Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Infidel's Guide to Islam (1 of 3) — Muhammad's Legacy

People tend to get angry when they find themselves struggling to defend the indefensible.

Islam — inexplicably, the fastest growing religion in the world.
Islam evolved out of response to the threat of certain implosion of the Arabic cultures due to tribal warfare. Sadly, in attempt to become a religion of peace, the founder of the faith, the prophet Muhammad, made a terrible mistake that has reverberated to this very day. It was a blunder so profound that the fact that western cultures can't think of Islam without thinking about crimes against humanity, is a testament to the fact that the term "religion of peace" is either a tragic misnomer or a monumental non sequitur that mocks every one of its adherents.


As the old adage goes, those who fail to learn from their history are bound to repeat it. This first post in the three part series seeks to look at the history of Islam and how it got to where it is now. Why now? Because not since the Islamic empire of the 13th century has it ever been featured so prominently in the world view for all the wrong reasons. This isn't a recent threat.

Since the large majority of you are most probably infidels, (what with being either of European or American persuasion) it is important that you have have a grasp on why this religion has been causing such a ruckus over the last 10 years or so. It is really an epic story of cause and effect and why first world economies that import Muslims may have something to worry about.

So let's begin with:

The Basics

Islam is a monotheistic religion. It arose out of revelations to its central prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century. It is considered to be the recitation (al Qur'an) of God's word in verbatim to Muhammad. It is considered God's final authoritative word, after his previous revelations to Moses (ergo, Judaism) and Jesus (ergo Christianity), both of whom are considered prophets, were corrupted over time. There are some fundamental problems with this idea, but I digress.

I'll discuss those later in this series.


More importantly, Islam is rigorously monotheistic, even more so than Christianity is (which proposes the triune God theory, elevating Jesus and the Holy spirit to be alternate but same forms of God). Islam simply suggests that there is one god, Allah (which is just Arabic for the English word 'god'). It is in this key revision that Islam exposes the corruption of Christianity.

Did I say revision? I meant reversion.

The Prophet

The prophet Mohammad (whose name is usually suffixed with the expression 'peace be upon him' by Muslims), tiring of his life, retreated to a cave, where God (Allah) pressed upon him his revelation, some time after which he wrote it down. This article of history is critical to the belief of Islam as it's considered that Mohammad, although a very successful merchant was illiterate.

That is the key miracle of Islam: an illiterate man wrote.

Cynicism aside, the single greatest accomplishment of the prophet Mohammad is perhaps the profound transformation of polytheistic Arabia into a monotheistic culture. He accomplished this through great conflict, torment and ultimately, victory over the heathen Meccan tribes who struggled to silence him. The icing on his cake would certainly be the transformation of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which forms a central part to the Muslim pilgrimage called a Hajj.

The Kaaba

The Kaaba — Once a monument to many gods, now a shrine to only one: Allah.
The Kaaba, which once a great monument to a multiplicity of Arabic gods, was seized upon by Mohammad in his victory march to Mecca, re-ordaining the shrine to the one true god, Allah. Even as far as doctrinal accomplishments go, this total philosophical transformation is largely considered one of the most remarkable conversions ever performed in the history of religion.

It is only outdone by Christianity.

It is the history of the Kaaba that is central to the monotheistic credentials of Islam. You see, according to the Qur'an, the Kaaba was established by Abraham and his son Ishmael (who is considered by both Jews and Muslims to be the father of the Arabs — his brother Isaac being the father of the Jews). But the Kaaba was originally dedicated above all to the one true god.

Over the centuries, Abraham's monotheistic religion didn't take hold with the descendants of Ishmael. Eventually it became a shrine to a multiplicity of some 360 idols. It was not until after Muhammad was successful in conquering the Quraysh (then the ruling tribe of Mecca), that the Kaaba was rededicated to the one true god. This is why the Qur'an now speaks so adamantly about the destruction of polytheism, ultimately rendering Islam a rigorously monotheistic faith.

Muhammad's Self Censorship

Muhammad at the Kaaba — with his face veiled.
Islam is so rigorously monotheistic, that the prophet stressed the importance of making sure that absolutely no reverence is made of himself as how Christians have wantonly and indiscriminately done with their Jesus. 

As such, adherents consider going against this principle such a vile corruption of God's word (worshiping the prophet and not his master) that they now forbid any artistic or virtual representation of the prophet, in the hopes of permanently preventing idolatry.

While the logic of this move seems credible (since Muhammad intended to wipe out the polytheism in Mecca and thereby replace it with monotheism), it has ultimately created a scenario where Muhammad is revered to the point where he is now practically on the same level as a deity. So in their attempt to carry out the commandment of the prophet, Muslims have unwittingly done exactly the opposite — and they haven't realized it yet.

Despite protest over the Danish Cartoonist, one can still find paintings of Muhammad from 11th century Persia, even though most of them have since undergone iconoclastic mutilation to obscure his face or his image.

This has now become a cultural obsession among Muslims to the point of ridicule. Not even an arbitrary drawing of Mohammad (that has absolutely no reference whatsoever to the person) is tolerable. The justification for this extreme censorship of their own prophet fails to explain the furor they make about it. This means that is clearly not the reason why they are so angry.

To answer that, we have to look at their history.

How History Shaped Islam

While the miracle of Muhammad's ability to write is still being disputed by Muslim scholars (as Mohammad was a successful merchant, he was likely able to write all along), the important thing is that after his revelation, he gained a few followers and began his ministry. His ideas were not well received at first. Early Muslims were routinely shunned, tortured and humiliated.

The Great Persecution

The torture and humiliation were severe. Some were routinely caught and beaten to death. Others had feces dumped on their doorstep, verbally abused or tortured to within inches of their life. Quite a number were killed. This period of severe persecution rivaled that of the Christians in Rome. Unlike the Christians however, these early Muslims finally fled from Mecca.

They escaped over the mountains and eventually regrouped into a region now known as Medina. There, Mohammad through his admittedly remarkable leadership, established a new political empire. They lived in peace with other Jewish tribes until armies from Mecca pursued them there. The Quraysh tribe of which the prophet Muhammad is descended led the charge.

It was at this point the prophet excelled or erred, depending on where you sit on the history. The events that followed shaped the face of Islam in profound ways. In fact, if you study the Qur'an, you will find that it is divided up into books based on revelations to Muhammad. He had quite a few of them. Now if you examine these revelations chronologically (as opposed to how they are ordered in the Qur'an), you will notice a gradual change of its doctrinal themes.

The Message Changed

Muhammad's revelations in the Qur'an started to have a change of heart.

In his earlier revelations, Muhammad talks extensively about peace, love, unity, equality etc. However, when you progress to the revelations that occurred during the time of the great persecutions, the theme shifts to those about smiting infidels, killing unbelievers, and the many rewards of martyrdom. At this point, neither the Arabic terms translated to "infidel" or "unbeliever" referred to America or Europe. Muhammad was really writing about the Quraysh.

He was writing about his own polytheistic kinsmen, his blood brothers whom he forsook for Islam, that were now so insulted by his philosophical about turn that they wanted him dead. America didn't even exist at the time and Europe was hardly a threat to anyone. So the appropriation of the Qur'an for the vilification of America and Europe is quite a stretch at best.

Never the less, the most important thing to note is here that the message was changing. As Muhammad became more and more persecuted, he began to have more revelations about fighting back and having vengeance. Modern Muslims still haven't come to the realization that Muhammad's message was changing to fit the situation, even if he claimed it was from Allah.

Then came the Danish Cartoonist.

The Angry Muslim Stereotype

People tend to get angry when they find themselves struggling to defend the indefensible. It's all a psychological defense mechanism deeply set in human nature. Nobody likes to be called a fool for their folly and nobody likes to be called on their bluff. Christians don't like being portrayed as delusional, pro life right wing nuts and Muslims don't like being portrayed as idiotic terrorists. Even if these stereotypes are based on some truth, the truth tends to sting.

The cartoon portrays what the caption suggests is the prophet with a bomb in his turban. So it is something of a one-two punch where 1. the cartoonist violated the principle of not portraying the prophet (even though he says the cartoon is of the terrorist everyman) and 2. insulting Islam with the suicide bomber stereotype. However, if you have been following the recent news out of that side of the world, you will come to realize that this is no stereotype.

It is no small wonder then, why they were so angry.

Kurt Westergaard — the Danish Cartoonist who dared to draw Muhammad.
I could imagine an Imam arguing that if the Danish Cartoonist knew about the persecution that early Muslims had suffered through, he would have been more sensitive to their acute cultural idiosyncrasies. However, the argument would be flawed by the fact that the Christians who were tortured almost to extinction by Rome can still take a joke and roll with the jabs.

(Well, unless you consider Pat Robertson).

In fact, nobody makes fun of any other religion more than Christianity. Just a cursory search on YouTube will render a trove of short films parodying Jesus. The reason for this is that unlike the Qur'an, the Christian Bible migrated from a message of vengeance in the Old Testament (an eye for an eye) to a message of forgiveness in the New Testament (turn the other cheek).

