Saturday, February 18, 2006

Islam, Christianity, and a moral morass that must be slogged through promptly

I will wrap up my current Mohammed series here. The main temptation to continue the Mohammed series is that many of the important things about Mohammed are completely unknown to most Christians. I had considered one more post about the history of Mohammed. But so many ancient accounts were, in my mind, candidates in the sense that people should be aware of them, and there was no compelling reason to choose one and exclude the others. I decided instead to simply show you the list of things I had considered relating. The following items are taken from these well-regarded Islamic sources:

I.I. = Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, page numbers listed according to A. Guillaume's translation as The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, Third impression 1970.
Q = Qur'an, surah and verse listed
Hadith and Tafsir references are listed longhand

  • Mohammed orders the assassination of Asma, daughter of Marwan, who was then killed in her house at night. Mohammed praises her killer. (I.I. pp. 675-676)
  • After some of the Aus tribe had assassinated Ka`b on Mohammed's orders, the rival Khazraj tribe wanted to have equal claim of service to Islam and so named Sallam in the Khaybar as another enemy of God. Asking and obtaining Mohammed's permission to assassinate him, they killed him in his bed at night. (I.I. pp. 482-483)
  • Mohammed orders the execution of two slave girls who had sung satirical songs about him1 (I.I. p. 551)
  • Mohammed orders the execution of a man who had said (before Mohammed's rise to military power) that the Qur'an was full of fables of the ancients (I.I. pp. 136, 162-163, 360)
  • Mohammed claims beautiful girls from among the conquered women as his own property (I.I. p, 466, p. 490, pp. 516-517)
  • Mohammed's male followers lust after their female captives but wonder if using them would diminish the ransom; they take their proposed solution (coitus interruptus) to Mohammed. Mohammed comments on how God's will for a conception affects the effectiveness of contraception.2 Sahih Muslim collection of hadiths: Book 8 #3371, which is in chapter 22
  • Mohammed establishes the principle that captured women do not have the right to refuse sexual relations to their Muslim captors and it is legally and morally permissible to use them as the conquerors please (Q. 4:24, see also I.I. pp. 516-517)
  • Mohammed is poisoned by a woman he had enslaved after having her husband, father and uncle killed; noted as a contributing cause to his death (I.I. p. 516)
  • Mohammed's profits from the ransom of hostages taken by the Muslims (I.I. p. 309, pp. 311-314))
  • Mohammed's profits from plunder in raids and conquests (I.I. p. 321, p. 360, p. 438, p.466)
  • Mohammed orders his followers to burn down a hospital/shelter. Although the people who instituted the hospital/shelter had invited Mohammed to pray there, they were considered schismatic. (I.I. p. 609)
  • Mohammed is defeated in battle and is himself injured3 (I.I. p. 380)
  • Mohammed vows by God to bring slaughter on the Meccans (I.I. p. 131)
  • Mohammed, attracted to his adopted son's wife, his attraction is known. This led to his adopted son divorcing his wife so that Mohammed could marry her.4 (Q. 33:36-37, and the Tafsir Al-Jalalayn's comments on Q. 33:36 and 33:37; I have also seen Zamakshari's comments on Q. 33:37 cited but have not been obtained access to Zamakshari in English)
  • Mohammed orders the massacre of all men of a particular Jewish tribe, and the enslavement of their women and children (I.I. pp. 465-466)
  • Mohammed's night journey to heaven and his wife Aesha's comment that he remained physically in place all night, that it was not a literal physical journey (I.I. pp. 183-184)
  • Mohammed orders the execution of someone who had formerly been his scribe but had left Islam (I.I. p. 550)
  • Mohammed and the so-called "Satanic verses"5 (I.I. pp. 165-167, see also notes there)
  • Mohammed's plans for the conquest of Syria (I.I. p. 652)
  • Mohammed's instructions to his followers regarding the conquest of Egypt (I.I. p. 4)

Is This Fair to Mohammed?
It is a fitting and pressing question whether these examples are a just representation of Mohammed's life. But before even attempting an answer, the question has an assumption that deserves notice: it assumes that the examples above include many examples of wrongdoing, things that are morally repugnant. Already we have a problem. According to Islam, none of the examples above include any wrongdoing by Mohammed or anything morally repugnant; they are holy examples that, under the right circumstances, can and should be repeated. I have written before that our "cultural diversity" has so far amounted to hoping that everyone is alike, and has not yet come to grips with the fact that different people have different ideas of right and wrong.

So again, is this fair to Mohammed? While I seek to make people aware of some very deep-seated differences between Christianity and Islam, the examples above are inevitably those which show the differences. Here are other examples that could have been chosen:
  • Mohammed abolishes the practice of female infanticide
  • Mohammed turns Arabian tribes from worship of rocks, stones, and idols
  • Mohammed insists on chastity amongst his unmarried followers
  • Mohammed insists on faithfulness within marriage
  • Mohammed unites warring Arab tribes under one banner and one brotherhood with a common culture, a common cause, and a common goal
  • Some sections of Mohammed's Qur'an are considered poetic masterpieces in Arabic
  • Mohammed's system of laws bring first "rule of law" to even the most savage of the Arab tribes
  • Mohammed prohibits the prostitution of female slaves
  • Mohammed gives Arabia something it had scarcely had before: pride
Now the question remains: what is a fair assessment of Mohammed? I will mention that, when the life of Mohammed is summed up by the ancient Muslim biographer Ibn Ishaq (author of the main ancient biography), his summary of Mohammed's life counts Mohammed's battles and raids and how often Mohammed himself joined in the attack. While that is not an assessment of his life, it was considered an acceptable way to summarize it.

I will also mention that a just assessment of Mohammed cannot have me, or you, or some other bit player as the final arbiter. I would submit that for Christians, the answer is to turn to Jesus' teachings and apply them here as best we can, as should be our practice in all things. If someone accepts Jesus as the word of God, then Mohammed must seem no prophet at all; Jesus' actions and teachings call many of Mohammed's actions and teachings evil, and Jesus' teachings on love of God, neighbor, and even enemies show Mohammed for a false prophet, as Jesus prophesied would come after him. After Jesus' powerful miracles to heal the sick and raise the dead, and even return to life himself, Mohammed's career of raiding and plunder cannot seem holy.

For Muslims, they allege that they accept Jesus as a prophet, and if it is so then they should check Mohammed's teachings against Jesus and see whether it is possible that Mohammed is really a prophet. Many things which Muslims have been taught about Christianity are not true; following Christ would never lead someone to be a polytheist.

Haven't Christians Done Wrong Things?
Anyone who is paying attention can tell you that Christians have done wrong things, so that should hardly be a question. It is, at best, a reminder: we have at times turned aside from following Christ and have been false to our religion.

But many use the argument that Christians have done bad things in order to silence Christians about the evil coming from Islam. But being silent about evil would be betraying our faith again. Our faults should teach us compassion for the evildoer, and humility about ourselves, and an appreciation of the deceitfulness of sin -- but it should never teach us to turn a blind eye to sin.

The objection that Christians have done wrong things too is also sometimes meant as something like this: if morality is a game of moral one-upmanship, then you've already lost. Well, bless you if that is your thought, Jesus has taken care of that for me. But just entertain this thought for a moment: what if morality has other purposes besides our nauseating games of moral one-upmanship? What if morality is for protecting the innocent and strengthening the good? What if morality is really about what is right and good? It may be true that if morality is a game of one-upmanship then we may as well stop now; but if morality is defending the good from attacks against it, then we ought to put aside our convenient moral confusion and get started.

Some things that Jesus said come to mind at a time like this:

He who is without sin cast the first stone.

In the account of the adultress, would the right response be, "I am sinful therefore I cannot execute you" or "I am sinful therefore I cannot say adultery is wrong"? We cannot refuse to call wrong "wrong" and evil "evil".
First remove the log from your own eye, then you can remove the speck from your brother's eye.

We should always check ourselves first, and re-check ourselves again. But that does not mean that we are not allowed to notice anything besides ourselves. One benfit of straightening out our own house, so to speak, is that we are in a better position to help other people. Taking the log out of our eye first does not nullify our obligation to help others, it just makes us more credible and more helpful.
Do not judge, lest you be judged, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Though it may not be a precise fit to the circumstances, we are inevitably reminded of this verse and ought to give it fair consideration even if the context is not a perfect fit. We Christians do not have a problem criticizing our own past when it contains unholy things; I do not see why we cannot condemn the same thing in other people which we condemn in ourselves. We are not asking for a double-standard, one for ourselves and one for someone else. We are not asking that the world ignore the wrong that has been done in the name of Christianity. It is on that basis that we can plainly condemn the wrong done in the name of Christianity that we can also, without hypocrisy, ask that the world plainly condemn the wrong that has been done in the name if Islam.

A Solution?
When viewing atrocities or objectionable histories on the Christian and Muslim record books throughout time, there is a difference that we are at risk of missing: whether those things are considered to be right or wrong, native to the religion or alien to it. Mohammed himself was the one who brought violence to Islam, and as the founder he cannot correctly be accused of hijacking the religion; it would have to be someone else's in order for him to hijack it. If someone were to argue that, on the Christian side, the worst evildoers ever to disgrace God's message by distorting it for their own purposes are no different than Mohammed, that may be logically valid but it is not an impressive defense of Mohammed.

The solution, in Muslim minds, is to use their favored tool (warfare) and conquer the Christians. But military conquest is not the purpose for which Jesus sent out his followers. Jesus sent us to teach repentance and forgiveness in his name, and to keep to all that he taught and make all nations his disciples. The solution, to a Christian, is to bring the Muslims to a true knowledge of God, and of right and wrong, so that they can see the evil which is being called good in Islam, have the log taken out of their eye, repent and believe the truth -- and know the love of God, who calls out to them as their Father. The solution is for us to become evangelists again, and complete the Great Commission.

1 - There is a distinction to be made between assassinations and executions. Since Mohammed had seized control of the city at this point and become the de facto government, it seems more reasonable to reckon these among the executions than among the assassinations.
2 - By modern standards this would count as rape, though under Islamic law it does not count as rape because captured women and female slaves do not have the legal right of refusal.
3 - By Jewish/Christian standards, this would imply that Mohammed was not a prophet because the real prophets knew whether or not God was on their side and would not go up against an enemy when God was not with them. Mohammed explained this in terms of God's testing.
4 - Interestingly, his adopted son Zayd had been one of Mohammed's slaves. While Mohammed kept slaves up to the day of his death, he had freed Zayd and adopted him as a son. By Christian standards, of course, desiring another man's wife is sinful, needing repentance.
5 - The "Satanic verses" are not about the Rushdie book of the same name. It dates back to a much-disputed event in the life of Mohammed. According to the earliest records, a short part of the Qur'an was "revealed" but was quickly replaced. The replaced verses had permitted limited idolatry to continue. It was alleged that Satan had dictated that part and Mohammed had not realized that his source of revelation for those veses was Satan. This episode of the Satanic verses is removed from later manuscripts of the biographies of Mohammed, though the early textual evidence supports its authenticity and there are other early witnesses to this.


hizwani said...

It is shocking to see how someone gives an 'expert' opinion on Islam based on a book written by a non muslim. I can argue all I want about how misguided what you're saying but I know that it Allah who giveth wisdom and it he who take it from whom he wishes. I hope that you will learn the true Islam and come to a better understanding of it than how even I understand it.

I'll leave you with this... If Islam and Muhammad was such a violent religion, how was it that the Mongols became muslim after they conquered the Abassiya caliphate. Has there been any other time in history that the conquerer became the conquered.

NewsNate said...

You are a gifted writer and speak very eloquently. I loved this entire post and learned a lot from it. Islam is blind to their own violence, as evidenced in the above comment.

In a recent blog of mine, I gave a recent account of actions and reactions between Muslims and Christians, on a world news perspective. You speak with more grace than I, but that is something I'm trying to learn more and more.

I came across your blog by doing a random Christianity blog search. Reading this post also reminded me of a famous quote by the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it."

Also, John 3:20 comes to mind, "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

I encourage you to write more. I also wish to post a link to your blog from mine, if you do not mind. It was a pleasure visiting and I will be back again. God Bless!

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Hizwani - The conqueror became the conquered when Rome became Christian. My information on Mohammed is taken only from Muslim sources, so your statement that I am basing my writings on non-Muslim sources is wrong. My main source is the ancient Muslim biography by Ibn Ishaq, the Sirat Rasul Allah (I've used the English translation by Guillaume). Other authoritative Muslim sources were reviewed also especially the various collections of hadiths. Read the Sirat, and read the Gospels (Injil) from Jesus who is the Word of God. God is good all the time! I pray also that you will learn true knowledge of God. I would not wish anything else on anyone. Take care & God bless

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi newsnate

Thank you for the link and for the kind words. I should mention that this is not my usual topic, though I have a couple of other recent posts on it. I try to post just general-interest pieces for the Christian community.

Btw Hizwani is not completely unusual -- some Muslims are not aware of Mohammed's activities, and they really honestly believe we are polytheists who rebel against God. They think Mohammed was a true prophet and we reject a true prophet, but the Bible teaches us we cannot take someone's own word that they are a prophet but we must test the spirits and test the revelations whether they are really from God. Once some friends and I were talking to a girl who was going to an Islamic school. We asked whether her religion class taught about Mohammed's raids and attacks and massacring Jews and things like that, and she just shrugged and smiled and said "A little, not much." She's a teenager and cared more about text-messaging her friends than about politics, and we weren't sure if she was supposed to be talking to us anyway so we didn't press it, she's a good kid. But you get the picture.

hizwani said...

Just so that you know. Muslims have the highest regard for The Prophet Isa (Jesus) a.s. He is one of the 5 Ulul 'Azmi prophets. And in the 'pre-Islamic' era, Christianity and Judaism are religions which enjoined monotheism to the worship of Allah. So yes, if I had lived before Islam came (at the time Roman 'conquered' Christianity), I would have wished that Allah would have given me the wisdom to be a Christian.

And I would not rely on translations. That was exactly how the Injeel (new testament) became innaccurate among other reasons.

For example the book of John which was written hundreds of years after Jesus. The words of Jesus and the opinions and words of the deciphels were mixed uncontrollably. (since it is hard to make different colour texts or brackets in verbal teachings). For example, why would things like "I am the Resurrection" which was so central to Christian religion and so groundbreaking were not known in the earlier books from Mark and Luke who were closer to Jesus. (I profess I might be a little inaccurate as it has been a while since I studied anything the bible).

I would never see myself as an Islamic scholar and you don't have to say it. I will readily admit to you that I am generally ignorant about my own religion. And like I said before, I just hope that you shall do better than me in learning the truth.

Verily, all that is good in what I said is from Allah and all that is misguided and wrong are from my own weakness and imperfections. Wallahu'alam (Allah is the All-Knowing)

codepoke said...


Thank you for pulling all this together. It is compelling information.

What do you make of Karen Armstrong's main point? She concluded that Christianity simply does not understand Islam because Islam is a political religion.

She sees Christianity as essentially dogmatic - belief is the key. She sees Islam as essentially political. For example, if the state is following the Sharia, then Allah will bless it. If the form of government is correct, Allah will bless it.

It would seem to me that maybe our evangelism should focus on Him upon Whom government rests?

Weekend Fisher said...


I really appreciate the kindness and respect of your reply. I can consider us as a brother and sister both hoping to serve God. I would mention that I read the NT in Greek whenever I need to check the translation so that the translation is not a problem for me. I also need to mention that John was not written "hundreds of years" later in fact it was written by some of Jesus' own disciples, John the Evangelist chief among them. We can know of the early date of its writing by the fact that there are other people quoting from it early in the 100's A.D. The reason John and the others wrote that book is because some of the traditions were at risk of being forgotten, others not having recorded them. So they made a point of not recording only the same things except those few things you cannot reasonably retell the life of Jesus without saying.

But as far as Muslims having the highest respect for Jesus, I have found that to be what they say but not what they do. If I asked you to recite Mohammed whom you consider to be a prophet I am sure you could recite. If I asked you to recite Jesus, or even say his most basic teachings, could you?

God bless you much in your efforts to follow him closely.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Poke

Christianity does not understand that Islam is a political religion -- very true. Teaching the Muslims to know God better depends on us showing them Jesus in truth, not the version they know from Islam which is not the true Jesus. They need to know God as Father who loves them, the "100th name of God" so to speak to a Muslim.