The Knives are Out! (And Have Been for Long Time)

One weekend, two knife attacks in major European cities – London and The Hague. Obviously this is no coincidence. I suspect, however, that few people will realize what deep historical roots such random stabbing frenzies have in Islam’s past.

The Kharijites was a hugely influential early (7th century onwards) group of discontents within the ‘House of Islam’ who were convinced that the Muslim community was straying from the purity that existed during the time of Muhammad. They firmly believed that what the world really needed was a state wherein, as their catch-cry incessantly repeated, there would be ‘No judgement but Allah’s!

And how exactly was this lofty goal to be achieved? Here is how a historian of the movement, Muhamad bin Ahmad al-Malati, described their modus operandi: “…they would ‘go out with their swords into the markets while people would stand around not realising what was happening; they would shout “no judgement except God!” and plunge their blades into whomever they could reach, and go on killing until they themselves were killed’. Sound familiar?

ISIS, which can in many ways be seen as the modern-day descendants of the Kharijites, was not slow to learn the lesson. Here is, for example, an exhortation from the April 2016 issue of their online magazine, Dabiq: “One must either make the journey to dar-al-Islam, joining the ranks of the mujahidin or wage jihad by himself with the resources available to him (knives, guns, explosives etc.) to kill the crusaders and other disbelievers and apostates…

Over the next few days we will probably be ‘treated’ to multiple theories to try and explain the sudden surge in random knife attacks. Some of these will, no doubt, work very hard to get Islam off the hook by blaming alienation, psychological stress or western foreign policy. As you read these, remember that there is indeed nothing new under the sun! We are faced with an ancient ideology, that uses tried and tested methods. We must get to grips with this fact and target all our attention to defeating its truth-claims if we want the knives to go back in their sheaths.

For more on the role of the key texts of Islam in motivating violence see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

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Nothing ‘So-Called’ About Baghdadi’s Islamic State

The news that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi finally met his fate is to be welcomed. At the very least the action by the Trump administration will slow down the efforts of ISIS to rebuild their capacity to unleash terror. We should not kid ourselves however, that this means the end of the ideology that animated ISIS. This is because this ideology is deeply rooted in the classical teachings of Islam.

In recent years, Western leaders have fallen over themselves to denounce the “Islamic State” as somehow un-Islamic. A representative quote is this one from former President Barack Obama: “We are not at war with Islam but with those who perverted Islam”. According to this line of reasoning, ISIS is simply an aberration that cannot find any justification in the teachings of Islam for the actions of its members. In fact, some media organizations are so confident in their understanding of the finer points of Islamic theology that they’ve taken it upon themselves to deny the claims of some of the most devout Muslims on the planet that they are acting for Islam by routinely referring to ISIS as the “so-called Islamic State”. It would be rather comforting if ISIS was, indeed, simply some strange aberration with no link whatso- ever to classical Islamic teaching. However, if you have read this far you would be very aware that things are not nearly as simple.

In fact, ISIS prides itself on its orthodoxy and on the way in which it adheres to the Qur’an and Sunnah (example of the prophet) in all that it does. In doing so, they do not merely latch onto a fringe tradition within Islam, but can, as has been seen, quote from centuries of interpretation and commentary on the Qur’an to justify their actions.

The following are some of the actions in which ISIS engages (and that are often cited as examples of just how un-Islamic they are). I will now show how each of these practices can be justified from the Qur’an, hadiths and commentaries on the subject. It should be clear from this that to dismiss ISIS as having “nothing to do with Islam” is highly problematic. It also raises the basic question of how we can even begin to hope that our enemies will be defeated if we are in complete denial about the nature of their guiding ideology:

