The Conduct of the ‘Perfect Example’ – Introduction

The ‘Prophet’ Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious through terror” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

Does that statement strike you as odd? If so, why?

Most westerners know very little about the life and deeds of Muhammad. This despite him being such a towering figure on the world historical stage. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that he is associated with a religious tradition that most westerners do not follow. Still, one would think that the reality that Islam has dominated the news over the past two decades would cause at least some people to dig deeper. Sadly this did not happen.

Ignorance about Muhammad is nothing short of dangerous. It allows people to simply think of him as a benign religious figure who, like many others, taught the Golden Rule while trying to reform society. While there are, of course, many things that Muslims admire about their prophet there are also some aspects of his life and teaching that those of us outside the fold of Islam will necessarily find deeply troubling.

The purpose of this series of articles is to look at the example of Muhammad and to analyze its relevance for the modern world. Why do this? Simply because the example of their prophet is of supreme importance for Muslim believers. As the Qur’an says: “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” (Qur’an 33:21). His example, as portrayed in the hadiths and his Sira (biography) is, therefore, a matter of supreme importance to Muslims. By following in his footsteps, they believe that they give themselves the best possible chance to inherit eternal life.

So, if Muhammad consistently preached and lived toleration, then Muslims would be duty-bound to follow him in this example. On the other hand, if his example was one of aggression and belligerence towards unbelievers, then this would be the standard example that Muslims are required to follow. We, therefore, need to carefully examine his record in this regard.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear, according to the authoritative Islamic texts describing his life, that Muhammad spent a significant part of his prophetic ministry in engaging or promoting warfare for the sake of Allah. This may come as a surprise to those who expect religious leaders to be peaceful and ready to “turn the other cheek”. This was something that Muhammad clearly did not believe in. This series on Muhammad will explore this aspect of Muhammad’s conduct as presented in the Qur’an and hadiths (traditions). I am obviously not going to attempt to provide a full biography of Muhammad. Instead I will focus on those aspects of his legacy that are most relevant to current debates about the role of Islam in the modern world.

It should be noted that there are many questions to be asked about the reliability of the traditions concerning Muhammad (questions I explore in my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History‘). For the purposes of these articles I will, however, simply cite the authoritative traditions as they are accepted and followed by devout Muslims around the world.

As always, all quotations will be taken from impeccable Islamic sources and fully referenced.

In the next article the focus will be on Muhammad’s attitudes towards warfare for the sake of Allah.  

Much more about the link between Islamic teaching and violence in my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

Get your copy today!

Pining for Servitude

A recent poll by Marketwatch showed that 36% of millenials have a favorable view of Communism. Given that this is an ideology that killed upwards of 100 million people during the 20th century we have to wonder whether there is not a very unhealthy streak of masochism present in our societies. How else can this be explained?

Still, the level of ignorance required to sing the praises of an ideology that enslaves and demeans on an industrial scale is utterly breathtaking. Perhaps Gary Kasporov, former world chess champion who was born under Communism said it best: “It’s nice they have opinions about communism now, because once you’re living in it you don’t get to have an opinion about it anymore.”

We see this willingness to suspend belief in reality equally clearly in attitudes towards Islam in the West. Although not many Westerners are ready to embrace Islam lock, stock and barrel we do find many people who are ready to praise it to the skies as exemplifying peace, love and tolerance. I’m not quite sure how “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them…” (Qur’an 9:29) gels with this, but facts are rarely allowed to get in the way of ideologically correct opinions. This means that people are sometimes, or rather often, able to maintain positions in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

In his novel 1984 George Orwell hit the nail on the head with a description of the mental contortions that those who embrace totalitarian ideologies have to make by listing ‘The Party’s’ key slogan as:

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is strength

Still people cannot be made to deny reality forever. This basic fact was behind the eventual fall of Communism in Europe. One of the most moving experiences of my entire life was seeing a video by the Czech anti-Communist resistance singer Karel Kryl that was playing on a loop in the Praque Museum of Communism. At the heart of it was the word ‘Dekuji’ (‘Thank You’ in Czech). In a deeply moving way he gives thanks for things like tears, weakness and the fact that his people were brought totally low by their subjugation – as this was what eventually motivated them to rise up and throw off their chains. (You can see the video, with English subtitles, here)

Desperation eventually led to freedom. But only after many years of suffering for millions. May it not be that the descendants of today’s cheerleaders for totalitarianism will one day have to write similar songs.

My book ‘The House Built on Sand’ is an exploration, in the form of a novel, of one way in which the totalitarian ideology of Islam can be confronted by digging deep into its history. Get your copy today at:

Understanding Shari’a Before It Is Too Late (5) – Shari’a’s Barbaric Punishments

In this final article in the series on shari’a we turn our focus to the ways in which people who transgress shari’a rulings are punished. 

Modern human rights principles identify ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ as one of the most basic and fundamental violations of human rights. Unfortunately, Islamic law mandates exactly this kind of punishment for a variety of offences, some of which would not be regarded as crimes in other jurisdictions. These punishments include: 

Amputation: There are two verses of the Qur’an (and plenty of hadiths) that mandate the removal of limbs for offences against Islamic law. They are Qur’an 5:33: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter”; and Qur’an 5:38: “As to the thief, Male or female, cut off his or her hands: a punishment by way of example, from Allah, for their crime: and Allah is Exalted in power.” 

Stoning: Although not directly mandated in the Qur’an, stoning still forms part of the shari’a legal codes. This is because of the insistence of Muhammad’s wife Aisha (supported by Caliph Umar) that the Qur’an once contained a verse commanding the stoning of adulterers. 

Crucifixion. Executing criminals through crucifixion is an ancient and barbaric practice that amounts to terrible torture before the victim dies. Yet it is commanded as a punishment in Qur’an 5:33 (see above) and is therefore an acceptable punishment under shari’a. 

This series of articles merely skimmed the surface as far as the incompatibility of shari’a and modern values is concerned. It should be sufficient, however, to convince the reader that the application of Islamic law is certainly not a recipe for utopia but that it will instead inevitably lead to the entrenchment of inequality, injustice and cruelty.

For much more on Islam and its truth-claims see my book ‘Questioning Islam’

Understanding Shari’a Before It is Too Late (4) – Shari’a’s Fundamental Inequality

In the previous article of this series on sharia’ we looked at the way in which shari’a mandates or, at the very least condone, actions that are regarded as serious crimes in other jurisdictions. However this is not where the incompatibility of shari’a with other legal systems ends. 

Here is a horribly plausible scenario: A woman living her life under shari’a is brutally raped. She is determined that her rapist will not escape justice and lays a charge against him. The case is brought before a shari’a court where she provides compelling evidence pointing to the guilt of her attacker. He gets up and testifies that the sex was consensual and that it was, in fact, her fault because she seduced him. Suddenly the victim is on trial. It ends very badly for her as she is sent to prison for ten years for sexual immorality. Far fetched? Not at all. Plenty of examples can be cited where what was described above happened in countries that are governed according to shari’a principles. Why this glaring injustice? Simply put, under shari’a there are fundamental value differences in the value attached to testimony. 

One of the most important principles for a legal system to be regarded as just is equality before the law. In other words, the testimony of any witness should be of equal value to that of any other witness. A system where the value of a person’s testimony is diminished simply because of who they are, e.g. a woman or a non-Muslim, would rightly be regarded as fundamentally unfair by most right-thinking people. Yet this is exactly how shari’a operates. 

Not all people who stand in the shari’a witness box are equal, not by a long shot. The testimony of a woman under shari’a is worth only 50% of that of a man. This is based on Qur’an 2:282: “And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her”. Thus, if it is the word of a man against that of a woman he will always come out on top under shari’a rules of evidence. 

Inequality before the law also extends to non-Muslims. In shari’a ruled societies disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims must always be tried under Islamic law (and not the law code favoured by the non-Muslim). Under some shari’a codes, non-Muslims are absolutely forbidden to testify against Muslims. Under others, their testimony will be valued at a certain percentage of the value of the testimony of a Muslim. This means that non-Muslims will always have the decks stacked against them in lawsuits where they have to testify against a Muslim.

Those who hold shari’a out to be a beautiful template according to which society can be run have yet to explain how a system so riddled with deep injustices can bring anything but hatred and division to 21st century society. 

In the final article of this series on shari’a we will turn our attention to the barbaric punishments that are part-and-parcel of shari’a.

For More on Islam and It’s Truth-Claims See My Book: “Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion”