Jan 02, 2008
“It is He Who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth (Islam)
that he may make it superior to every other religion, exalting it over theirs.” (Surah 48:28)
Muslims and non-Muslims alike must continually cope with the implications of the fabled superiority of Islam. Muslims must embrace a credo which defies rational examination and which promotes numerous behaviors offensive to basic human rights. Non-Muslims must try to accommodate the demands and sensitivities of intolerant Muslims and defend Western values against an often resolute and united Islamist front. The origins and manifestations of this superiority complex provide valuable insight into the minds of many Muslims.
While the sacred books of Judaism and Christianity were recorded and canonized when these religions were in their formative stages and weak relative to surrounding ruling forces, the sacred works of Islam were recorded when Islam was ascending in its political power and territorial expansion. Although the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 A.D., the Quran wasn’t finalized until the end of the 8th Century. (Graphic evidence of this fact can be seen in the Quran verses on the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem, built in 691 A.D., which are at variance from the canonized version of the Quran.) The most authoritative collection of hadith, Sahih Bukhari, was compiled around 840 A.D., and the most comprehensive histories of the beginnings of Islam were written by Ishaq around 740 and al Tabari around 900. As Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” This collection of sacred Muslim texts was written and preserved at the time that Muslims were indeed the victors. Not only could they claim their religion to be superior, there was no need to apologize to anyone about their reasoning or their tactics.
Establishing the Superiority
The first task, then, was to formalize that superiority into their sacred texts. This was a challenge since Islam was a new religion following on the heels of Judaism and Christianity. So several elements in the Quran and the hadith combined to establish the superiority of Islam.
1. While the Judeo-Christian god needed a day of rest after he created the heavens and the earth, Allah was not tired. (Surah 50:37) Thus, superior Muslims do not need a “Sabbath,” and they are instructed to go back to seeking Allah’s bounty after their Friday community prayers. (Surah 62:9)
2. In the creation stories in the Bible and the Islamic hadith, man is created in God’s own image. (See Genesis 1:26-27). But to make the Adam of Islam superior, Mohammad is quoted as saying, “Allah created Adam in his image, sixty cubits (about 100 feet) in height. . . . Since then the creation of Adam’s (offspring) (i.e., stature of human beings) is being diminished continuously up to the present time.” (Bukhari Vol. 8, No. 246) Of course, archeological evidence demonstrates that early man, if anything, was shorter than people living today.
3. In order to establish a beginning date for Islam that precedes the Judeo-Christian faith, the Quran traces its religious origins to Abraham. “No; Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian; but he was a Muslim and one pure of faith; certainly he was never of the idolaters.” (Surah 3.60) According to the Quran, Abraham and his son Ishmael actually built the Kabah in Mecca. (Surah 2:127) “Who but a foolish man would renounce the faith of Abraham?” (Surah 2:130) This is mere name-dropping because there is no evidence of Islam as a religion until the 7th Century.
4. Whereas the Judeo-Christian god is limited because he cannot contradict himself, Allah’s hands are not tied. “[Allah’s] hands are both outstretched; He bestows as He will.” (Surah 5:64) Allah can do both good and evil. In fact, he is called the master of all scheming. (Surah 13:42)
5. While sin and the expiation of sin through blood sacrifice are central elements of the Judeo-Christian faiths, this scenario is considered beneath Islam. The longest chapter in the Quran is called “The Cow,” and it makes a mockery of sacrificial offerings. The Quran denies that the Messiah was crucified. (Surah 4:157) On the contrary, Quran asserts that nothing can prevent men from seeking forgiveness (Surah 18:55), and Allah accepts the repentance of his servants and pardons their sins (42:25). In addition, Muhammad has been granted the exclusive right of intercession on the Day of Resurrection. (Bukhari, Vol. 1, No. 429). Of course this generous, much-forgiving nature of Allah is not practiced by Muslims who are instructed elsewhere in the Quran to chop off the hands of thieves, beat wives and adulterers, and to kill apostates (called hypocrites in Surah 33:60).
6. While the texts of the Torah and the Gospel were corrupted according to the Quran, the Quran is guarded by Allah himself in heaven, and is imperishable. (Surah 43:2) As we noted above, this sacred book wasn’t finalized for about 150 years after Muhammad died, and it also provides for the abrogation or replacement of contradictory texts. (Surahs 2:106 and 16:101)
7. While lesser religions imposed restrictions on sexual activities, superior Islam allowed followers to have multiple wives, marry children, rape slaves, beat their wives, and divorce them at will. In addition, Paradise would reward Muslims with 72 virgins. No other religion comes close to matching these tantalizing inducements!
