Why All the Fuss About Muslim History?

Over the past few years several books that challenge traditional Muslim historical accounts (including my own ‘The Mecca Mystery’) have appeared. Some people may respond to this by asking what the value of reaching into the mists of time to try and decipher Islam’s origins might be. Far form being an obscure and unnecessary pursuit I maintain that this is one of the most important things that historians can become involved in. I realize that this is a very bold statement. So, allow me to give you some reasons:

If Muslim history falls, Islam falls. It is sometimes hard for outsiders to fathom just how much of Islamic teaching is based on (supposedly accurate) historical accounts. Muslims have to turn not to the Qur’an, but to historical traditions for the following: The words of the confession of faith, how many times per day to pray, how to pray, how to fast, how to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, the rules for almsgiving. In short, the so-called Five Pillars of Islam (including the term itself) is based on traditions that Muslims believe had been pristinely preserved across the centuries. If it can be shown that these ‘reliable’ traditions are nothing of the sort, then the practice of Islam itself must be called into serious question.

History provides us with an opportunity to actually test Muslim claims. Muslim apologists are often very quick to retreat to faith as a means to deal with thorny issues. Some things should simply be taken on faith, they constantly assert. History, however, provides us with the opportunity to move beyond this impasse. This is because historical claims can actually be tested. So while we may just have to shrug our shoulders when Muhammad’s supernatural experiences come up for discussion, we can apply the standard methods of historical research when other questions are raised. Questions like: What evidence are there for the pre-Islamic existence of Mecca? Did the Arab invaders conquer large parts of the Roman Empire with the name of Muhammad on their lips? When do we find the first mentions of key Islamic object or teachings in recorded history? The answers to these questions may surprise you and will prove fatal to the confident pronouncements of Islamic supremacists.

History allows us to ‘Slip Through the Defences’. By focusing on history, critics of Islam can also go some way to getting beyond the emotive language that criticism of Islam is routinely greeted with. Those questioning Islam are often accused of being ‘bigots’ or ‘haters’ simply for querying certain aspects of Islamic theology or practice. These charges are nonsensical to begin with, but the belief that those who question Islam must ‘hate’ Muslims are so deeply ingrained that an indirect approach may sometimes be required. Focusing on history represents exactly such an indirect approach as it brings us into the realm of names, dates, people and places. In short, things that can be approached in a more objective and less emotive manner. By this I am not saying that those who question Muslim history should not prepare themselves for bitter denunciations and even threats of violence. What I am suggesting is that questions about history will have a better chance of ‘slipping through the defences’ given how seemingly non-theological they are.

I would, considering the above, like to suggest that historical questioning should be at the very heart of all efforts to undermine belief in Islam in our societies. A struggle that will be absolutely essential in the coming years if we are to survive as a civilization. May I, therefore, encourage you to ask the hard historical questions about early Islam by reading my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History

How the Qur’an Fails Its Own Test

The Qur’an sets the following standard for those who would like to investigate its veracity: “Do they not reflect upon the Qur’an? If it had been from any other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction. (Qur’an 4.82) This cannot be clearer, if the Quran is full of contradictions, it is not from God. Let’s see how the Qur’an performs when subjected to its own test.

  1. Allah created man from: Blood (96:1-2), Water (25:54), Clay (15:26), Dust (30:20), Nothing (3:47)
  2. They lost their own souls, who will not believe (6:12) (Allah) causes to stray whom He wills (16:93)
  3. Will intercession be possible at the Day of Judgment? No (2:122-123, 254) Yes (20:109)
  4. Does Allah command to do evil? No (7:328) Yes (17:16)
  5. Can slander of chaste women be forgiven? Yes (24:4-5) No (24:23)
  6. What will unbelievers eat in hell? No food except Dhari (a poisonous plant) (88:6) No food except from the discharge of wounds (69:36)
  7. Earth created then heaven (2:29), Heaven created then earth (79:27-30)
  8. If unbelievers turn reject the message leave them be, your duty is to ‘convey the message’ (3:20). If unbelievers reject the message fight them until all religion is ‘for Allah’ (8:38-39)
  9. Creation was an act of ‘bringing together’ (41:11), Creation was an act of ‘splitting apart’ (21:30)
  10. The first Muslim was: Muhammad (6:14, 6:163, 39:12), Moses (7:143), Some Egyptians (26:51)

‘Much contradiction’ anyone? The fact is that the persistent and informed questioning of Islam’s truth-claims is the one thing that can stop it in its tracks. Prepare yourself to be one of those asking the questions by reading my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion

Islam’s ‘Convert Conundrum’

Here’s a little experiment: Think back for a moment to every single ‘Good Boy/Girl Turned Jihadi’ story you’ve ever read or seen on television. What was the one constant in all of them?

I can almost guarantee that you will find some kind of ‘but then’ statement in all such narratives. Statements like:

  • ‘He was just a regular guy but then he converted to Islam’
  • ‘He used to hang out with the guys but then he started going to the mosque regularly’
  • ‘She was not very devout but one day she started wearing the headscarf and broke off all relations with her friends’

Statements like these are significantly at odds with the prevailing discourse surrounding Islam in our society. We are constantly told from a variety of directions that Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ and that those who invoke it to justify violence misapply its essentially tolerant teachings. In response we must ask: Why is it that converting to Islam, or becoming a more devout Muslim, so often lead to a burning hatred for unbelievers? Shouldn’t becoming more attached to a peaceful religion cause us to become more peaceful as a result? 

No doubt those who are anxious to hold the ‘Islam means peace’ line will be quick to assure us that these stories are aberrations and that the very predictable trajectory to jihad followed by so many can be explained away by stating that those who follow this path do so based on a misunderstanding the true nature of Islam. To which we must ask: How is it that so many millions of people over the centuries have ‘misunderstood’ Islam in exactly the same way? Could it not be that there is something in the essential teaching of Islam that is motivating the actions of the jihadis?

This is the question that I look at in detail in my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’. The question about whether Islam is indeed a ‘Religion of Peace’ is far too important to leave to the talking heads of the media. May I strongly encourage you to honestly investigate the issues. Perhaps you will find that the ‘convert conundrum’ is not such a great mystery after all!

Ramadan: Allah’s Impossible Command

Most people are aware of the importance of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

When are Muslims supposed to fast during this month? The Qur’an is clear on this: “…eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset.” (Qur’an 2:187)

It is obvious from this verse that you should actually be able to observe the illuminating effect of the sun rising before beginning the fast. Sahih Bukhari confirms this by having Muhammad say that the threads refer to: ‘…the blackness of the night and the whiteness of the day.’ (Sahih Bukhari 35:1817) In other words Allah commands you to eat when it is dark and fast while it is light.

Let’s unpack the implications of this verse for a moment:
•    Muslims believe that Islam is God’s final revelation for the entire earth and you should therefore be able to practice it anywhere on the planet
•    Because the Muslim year is shorter than the universal calendar Ramadan can occur in all seasons
•    There are places north of the Arctic circle (inhabited in Muhammad’s time and in the present) where it is dark for 24 hours during winter and light for 24 hours during summer.

All of this leaves Muslims with two rather uncomfortable options:
1.    The Qur’an was written by someone who had no idea of the existence of the ‘midnight sun’, or
2.    Almighty, All-Knowing Allah wants his followers in the Arctic to die of starvation in summer and not keep the fast in winter.

Whatever response Muslims give to the above options the fact remains that the supposed ‘eternal Quran’ contains a command that is impossible to follow on all of the planet!

For a fuller discussions of the truth-claims of Islam see my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion