Louis Palme / Jan 03, 2015

Twelve centuries ago there was a “Golden Age” in the Islamic world where people of different views could actually make their arguments about religion without fear of retribution, much less assassination.  Sometimes these differing views were communicated to the Caliph al-Ma’mum, who considered them with rapt attention.  He also set up the House of Wisdom in Baghdad which promoted free inquiry. Sadly, this moment of open inquiry lasted only 34 years, barely one generation, before the doors to Islamic inquiry (ijtihad) were forever closed.

One of the most compelling debates that emerged from this short breath of oxygen was a dialogue between the Arab Christian Abd al-Masih Al Kindi, a member of the Caliphate court, and the Muslim Abd-Allah al-Hashimy (both pseudonyms).  This exchange was known as the Apology (risala) of Al Kindi.  An abridged English translation was produced by the Scottish Orientalist Sir William Muir in 1887.  (See: http://www3.nd.edu/~reynolds/nehc20624/al-kindi.pdf )

After the suppression of the rational Mu’tazilites, copies of this debate continued to circulate in the Middle East.  The religious leaders were so alarmed by the devastating effect the arguments were having on Muslims, a law was promulgated in Egypt that anyone found with a copy of the document would have his house razed to the ground, and his neighbors in the nearest forty houses would also have their houses destroyed.  That is the equivalent of having an entire city block leveled for possessing a single forbidden document!  (See: Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, 2010, page 36.)

Today, with the ubiquity of the Internet, it is virtually impossible to keep any information or document from the eyes of Muslims or non-Muslims.  The Quran contains a strong warning to Muslims not to question their holy book – “Believers, to not ask questions about things which, if made known to you, would only pain you. . . . Other men inquired about them before you, only to disbelieve them thereafter.” (Surah 5:101)  The Judeo-Christian theology is just the opposite:  One of Jesus’ disciples was called “Doubting Thomas.” The Book of Job is a protracted inquiry about God by a man who is made to suffer to test his faith.  Job says, “I am going to state my case to [God].  . . I am ready to state my case, because I know I am in the right.  . . . Speak first, O God, and I will answer.  Or let me speak, and you answer me.” (Job 13:15-22)  In the end, Job is rewarded for his unwavering faith, even though he questioned God’s actions.

So what were the dozen most glaring absurdities Al Kindi found in Islam that caused the Islamic religious authorities to become so alarmed?

  1. No evidence of God’s help to Muslims – While the Old Testament is filled with accounts of God’s hand helping the Israelites (examples: Joshua at Jericho, Moses at the Red Sea), such is lacking in the history of Muslims. Muhammad’s first three raiding expeditions, for example, were failures. The Quran declares, “It was not you but Allah who slew them” (Surah 8:17) regarding the Battle of Badr (624 AD), but nothing specific occurred to justify that claim.


  1. 2. Muhammad’s commands to assassinate his critics and to steal the property of the innocent Banu Qaynuqa were clearly evil – Abu Afek was old, decrepit and  What revelation ever sanctioned murdering someone in his sleep “for only speaking words of blame”?  The Banu Qaynuqa tribe was banished to Syria and all their property stolen for no good reason. How, then, can Muhammad be a blessing and a mercy to all mankind, per Surah 21:107?
  2. Muhammad’s acknowledged preference for sweet scents and women was unbecoming of a prophet - Muhammad’s lust for his adopted son’s wife Zeinab even prompted a revelation in the Quran commanding him to marry her. (Surah 33:36-38).  Al Kindi points out that Muhammad had fifteen wives and two slave girls, and he questions how Muhammad could have possibly treated them all with equality per Surah 4:4.
  3. Muhammad failed to meet the two tests of prophesy – revelation of the past and revelation of the future. Al Kindi asserts that Muhammad merely told his followers what they already knew (regarding Old Testament prophets) or “witless fables” (Examples: Ad, Thamud, and Salih).  No future predictions were ever realized. Example: Surah 48:27 about a “speedy” return to Mecca.
  4. Muhammad could not perform miracles as Jesus did -- Some “miracles” claimed by Muhammad’s biographers were clearly fallacious. (Example: the mutton shoulder that told Muhammad it was poisoned. If so, why didn’t Muhammad prevent his associate Bishr from eating it and dying? – Abu Dawud, Book 39, Number 4498).  Concludes Al Kindi:  “Instead of miracles, the claim of thy Master [Muhammad] was enforced simply by the sword.”
  5. The apostasy of most Muslims after Muhammad’s death (i.e., The Wars of Ridda – 632-633) showed that Muslims had converted outwardly but not inwardly by faith -- Abu Bakr was able to restore the Arabs to Islam only through “kindly treatment, persuasion, and craft, some through fear and terror of the sword, and others by the prospect of power and wealth and the lusts and pleasures of this life.”
  6. The Quran was not only the work of many different hands, but it was unremarkable both in its content and its eloquence -- Foreign words had to be used because the Arabs had no words for such things as carpets (namarick) and  lamps (mishkat).  Concludes Al Kindi, “The truth, in short, is that the Quran with its manifold defects could only have appeared a miracle of eloquence and learning in the eyes of rude ignorant tribes and barbarous races.”
  7. Islam was propagated by material and sensual inducements rather than by faith or peace with God -- The allure of Paradise was in rivers of wine and milk, rare fruits, couches of silk and satin, beautiful virgins and young boys, and cool shade with murmuring rivulets. The army leader Khalid once remarked about the rich booty obtained through Islamic jihad, “Even if there were not Faith to fight for, it were worth our while to fight for these.”
  8. Muslims are obsessed with external cleanliness, but neglect their inner purity -- Al Kindi asks, “What sense is there in the washing of your hands and feet while your hearts are set upon bloodshed, and rapine, and the enslaving of women taken in war?”
  9. The Hajj rites are pagan rituals handed down from the Sun-worshippers and the Brahmas -- The Caliph Omar kissed the Black Stone and the Stone of Abraham in the Kaaba with these words, “I know that neither of these stones can benefit or hurt; but I have seen the Prophet kiss them both, therefore I do the same.” (Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 26, Number 667)  Al Kindi concludes: “Shaving the head, making bare the body, running the prescribed circuits around the Kaaba, and casting the small stones at Mina, senseless and unmeaning rites, were defended by some as acts of service to the Deity; but the worship of God should be conducted, not by unfit and foolish practices, but by observances consonant with reason, pleasing to the Almighty, and edifying His servants.”
  10. Quran contains contradictory passages -- Example: Surah 109:1 (“I do not worship what you worship.”) vs. Surah 29:46 (“Our God and your God is one.”) Al Kindi asks, “How are we to discriminate the true from the false, for the two sets of passages, both being in thy Book, are directly opposed the one to the other.”
  11. Imposition of Islam on subjects by the sword -- “. . . if God had so willed, He might have forced all men into the [Christian] faith; but then the glory of Humanity, which lies in the freewill thereof, would have gone, and with it the merit of obedience based on evidence without the constant show of miracles. [Today,] obedience is to be grounded on free and intelligent conviction.”   By contrast, the Quran promises Paradise “to him who falleth upon people unawares, secure and at peace in their homes – he knowing not them nor they him; plundering, enslaving, and ravishing.”  (See Surah 9:111)

All of these absurdities that Al Kindi pointed out are as apparent today as they were in the “Golden Age” of Islam.

Al Kindi’s final appeal to his Muslim counterpart:

Oh, if you would only listen to my advice, and, leaving that which is dark and evil, come to the light and brightness of the Gospel, then you would be among our Savior’s chosen ones, inheriting the kingdom of heaven and eternal life, the blessedness of which has no ending, and the joy of which is beyond all description. . . Don’t be deceived with the pomp and vanities of this transitory life; for truly the world with its lusts and pleasures is a Seducer who will lead you to destruction. . . . And know with certainty that anyone who rejects all vain and false securities, and believes in the Lord, has laid hold of a sure refuge, and will find eternal rest in the Savior’s good pleasure.

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