? If the answer be given in the affirmative, it cannot be true, because further on it is said in the Quran "Put infidels to sword," in other words, he that does not believe in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad is an infidel (he should, therefore, be put to death). (Since the Quran sanctions such cruelty to non-Mohammedans and innocent creatures such as cows) it can never be the Word of God.[38]

Pandit Lekh Ram regarded that Islam was grown through the violence and desire for wealth. He further asserted that Muslims deny the entire Islamic prescribed violence and atrocities, and will continue doing so. He wrote:

All educated people start looking down upon the forcible conversions and even started objecting to their very basis. Since then some naturalist Mohammadis [Muslims] are trying, rather opposing falsehood and accepting the truth, to prove unnecessarily and wrongly that Islam never indulged in Jihad and the people were never converted to Islam forcibly. Neither any temples were demolished nor were ever cows slaughtered in the temples. Women and children belonging to other religious sects were never forcibly converted to Islam nor did they ever commit any sexual acts with them as could have been done with the slave-males and females both.[39]

The Victorianorientalist scholar Sir William Muir criticised Islam for what he perceived to be an inflexible nature, which he held responsible for stifling progress and impeding social advancement in Muslims countries. The following sentences are taken from the Rede Lecture he delivered at Cambridge in 1881:

Some, indeed, dream of an Islam in the future, rationalised and regenerate. All this has been tried already, and has miserably failed. The Koran has so encrusted the religion in a hard unyielding casement of ordinances and social laws, that if the shell be broken the life is gone. A rationalistic Islam would be Islam no longer. The contrast between our own faith and Islam is most remarkable. There are in our Scriptures living germs of truth, which accord with civil and religious liberty, and will expand with advancing civilisation. In Islam it is just the reverse. The Koran has no such teaching as with us has abolished polygamy, slavery, and arbitrary divorce, and has elevated woman to her proper place. As a Reformer, Mahomet did advance his people to a certain point, but as a Prophet he left them fixed immovably at that point for all time to come. The tree is of artificial planting. Instead of containing within itself the germ of growth and adaptation to the various requirements of time and clime and circumstance, expanding with the genial sunshine and rain from heaven, it remains the same forced and stunted thing as when first planted some twelve centuries ago."[40]

Winston Churchill criticized what he alleged to be the effects Islam had on its believers, which he described as fanatical frenzy combined with fatalistic apathy, enslavement of women, and militant proselytizing.[41] In his 1899 book The River War he says:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.[41]

According to historian Warren Dockter, Churchill wrote this during a time of a fundamentalist revolt in Sudan and this statement does not reflect his full view of Islam, which were "often paradoxical and complex." He could be critical but at times "romanticized" the Islamic world; he exhibited great "respect, understanding and magnanimity."[42][43] Churchill had a fascination of Islam and Islamic civilization.[43]Winston Churchill's future sister-in-law expressed concerns about his fascination by stating, "[p]lease don't become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalism." According to historian Warren Dockter, however, he "never seriously considered converting".[44][45][46] He primarily admired its martial aspects, the "Ottoman Empire’s history of territorial expansion and military acumen", to the extent that in 1897 he wished to fight for the Ottoman Empire. According to Dockter, this was largely for his "lust for glory".[46] Based on Churchill's letters, he seemed to regard Islam and Christianity as equals.[47][43][dead link]

James Fitzjames Stephen, describing what he understood to be the Islamic conception of the ideal society, wrote the following:

Not only are the varieties of morality innumerable, but some of them are conflicting with each other. If a Mahommedan, for instance, is fully to realize his ideal, to carry out into actual fact his experiment of living, he must be one of a ruling race which has trodden the enemies of Islam under their feet, and has forced them to choose between the tribute and the sword. He must be able to put in force the law of the Koran both as to the faithful and as to unbelievers. In short, he must conquer. Englishmen come into a country where Mahommedans had more or less realized their ideal, and proceed to govern it with the most unfeigned belief in the order of ideas of which liberty is the motto.[48]

Zoroastrian writer Sadegh Hedayat regarded Islam as the corrupter of Iran, he said:

Every aspect of life and thought, including women's condition, changed after Islam. Enslaved by men, women were confined to the home. Polygamy, injection of fatalistic attitude, mourning, sorrow and grief led people to seek solace in magic, witchcraft, prayer, and supernatural beings.[49]

The church historianPhilip Schaff described Islam as spread by violence and fanaticism, and producing a variety of social ills in the regions it conquered.[50]

Mohammedanism conquered the fairest portions of the earth by the sword and cursed them by polygamy, slavery, despotism and desolation. The moving power of Christian missions was love to God and man; the moving power of Islâm was fanaticism and brute force.[50]

Schaff also described Islam as a derivative religion based on an amalgamation of "heathenism, Judaism and Christianity".[51]

Islâm is not a new religion...[i]t is a compound or mosaic of preëxisting elements, a rude attempt to combine heathenism, Judaism and Christianity, which Mohammed found in Arabia, but in a very imperfect form.[51]

J. M. Neale criticized Islam in terms similar to those of Schaff, arguing that it was made up of a mixture of beliefs that provided something for everyone.[52]

...he [Muhammad] also infuses into his religion so much of each of those tenets to which the varying sects of his countrymen were addicted, as to enable each and all to please themselves by the belief that the new doctrine was only a reform of, and improvement on, that to which they had been accustomed. The Christians were conciliated by the acknowledgment of our LORD as the Greatest of Prophets; the Jews, by the respectful mention of Moses and their other Lawgivers; the idolaters, by the veneration which the Impostor professed for the Temple of Mecca, and the black stone which it contained; and the Chaldeans, by the pre-eminence which he gives to the ministrations of the Angel Gabriel, and his whole scheme of the Seven Heavens. To a people devoted to the gratification of their passions and addicted to Oriental luxury, he appealed, not unsuccessfully, by the promise of a Paradise whose sensual delights were unbounded, and the permission of a free exercise of pleasures in this world.[52]

Mahatma Gandhi, the moral leader of the 20th-century Indian independence movement, found the history of Muslims to be aggressive, while he pointed out that Hindus have passed that stage of societal evolution:

Though, in my opinion, non violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Muslims fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. The Hindu has an ages old civilization. He is essentially non violent. His civilization has passed through the experiences that the two recent ones are still passing through. If Hinduism was ever imperialistic in the modern sense of the term, it has outlived its imperialism and has either deliberately or as a matter of course given it up. Predominance of the non violent spirit has restricted the use of arms to a small minority which must always be subordinate to a civil power highly spiritual, learned and selfless. The Hindus as a body are therefore not equipped for fighting. But not having retained their spiritual training, they have forgotten the use of an effective substitute for arms and not knowing their use nor having an aptitude for them, they have become docile to the point of timidity and cowardice. This vice is therefore a natural excrescence of gentleness.[53][54]

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, in his book Discovery of India, describes Islam to have been a faith for military conquests. He wrote "Islam had become a more rigid faith suited more to military conquests rather than the conquests of the mind", and that Muslims brought nothing new to his country.

The Muslims who came to India from outside brought no new technique or political or economic structure. In spite of religious belief in the brotherhood of Islam, they were class bound and feudal in outlook.[55]

Modern world[edit]

André Servier, a historian who lived in French Algeria at the beginning of the 20th century, studied the customs and manners of the North African people. He became one of the few French intellectuals to study the Sira of Ibn Ishaq in depth, and his research included the Ottoman Empire and the Panislamic movement. He criticized Islam in his book L’islam et la psychologie du musulman.[56] Servier argued that "Islam is Christianity adapted to Arab mentality," and that it is "incapable of adapting itself to civilization."[56] Similarly, he argued that Islamic law "is only the Roman Code revised and corrected by Arabs," Islamic science "nothing but Greek science interpreted by the Arab brain," and Islamic architecture "a distorted imitation of the Byzantine style."[56] Servier described Islam as "a doctrine of death" and concluded that it had "broken the impulse towards progress and checked the evolution of society" in the Muslim world.[56] As Servier put it:

To sum up: the Arab has borrowed everything from other nations, literature, art, science, and even his religious ideas. He has passed it all through the sieve of his own narrow mind, and being incapable of rising to high philosophic conceptions, he has distorted, mutilated and desiccated everything. This destructive influence explains the decadence of Musulman nations and their powerlessness to break away from barbarism…[56]

Modern Christianity[edit]

The early 20th-century missionary James L. Barton argued that Islam's view of the sovereignty of God is so extreme and unbalanced as to produce a fatalism that stifles human initiative:[57]

Man is reduced to a cipher. Human agency and human freedom are nullified. Right is no longer right because it is right, but because Allah wills it to be right. It is for this reason that monotheism has in Islam stifled human effort and progress. It has become a deadening doctrine of fate. Man must believe and pray, but these do not insure salvation or any benefit except Allah wills it. Why should human effort strive by sanitary means to prevent disease, when death or life depends in no way on such measures but upon the will of Allah? One reason why Moslem countries are so stagnant and backward in all that goes to make up a high civilization is owing to the deadening effects of monotheism thus interpreted. ... even in the most extreme forms of the Augustinian and Calvinistic systems there were always present in Christianity other elements which prevented the conception of the divine sovereignty from paralyzing the healthy activities of life as the Mohammedan doctrine has done.[57]

G. K. Chesterton criticized Islam as a derivative from Christianity. He described it as a heresy or parody of Christianity. In The Everlasting Man he says:

Islam was a product of Christianity; even if it was a by-product; even if it was a bad product. It was a heresy or parody emulating and therefore imitating the Church...Islam, historically speaking, is the greatest of the Eastern heresies. It owed something to the quite isolated and unique individuality of Israel; but it owed more to Byzantium and the theological enthusiasm of Christendom. It owed something even to the Crusades.[58]

During a lecture given at the University of Regensburg in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted an unfavorable remark about Islam made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.[59][60]

As the English translation of the Pope's lecture was disseminated across the world, many Muslim politicians and religious leaders protested against what they saw as an insulting mischaracterization of Islam.[59][60] Mass street protests were mounted in many Islamic countries, the Majlis-e-Shoora (Pakistani parliament) unanimously called on the Pope to retract "this objectionable statement".[61]

Modern Hinduism[edit]

Nobel prize-winning novelist V. S. Naipaul stated that Islam requires its adherents to destroy everything which is not related to it. He described it as having a:

Calamitous effect on converted peoples, to be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say 'my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn't matter'.[62]

Modern African traditional[edit]

Nobel prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka stated that Islam had a role in denigrating African spiritual traditions. He criticized attempts to whitewash what he sees as the destructive and coercive history of Islam on the continent:

Let those who wish to retain or evaluate religion as a twenty-first project feel free to do so, but let it not be done as a continuation of the game of denigration against the African spiritual heritage as in a recent television series perpetrated by Islam's born again revisionist of history, Professor Ali Mazrui.[63]

Soyinka also regarded Islam as "superstition", and said that it does not belong to Africa. He stated that it is mainly spread with violence and force.[64]

Truthfulness of Islam and Islamic scriptures[edit]

Reliability of the Quran[edit]

See also: History of the Quran, The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran, Criticism of the Quran, and Historicity of Muhammad

Originality of Quranic manuscripts. According to traditional Islamic scholarship, all of the Quran was written down by Muhammad's companions while he was alive (during 610–632 CE), but it was primarily an orally related document. The written compilation of the whole Qur'an in its definite form as we have it now was not completed until many years after the death of Muhammad.[65]John Wansbrough, Patricia Crone and Yehuda D. Nevo argue that all the primary sources which exist are from 150–300 years after the events which they describe, and thus are chronologically far removed from those events.[66][67][68]

