The Topsy-Turvy World of Muslim History

I have often written about Islam’s ‘Free Pass’. This is the tendency, very prevalent in the West, to refuse to subject Islam to the hard questions that are routinely asked about other faiths and ideologies. This means that some people who regularly pride themselves in being feminist, pro-LGBTI and open minded will in the next breath fawn about the ‘diversity’ that Islam brings. Never mind that Islam is deeply antithetical to each of those values.

It may come as a surprise to some that this tendency is not only observable on the popular level but even in academia. In countless universities and research institutions the foundational principle of free inquiry has given way to uncritical acceptance of Islam’s truth claims about itself.

Nowhere is this truer than in the field of history. In the very same institutions where deeply critical questions about traditional historical accounts dealing with every conceivable period are being asked, Islam’s history is treated with kid gloves. The very same historians who one moment would say ‘Question everything’ will essentially turn around and sanctimoniously intone Ernest Renan’s famous (and famously wrong-headed) dictum that ‘Islam was born in the full light of history’.

With the desire to give Islam a free pass, standard historiographical principles are turned on their heads. In all other forms of history writing, a focus on contemporary primary sources are seen as the gold standard. Yet, when it comes to Islam, accounts written 200-300 years after the traditional death date of Muhammad are glorified as ‘the best we have’. Even as much earlier documents that can be reliably dated from the days of the Arab Conquest are being resolutely ignored.

The absolute refusal among some historians to ask critical questions about how Muslim history came to be written is more than just a bit of forgivable intellectual laziness. It allows Muslim demagogues to make wildly overblown theological claims based on Muslim history that they can use to whip up the masses to recreate that ‘history’ in the present. The attempts by ISIS to ‘re-establish’ a supposedly vanished perfect Caliphate is a clear example of this.

Let’s be clear. Massive questions can and should be asked about the reliability of Muslim history. Questions that have the potential to shake the theological edifice of Islam to its core. This is a conversation we absolutely need to have. Especially given the challenges Islam is posing to the non-Muslim peoples of the world. May I, therefore, encourage you not to give Islam a free-pass in this area but to educate yourself to ask the hard questions?

My book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’ is essentially a re-examination of early Muslim history based on primary sources and would be a good place to start a quest to reappraise what you think you know about Islam’s early years.

 

A Stiff Drink with Allah’s Blessing? (It Depends)

Muslims are fond of reminding us that they follow a book that are supposedly free from any contradictions. This is based on a statement made in the Qur’an itself: 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 is, of course, a highly questionable statement. Let us test this against what the Qur’an says about alcohol.

Most people are aware of the fact that Muslims are not supposed to drink any alcohol and, on the face of it, the case seems open and shut. Qur’an 5:90 says: O you who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divine arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside that you may succeed.

But wait, that’s not all the Qur’an has to say on the topic. Qur’an 4:43 does not take believers to task for drinking but only say that they should not come to pray when they are drunk. The problem here is not drinking as such, only praying while intoxicated.

In chapter 16 of the Qur’an Allah reminds people of all the blessings that he bestows on humanity. He also lists: “And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.” (Qur’an 16:67) Note that this ‘drink’ is not grape juice. The Arabic word is ‘sakaran’ a version of the same word is used in 4:43 (sakura) to describe drunkenness. It can therefore be translated as ‘intoxicating drink’. So here the ‘handiwork’ of Satan is described as a blessing of Allah to humanity.

To confuse matters further Muslims are told they will drink wine (Satan’s handiwork remember!) in paradise (Qur’an 47:5, 83:22). Muslims are fond of piously stating that this wine will not have intoxicating effects, but this does not appear in the text itself.

This dilemma cannot be solved by the theological device of the ‘Law of Abrogation’ where a later revelation replaces an earlier one with ‘something better’ (Qur’an 2:106) as it deals with creation itself (‘Blessings from God’ vs. ‘Handiwork of Satan’). Are we supposed to believe that Allah went back to the moment of creation to ‘not make wine’ and have Satan do it in order to abrogate this verse?

This is just one of the many clear-cut contradictions that can be found in the Qur’an. Thus, comprehensively disproving the bold claim made in Qur’an 4:82. For a more in-depth discussion of how spectacularly the Qur’an fails the tests that it sets for itself see my book Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion

 

Islam’s Misdirected Mosques

One of the basic facts that most people know about Islam is that Muslims pray while facing Mecca. Muslims believe that this is mandated in the Qur’an where Allah instructs the faithful to pray in the direction of the ‘sacred mosque’ (cf. Qur’an 2:142-145, 149-150). Muslim commentators on this text are unanimous that this can only refer to the mosque (with the Ka’aba at its center) in Mecca that is still the focus of all Muslim prayer. Since this statement is in the Qur’an itself, and is dated to 624 CE by Muslim scholars, we can assume that all mosques built during the Islamic conquests would have had qiblas (prayer directions) pointing towards Mecca. The problem, from an Islamic perspective, is that this is simply not the case. Many ancient mosques have been excavated and the floor plans of the oldest among them do not align with an orientation towards Mecca. The map below shows just how widespread the ‘misalignment’ of all the earliest mosques that have been excavated are.

So what is going on here? At the very least we should consider the probability that early Islam had an alternative focus for devotion, much further to the north. This would inevitably mean that modern Muslims are misdirecting their prayers. Most people would dismiss such an idea as beyond preposterous but could I respectfully ask you to consider the evidence as laid out in my book The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’ before finally making up your mind?

‘The Exotic Lawn’ – A 21st Century Parable

‘It surely looks nothing like what we’re used to around here’ Rudolph mused as he surveyed his beautiful new lawn shimmering in the early morning dew. This was magnificently confirmed in the piece the local paper did on just how much color and diversity his bold step brings to the gardens in the area.

Sure, there have been some ignorant dunces who pointed out that this species of Arabian Camel Grass is notorious for harboring deadly snakes. Some of the more persistent among them even quoted statistics showing how much the likelihood of someone dying a painful, writhing, poison-induced death increases with every extra meter of coverage.

It was beyond Rudolph how people can be so backward. His new lawn livened up the boring and predictable conformity of the neighbourhood with its otherness. ‘Besides’ he clinched the internal argument with the Neanderthal who pleaded with him not to go ahead ‘only a tiny percentage of Arabian Camel Grass lawns ever harbours the snakes’. Surely that’s a small price to pay for the way in which it enriches quiet suburban streets.

Rudolph is awakened from his thoughts by the reminder on his phone telling him that it is time to go to a meeting of the City Council where he and a few other enthusiasts will lobby the City Council to plant Camel Grass in their community’s Public Parks.

He got up quickly. As he did, an excruciating flash of pain shot up from his ankle towards his heart.

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Peter Townsend’s ‘Nothing to do with Islam?’ investigates some of the most important questions around the relationship between Islam and violence. Questions that are routinely ignored our wished away by our media and elites.