Before September 11, I have always thought of Islam as another benign religion. But after that fateful day, I gave it greater scrutiny. If we look around the world today, we see Muslims in conflict with non-Muslims. Almost every place where Islam has a border with non-Muslim territory, there is violence – Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan, Philippines and Thailand. Could it be just a coincidence that Islam has bloody borders?
Or could the problem be with Islam itself? It is not politically correct nowadays in the West to criticize any religion except Christianity. If you do, you would be accused of racism and that would be the end of discussion. But with terrorism carried out in the name of Allah becoming more serious, it would be dangerous for us to bury our heads in the sands of political correctness. The ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Wu said, “Know thyself and know thy enemy. One hundred battles, one hundred victories.”
A good place to start the investigation is with Islam’s founder, Prophet Mohammed. The founder of any religion defines the religion and serves as a role model for his followers for all time. His teachings can be divided into two parts – the early ones when he was in Mecca and the later ones after he fled to Medina.
In Mecca, he was struggling to find converts and had no army. His teachings at this stage were peaceful and tolerant. After he fled to Medina with his few followers, he organized highway robberies on caravans. Initially, he failed but finally he succeeded. After this success, he gained more followers eager no doubt for booty. At this stage, his teachings became intolerant and violent. Here are some of the Medinan verses in the Koran:
9:29 Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.
9:39 If you do not go to war, He will punish you sternly, and will replace you by other men. You will in no way harm Him: for God has power over all things.
9:123 Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous.
Prophet Mohammed was trying to incite his warriors to fight and his words are now forever Holy Scripture. And fight they did. They slaughtered the men of a tribe of Jews and sold their women and children into slavery. He also promised those that fell in battle the prize of martyrdom where they enter paradise filled with carnal pleasures with loving virgins.
Narrated Abdullah bin Abi Aufa: Allah’s Messenger said, “Know that Paradise is under the shade of swords”.
(The book of Jihad in Sahih al Bukhari)
It is this that distinguishes Islam from other religions. It is the last warrior religion. The Vikings too had similar beliefs of brave fallen warriors taken to Valhalla by valkyries. But that died out in Europe a thousand years ago.
Have you wondered why, in the Shariah, the penalty for adultery is death by stoning? Why is adultery on par with murder? Islam is best understood by putting yourself in the sandals of a nomadic desert warrior. Each warrior is fiercely loyal to his tribe ruled by a patriarch. He sees other tribes as enemies or potential enemies. Survival of the tribe depends on group cohesion.
For this to be maintained, there must not be jealousies amongst its male warriors. Adultery will undermine group cohesion of the tribe and is thus a matter of life and death. Therefore, the highest penalty must be imposed. Another way of building group cohesion amongst Muslims is to demonize non-believers. You can see this from the following verses in the Koran:
Verse 9:28 says, “Believers, know that idolaters are unclean.”
Verse 3:118 says, “O you who believe! Take not as (your) Bitnah (advisors, consultants, protectors, helpers, friends, etc.) those outside your religion since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse”.
As a result, Muslims mentally divides the world between believers and non-believers. For them a Muslim, no matter how bad, is preferable to a non-Muslim, no matter how good. This explains why there were no demonstrations when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds. But when America attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, the whole Muslim world was in uproar. It did not matter one whit that Saddam Hussein was the worst of tyrants or the Taleban was the most oppressive regime, which cost the deaths of thousands. It also did not matter that America took great care to minimize casualties and spent billions in aid to these countries. The most significant matter to the Muslims is that America is a non-Muslim nation.
Islam’s attitude towards infidels is also reflected in the penalty for apostasy according to Shariah law, which is death. This may seem strange to people of other faiths, none of which has such a penalty. Threatening an apostate with death does not change his beliefs in his heart and is thus pointless. But if you are the commander of an army fighting in the name of Allah against people of other faiths, then conversion to other religions is tantamount to defection or treachery. It only makes sense if the designers of Islam saw their faith as one being in perpetual war against other religions.
The next thing to note about Islam is its strong sense of fatalism it imparts on its followers. The word “Islam” itself means submission or surrender to the Will of God – no matter how unpleasant it might be. It is God who creates everything and determines everything.
Koran 35:8 says, “Allah verily sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom he will.”
Thus even those who do wrong are because of Allah’s will! Verse 9:51 says, “Say: Nothing will befall us except what God has ordained. He is our guardian. In God let the faithful put their trust.”
This fatalistic streak is great to inculcate in your soldiers because they can face formidable enemies without fear but with calm resignation to God’s will. If He wishes you to survive the battle tomorrow, then you will survive. If He wishes you to die, there is no escape no matter what you do.
That is why many Muslims have the habit to say, “Inshallah”, meaning, “if God wills it”. To a pious Muslim, God predestines everything in a man’s life. God determines his fate, his character and abilities. It is his duty to surrender to whatever God wants of him.
Related to this, is Islam’s mind numbing abundance of rituals. Islam teaches a pious Muslim which foot to shoe first, which hand to use for toilet duty and how to dress etc. If you look at the five pillars of Islam, you will find four of them are ritualistic. Praying five times a day facing Mecca, going on Hajj to walk round and round a Black stone, declaring Allah to be God and Mohammed to be his Prophet and fasting during Ramadan do not make this a more peaceful, kinder or prosperous world. They are more to instill discipline. Facing Mecca to pray five times a day and going on Hajj remind Muslims where their ultimate loyalties lie.
Modern armies too have numerous rituals designed to remind soldiers of honor, duty and obedience. While rituals encourage obedience, it stifles rational thinking. In contrast Jesus boiled down his rules to just two – love God and love one another. The second commandment relates to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you want others to do unto you.”
Now let us now look at Prophet Mohammed’s teachings on women. In all traditional cultures and societies, women have been given a lower status than men. But the status of women is especially low in Islam. As is well known, Muslim men can have up to four wives. He can divorce his wife by saying “I divorce thee”. Furthermore, the Koran allows him to beat his wife.
Verse 4:34 says, “… As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart and beat them. …”
In the following Hadith, Prophet Mohammed actually said that women are deficient in intelligence and religion. Consequently the majority of people in hell are women.
Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301:
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
The Hadith was taken from the following link:
The reason for women’s extra low status in Islam was because in a constantly warring tribe, the polity’s survival and prosperity depended on its male warriors. Women’s value was mainly as mothers to the next generation of warriors. In a warring society, there is bound to be more women than men. So polygamy ensures that the womenfolk are taken cared of and can also have more children under new husbands. A high birth rate is a military advantage in a primitive society.
Thus we see that Islam is capable of producing a society of brave disciplined warriors aspiring for martyrdom. The strong cohesion, high birth rate (which comes with the suppression of women), strong sense of brotherhood and hatred for infidels made them formidable warriors. In an age when men fought with spear, sword and bow, they were nearly always successful. Thus from the impoverished Arabian peninsula, the Arabs burst into history and within a short time carved an empire stretching from Spain to India.
Thus the teachings of Islam is best understood as a warrior’s religion, designed to facilitate Arab imperialism. But the problem is that these same qualities that made Islam so successful in its early centuries are now liabilities in the modern era. In fact, they are the main cause of failure for Muslim societies.
Today, Muslims are amongst the most poorest and miserable people on earth. Islam has given Muslims a cultural deficit. Giving women a low status today means that half of your work force is not fully utilized. Parents will not bother to give their daughters the same sort of attention and education that they give their sons. Poorly educated mothers will not be able to properly educate their own children.
When women do not go to work, they tend to have more children. A high birth rate means more mouths to feed and fewer resources to educate your children. That is why economists have recommended family planning in poor third world countries. It is no longer an advantage, unlike in Prophet Mohammed’s day. Even as little as four centuries after Prophet Mohammed, Islam was already becoming outdated. This is the comment by Averroes (1126-1198), the leading Muslim intellectual and scientist from the Middle Ages:
“Women are kept like domestic animals or house plants for purposes of gratification, of a very questionable character besides, instead of being allowed to take part in the production of material and intellectual wealth, and in the preservation of the same.”
Secondly, the belligerency and hostility towards infidels together with promises of Virgins in Paradise for martyrs combine to make disputes with Muslims difficult to resolve. Wars are protracted, fed by never ending stream of men eager for martyrdom. Whatever, the rights and wrongs of the establishment of the Israeli state, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on for more than 50 years.
The Palestinians are still refugees. With the notable exception of Jordan, the other Arab and Muslim countries refuse them citizenship. It should be noted that Christian, Buddhist and other refugees are somehow able to settle somewhere peacefully and find jobs.
The Christian Armenians, slaughtered by the Turks in the aftermath of World War I, never resort to suicide bombings to correct the injustice. They lost their homes too and have a stronger right to grievance than the Palestinians.
Germans after World War II also lost their homes. But no church calls for suicide bombings against the Russians or Poles. The same can be said about the Buddhist Tibetans who were forced to leave Tibet by the brutal Chinese occupation. There are no Buddhist suicide bombers either because no Buddhist was ever promised Virgins in Paradise for martyrdom. Every war produces refugees for the losers but it is only the Palestinian refugees that remain after so many years.
Wars are of course bad for economic growth. Wars rarely make your country rich. The Muslim concept of Jihad (or Holy War) is a serious source of conflict and misery for both Muslim and infidel. Wars definitely impoverish people. The preoccupation with Israel has given incompetent and corrupt Arab governments a useful distraction, which would not be available if the concept of Jihad is not so firmly grounded in Islamic scriptures.
Next, the fatalism that Islam engenders is also very bad for progress. Many Christians like to say, “God help those who help themselves.”
Oliver Cromwell, a devout Christian, once said, “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry.”
In Islam, the “Inshallah” attitude discourages forward planning and thinking. There is not much attempt to keep the powder dry. Besides the above-mentioned quotations from the Koran, this attitude can also be seen in this Hadith, which was taken from this link:
This link gives the famous coitus interupptus hadith from Sahih Bukhari:
Volume 3, Book 34, Number 432:
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
That while he was sitting with Allah's Apostle he said, "O Allah's Apostle! We get female captives as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interrupt us?" The Prophet said, "Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence.
This Hadith relates to an incident when Prophet Mohammed’s men were worried that the market prices of the female slaves they captured after a battle would be greatly depreciated if they made them pregnant. They asked their Prophet what he thought about practicing withdrawal. Their Prophet nixed the idea because if Allah wanted them to get pregnant, they will get pregnant no matter what they did.
A modern economy requires us to think and plan ahead. This attitude has also contributed to the backwardness of Muslims.
Quite clearly, Islam has failed Muslims. In the above paragraphs, I have tried to shown that Islam was conceived as a warrior’s religion to facilitate Arab imperialism. The previously successful warrior qualities – fatalism, high birth rate (which requires the subordination of women), discipline and hatred for unbelievers – are now preventing the progress of Muslims towards prosperity and modernity.
Besides these warrior values, Islam also has other quirks which hampered the progress of Muslims in the past and still do to a lesser extent. Firstly, it has teachings against usury (i.e. lending for interest). This has slowed down the establishment of a banking and finance industry in the Muslim world.
During the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, banks flourished in Geneva, Amsterdam, Venice and London. But there were no banks in Antioch, Istanbul and Cairo. Banks allow for secure savings and capital formation. The capital saved could be loaned and invested into joint stock companies. This facilitated commercial success, employment and eventually prosperity.
Fortunately, today most Muslims ignore these ancient prohibitions. They borrow money from and deposit money into banks and use credit cards. For the pious, there are the Islamic banks. So this is no longer a problem. But the west had a head start in economic development.
Islamic banks are not supposed to charge interest, which is forbidden. But they are allowed to make profits. I am told that for the most part, there is nothing essentially different between Islamic banking and the conventional banking.
Very often, the “profits” they make is fixed and guaranteed. This means that profits are really “interest”. Theoretically, Islamic banks are supposed to share in the profits of the projects they lend to. If it is truly profits, they should earn more in good times and lose money in bad times.
This is difficult to arrange. If the project is promising, the customer does not want to share in the profits. They prefer to pay a fixed sum for the money advanced to them by the bank. If the project looks dicey, the bank wants to be safe and would ask for a fixed guaranteed return for its money.
All this goes to show that it is difficult to operate in the modern business world without usury. Islamic banking is thus an exercise in self-delusion.
Another problem with Islam was that it stifled science. For Science to flourish, there must great tolerance for new ideas, which is sorely lacking in the Islamic world. Ideas (both scientific and philosophical) need to be freely debated so that good ideas are adopted and bad ones discarded.
To be sure, the Muslim world did produce many noted poets, philosophers and scientists – Al-Farabi, Al-Razi (a famous physician), Avicenna, Averroes etc. After the 7th century conquests of major part of the Byzantine empire and the Persian empire, the Arabs came into contact with more advanced civilizations – Christian, Zoroastrian and Hindu. They were eager to learn and acquire knowledge.
Books were translated into Arabic and the Caliphs were happy to employ non-Muslims, especially Peoples of the Book, to serve them. Greek science and philosophy were taught in schools and there was a fusion of Islamic ideas and Greek rationality. This inevitably led to a clash with the conservative religious scholars.
These scholars believed that all knowledge came from God’s revelation and philosophical and scientific inquiry will ultimately lead to unbelief. Those scientists and philosophers, while not rejecting (at least publicly) Islam believed that truth could also be derived from human reason. Human reason can be reconciled with God’s revelations.
The Mu’tazilites belonged to this rational school that had confidence in human reasoning. They initially enjoyed the protection of the caliphs and persecuted those who disagreed with them. But later they fell out of favour. A theologian, Al Ashari, who subordinated reason to revelation, dealt the rationalist Mu’tazilites a mortal wound.
About two centuries later, Al-Ghazali drove in the final nail thus ending the influence of Greek rationality in Islamic thinking. He wrote, “The source of their infidelity was their hearing terrible names such as Socrates and Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle.”
He opposed the spirit of free inquiry saying that certain of the natural sciences were opposed to religion. He led Muslims back to an unquestioning literal interpretation of the Koran. The traditionalists had finally won. Science lost.
It should be noted that most of the scientists, poets and philosophers in Islam’s golden age (the time of the Abassid Caliphate) were Jews, Christians or Muslims who were suspected of apostasy or blasphemy. Many suffered harassment and even death. Thus if science did flourish during this golden age, it was in spite of Islam and not because of it.
A scholar, Ernest Renan said:
“ Science and philosophy flourished on Musalman soil during the first half of the middle ages; but it was not by reason of Islam, it was in spite of Islam. Not a Musalman philosopher or scholar escaped persecution.”
In the Christian world, science managed to eventually triumph because the Pope was not as powerful as the Caliph thanks to the separation of Church and State. In Islam, where there is no separation of Mosque and State, the progressive forces of Greek rationality could not prevail and were ultimately stifled.
To sum up, Islam is a warrior’s religion that is unsuited for progress in the modern world. It encourages hatred for unbelievers, suicidal courage, high birth rate and fatalism that is unsuited for modernization. While Islam encourages bellicose belligerency, it fails to equip Muslims with the economic and technological strength to win modern wars. That is why the more numerous Arabs were defeated four times by the Israelis.
There is despair and humiliation in much of the Muslim world, especially amongst the once proud Arabs. For many, they turn to religion to find out why Allah has forsaken them. To them, it must be because they have not been following Islam correctly. Islam has become corrupted with outside influences. They hear the siren call of the fundamentalist Mullahs who calls them back to the days of pristine Islam – back to the 7th century when desert warriors carved out an empire. It is like a doctor prescribing smoking to cure lung cancer.
Disclaimer: The articles published on this site represent the view of their writers.