Imperfections in the Quran. Critics reject the idea that the Quran is miraculously perfect and impossible to imitate as asserted in the Quran itself.[69] The 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, for example, writes: "The language of the Koran is held by the Mohammedans to be a peerless model of perfection. Critics, however, argue that peculiarities can be found in the text. For example, critics note that a sentence in which something is said concerning Allah is sometimes followed immediately by another in which Allah is the speaker (examples of this are suras xvi. 81, xxvii. 61, xxxi. 9, and xliii. 10.) Many peculiarities in the positions of words are due to the necessities of rhyme (lxix. 31, lxxiv. 3), while the use of many rare words and new forms may be traced to the same cause (comp. especially xix. 8, 9, 11, 16)."[70] More serious are factual inaccuracies. For instance, Sura 25.53 claims that fresh water and salt water do not mix. While there may be cases in which these two bodies of water mix only slowly, every (fresh water) river that reaches an ocean will mix with salt water. Such areas of mixing are called estuaries (e.g. at the mouth of the Río de la Plata).

Judaism and the Quran. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "The dependence of Mohammed upon his Jewish teachers or upon what he heard of the Jewish Haggadah and Jewish practices is now generally conceded."[70]John Wansbrough believes that the Quran is a redaction in part of other sacred scriptures, in particular the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.[71][72]Herbert Berg writes that "Despite John Wansbrough's very cautious and careful inclusion of qualifications such as "conjectural," and "tentative and emphatically provisional", his work is condemned by some. Some of this negative reaction is undoubtedly due to its radicalness...Wansbrough's work has been embraced wholeheartedly by few and has been employed in a piecemeal fashion by many. Many praise his insights and methods, if not all of his conclusions."[73] Early jurists and theologians of Islam mentioned some Jewish influence but they also say where it is seen and recognized as such, it is perceived as a debasement or a dilution of the authentic message. Bernard Lewis describes this as "something like what in Christian history was called a Judaizing heresy."[74] According to Moshe Sharon, the story of Muhammad having Jewish teachers is a legend developed in the 10th century CE.[75]Philip Schaff described the Quran as having "many passages of poetic beauty, religious fervor, and wise counsel, but mixed with absurdities, bombast, unmeaning images, low sensuality."[76]

Mohammed and God as speakers. According to Ibn Warraq, the Iranian rationalist Ali Dashti criticized the Quran on the basis that for some passages, "the speaker cannot have been God."[77] Warraq gives Surah Al-Fatiha as an example of a passage which is "clearly addressed to God, in the form of a prayer."[77] He says that by only adding the word "say" in front of the passage, this difficulty could have been removed. Furthermore, it is also known that one of the companions of Muhammad, Ibn Masud, rejected Surah Fatihah as being part of the Quran; these kind of disagreements are, in fact, common among the companions of Muhammad who could not decide which surahs were part of the Quran and which not.[77]

Other criticism:

  • the Quran contains verses which are difficult to understand or contradictory.[78]
  • Some accounts of the history of Islam say there were two verses of the Quran that were allegedly added by Muhammad when he was tricked by Satan (in an incident known as the "Story of the Cranes", later referred to as the "Satanic Verses"). These verses were then retracted at angel Gabriel's behest.[79][80]
  • The author of the Apology of al-Kindy Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (not to be confused with the famed philosopher al-Kindi) claimed that the narratives in the Quran were "all jumbled together and intermingled" and that this was "an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked".[81]
  • The companions of Muhammad could not agree on which surahs were part of the Quran and which not. Two of the most famous companions being Ibn Masud and Ubay ibn Ka'b.[82]

Reliability of the Hadith[edit]