  • Declaring a religious war against those who do not accept Islam: “And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah,” [in other words, if they become Muslim – PT] “let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is For- giving and Merciful” (Qur’an 9:5).
  • Giving defeated civilians the choice of conversion, exile or paying a tax on non-Muslims: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled” (Qur’an 9:29).
  • Calling for the conquest and total subjugation of non-Muslim societies through a religious war: It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah said: ‘I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay Zakat and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah’” (Sahih Muslim Book 1 Number 33).
  • Keeping sex slaves: There are several verses in the Qur’an that make it clear that Muslim men are permitted to have sex with those whom “their right hand possesses”. For example: “O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives]” (Qur’an 33:50)186. This extends, according to a very troubling hadith, to the rape of captive women. “We went out with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) on the expedition to the Bi’l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wives, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them but by observing ‘azl’ (withdrawing the male sexual organ before emission of semen to avoid conception). But we said: ‘We are doing an act whereas Allah’s Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him?’ So we asked Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad] (may peace be upon him), and he said: ‘It does not matter if you do not do it (withdraw before climaxing), for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born’” (Sahih Muslim Book 8 Hadith 3371)187.
  • Executing apostates from Islam:Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” Statement by Muhammad according to Sahih Bukhari Volume 9 Book 84 Number 57.
  • Beheading those whom they regard as enemy combatants: There are several instances where beheading is held up as the desired response to opposition from unbelievers. In Qur’an 4:74, it is directly com- manded: “So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until you have inflicted slaughter upon them”. In Qur’an 8:12, the link between terror and beheading is used to “in- spire” Allah’s angels and, by extension, his followers: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip”.
  • Crucifying Opponents: “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land” (Qur’an 5:33).
  • Executing Homosexual People: “Narrated By Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did (i.e., practice homosexuality), kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, Number 4447).
  • Destroying graves and non-Muslim places of worship: “Do not leave an image without obliterating it, or a high grave without leveling it” (Sahih Muslim Book 11 Hadith 120).
  • Corporal punishment of “disobedient” women: “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], for- sake them in bed; and [finally], strike them” (Qur’an 4:34).

I realize that many readers have, perhaps, gone through the list above with a chill going down their spines. If the actions of ISIS, as arguably the most violent Islamic group of recent times, were, indeed, based on a legitimate reading of the key texts of Islam, what does that say about the possible impact of these very same texts on other Muslims? Would it not be fair to say that it would incline at least some of those other Muslims to violence in the name of Allah? This has to be the inescapable conclusion. Even if only a tiny percentage of Muslims decide to be obedient to verses such as these, we are still left with millions who are seeking to do the rest of us harm for the sake of their religion.

This is exactly the conclusion that so many people in our society desperately want to get away from with their continued insistence that there is no link between the teachings of Islam and violence. It is also why we should use the recent death of Baghdadi as a ‘teachable moment’ to point out just how deeply implicated the teachings of the Qur’an and hadiths are in motivating violence and carnage for the sake of Allah. 

For more on the role of the key texts of Islam in motivating violence see my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot‘ 

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Muhammad’s Convenient Revelations

How Allah covered for his ‘prophet’

Muslims believe the Qur’an is Allah’s final word to humanity and that it is a sufficient guide to faith and practice to people from South America to China. Indeed, Allah declares that “nothing was omitted from the book.” (Qur’an 6:38) Yet, Muslims search in vain within the pages of the Qur’an for the words of the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith), the five pillars, how often you have to pray and many other crucial bits of information. Despite these glaring omissions from the ‘complete record’, Allah did, however, find time to settle the domestic and other problems of one single individual, namely Muhammad. Indeed, when we consult the so-called Asbāb al-Nuzūl (Occasions of Revelation) literature, it quickly becomes clear that Allah was ever ready to use his eternal word to make life as easy as possible for his prophet.

Here are just some examples of how some just-in-time revelation got Muhammad out of some very tight spots:

Muhammad was exempted from any limits on the number of women that he could marry. In Qu’ran 4:3 it is revealed that Muslims could marry up to four wives. For a variety of, Muhammad wanted to marry more than four women. Ever obliging, Allah sent down a revelation that stated that the limit of four is only for ordinary Muslims. He told Muhammad that he could marry as many wives as he liked. It is made very clear that this privilege is “…for you only, not for the rest of the believers.” (Qur’an 33:50)

Muhammad was exempted from the requirement to treat his wives equally. In the same verse cited above (Qur’an 4:3), it is stated that those with multiple wives should treat them all equally. Muhammad experienced this to be a too difficult burden, especially as he began to develop favorites among his wives. Again, Allah stepped in and absolved him of the requirement to treat his wives equally, essentially telling the prophet that he was allowed to treat his wives as he wished and that he could ‘postpone’ and ‘receive’ them according to his own desires (Qur’an 33:51).