The Qur'an did it the other way around.

To be fair, one must also admit that Christians some 800 years ago were just as angry as militant Muslims are today. So one may have to look at the angry Muslim in a different way. Maybe today's violent Muslim reactions are a testament to the youthful exuberance of the faith. Maybe in another 600 years (give or take) they will be as mellow as today's Christians.

Either way, the European Muslim community's reaction to Kurt Westergaard's cartoons could not have been justified as reaction to provocation. The extremity of the reaction would seem to suggest that the cartoons (however distasteful) were an act of war. This does absolutely nothing for Islam's image, since it only reinforces the western stereotype of the angry Muslim.

The Final Provocation

But before they got to the stage of being angry Muslims, they were being hunted down like animals, and pursued to within inches of their life by Muhammad's own people, the Quraysh. They were slowly transformed from a peace loving people into one that that now launched pre-emptive strikes against their enemies. Muhammad's latest revelations inspired them to stop running and fight back. This eventually became the precursor of the first Islamic holy war.

The First Jihad

Faced with certain annihilation from the oncoming Meccan armies, Muhammad proved himself to be a brilliant war strategist, using his inferior numbers to defeat the Quraysh armies. His victory was so significant, that this war is still studied today almost as much as that of the great ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu. But as with all wars, there was a terrible human cost.

The Massacre at Medina

It was an event that transpired during this infamous war for which Muhammad would be most controversial (and which has, to this day, defined the essence of Islam as the west has now come to know it). Even though Mohammad had brokered a peace agreement with the Jewish tribes in Medina, one tribe in particular, the Banu Quraiza, betrayed him to the Quraysh, ultimately breaking their agreement. This is what ultimately led to the first great Arabian war.

After Muhammad was victorious, the Banu Quraiza was then found out to be the source of the betrayal. Since they had all signed the peace treaty with the Muslims that was fundamental to the structure of the governance of Medina, they were also subject to its laws and principles. Breaking that treaty was tantamount to treason – which was effectively tantamount to death.

Muhammad, apparently caught with a tough decision (what to do about these untrustworthy Jews?), now appointed an arbiter from among them to decide their fate. As if to reinforce the treachery of the Jewish people that would be reiterated centuries later (World War II) from centuries past (the crucifixion of Christ) the decision was that some 800 Jewish men would be slaughtered, many of whom were decapitated in cold blood, sparing the women and children.

The Massacre of the Banu Quraiza Jewish Tribe in Medina

For Muslims, It was a "just war". But just in case you think that some of the more belligerent elements of Islam have given up this practice of brutally beheading their enemies of war, I would invite you to have a gander at some of the more extreme practices of the Taliban, who also profess the same religious faith. BE WARNED: the video at that link is quite graphic. Most of you will probably not be able to watch it in its entirety. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

This is the legacy of Muhammad.

This massacre is defended by modern Muslims as Muhammad making a tough decision based entirely on the survival of his people. Apparently, if the Benu Quraiza were spared, they could betray them once again (as previously did two other Jewish tribes) and they might not have been so lucky the third time around if Meccan armies were to rise up against them once again.

To this day, this is partly why there thrives such a great schism between Jews and Muslims, between Israel and the other Islamic states now surrounding it. This is why Israel fought so gallantly for its statehood in 1967 and why the Palestinians are their sworn enemies. It was never about land or borders. It was never about vengeance. Theirs is, always has been, and always will be a religious war. The border dispute is the latest manifestation of an old grudge.

It is decisions like these that stay with Islam forever. It has tragically maligned the likelihood of any possible perception of Islam as a religion of peace and set a precedent that propels the most violent acts of genocide and mass murder for which it has unfortunately come to be known. A single act of violence tends to undo any of the redeeming qualities of a philosophy.

This is why even though the vast majority of Muslims are not an intrinsically war like people, they have all been framed for murder by their belligerent brothers in groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Jemaah Islamiyah and the Taliban. They are making a cacophonous din that together threatens to drown out the rational voices of even its loudest moderate proponents. The truth is that these people are not only indiscriminately killing infidels — they are also killing Muslims.

End of Part 1

In the next installation of this series, I explore why there is so much killing in the name of Islam. Jihad or Holy War is almost synonymous with the name of Islam. Why is this? Was it ordered by the Qur'an? How then do moderate Muslims rationalize their moderate stance? As the answers are rooted in scripture, we'll have to take a deep dive into the Qur'an to find out.

E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

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