Main article: Criticism of Hadith

Hadith are Muslim traditions relating to the Sunnah (words and deeds) of Muhammad. They are drawn from the writings of scholars writing between 844 and 874 CE, more than 200 years after the death of Mohammed in 632 CE.[83] Within Islam, different schools and sects have different opinions on the proper selection and use of Hadith. The four schools of Sunni Islam all consider Hadith second only to the Quran, although they differ on how much freedom of interpretation should be allowed to legal scholars.[84] Shi'i scholars disagree with Sunni scholars as to which Hadith should be considered reliable. The Shi'as accept the Sunnah of Ali and the Imams as authoritative in addition to the Sunnah of Muhammad, and as a consequence they maintain their own, different, collections of Hadith.[85]

It has been suggested that there exists around the Hadith three major sources of corruption: political conflicts, sectarian prejudice, and the desire to translate the underlying meaning, rather than the original words verbatim.[86]

Muslim critics of the hadith, Quranists, reject the authority of hadith on theological grounds, pointing to verses in the Quran itself: "Nothing have We omitted from the Book",[87] declaring that all necessary instruction can be found within the Quran, without reference to the Hadith. They claim that following the Hadith has led to people straying from the original purpose of God's revelation to Muhammad, adherence to the Quran alone.[88]Ghulam Ahmed Pervez (1903–1985) was a noted critic of the Hadith and believed that the Quran alone was all that was necessary to discern God's will and our obligations. A fatwa, ruling, signed by more than a thousand orthodox clerics, denounced him as a 'kafir', a non-believer.[89] His seminal work, Maqam-e Hadith argued that the Hadith were composed of "the garbled words of previous centuries", but suggests that he is not against the idea of collected sayings of the Prophet, only that he would consider any hadith that goes against the teachings of Quran to have been falsely attributed to the Prophet.[90] The 1986 Malaysian book "Hadith: A Re-evaluation" by Kassim Ahmad was met with controversy and some scholars declared him an apostate from Islam for suggesting that ""the hadith are sectarian, anti-science, anti-reason and anti-women."[91][92]

John Esposito notes that "Modern Western scholarship has seriously questioned the historicity and authenticity of the hadith", maintaining that "the bulk of traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad were actually written much later." He mentions Joseph Schacht, considered the father of the revisionist movement, as one scholar who argues this, claiming that Schacht "found no evidence of legal traditions before 722," from which Schacht concluded that "the Sunna of the Prophet is not the words and deeds of the Prophet, but apocryphal material" dating from later.[93] Other scholars, however, such as Wilferd Madelung, have argued that "wholesale rejection as late fiction is unjustified".[94]

Orthodox Muslims do not deny the existence of false hadith, but believe that through the scholars' work, these false hadith have been largely eliminated.[95]

Lack of secondary evidence[edit]

See also: Historiography of early Islam

The traditional view of Islam has also been criticised for the lack of supporting evidence consistent with that view, such as the lack of archaeological evidence, and discrepancies with non-Muslim literary sources.[96] In the 1970s, what has been described as a "wave of sceptical scholars" challenged a great deal of the received wisdom in Islamic studies.[97]:23 They argued that the Islamic historical tradition had been greatly corrupted in transmission. They tried to correct or reconstruct the early history of Islam from other, presumably more reliable, sources such as coins, inscriptions, and non-Islamic sources. The oldest of this group was John Wansbrough (1928–2002). Wansbrough's works were widely noted, but perhaps not widely read.[97]:38 In 1972 a cache of ancient Qur'ans in a mosque in Sana'a, Yemen was discovered – commonly known as the Sana'a manuscripts. The German scholar Gerd R. Puin has been investigating these Quran fragments for years. His research team made 35,000 microfilm photographs of the manuscripts, which he dated to early part of the 8th century. Puin has not published the entirety of his work, but noted unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography. He also suggested that some of the parchments were palimpsests which had been reused. Puin believed that this implied an evolving text as opposed to a fixed one.[78]



Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Michelino's fresco