8. While other religions call their followers to prayer with bells, drums, or trumpets, only Islam uses the human voice. Sometimes recorded, often amplified, and always in Arabic, the muezzin reminds all who can hear of the superiority of Islam five times a day: “Allah is greater. Allah is greater. . . . Come to Prayer. Come to success (in this life and hereafter) . . . Allah is greater.” One wonders if any of those gathered Muslims ever stop to wonder why – except for a few oil-rich kingdoms in the Middle East – this success has passed most of them by.
Institutionalizing the Superiority
By sharply dividing the world between the believers and the infidels, Muslims used their military might to stake out a superior position. Those infidels who did not convert were allowed a “protected” dhimmi status which was clearly inferior. The Pact of Omar instituted in 637 A.D. against the Syrian kuffar Christians included among other things restrictions on clothing, travel, worship, and teaching. Dhimmis had to pay a special tax, and they were often publicly humiliated by the Muslims to remind them of their inferiority.
The Quran provided doctrinal support by castigating Jews and Christians, by ordering Muslims to not make friends with non-Muslims, and by sanctifying a perpetual jihad against anyone who stood in the way of Islam. Everywhere there is a double standard: For example, Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women, but non-Muslim men cannot marry Muslim women. One scholar Amber Pawlik, in “Islam on Trial,” calculated that over 50% of the Quran deals with nothing but hatred aimed at infidels.
This is why any attempt at engaging in “dialogue” with Muslims is an exercise in futility. Muslims can criticize the tenants of Judeo-Christianity quoting from their sacred book, the Quran, but any challenge to the authority of that text is offensive to them because it is the verbal word of Allah. Questioning the Quran is off the table as far as dialogue is concerned. The more non-Muslims press the issue, the more despicable they seem to their Muslim counterparts because of the “blasphemy.”
Recently, at the high-level multi-national summit at the Annapolis Naval Academy to re-start the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, there was a graphic play-out of the institutional superiority of Islam. Saudi Arabia agreed to join in the discussions only on specific conditions – the Jews could not enter the same door as the Muslims, and the Muslim negotiators would not shake hands with their Jewish counterpart, who also happened to be a woman. A fine way to begin a negotiation!
Cracks in the Façade
While maintaining the image of religious superiority was easy when there was little contact between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world, advances in transportation and communication have increased this contact exponentially. Here are some of the cracks in the façade of Islamic superiority:
Golden Age of Islam – During the first five hundred years of Islam, the Islamic world made remarkable accomplishments in science, medicine, and architecture, due in part to their affluence as a result of “booty” and their conquest of highly educated populations. These accomplishments later stimulated the European Renaissance. But in the 20th and 21st Centuries, the contribution of the Islamic countries in these fields has been meager. Out of the 797 Nobel Prizes awarded to individuals for accomplishments in science and other fields since 1901, Muslims can boast only 8, or one percent from a population that comprises 20% of the world’s population. A recent United Nations Human Development report found that the countries in the Middle East only surpass Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of education and other human development measures.
Islamic Institutions – The Caliphate, which represented the unbroken chain of religious and political authority originating with the Prophet Mohammed, was abolished in 1924 by the secular leader of what remained of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The two most holy sites in Islam – Medina and Mecca – were forcibly taken from the descendants of the Qaraysh tribe – the Hashimites -- by the House of Saud which has no pedigree in terms of ties to the Qaraysh. The vast revenue derived from the pilgrimages of Muslims from around the world only nourish the already-overflowing coffers of the House of Saud.
Challenges to Religious Authority – There are so many organizations claiming to speak for Muslims that there is a virtual cacophony of opposing views. In spite of the vast dawah (missionary) resources of the Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia, millions of followers are also claimed by other religious authorities, namely the Ayatollahs in Iran, the religious authorities at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, and an expanding number of Reformists hailing from such extreme points as the Sudan and the United States. Much of the Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism that occurs today actually reflects bloody conflicts between the different religious factions.