Muhammad received a special dispensation allowing him to marry the wife of his adopted son. The story of the marriage between Muhammad and Zainab, who was the wife of his adopted son Zaid, is another occasion where Allah used the Qur’an to help Muhammad out of a very tight spot. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad went to the house of Zaid to look for him one evening. Upon arriving there, he only found Zainab in a state of semi-undress. Muhammad rushed away, but it seems that from this moment the desire to marry Zainab is implanted in him. Zaid, who obviously saw how the wind was blowing, divorced her, so Muhammad could marry her. This caused a great deal of grumbling among his followers, many of whom regarded his actions as tantamount to incest. How convenient. Allah immediately stepped in with another special revelation, making it clear that when adopted sons are ‘done’ with their wives, their adopted fathers may marry them and that whoever questions this ruling, questions Allah. (Qur’an 33:37)

Allah Settles a Domestic Dispute on Behalf of Muhammad. On one occasion, Muhammad had sex with a slave (Mary the Copt) whom he had not married yet. The wife (Hafsa) whose turn it was that night furiously objected. Muhammad promised not to touch Mary again if Hafsa kept quiet. She does not keep quiet, however, and a scandal ensues. Ever faithful, Allah steps in to smooth things over (Qur’an 66:1-5). He begins: “O Prophet. Why do you ban (for yourself) that which God has made lawful to you…” (Qur’an 66:1) and goes on to say that Muhammad is not bound by his oaths. The two ladies in question get a severe tongue lashing from Allah who tells them that they better shape up or that Muhammad may yet divorce all his wives and marry more obedient ones.

Allah Changes the Qur’an On-the-Spot in Response to a Question Posed to Muhammad. In Sahih Bukhari, the most respected Sunni hadith collection, we read of the following exchange: “There was revealed: ‘Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and those who strive and fight in the Cause of Allah.’ (4.95) The Prophet said, “Call Zaid for me and let him bring the board, the inkpot and the scapula bone (or the scapula bone and the ink pot).”‘ Then he said, “Write: ‘Not equal are those Believers who sit..”, and at that time ‘Amr bin Um Maktum, the blind man, was sitting behind the Prophet . He said, “O Allah’s Apostle. What is your order For me (as regards the above Verse) as I am a blind man?” So, instead of the above Verse, the following Verse was revealed: “Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame etc.) and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah.” (4.95) (Sahih Bukhari 6:61:512) Here, we have an example of how Allah’s supposedly eternal word is changed in a flash as a result of Muhammad wanting to accommodate one of his disabled followers. While his motivation may be praiseworthy, this playing loose-and-fast with Allah’s word to fit in with what Muhammad wants is quite instructive.

Muhammad Gets Irritated with some Diggers: Allah Tells Them to Keep Digging. During the so-called Battle of the Trench, Muhammad ordered some of his followers to dig a deep trench around Medina. This was obviously very hard work, and some of the men went absent without leave. This greatly irritated Muhammad. Sure enough, Allah comes through and makes it clear that those who want to leave the work can only do so with Muhammad’s explicit permission (Qur’an 24:62).

It is worth stressing how remarkable these convenient revelations are. As already noted Allah could not find space in the Qur’an to instruct the faithful on key aspects of Islamic faith and practice such as how to pray, how to make the pilgrimage and how to confess your faith. On the other hand, the ‘Eternal Qur’an’ is filled with verses clearly aimed at smoothing things over for just one single person. Perhaps, the last word in this regard belongs to Aisha (Muhammad’s favorite wife) who responded as follows to the revelation that Muhammad can marry as many women as he wished: “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.” (Sahih Bukhari 6:60:311)



For a thorough-going investigation of the truth-claims of Islam see ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers about the Muslim Religion‘ (Available in Kindle, Paperback and on Audible). 


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Paris Knife Attack – Islam’s Convert Conundrum

Just your average run-of-the-mill knife attack? It seems like this is what authorities are trying to claim with the recent attack in Paris, France when a police employee killed four of his colleagues in a stabbing frenzy. Nothing to see here, just a ‘disgruntled employee’ doing his thing. Except, that the police let slip that said employee converted to Islam 18 months ago. This is just an irrelevant bit of local colour as far as the French media is concerned. No matter that a long list of converts to Islam had gone on to cause carnage for the sake of Allah in the past few years.

In each case we hear almost the same lines. 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?

Something like this perhaps?
• ‘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 a 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 have to 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 misunderstanding the true nature of Islam. In response we have to 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?

In a sane society questions like these would be right at the top of the list when it comes to making sense of the recent events in Paris. In this particular case the question should also be asked if the recent article in the ISIS magazine Dabiq, calling for knife attacks in the west, played any role. Sadly, however, these questions are almost never considered. It is so much easier, in the short term at least, to stick our heads in the sand and repeat the well-worn Islam is a religion of peace mantra.

Is Islam a ‘Religion of Peace’? What if it is not? ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot’ by Peter Townsend. Get your copy today at: