Friday, November 14, 2008

Attacks on Islam

I mentioned in my last post that I've recently begun reading Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq. I'm now in the fourth chapter and it's obvious that his book is an all-out attack on Islam.

He states that his inspiration for writing the book was the Salman Rushdie affair. Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in 1988. The phrase "satanic verses" refers to some Quranic verses supposedly produced and later retracted by Muhammad about the pagan Meccan goddesses being daughters of Allah. The publication of Rushdie's book caused an outrage in the Muslim world and a fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini. Warraq was disturbed by Western criticism of Rushdie and even support of the fatwa.

In the introduction, Warraq states that he wouldn't be offended if his book were called an extended bibliography and that is an accurate description; he mainly gathers together, filters, and summarizes writings by many authors throughout history, both Muslim and non-Muslim. He draws extensively on Islamologists who have done extensive research on the veracity of the Quran and Hadith.

As the title of this post suggests, his book is beyond critical to the point of being hostile. As with all of my reading, I take it with a grain of salt and don't just blindly accept all of the claims made but it does raise a number of good points about which to think. Since he is very hostile, he makes no attempt to sugar-coat his arguments or keep them politically correct. This allows him to bluntly state his point and be very clear.

I haven't even finished the first four chapters but he's made many connections between the beliefs and practices of Islam and those of its immediate influences, Judaism and pre-Islamic Arabian paganism. He states that Muhammad, having initially learned pieces of Judaism and Christianity on his travels, set out to become a Jewish prophet. After failing to convince the Jews of his prophethood, his goal changed to simply creating a new religion for the Arabs and reached back to their Ishmaelite and Abrahamic roots, seeing himself as a new Moses for the Arabs. Islam obviously takes many stories and tenets from Judaism but many connections are made to Jewish writings outside of the Old Testament with which Christians would not be familiar. He draws many parallels between practices at Hajj and pre-Islamic pagan rituals, which aren't very hard to accept. Additionally, he makes a very good point that the Quran makes comments about the Christian trinity being composed of God, Jesus, and Mary, which is blatantly wrong and, one would think, something it should get correct considering it is refuting the trinity. In fact, the Quran's understanding of the trinity, leading to most Muslims' understanding of the trinity, is a pretty far cry from the accepted trinitarian theology.

He then produces many arguments stating that the Quran and Hadith were actually created after the fact to legitimize a created religion and the battles, hijrah, and various other events in early Islam never actually happened.

In any case, there's a lot of stuff to think about and carefully analyze and I still have the majority of the book to read.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More reading, videos, and a busy life

I'll confess that I haven't been reading or checking in on this blog as much as I'd like. However, I have still been reading regularly. I recently finished "The Call of the Minaret" by Kenneth Cragg, a professor and bishop and longtime student of Islam and the Middle-East. Coming from a Christian background, his analysis of Islam was very even and fair, I'd say. Although he remained unwavering in his Christianity, the book usually spoke from both the Christian and Islamic perspectives as each being true and simply related the two. It was primarily an analysis of Islam for the Christian but rather than simply introducing the tenets, it primarily focused on social and political structures within Islam, how they developed, and how they affect Christians, both those in the Western world as well as Christian populations within primarily Muslim states. It was an interesting and though-provoking book but wasn't deep in comparative religion, theology, or apologetics.

Just today I started on another book titled Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq, who was raised Muslim as a child but has since rejected Islam and all religions and considers himself a "secular humanist." I'm really not looking to join him in casting off religion as a whole but I figured this might provide a critical look at Islam from an inside perspective. As I just started it today, I haven't gotten very far but, from the Introduction, it seems that he is primarily critical of Islamic society and the actions committed in the name of Islam and only secondarily of the religion itself. As I make progress, I'll comment more.

I was recently sent a link to a video about a few Dutch women who converted to Islam. The documentary is an hour long and is all in Dutch with English subtitles and can be viewed here. It shows some of the hardships that they've experienced but I was impressed with their zeal and dedication through it all. I actually think they had it much harder than I would because Western Europe seems to be somewhat more critical of Islam because of the immigrant situation. Additionally, some of the women were still living at home with their parents or were in high school, making family and peer relations much scarier.

I still also intend to watch some of the other Ahmed Deedat videos.

Finally, I've been reading my Bible but not as much as I had hoped. It's interesting rereading the Old Testament stories, many of which are also in the Quran, sometimes unchanged and sometimes slightly different.

That's all for now but as always, if there are any special requests, pointers, questions, or comments, I'm very happy for any input.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Integrity of the Bible and the Quran

The link to the video of the Ahmad Deedat, Jimmy Swaggart debate I posted yesterday was entitled "Is the Bible God's Word?" Eventually, I might cover more topics but here are my comments on just one.

First, I want to address the textual authenticity of the Bible. The part where Mr. Deedat mentions the parts of Mark contained in the King James version that were left out of and later replaced in the original printing of the Revised Standard Version are an obvious problem and show direct evidence of human tampering. I don't deny that there are certain factions of Christianity who are willing to turn their head and deny obvious truths such as those additions. However, most modern Bibles that include those verses have a note that those verses are not found in the oldest known manuscripts.

As said, there are many translations of the Bible, just as there are of the Quran. The versions of the Bible continue to improve as Bible scholars conduct more research and as additional evidence, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered. However, as was mentioned by Reverend Swaggart in the debate and in Chawkat Moucarry's book, The Prophet and the Messiah, the Bible has actually remained very error-free considering the generations and generations of hand copying. Rev. Swaggart says that there are 24,000 manuscripts of the oldest Biblical documents, which is a testament to its coherency. Mr. Deedat then argues that of those 24,000 manuscripts, no two are identical. Looking at the problem from a strictly information theoretical point of view, even if each of those manuscripts contains twenty errors, the amount of redundant information contained in that huge number of manuscripts can easily be used to reconstruct the original, untampered documents (for a computer example of redundant information, look at how RAID storage maintains data integrity even through loss of a disk. Now imagine the amount of data loss/tampering that 24,000 disks could tolerate).

Although, I'm not going to go into too much detail about the integrity of the Quran, I did want to mention it briefly. Rev. Swaggart mentioned how during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, an official version of the Quran was compiled and distributed to the extants of the Islamic empire and all prior copies of the Quran were ordered destroyed. This event was also detailed in Moucarry's book. Additionally, if God is capable of preserving the Quran, why isn't he capable of preserving the Bible? The Quranic verses describing the corruption of the Bible have been interpreted by Islamic scholars in various ways including simply the intentional misinterpretation (or flat-out ignoring the correctly interpreted) of God's uncorrupted Word. Had I not already returned the book, I could tell you which well-known Islamic scholars argued this (it might have been Razi).

In any case, I'm not at any point to make any conclusions. The Bible definitely does contain some contradictions but all historical and literary evidence shows that the Bible was textually very-well preserved.

That's enough for tonight so peace.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Debates about Islam and Christianity

A friend of mine suggested I look up the debates of Ahmad Deedat. This one was a debate between him and Reverend Jimmy Swaggart. I don't have time to comment on it tonight but in addition to the one I linked, there are other search results as well. I plan to watch some others and then I'll return with my comments.

Additionally, I figure it'll be a good idea to summarize my thoughts on both Christianity and Islam. It'll help me to put my thoughts together and see where I am.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My easily swayed opinion

I've come to the conclusion that my opinion is very easily swayed. After reading The Prophet & the Messiah : An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam & Christianity, I've reverted from my previous Muslim-leaning to a Christian-leaning. Of course, that may also be because I really prefer to remain Christian so when I hear a convincing argument, I'm very willing to accept it.

The book actually was very good; it was nice to hear the perspective of a Christian Arab. Since Arabic is his native language, he grew up in a primarily Muslim country, and he studied Islam, he is able to offer a different perspective from the other Christian authors of American or European origin who only have academic experience with Islam. There were many instances where he offered translations of Quranic verses that were contrary to mainstream Muslim belief but he still manages to argue his stance quite well. I really wish I had taken note of them before returning the book to the library. One that I remember was his proposal that Mohammad's description of unlettered, which typically is interpreted to mean illiterate, could just as easily be interpreted as uneducated when it comes to Christianity and Judaism. He argues that the same Arabic word is used numerous times throughout the Quran but only in reference to him is it interpreted by mainstream Islam as meaning illiterate.

However, his arguments were not all simply semantic. He also did much historical analysis. In addition to his attempts to disprove Islam, he also had many arguments to attempt to prove the validity of Christianity. Overall, it was a very insightful book and, again, I really wish I had taken better note of his arguments (I tend to have a horrible memory).

Meanwhile, I continue to read my Bible at night. I've also started downloading and listening to two podcasts, one of Muslim khutbahs and one of generic Christian discussion. I haven't yet made a judgement of the Christian one but I think the Muslim one is good just to hear the Muslim perspective on things.

The man giving the khutbah of the most recent one I listened to made a very good point. The khutbah was about women in Islam. He argued that rather than constantly attempting to argue that the Muslim viewpoint is valid for whatever reasons and applies to modern society, one should simply say that God decreed it that way so that's how it is. Rather than waste your time arguing about trivial things like dress code, argue the big things like basic theology and the fundamentals of Islam. Anyway, I just wanted to add that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Infallibility of the prophets in Islam???

This post is more of a question than commentary. In various khutbahs (the Islamic version of a sermon delivered at Friday prayer), I've heard some comments about the various prophets that almost make me think that the prophets are infallible and don't make mistakes or sin. Although they are indeed guided and inspired by God, their humanity still dictates their imperfection. The Quran mentions Adam's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden and also mentions Moses' (Moosa, in Arabic) murder of an Egyptian slave driver, although those are the only mentions I recall of prophets' mistakes. These are proof to me that Islam doesn't propose their infallibility. However, as I've said, I've heard comments that make me think otherwise so I figured I'd pose my question here.

Christianity definitely accepts that the prophets were imperfect men and sinned. In the Bible, there are stories of Adam's fall, Noah's drunkenness, David's adultery, Moses' murdering, and I'm sure more. The prophets were guided and inspired by God but at the same time, they were flawed human beings. The only man claimed to be free from sin was Jesus because of his being simultaneously God and man. His human side was tempted but he resisted and remained sin free.

However, I've heard Muslims get offended at the prospect of David's adultery or Noah's drunkenness. Does Islam preach the perfection of prophets? I don't see how that could be considering the Quran's inclusion of Adam's fall and Moses' murdering. Does Islam claim that Muhammad was sinless? I don't think accepting his sin would have any affect on the religion. He could easily be divinely guided when delivering the Quran without error yet still be an imperfect, flawed man. Just because he as a man is flawed doesn't mean the Quran would have to be flawed.

As I said, I don't know what Islam's stance is on this subject. If anyone knows, please inform me. If not, I guess I'll just have to do more research on my own.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eidkum Mbarak!

For my Muslim readers (in case I still have any), Happy Eid. For any who aren't aware, Eid is the holiday signifying the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Perhaps I should give even more detail. Ramadan is a month in the Islamic Hijri calendar. The Hijri calendar is a lundar calendar with 12 lunar months in which the year zero is the year of the Hijra (622 AD), when Mohammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina to finally escape persecution of the Quraysh, the tribe living in Mecca of which he was a member. Since the lunar year is shorter than a solar year, the dates of Ramadan (and every other occurence on the Hijri calendar) slip back 11 days on the Gregorian (Western) calendar every year.

Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed. I have to confess I'm not completely clear on this point and a quick search didn't clear up my confusion. The Quran was revealed to Muhammad over a period of 23 years. I assume that the first revelation took place in the month of Ramadan as I'm fairly certain it wasn't only revealed over 23 years only in the months of Ramadan. If someone knows the details to this, please feel free to clarify.

Regardless, Ramadan is considered a very holy month in Islam and it's mandatory (with exceptions for children, those who are sick or pregnant, and probably a few others) to fast during the entire month. Since it's a lunar month, Ramadan begins when the first sliver of a moon is viewable and ends after 29 or 30 days, again, when the first sliver of a new moon is visible. Because the month's beginning and end are based on the location of the moon, which differs depending on your location on the earth, the beginning and end of Ramadan are sometimes different in different countries. For instance, this year, Ramadan was only 29 days, ending Monday night, in most of the Arab countries, but it was 30 days, ending Tuesday, in North America.

As I mentioned before, Eid is the holiday at the end of Ramadan. Technically, eid is just the Arabic word for "holiday" (I'm pretty sure) and the Eid at the end of Ramadan is actually Eid al-Fitr. I know there are other eids throughout the year but I don't know their names or what they celebrate. Yesterday was the first day of Eid in some countries and now it's Eid everywhere.

On a somewhat related note, I finished reading the Quran again, which was my goal of Ramadan. It's my understanding that it's customary to read the entire Quran throughout the month of Ramadan so I figured that seemed like a reasonable and useful goal. Like I mentioned in my comment to CES, my new goal is to tear through the Bible with the same fury I did the Quran. However, that's my bedtime reading. My commute reading is "The Prophet & the Messiah : An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam & Christianity". I just picked it up and started it today so I can't give you much information except it's written by a Christian who grew up in Syria, a predominantly Muslim country. In addition to growing up around plenty of Muslims, he was sincerely curious about Islam and, thus, studied it, even getting his PhD in Islamic studies. He is now a professor at All Nations Christian College in England. As I read, I'll tell you if he has any interesting insights. It seems like most of my reading has been very heavy on the Islamic side. This is only natural as, growing up Christian, I know much more about Christianity than Islam. However, I figured I should balance the side out somewhat.

Actually, now that I think about it, my readings have been fairly even-weighted between Christianity and Islam. I've read St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, a book about Catholicism, one about Orthodox Christianity, and I'm sure even more, those are just off the top of my head. However, this analysis of Islam from a Christian point of view should hopefully be an interesting addition.