Psychologists have defined cognitive dissonance as the mental breakdown that occurs when someone’s mental concept of reality doesn’t match the actual situation on the ground. The mind struggles to realign the mental concept with the actuality – often by creating excuses for the mismatch. Sometimes these “excuses” drive the person to engage in destructive behavior. Here are some examples from the Islamic world:
Salafi Movement – The dramatic resurgence in Islamic fundamentalism, including the Salafi movement, is, in reality, a response to Islam’s decline. Influential Muslim scholars like Sayyid Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb have argued that the cause of Islam’s decline has been the decadence of rulers and the corruption of the religion by Western influences. The solution, therefore, is to go back to the pure Islam practiced by the venerable ancestors of the first century of Islam. This view promotes strict separation of Islam from the ignorant pagans and rejection of all Western cultural advancements (unless useful for Islam).
Terrorism -- While there has always been a violent side to Islam, terrorism didn’t become a signature tactic until around 1970. The multiple defeats of the Arab countries at the hands of Israel were in direct conflict with the concept that the entire Middle East was a sacred waqf (endowment) exclusively for Muslims and consecrated until Judgment Day. Lacking the military might to defeat Israel, terrorism became the tactic of choice. Wherever terrorism is used by Muslims, they must overlook the precedent set by Mohammed in the hudna (truce) of Hubayabiya deemed necessary because the Muslims had no prospect of victory over the Qaraysh. Terrorism has accomplished nothing for Muslims, although it is difficult for them to recognize even this aspect of reality.
Distinctive Clothing/Appearance – One of the ways that movements reinforce their strength and unity is through distinctive clothing and appearance. This is particularly apparent in the U.S. where gangs often have their own clothes, handshakes, and other symbols. Public schools have been successful in reducing gang violence by banning such distinctive clothing and appearance. While Muslim veils, beards, kufi skullcaps have been around for a long time, their use to enhance group identity did not become de rigueur until the Civil War in Lebanon in the 1970’s when the mullah Mussa Sadr urged women to wear distinctive headscarves to ward off sexual harassment and rape by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian gunmen who controlled southern Lebanon at the time. In 1982 a law was passed in the Iranian Republic making scarves mandatory because “scientific research had shown that women’s hair emitted rays that drove men insane.” Muslim men must wear beards, and barbers are often threatened if they shave beards off. Of course, there is nothing in the Quran or Hadith requiring headscarves or beards, but they are effective in boosting the cohesiveness of the Muslim “gang” and disdain for all others.
Ad Hominem Debates – When Muslims engage in a defense if their religion, their principal weapon is ad hominem attacks on their opponents. They will call non-Muslims “Islamophobes” or “racists” or some other disparaging description. This is because the arguments put forth by non-Muslims and ex-Muslims about the problems with Islam often cannot be countered with facts and data. Numerous examples of this tactic can be found on such websites as www.islam-watch.org and www.jihadwatch.org.
Moderate Muslims – Rather than defend the offensive elements of an irrational doctrine, rather than escape from the clutches of Islam (which in many cases could be a fatal choice), an increasing number of Muslims just claim that they are “moderates.” These are people who want to “have their cake and eat it.” They want to remain Muslim but at the same time try to distance themselves from some of its more draconian doctrines. They say, for example, that those who advocate or carry out jihad have hijacked the true Islamic faith. This position, of course, is an act of apostasy according to Shariah Law (See The Reliance of the Traveler, paragraph o8.7(7)).
So, What is the Solution?
Muslims must face the reality that Islam, after 1,400 years of effort, has failed to capture the hearts and minds of the world either by force or by persuasion. Fully eighty percent of mankind rejects Islam. This rejection is not because any corruption of the pure Islamic faith, but rather because advancements in knowledge refute many of the absolute claims of Islam and also because the civilized world has developed a keen sense of human rights. Other utopian philosophies like Communism and Fascism have been rejected because they were at variance with reality and human values.
To the extent that there are noble values and traditions in Islam, they must be extracted from the predominately negative tenets. Just as enlightenment freed Christianity of many of the constraints imposed by a powerful clerical grip, the promotion of inquiry-friendly education and freedom of thought will liberate Muslims from their own clerical grip. There must be a new “filter” for Islamic doctrine. Instead of emulating everything the Lawgiver said or did and rejecting what he forbade, Muslims must impose a different set of tests for each command in the Quran or hadith: does it make people better, does it ennoble human life, does it promote world peace, does it produce “good fruit”? It will take men and women of courage and conviction to successfully “reform” Islam to make it a viable faith for Muslims living in the 21st Century.
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