A Tale of Two Cities (In Which Goliath Bites the Dust)

There’s a small city just inside the Saudi Arabian border that most Westerners have probably never heard of. It is called Najran. Najran is the kind of backwater that gets its public swimming pool listed on Tripadvisor as one of the tourist attractions. Hicksville if ever there was one.

400 miles north of Najran is a city that just about everyone on the planet has heard of. A city visited by millions every year and that is the focus of every Muslim prayer prayed anywhere on the planet. I am, of course, talking about Mecca. To say that Mecca is on the other end of the scale from Najran in terms of name recognition is perhaps to be guilty of the understatement of the century.

It has ever been thus according to traditional Muslim historiography. Mecca is portrayed in Muslim sources (written down 200 years after the events they supposedly describe) as the most important religious and trade center in central Arabia since time immemorial.

Yet, there’s something that should be deeply troubling to any devout Muslim. When we investigate the primary sources (i.e. historical sources that can be definitively traced to the period they describe) a perplexing conundrum emerges. Najran is simply everywhere. Mecca nowhere.

Najran is referred to in the works of the three giants of Roman geographical writing (Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy). Najran is also referenced in a wide variety of pre-Islamic trade and other geographical descriptions of central Arabia. It is, furthermore, mentioned in several religious texts dealing with the coming of Judaism and Christianity to this part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Perhaps the most famous episode in the history of Najran was the martyrdom (in 524 CE) of the local Christian Bishop. Aretas, and much of his flock were martyred at the hands of the last king of the Himyarite Kingdom Yusuf As’ar Dhu Nuwas. Aretas is still recognized as a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this the name of Najran was spoken as far away as northern Europe.

I’ve barely scratched the surface as far as historical references to the relatively unimportant and obscure city of Najran is concerned. Today, and in Muslim historiography, it pales in comparison with Mecca, its much more famous northern neighbor in terms of its importance.

Here’s the conundrum. If there is so much historical evidence available for the pre-Islamic existence of the Hicksville of Central Arabia we would logically expect that the historical evidence dealing with Mecca would be orders of magnitude more substantial. Except that it isn’t.

There is, in fact, not a single shred of uncontested primary source evidence for the pre-Islamic existence of Mecca. Nothing, zilch, zip, nada! This is a fact that, to put it mildly, has tremendous implications for the truth-claims of Islam.

I realize that this may seem like a tall tale, but don’t just take my word for it. Examine the evidence by reading my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’

Islam: The Hotel California of Religions 

In the immortal words of ‘The Eagles’, the Hotel California is place where you can ‘check out anytime, but you can never leave’. This may as well have been a description of Islam.

The Qur’an makes it clear that abandoning Islam is a very serious sin. It, therefore, contains many blood curdling reminders that those who do so will suffer a terrible fate. One example: “Lo. Those who disbelieve after their (profession of) belief, and afterward grow violent in disbelief: their repentance will not be accepted. And such are those who are astray. Lo. Those who disbelieve, and die in disbelief, the (whole) earth full of gold would not be accepted from such a one if it were offered as a ransom (for his soul). Theirs will be a painful doom and they will have no helpers.” (Qur’an 3:90-91) The fact that threats like these were even necessary is quite interesting. Could it be that a very large number of people saw through the prophet and that the only way they could be persuaded to remain committed to Islam was through this kind of dire threat?

The hadiths make it clear that the ‘painful doom’ reserved for apostates is not merely a matter for eternity, but some of it must also be meted out by Muslims on this side of the grave. Some examples:

  • Muhammad issued a chilling command on how apostates should be treated by the Muslim community: “Whoever discards his Islamic religion, then kill him.” (Sahih Bukhari 4:52:260)
  • Muhammad felt so strongly about the possibility of apostasy that he made apostasy from Islam one of only three circumstances under which a person who had previously cited the Islamic confession of faith can be killed: “Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims.” (Sahih Bukhari 9:83:17)
  • The hadiths also contain many examples of Muslims willing to carry out the punishment of Allah against apostates. For example: “Narrated Abu Musa: A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu’adh bin Jabal came and saw the man with Abu Musa. Mu’adh asked, “What is wrong with this (man)?” Abu Musa replied, “He embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism.” Mu’adh said, “I will not sit down unless you kill him (as it is) the verdict of Allah and His Apostle” (Sahih Bukhari 9:89:271)

There can be no doubt at all, in light of the evidence presented above, that the prescribed Islamic punishment for apostasy is death. This is not merely an archaic teaching that has long ago been dispensed with. All four Sunni legal schools as well as orthodox Shi’a doctrine agree that apostates should be executed. This is demonstrated by the fact that people are often tried (and executed) for apostasy in countries where Islamic law (shari’a) is the law of the land. Even in places where shari’a is not consistently applied, apostates often live in fear of vigilante action from Muslims eager to carry out Muhammad’s wishes.

The teaching that apostates should be killed is without parallel in any other religion or belief system. It is only Islam among the faiths and ideologies of the world that demands death for abandoning it. It should also be noted, as the hadith quoted above make clear, that the punishment for apostasy does not only apply to those who were born into Islam but also to those who converted to Islam and then decided to turn their backs on it.

This aspect of the teaching of Islam should be of particular concern to those who are thinking of converting to Islam. They need to know that, while entry into Islam is relatively easy, leaving Islam is not such a simple matter. Those who leave can, instead, be in real peril. This fact should cause everyone, including those born into Islam, to pause and reflect on what Islam’s ruling on apostasy tells us about the religion. What are we to make of a faith whose founder decreed that those who follow it should be kept inside through the use of death threats? At the very least, it should tell us that Muhammad was not certain that proof and argument would be sufficient to keep devotees loyal to Islam. A rather revealing insight.

For more a critical examination of the truth-claims of Islam see my book: “Questioning Islam – Tough Question and Honest About the Muslim Religion’

Why History May Yet Save Us

Getting to grips with the truth-claims of Islam will be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century and I’m convinced that the struggle against Islamic encroachment can never be successful unless we fundamentally undermine key Muslim beliefs.

One of the best avenues for doing this is to focus intensely upon, and dismantle, the historical accounts that form the basis of so much of Muslim faith and practice. My book The Mecca Mystery is an attempt to brings some of the glaring ‘black holes’ in Muslim history to the fore.

Consider, for example, the following facts about Mecca:
1) No archaeological evidence exists of an ancient city at the location of modern Mecca
2)  The first reference to Mecca outside the Qur’an is from the year 740 CE (more than 100 years after Muhammad’s death). The first time it appears on a map is about 900 CE.
3) The Romans and Persians kept detailed records of the Arabian Peninsula. Mecca and the Quraysh are completely absent from these records
4) The idea that Mecca was on a trade route is ridiculous as this would have necessitated a tortuous detour through empty desert for no benefit
5) Many of Muhammad’s enemies are described as livestock and arable farmers in the Qur’an (cf. 4:119). Occupations impossible in the middle of the desert
6) The Qur’an describes two high mountains (Al-Safa and Al-Marwah) at the location of Mecca (2:158). This is absent from modern Mecca where the ‘mountains’ given these names are so small that they are inside a mosque!
7) The Qur’an states that the Meccans pass by the location of Sodom and Gomorrah every day (37:137). This is hundreds of miles from modern Mecca.
8) The earliest mosques that have been excavated (Kufa, Fustat and Wasit) are all oriented not towards Mecca but to a location in far northern Arabia.  Again, hundreds of miles from modern Mecca.

These facts, and many more (focussed on the history of the Qur’an, Muhammad etc.), are discussed in detail in the book and are fully referenced.  I also provide credible alternative theories for the development of early Islam.

Why is this important? Again, if we ever hope to ‘win’ against Islam we must attack its credibility. There are few better ways to do this than by showing that the foundation upon which it is built is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The hard questions that Islam cannot answer must get ‘out there’ until they cannot be ignored any longer. Equip yourself to be one of the messengers taking these questions to the wider world by reading ‘The Mecca Mystery’!

Muhammad: ‘Prophet’ and Slave Trader

One of the most puzzling aspects of the current debate around Islam is the fact that it is pushed as an enlightened alternative to Western values by people who are essentially clueless about its regressive teachings. Nowhere is this more evident than in the disconnect between the idea that Islam stands for human rights and its attitude towards slavery.

Even a cursory examination of the Qur’an and hadiths will quickly reveal that Muhammad enthusiastically participated in the buying and selling of fellow human beings. The following is a brief selection of texts confirming this:

“O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee” (Qur’an 33:50) This is one of the many convenient revelations that Muhammad received. In this case, he is allowed as many sexual partners as he desires from among his female slaves. This verse would presumably not have been ‘revealed’ if Muhammad did not possess any female slaves.

Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) reported: There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves (Sahih Muslim 10:3901) Here we see the prophet of Islam actually involved in the trading of slaves (selling two black slaves in exchange for a Muslim slave). Note that there is no record whatsoever of Muhammad immediately setting the Muslim slave free. Even if he did set him free it would have been better to pay in cash rather than with the black slaves. By ‘paying in slaves’ he ensured that the freedom of the Muslim slave (if he was indeed freed) was bought at the terrible price of the continued enslavement of the two black slaves.

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah’s Apostle said, “Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!” (Sahih Bukhari 8:73:182) This is just one of the many examples of Muhammad interacting with his slaves. Interestingly the hadiths often stress the fact that many of Muhammad’s slaves were black.

The Prophet sent for a woman from the emigrants and she had a slave who was a carpenter. The Prophet said to her “Order your slave to prepare the wood (pieces) for the pulpit.” So, she ordered her slave who went and cut the wood from the tamarisk and prepared the pulpit, for the Prophet. When he finished the pulpit, the woman informed the Prophet that it had been finished. The Prophet asked her to send that pulpit to him, so they brought it. The Prophet lifted it and placed it at the place in which you see now.” (Sahih Bukhari 3:47:743) This hadith does not deal with a slave directly owned by Muhammad, but it does show that he had no problem commanding his followers to order their slaves to work on his behalf. It is a staggering fact that the very pulpit that he used to preach Islam from was constructed with slave labor.

Not quite ‘Let Freedom Ring’ is it? So, to Western apologists for Islam we, once again, have to say: There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.

For a fuller discussion of the incompatibility of Islam with Western values see my book ‘Questioning Islam – Tough Questions and Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion’